6 Ways to Serve After Being Discharged
Posted in Uncategorized on November 1, 2017
Many veterans transitioning back into civilian life may find themselves with extra time on their hands, as they decide on their next step in life, look for full-time employment or wait for college classes to start. Other veterans are older and have retired, and similarly find themselves with free time that they hope to put to good use. These veterans are in the unique position to help other veterans in a way that civilians cannot; in fact, a veteran’s own experiences and perspective can make them more compassionate, trustworthy and more understanding to other veterans and active duty members needing assistance.
Ways to Serve After Being Discharged
Recent studies have suggested that volunteering can actually be a direct benefit to a volunteer’s own health, citing a 20% reduction in the mortality rate among volunteers compared to non-volunteers. Some veterans have found that volunteering can also help battle their own struggles with depression and even PTSD symptoms, as volunteering connects you with a new community, offers structure and things to look forward to, and provides a practical way to keep boredom at bay.
So how can you take the first step in volunteering? The good news is that there are likely many available volunteer opportunities in your own community, with a wide range of time commitments and ways to leverage your experience, interests and talents.
Volunteering to help active duty service members or your fellow veterans is sure to be a rewarding experience:
1. Help a Veteran Tell His or Her Story
A new pilot program at certain VA medical facilities is seeing great success, as the “My Life, My Story” program sets up interviews with VA patients to allow them to tell their stories, have them written down and then have them included in their medical charts. A volunteer writer visits with the patient for an hour or so and gives them their undivided attention, allowing them to tell any part of their story they would like, then writes down the story. The story is included in the patient’s medical charts, where the doctor, nurse, therapist or any other member of his or her medical team can easily gain greater insight into who the patient really is, different life events that impacted him or her and the events that brought them to the VA. You can contact your local VA medical facility to see if they have a similar program in place, and learn more about how you can volunteer.
2. Participate in the #BeThere Movement
Most Americans are aware of the devastating epidemic of veteran suicides, with an estimated 20 veterans taking their own lives daily. Recent studies have shown that a large percentage (almost 70%) of these veterans were not connected to the available services provided by the VA. In response, the VA continues its push to not only educate veterans on the resources available to help in a mental health crisis, but to show civilians and other veterans what they can do to be available and aware. A new campaign, called the #BeThere movement, offers easy and simple ways to show veterans they are included and supported. It works to provide a comprehensive list of resources for veterans, including free, 24-hour crisis phone lines, online chats, one-on-one coaching and support based on branch of service. For those wishing to support veterans, it offers a wide range of simple activities as well as a list of “signs of a crisis.” Free social media tools make it even easier to spread the word about suicide prevention, and raise awareness for both veterans and the general public.
3. Participate in a “Stand Down” for Homeless Veterans
In times of war, exhausted combat units were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative safety and security, where they were able to get clean uniforms, connect to others in a safe environment, enjoy meals, receive healthcare and take care of personal hygiene. Today, the “Stand Down” movement refers to a community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 107,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. In these events, homeless veterans are brought together in a single location for two to three days and given access to a broad range of community services and necessities, including: camaraderie and companionship, clothing, food, legal, medical and mental health assistance, job counseling and referral. You can access a list of upcoming stand-downs in cities across the nation, or learn about additional volunteer activities to help homeless veterans through the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
4. Support Veterans and Military Families in Your Own Community
If you are connected to your local military or veteran community, you may already be aware of many military families in your city, church or community. Simple gestures can go a long way in helping others and can be done in a non-formal way. For example, if you see a simple chore that needs to be done around the home of a veteran – or the family of a deployed service member – you can simply offer to take care of. Cooking a hot meal, making a small repair or offering transportation are all easy yet very helpful ways to improve the lives of others. Similarly, military families living on a tight budget and facing the holidays with one parent deployed, might appreciate a little assistance in purchasing a holiday meal or gifts for their children; work with your local veteran organizations or nearest military base to find ways to accomplish this delicately while protecting the family’s privacy. You can also work with formalized programs like the Adopt a Family program sponsored by Soldier’s Angels. Once again, as a veteran you understand that pride that they feel as well as the struggles they face – and that makes you a perfect volunteer in these situations.
5. Volunteer at a VA Hospital
There’s few more practical ways to help your fellow veterans than by showing up at your nearest VA hospital ready to work. Even the smallest jobs – handing out coffee or sitting at a reception desk – can make the difference in the lives of veterans and their families going through some of their darkest hours. Organizations like Soldier’s Angels run full programs focused on supporting VA hospitals, with activities such as regular hospital visits, special onsite meals and luncheons, facility wish-list fulfillment and package deliveries that include blankets, hygiene, magazines, snacks and other items. Some veterans find that interacting with these wounded warriors is not only inspiring, but helps them deal with their own struggles and efforts to work through lingering affects of their own service. Additionally, an outstanding way to volunteer is through the nation-wide network of Fisher Houses that provide free housing for military families close to a loved one during VA hospitalization for an extended illness or injury. These houses, located near VA hospitals, have a wide range of volunteer opportunities that offer an easy and immediate way to help military families.
6. Volunteer to Drive a Veteran
A simple but incredibly important way to help a fellow veteran is supporting a veteran transportation program like the one created by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a non-profit that, among other important activities, provides more than 670,000 rides for veterans attending medical appointments every year. The DAV operates a fleet of vehicles – purchased with the help of Ford Motor Company and donated to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – to provide free transportation to VA medical facilities for injured and ill veterans. Volunteering for the DAV Transportation Fleet ensures that even veterans living remotely from VA hospitals can make their appointments and get the treatment they need. You can volunteer through the DAV website, or by contacting the Hospital Service Coordinator at your local VA hospital.