Vets Helping Vets – An Unstoppable Force When (and If) People Volunteer

By Douglas Katz, 05/10/2023

After dedicating their lives to serving their country, veterans possess a unique set of skills, experiences, and a deep sense of camaraderie. Many find purpose and fulfillment in continuing to contribute to society even after their military service ends. One way they can achieve this is by getting involved with and volunteering for veteran non-profit organizations.

Sadly, volunteerism, involvement and even joining these organizations have been in decline.  Daily, however, I see many veterans in need or with a desire to help interacting on social media.  You would think that that activity would result in meaningful involvement in the real world.  This is not the case, however, and veteran focused non-profits and organizations are struggling.  I myself am part of several and I have yet to see any event that we easily staff.  This is disappointing especially with consistent messaging that our duties and values do not end at ETS.  The good news is that this is a reversable trend.

Veterans can make the difference by showing up.  They can join and volunteer to help these organizations help fellow veterans.  Those who become part of the organizations that lobby and advocate for veterans are doing something tangible and that is great.  Even better, those who join the ranks of volunteers in those and other organizations that take care of our sisters and brothers in arms will undoubtedly see immeasurable benefit to the veteran community as well as themselves.  The benefits are pretty intuitive, but here are a few that should provide some inspiration.

Shared Bond and Camaraderie

Veteran non-profit organizations provide a space where veterans can connect with others who have walked a similar path. By volunteering, veterans join a community where they can share experiences, stories, and challenges with individuals who understand the unique trials and triumphs of military life. This sense of camaraderie fosters a supportive environment that can help combat feelings of isolation or a loss of purpose often experienced after transitioning to civilian life.

This is one that I see so much on social media.  I see veterans in crisis who just need connection and to know that they matter.  They get virtual support on the various platforms, but this pales in comparison to the benefit that they would get from interacting in person with other veterans.  When I work an event or serve as part of an organization, I relish the story swapping and connection.  It is what I and many other vets miss from their days in uniform and a virtual substitute just doesn’t measure up.

Continued Service and Purpose

For many veterans, serving in the military instills a profound sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference. Volunteering for veteran non-profits allows them to continue this mission by supporting their fellow servicemembers. Whether it involves providing mentorship, organizing events, or participating in outreach programs, veterans can directly impact the lives of others who have served, rekindling their sense of purpose and making a tangible difference in the veteran community.

This is another one that comes out overtly in many conversations with and posts from veterans.  We who served know that feeling of meaning that often evaporates from life afterwards.  That passion is rediscoverable and serving fellow veterans is an amazing way.  Until 2021, I felt similarly.  I was involved and did what I thought was my part.  After assisting with a local memorial for fallen servicemembers and accompanying a Vietnam veteran on the honor flight, I realized my definition of service was obligation and not truly serving.  I don’t see the difference now, I feel it.

Utilizing Skills and Expertise

Veterans possess a wide range of skills and expertise acquired during their military service. These skills, such as leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability, are highly valuable and can be effectively utilized within veteran non-profit organizations. By volunteering, veterans can contribute their unique skill set to the organization’s operations, whether it be in strategic planning, event management, counseling, or logistical support. This not only benefits the organization but also allows veterans to continue honing their abilities while fostering personal and professional growth.

I actually equate this to feeling valued but also valuing others.  Being engaged beyond the screen requires being present, but when you do show up, you will find skills that you thought were mundane are of value.  Anything from technical expertise to legal or financial knowledge to just having a strong back that can haul stuff is of value.  What boggles my mind is that you see people with skills to offer who stop at social media post.  If you can provide value, do it.  Do not just become active when YOU need something and then become a ghost.  Show up to an organization were you can tangibly help veterans and do it, especially if you expect the same from others with skills that YOU need.  This is about giving to get and you will end up better.

Mental and Emotional Well-being

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging, often leading to mental and emotional struggles. Volunteering for veteran non-profits provides veterans with an opportunity to engage in meaningful activities, connecting with a support system that understands their experiences. Engaging in altruistic endeavors has been shown to enhance mental and emotional well-being, reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By giving back, veterans can experience a renewed sense of purpose, fulfillment, and overall life satisfaction.

So much has come out about these struggles and other mental scars from service.  Generally, the worst thing to do is to isolate yourself.  Loneliness can amplify and worsen the problems associated with PTSD.  Becoming involved and helping fellow veterans with their physical, mental and emotional scars helps you heal.  Physically spending time with others who have shared your experiences and, in some instances, your trauma helps connect you.  Even if you are on solid footing yourself, the benefits of well-being are amazing.

Networking and Professional Development

Veteran non-profits often collaborate with various organizations, businesses, and individuals committed to supporting veterans. By volunteering, veterans can expand their professional networks and create valuable connections that may lead to employment opportunities or career advancement. Many non-profits also provide training and educational programs designed to enhance veterans’ skills, making them more competitive in the job market. Engaging with these organizations allows veterans to gain new experiences, strengthen their resumes, and open doors to future possibilities.

This is a big one and it is ground zero for the show up when you need help situations.  I do not equate this to malice but rather time and life getting in the way.  I also feel that the ability to hire, mentor or do business with veterans is minimally tasking on resources and can be done more often.  There are thousands of veterans who need help with anything from finding grants and SBA loans to writing a business plan to just finding a job.  Could you help someone with these things or other professional endeavors?  I would be amazed of the answer is no, but it probably comes with those pesky time and other reasons that helping them is too hard.  I challenge those who say this to me, will it be too hard when you need the help?

I get asked so much how to “break into” the veteran community and up until recently my answer would have been different.  Now, you can guess, it is by being around as many veterans as possible, whether they can help my business or not. You do not break into or target the veteran community as much as become part of it by serving, volunteering or both.    The ones who serve their fellow veterans when they shed the uniform know that karma will take care of their business and that they need to show up, help and make a difference.

Young veterans in particular need to take note.  Veteran focused organizations are withering.  The need for helping veterans is growing.  This further tasks these organizations, especially when some disappear completely.  I would end with a challenge.  Before you type and post with a request to better understand some aspect of post-military life, ask yourself what you have done to help veterans lately. If the answer is I cannot remember or nothing, my recommendation is to do a search in your area and see what veteran causes and/or organizations you can help.

This is not a secret.  Volunteering for veteran non-profits offers a multitude of benefits for veterans looking to make a positive impact and find fulfillment after their military service. Through the shared bond of military experience, continued service, skill utilization, improved well-being, and networking opportunities, veterans can create meaningful connections, support their fellow servicemembers, and rediscover their sense of purpose. By giving back to the veteran community, veterans themselves can experience personal growth, camaraderie, and a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from making a difference in the lives of others.

 

2 thoughts on “Vets Helping Vets – An Unstoppable Force When (and If) People Volunteer”

    1. Please let me know where you are out of and I will see what I can do, but you comment actually validates the article and for that I say “Thanks.” My point is that you can benefit from getting involved and volunteering with and for vets in your area. Maybe your IT skills could help a veteran organization and volunteering gets you contacts that turn that into work. My point is that NO social media and posting can replace relationships and camaraderie among veterans, but the relationships need to be formed and nourished, especially through giving to get.

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