While the holidays for many can be a time for family, festivities, and happy memories, for veterans it can be a particularly trying time. Older veterans may be spending the holidays in a nursing home or have few family members or friends remembering them during the season. Younger veterans may be recovering from an injury in a hospital, or may be facing the challenges of returning back to civilian life after active combat.
There are several easy ways to show your support to veterans during the holiday season, whether you yourself are a veteran, the family of a veteran, or simply a thankful citizen looking to help someone who has given up much of their life to protect our country.
- Knit or purchase a warm blanket to donate to a VA hospital where veterans are convalescing. You can knit one yourself for an added personal touch. You can also contact the facility to learn about any common list of donations most needed. For example, recovering servicemen often can benefit from MP3 or CD players, gloves, socks, DVDs, and more. Be sure to check first to provide the best donations.
- Many military hospitals team with nearby temporary housing facilities that allow families to live close by during the veteran’s treatment. These homes appreciate volunteer service ranging from bringing in snacks and meals for residents, helping with household chores, or even babysitting. These houses can also benefit from donations of your unused hotel points, airline miles, and even used cars. Contact your local military hospital to learn more about your area homes.
- Support a local “Stand Down” for homeless veterans. In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of security and safety. Today, a Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 107,000 homeless veterans on any given night “combat” life on the streets. Find a local Stand Down in your area or organize one with the help of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
- Sponsor a toy drive or adopt a military family during the holiday. With tough economic times on a military family budget, there is often little room leftover for toys or a big holiday meal. Organizations like Operation Homefront provide the tools necessary to conduct your own toy drive, or to get involved in distributing more than 8,500 holiday meals to military families. Soldiers’ Angels pairs deserving military families with donors looking to help make the holidays brighter for deserving military families.
- Remember the fallen with Wreaths Across America. Every December, this organization places wreathes on the graves of fallen soldiers across the United States. Started in 2007 at Arlington National Cemetery, the initiative has now spread to more than 900 locations. You could even make your own version of the event, visiting a local cemetery and leaving a simple remembrance on the graves of servicemen.
- Shop the USO Wishbook. The USO has made purchasing the perfect gift for a veteran incredibly simple, offering pre-packaged services and items in a range of prices. From a “flight home comfort kit” for wounded troops, to resume and career support, to helping send a military child to camp, the USO ensures your gift goes to a good cause. You can also honor a veteran by buying a gift for an active military member, such as phone calls home, comfort care packages, and special welcome-home events.
- Volunteer to help local disabled veterans. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities depend on volunteers to perform a wide range of duties, whether directly with patients – participating in recreational programs and other activities on the wards – or assisting the professional staff, escorting patients, serving coffee, or simply providing companionship to veteran patients. Contact your local office today to see how your spare time can make the difference in the life of a veteran.
Written by: Megan Hammons