After serving as a psychiatric social worker in the Vietnam War, veteran Floyd "Shad" Meeshad returned to the United States hoping to continue his work counseling traumatized soldiers. In 1979, he co-founded the Veteran Administration's 'Vet Center' program -- 206 storefront facilities across the country where veterans could walk in off the street to receive mental health counseling.
A few years later, Meeshad realized the program still left a lot of gaps in veterans' services. Being an expert on combat stress, trauma therapy, and the readjustment issues confronting returning soldiers, he decided there needed to be a 24-hour crisis and information hotline run by a full staff dedicated to serving veterans and their families. So in 1985, he founded the National Veteran's Foundation, a non-profit veteran's outreach service offering nationwide benefits information, resource referral, and crisis counseling via a toll-free helpline.
"After we set up that toll free number, all these other wars happened," Meeshad told HuffPost. "There was Desert Storm, and then some of these lesser known excursions where soldiers died and suffered, and then the two wars we're in now. We've just been burning rubber ever since."
Staffed by a team of veterans (from Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan) who are specially trained in the delivery of crisis information and referral services, as well as a team of licensed volunteer counselors, the National Veteran's Foundation has served more than 250,000 veterans in need of medical treatment, substance abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder counseling, food, shelter, employment training, legal aid, or suicide intervention. Meeshad said he often stops whatever he is doing to handle the crisis calls personally.
"If there's an attempt at suicide or homicide, I step in and take it no matter where I am," he said. "I have another clinical backup for when we get really bad stuff."
Meeshad said such calls increase during the holidays.
"I usually get about two or three of these calls a month on average, but I had to pull over on the road several times this week because it's the holidays," he said. "It's a bad time for veterans, because it makes them feel more down when everybody else seems so happy and they have nothing, or they're on the streets."
The economy has made this holiday season particularly difficult on returning soldiers, Meeshad said, because many of them are struggling to find work.
"They're coming back at 30,000 a month without jobs," he told HuffPost. "We have a job site that's current, so they can explore what's there, and if someone's really hurting, we'll make calls into their city or into their employment agencies. I just try to keep them alive and hustling and not going into depression or just giving up, particularly when they're still in their 20s."
Meeshad says he hopes people will consider donating to the National Veterans Foundation, because it is a vital, unique resource for millions of veterans struggling with various physical and mental health issues back on U.S. soil.
"These people need to talk and be listened to, and this is the worst time of year for them," he said. "We're gonna get hit with a wave of another 50,000 next month, and this time there are even less jobs and less resources. We're just trying to keep them off the streets and keep them from doing anything that will be detrimental to their futures."
There are two days left to donate to the National Veteran's Foundation through HuffPost's The Goods -- an online store set up to facilitate donations to certain reputable charities and non-profits during the holiday season.
MoveOn.org is also facilitating holiday donations to three worthy non-profits, Habitat for Humanity, Feeding America, and Planned Parenthood, through its 2010 Giving Campaign.