11/26/2013 02:54 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

As the Holiday Season Opens

Here comes that long stretch of celebrating.  From now until the end of the year: friends, families and feasts in abundance…for most of us.  But not for all of us.

The holidays can be even more isolating for any Veteran carrying visible or invisible wounds.  Like looking through the wrong end of a telescope, what’s going on around you gets farther and farther away.  You seem to operate in a cone of your own thoughts.  Unpredictable things you see or hear trigger memories you’d rather forget.  And once triggered, it can seem impossible to turn them off.

Families and friends are well-meaning, but they can crowd you with what feels like pressure for you to be like them.  Suddenly.  As if that were possible. Or they’re impatient with your not being the same person who left for war.  Sometimes they’re frozen in their own silence of not knowing how to help.  There’s a lot of hurt on both sides.

If you’re homeless, it’s even bleaker. Living rough out on the streets is hard enough. Cold dark nights make it even tougher.  Rain or snow is a misery. How do you stay warm and fed?  What happens if you get sick?

It’s easy to understand how the celebrations might seem hollow, pointless. Because of that, it’s even more important that we beef up our efforts to reach out.  We’re making progress on homelessness, but there are still not enough beds, especially on winter nights when the demand spikes.

What can you do?  Get involved.  Support your local organizations that provide services to veterans.  Is there a Vet Center near you?  Start there. Maybe there’s a need there you could fill.  Ask around. If you know a vet who needs help, make sure they have this number:  888.777.4443.  That’s the National Veterans Foundation’s Lifeline for Vets.  How’s it work?

Here’s an example.  A vet in upstate New York called our hotline on a snowy night.  He had nowhere to go.  Our counselor asked him where he was, and while the vet stood in the phone booth waiting while snow blew against that small column of safe but cold space, the counselor contacted a local facility who sent someone over to pick him up.  It’s likely he wouldn’t have survived the night without that rescue.

And there’s something else you can do.  It’s easy and free.  Make eye contact.  With the vet under the bridge, with the vet in line at the supermarket, on the steps of the post office.  That kind of warmth works wonders. You can do that.

These men and women who served our nation, put themselves on the line for our freedoms and the freedoms of others, need to know they made a difference, that they’re appreciated.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.  This is a perfect time to reach out in every way we can.