The transition from deployment to civilian life can be difficult. When you are deployed, your life is regimented by your commanders. Your work and your mission are clear, and you have few choices to make.
In contrast, civilian life is full of options, which can be a wonderful change of pace. It can also be overwhelming, especially for someone who returns injured or depressed. These charities help veterans make that transition by providing a variety of services:
Based out of Alpharetta, Georgia, Hire Heroes USA provides job services for veterans having a hard time finding work. Translating military experience into a civilian resume is one major challenge for returning veterans. Military jargon and job titles often don’t match with the skills that employers seek in new employees. Hire Heroes USA helps veterans write resumes, learn networking skills, and find jobs so they can provide for themselves and their families.
Rachel and Kelsi Okun started Thanks USA when they were just children, ten years old and eight years old, respectively. They planned a scavenger hunt to raise money to support the families of veterans. After ten years, they have given out 4,000 scholarships totaling more than $12 million.
Disabled veterans sometimes need modified homes to accommodate their injuries, and it can be hard and expensive to find one. This Massachusetts-based organization builds specially designed homes for veterans who have been paralyzed or have multiple amputations to restore some of their freedom.
Based out of a bakery in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Dog Tag, Inc. hosts a five-month business course for injured veterans. Providing experiential learning, Dog Tag, Inc. leads their students through every aspect of a small business. They lead projects and shadow experienced people. At the end of the program, each student earns a Certificate of Business Administration from Georgetown University.
Veterans who regularly attend religious services are 24% more likely to say they have had no problems with re-entry into civilian life. Operation Barnabas equips local Christian congregations to support military chaplains, assists congregations in providing services for active military members, and helps them to care for veterans once they enter civilian life.
Sports and Exercise Based Programs
Not all charities approach helping veterans in the same way. While many deliver social services, others use activity to give purpose and meaning to returning veterans. Exercise has been proven to help everyone’s mental health. It helps with anxiety, stress, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
These charities provide a variety of services for veterans, focusing on outdoor sports and exercise. They provide more than activity, however, connecting the veterans to a community that will support them.
This innovative organization believes in the “medicinal power of the ocean”. The Warrior Surf Foundation, located in Folly Beach, South Carolina, aims to help veterans with PTSD recover through surfing.
The Warriors in Motion program is specifically designed to get returning veterans active through indoor and outdoor sports. Set on the side of a beautiful mountain, this foundation specializes in training activities such as skiing.
Veteran Outdoors sends veterans on high-quality hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. After the trip, they produce a video that tells each veteran’s story, so you can see how great these trips are for the veterans.
Humans have always had a connection to animals from the first days after our ancestors domesticated the first dogs. Animals help people all the time. Anyone who’s ever had a pet knows this affection well. They give comfort and responsibility. Both are important to a veteran who is struggling to return to civilian life.
Both organizations train service dogs to serve the wounded warriors. This Able Veteran, in particular, focuses on training service dogs for treating PTSD. They train their dogs to recognize anxiety and even to interrupt nightmares. Canines for Veterans rescues the dogs that they train from open admission shelters. They also teach military inmates how to train the service animals, thus aiding in the rehabilitation of the inmate trainer, rescued dog and wounded warrior who received the trained animal.
This organization doesn’t just provide animals to veterans; they also have the veterans train them. This training is the key to their treatment model. The veterans train the dogs to believe that the world is a safe place by providing positive reinforcement, and the training helps the veteran believe the same thing.
This group provides no-cost rental, instruction, and recreation with horses in their more than 44 facilities across the United States. Horses have been used for recreation and therapy for many people with disabilities.
This charity connects veterans with pets that are overlooked in the adoption industry. Many of these pets stay in shelters or are scheduled to be killed. Pets for Patriots hopes to save two lives in the process.
The fine arts are a central part of western culture, defining how people understand themselves. Movies, music, and art show what ideas are important to them, and they give a chance to express themselves. The act of making art is both discipline and an expression, which is exactly what many veterans need—a discipline for finding purpose and expression
These groups provide veterans with guitars and music lessons to help them learn to play. They provide peace through the healing power of music, and group lessons foster community interactions that help give individuals the emotional support they need.
Veterans Art Project offers bronze and ceramics classes for veterans, their families, and advocates. They produce some beautiful pieces of art, which you can see on their website. Their work ranges from pouring projects in molds to large murals.
This organization promotes veterans who produce art of all kinds. They have produced several musicals, promote documentaries, and offer gallery exhibits of works by veterans, among many other projects.
Veterans aren’t the only ones who need support. When our returning warriors have difficulty returning to civilian life, their families can suffer, too. When veterans suffer from mental illness, their families have to cope. When they are injured or in the hospital, they rush to be with their fallen fighters. When they need long-term care, their families provide it. These organizations support the families of our returning vets.
This group offers vacation getaways for veterans and their families. They own condominiums in major vacation spots that give everyone involved a chance to escape the problems they face. These respites are also available for caregivers who need a break from their duties.
This organization owns a network of 71 houses at 24 military installations and 29 Veterans Administration Hospitals. They are a home-away-from-home for the families of veterans who are receiving treatment at a hospital. It saves their families from having to choose between staying away or spending money they don’t have.
Research and Health
In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Armed Forces of the United States faced a new kind of injury: traumatic brain injury. Blows to the head or body cause this injury, which is what happens when the shock wave from an explosion hits a person. We see a parallel to this as we increasingly recognize the dangers inherent in American football.
In response to the increased number of traumatic brain injuries, many organizations fund research to help understand and treat them. One of the greatest challenges is simply diagnosing the injury since there are no scientific means to identify it.
Although not a veteran-specific charity, this group funds research on brain health. They aim to fund more research on brain injury, to improve diagnostic tools, and to remove the stigma from mental illness. Veterans need all these services, but they also affect many others.
A partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, this group of clinicians and researchers works to promote all aspects of veterans’ health, including research on Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury. They are also one of the few organizations that research the unique needs of female warriors.
Supporting our veterans doesn’t just start when they return from deployment. When they are overseas, they need all the support they can get. Deployed troops face many different stresses. They miss their families and are removed from the kinds of communities we all take for granted.
Deployment support can help remind the members of the armed forces they have people who care about them back in the United States. These organizations provide support to the troops while they are deployed.
The USO is a venerable support institution that has served the members of the military for more than 75 years. They provide entertainment to deployed troops by partnering with the biggest stars, and they have centers providing entertainment in 180 different locations like South Korea, Djibouti, and Afghanistan.
This is a grassroots organization that provides care packages for platoons. They have a list of supporters who have signed up for their list. These supporters gather their supplies, pack them up, and send them to wherever they are supposed to go. They plan themes for their care packages around important holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s Day.
This group sends care packages, but not just to deployed service members. They send them to returned veterans and their caregivers, in addition to those who are overseas. They ask their volunteers to pack up food, entertainment, hygiene items, handmade items, and letters of support. Since they started, Operation Gratitude has sent over 1.6 million care packages.
Researching Veterans Organizations
Despite the number of wonderful organizations, like the ones listed here, finding a good charity can sometimes be difficult, especially for veterans organizations. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a myriad of new veterans charities have been formed to help fill the perceived gaps in care.
Many, however, are not run well or use a high percentage of donations for fundraising or administration. Before you decide to support one of these groups, do your research. Websites such as Charity Navigator rate charities on what percentage of donors’ dollars is spent on the core mission of the organization. Doing your research before you donate ensures your money has maximum impact.
Their Service, Our Gratitude
The people who join the Armed Forces of the United States do a great service for their country. They leave behind their families and risk their lives to fight for all of us. Their burden is great, and the sacrifices they make are many.
When you sit next to the hopeful members of a graduating class of recruits, you don’t see any of that. They don’t reflect on the burdens they will bear or think about the months they will spend floating at sea or in a base in some far-off country.
They talk about hope, excitement, career advancement, and all the dreams that anyone has when they start something new. The sailors at Sailors for Christmas were excited to begin the next step of their journey.
Most of them will return in fine shape. They will integrate into civilian life easily with the support of their family and community; however, some will have a harder time. They may face long-term, debilitating injury, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, or just poverty.
Nearly every American wants to support their returning veterans. While the emotional support we can give by flying the flag and cheering them on is a good start, there is always more. The organizations listed above support those returning veterans by providing services that mitigate the myriad problems they face. They are how a grateful nation shows gratitude for their service.