11/10/2014 03:05 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

An Invitation for Civilians to Join in Community With Veterans This Veteran's Day and Beyond

Co-authored with Scott Thompson, LMHC, Director of the Veterans Mental Health Coalition of New York City

As we gather this Veterans Day to honor those who have served our country on our behalf, let us challenge ourselves to do more for veterans than simply reflect on their sacrifice one day a year. As civilians, let us build meaningful relationships with veterans and do our part to share in the burden of war.

War impacts us all. Perhaps more than any collective human endeavor, war exacts the heaviest psychological, spiritual, moral and emotional toll. And, yet, as returning soldiers leave military life and come home to reconnect with family, friends, educators, employers, and communities, these individuals often lack understanding about the unique experience of service members. Many national leaders have remarked about the significant cultural divide that exists between the military and civilians in this country. Because less than 1 percent of Americans have served in the armed forces, civilians are increasingly dissociated from veterans, their families, and an understanding of their service.

Consequences of the divide are apparent with the range of challenges faced by veterans in adjusting to civilian life. Veterans forge incredibly powerful bonds with one another around their common values and shared experiences -- more so if their deployment experiences were distressing. When their tour of duty is complete and they leave their fellow service members, they return profoundly changed to a civilian society that remains unchanged. As a result, many veterans are faced with difficult reintegration issues including finding a job, adapting to college life, dealing with physical and emotional distress, accessing benefits, and adjusting back to family life. Additionally, many veterans manifest troubling experiences and injuries of war through a range of mental health conditions, which, if left unaddressed, can lead to devastating consequences.

Despite this known divide between veterans and civilians and the mental health consequences of war, which are exacerbated by this divide, there is a lack of sharing between veterans and civilians about their experiences related to war. In order to address this fundamental gap, MHA-NYC founded Stories We Carry, a community building initiative to strengthen relationships and connectedness between veterans and civilians around the shared impact of war on all of us.

Stories We Carry brings veterans and civilians together to openly share stories, misperceptions, and experiences about military service and reintegration so that together we can foster greater community support, shared understanding, and emotional well-being. For veterans, it provides reintegration to a safe community and a process to share difficult and important issues about their military experience. For civilians, it offers an important way to connect with those who have served on their behalf and a process to share war's impact in their own lives and families.

This Veteran's Day, we call on all civilians to step forward in a meaningful way by joining this community initiative. By bringing together the 99 percent of us who haven't served and the 1% who have served for open dialogue, listening, and creative communal activities, we can heal the wounds of war and learn the lessons it can and must teach us in order to grow as individuals, communities, and as a nation.

Stories We Carry is a national community building and social healing initiative that brings together veterans and civilians into an ongoing series of live participatory events to openly communicate about the impact of war. It is not: Therapy. Counseling. Political. Judgment.

Watch Stories We Carry participants share how the mission of this program and their involvement has made a significant difference in their journey of reintegration.