I was smitten with my now-husband the minute I saw a picture of him in his dress whites, looking just like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman. As a naval flight officer, my husband has flown over the Middle East. He’s spent months on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. He has served his country for the past 10 years.
And yet, like most active-duty and military veterans, he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t even want to use his military discount, lest someone thank him for his service. When they do, he gets embarrassed.
When Veterans Day rolls around, he doesn’t feel he deserves the thanks because there are veterans who have given more in service to their country.
And, he contends, Veterans Day isn’t the day to honor active-duty service members. There is a day for recognizing the courage and commitment of active-duty service members: Armed Forces Day. This lesser known holiday is celebrated on the third Saturday in May, usually about a week before Memorial Day (which is a day to honor only those veterans who have died in service of their country).
Still, there are 21.8 million military veterans living in the United States today, and they all deserve our respect and gratitude this Veterans Day.
While posting a heartfelt message on social media is touching, here are five even higher-impact ways you can show gratitude this Veterans Day.
1. Take time to listen.
You might not know anyone currently serving in the military, but odds are you know a veteran who served during World War II, the Korean War, or Vietnam.
A rapidly aging population, these veterans are among the 28 percent of Americans age 65 and older who live alone.
Senior citizens who live alone face higher mortality rates and are more at risk for chronic health issues than those who interact socially.
One way to show gratitude this Veterans Day is to reach out to a veteran and start a conversation.
Not sure how to find a veteran?
One way to start the conversation is to volunteer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. You can drive veterans to doctors’ appointments or plan welcome-home events for service members. Each volunteer event is an opportunity to form a relationship with a veteran, learn more about their time in the military, and thank them for their service.
2. Show up.
The easiest thing you can do to express your thanks this Veterans Day is to simply show up at a Veterans Day parade, ceremony, or other veterans-appreciation event in your area.
Not only are Veterans Day parades and other events family friendly, but they also give veterans a chance to reconnect, meet other veterans, and talk to civilians about their service.
Your local news outlet should have information about upcoming Veterans Day activities in your area, so dust off your lawn chair, wave an American flag, and celebrate veterans as our servicemen and women march down Main Street.
3. Learn about military life.
If you don’t know any veterans personally, one of the most important things you can do is learn more about what it means to serve our country through military service.
Visit a military museum exhibit or war memorial. Check out a history book from your local library. One of my personal favorites is The Things They Carried, a Tim O’Brien novel about young soldiers in Vietnam. Or watch a documentary, like Restrepo, that shows what life in combat zones is like and how hard adjusting to civilian life can be for veterans when they return home.
4. Realize not all veterans wear combat boots.
There are thousands of men and women who have stood alongside their spouses and partners as they served their country. These military spouses, partners, and families have made sacrifices too, even though they never wore a uniform.
Do you know a military family? Reach out to them this Veterans Day with a call or a card. If you don’t, that’s okay. You can adopt a military family through Operation Here We Are, sending them care packages while their service member is deployed or inviting them to your home for the holidays.
5. Give to a good cause.
Gratitude is good for the soul—and your health. Studies have shown that stress levels are 23 percent lower in people who consider themselves to be grateful. People who express their gratitude through service are happier and healthier than those who do not.
This Veterans Day, if you don’t know a veteran personally, you can still show your gratitude, doing good for service members and yourself by donating to or planning time to volunteer for a veterans organization.
Here are four that earned the highest ratings from CharityNavigator.org, a site that helps you donate to trustworthy organizations. And we’re adding one that supports veterans in their pursuit of wellness through mindfulness and meditation.
Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Charitable Service Trust
Disabled American Veterans Trust was founded in 1920 after disabled service members came home from World War I and has continued to provide support for all disabled veterans. DAV helps veterans get to medical appointments, file insurance paperwork, and find meaningful employment. With 1,300 chapters nationwide, you can volunteer or donate here.
Honor Flight Network
The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization that flies World War II veterans to visit World War II memorials in Washington, DC. It may not seem like much, but many of these veterans have never seen the memorials that have been erected to their brothers in arms—and to their own service. It can be a hugely emotional event for veterans as they revisit sometimes painful memories, but ultimately, Honor Flights works to provide veterans with much-needed closure.
After every WWII veteran who is able to travel sees their memorial, Honor Flight Network will move on to Korean War and Vietnam veterans. You can donate here, or if you know a WWII veteran who would like to participate, start the application process.
Homes for our Troops
When you think about veterans, you might think of your grandfather who served in World War II or the Korean War, but post-9/11 veterans make up 18 percent of the total veteran population. More than one in four of those veterans have a service-related disability, which makes coming home extremely difficult. Homes for our Troops builds houses for post-9/11 veterans with severe disabilities. These adapted homes give veterans some of their dignity back. There are several ways to get involved, from running a 5k to donating building materials.
Our Military Kids
Kids often suffer loneliness, anxiety, and fear while their parent is deployed. Our Military Kids supports kids from kindergarten to twelfth grade through grants to pay for activities that help them cope with the stress of having a parent in the military. You can support Our Military Kids by volunteering at events or simply donating financially.
Many of us are exploring mindfulness and meditation to augment our own well-being. This Veterans Day, we can support veterans in doing the same. Veteran’s Path facilitates a variety of programs that focus on helping veterans cultivate peace, acceptance, transformation, and honor through nature-based experiences that teach mindfulness and meditation techniques. Civilians can donate, or if you know a veteran who is interested in developing a meditation practice, consider sharing Veteran’s Path’s Guided Meditation library.