More than 7,000 U.S. military members have died fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, a 20-year stretch of time that has included the longest wars in our nation’s history—so long, in fact, that for many Americans the conflicts have faded from memory.
That’s not surprising, really: 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.
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 59,000 vets, among the 840,000 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.
Below, how to get started on your mission to help veterans in the U.S.
1. 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.
2. 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. That doesn’t mean there are not still vets in need of housing, or at risk of becoming homeless. If you know or see anyone who is a homeless vet, the VMSC’s hotline can help at 1-888-385-1250. And send donations to local nonprofit Support Homeless Vets, Inc., which runs on community support.
The Veterans Group in West Philadelphia is a home for veterans that also offers psychological, jobs and education help for its residents. Its “Operation Invincible,” founded by former Eagle Vince Papale helps raise awareness of housing needs for veterans, and raise money for The Veterans Group through various community events, including a September golf outing and a gaming fundraiser throughout the summer. Private donations of money, clothes and household items are also welcome.
RELATED: How Philly beat veteran homelessness
3. Donate to other veterans groups
Including Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Or look to organizations, like 40-year-old Impact Services in Kensington, which among other things provides housing and employment services for veterans.
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.
5. 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 several hundred 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. You can donate to them, or order from their Amazon wish list for snacks, personal hygiene and household items.
6. Support transgender vets
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) estimates that there are over 134,000 American transgender veterans, and that more than 15,000 transgender people are serving in the military today. Conditions have improved for these service members, but major barriers still exist—both socially and within governmental agencies. To help, you could donate to organizations that are working to create more equity for transgender members of the military, such as the NCTE, and the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA). If donating isn’t your thing, TAVA offers some cool merchandise–like tees and tank tops with the TAVA logo.
7. 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. And they hold an annual “Veteran Shark Tank,” presented by Comcast NBCUniversal, featuring local “vetrepreneurs” competing for a $50,000 cash prize—scheduled this year for December 6. (Last year’s virtual event was the biggest since it launched in 2012.)
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.
8. 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.
9. Be informed
There are more than 1 million active duty soldiers in our Armed Forces today—even if they’re activities tend to fall below most of our radars. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
Just vote. It really is the least you can do.
Header photo by IIONA VIRGIN / Unsplash