[Ed note: This story first ran last November, for Veterans Day. It still matters. Take a minute out of your holiday to think about giving back to those who have given so much to all of us.]
In America today, only around seven percent of adults have served in the military—a drop of more than half from 1980—and less than .5 percent of the American population are active duty members of the armed forces. That means the chances are high that you can go through most days never encountering anyone who has volunteered to be troops on the ground wherever the United States has a military presence. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there, continuing to serve.
As a group, veterans have an outsized impact on all of our lives. According to the 2017 Veterans Civic Health Index, from the National Conference on Citizenship and others, vets are more likely to volunteer, vote, give to charity, trust their neighbors and work to fix problems in their communities. They also are more likely to work than non-vets.
Philly is home to about 64,000 vets, among the 346,000 throughout the state. Let today be a day we think about how we can honor their service by giving back to them, especially those who have had trouble adjusting to life outside the military. It seems the least we can do.
Here are some ways to get started:
Support the Veterans Multi-Services Center.
The city’s biggest hub for veteran services, the VMSC offers vets and their families help with accessing benefits, housing, jobs and meals. It is the first stop for many vets in need—and a good place to start for anyone looking to donate their time or resources. You can volunteer, organize a fundraising event for the organization, or join them for a vets and friends event around town to help support their efforts.
Help homeless vets.
In 2015, Philly became one of 15 cities around the country to reach “functional zero” in the number of vets who were living on the street. That meant every veteran who wanted a home had one in the city. Since then, with some ebbs and flows, Philly has managed to put a roof over the house of most every vet who needs one. That is, in part, because of the work of city organization and local nonprofit Support Homeless Vets, Inc., which runs on donations.
Donate to other veterans groups
or to groups that provide services to vets. Forty-year-old Impact Services in Kensington provides housing and employment services for veterans. The Veterans Group in West Philadelphia is a home for veterans that also offers psychological, jobs and education help for its residents. It runs on private donations, and on donations of clothes and household items that it will pick up.
The VMC Thrift Store in Mayfair (formerly Rhino Camouflage Thrift) serves many needs: It collects and distributes donations of used furnishings and clothes to veterans; provides jobs and job training to vets; and helps raise money for the Veterans Multi-Services Center. You can shop there, donate items—including cars—and hire them to help with small moves.
Support female vets.
The Women Veterans Center, run out of the Multi-Services Center, launched in 2014 to address a relatively new phenomenon: Women are the fastest growing population of veterans, and their needs are often very different than men. Now, the organization serves around 650 women and their families, with employment and other services, as well as opportunities to just be in a safe space together, for monthly dinners, yoga, mindfulness and the like.
Hire a vet.
The Greater Phila Veterans Network has three goals: Helping vets find work; running a Veterans Entrepreneurship Program; and educating employers on the benefits of hiring vets. Among those benefits: Federal tax credits. They also offer best practices guides, and other resources for companies looking to find qualified veterans. Philly’s chapter of the Society for Human Resources also offers some guides for employees on how and why to bring vets into their company.
Frequent vet-owned businesses.
Chicago-based Bunker Labs, an incubator for businesses started by veterans, has helped launch more than 30 companies in Philadelphia; the first 20, according to this phillymag.com article, generated $7 million in revenue in 2017 and hired over 150 employees. Among the businesses Bunker has helped get off the ground are Horn & Hardart Coffee Company; management consultants Entegrit, a B Corporation; technology educator Coded By Kids; B Corps realtor Houwzer; and mental health diagnostics software company Neuroflow. See the complete list of Bunker PHL companies here.
Send care packages to active duty troops.
At Philly’s Hero Care Packages, CEO Jack Wray, a former Naval officer, says he remembers the joy of getting a care package from home—and the disappointment on sailor’s faces when they got nothing they wanted. Now, his Philly-based company makes it easy to send gift boxes to soldiers and sailors around the world. On Wray’s site, you can either choose items to mail, donate towards a $39.99 pre-set gift box, or sign up for a subscription to send a box every month.
Don’t let the fact that military affairs rarely rise to the level of public conversation of, say, Stormy Daniels. The White House earlier this year told Congress that American troops are still fighting wars in seven countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Niger and Yemen. Follow Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), an advocacy organization for post 9-11 vets, for the latest on what’s happening in Congress, including how they are addressing ineptitudes in Veterans Administration medical care and working to improve services for women vets.
Volunteer to help vets.
The Veterans Administration uses volunteers for everything from transporting and helping patients with medical appointments, to helping with admin support for the city’s bust veterans hospital in University City.
Volunteer alongside vets.
The Mission Continues is clear in its mission: To give vets the opportunity to continue serving their communities, even after their tours are done. In Philly, the group has spent hours renovating sports fields and courts at Kensington’s Thomas Alva Edison High School (which lost more students in Vietnam than any other school in the country), as well as on other service projects in the area. See upcoming projects here.
Seventy-seven military veterans around the country won their elections last week, including Chrissy Houlahan of Chester County, one of three new female vets in Congress. But you don’t have to vote for veterans in order to support veterans. Just vote. It really is the least you can do.