Recognize and Reflect During Military Appreciation Month

With Military Appreciation Month fast approaching in May, we take time to reflect upon the sacrifices made by our military, veterans, and their families. Culminating on Memorial Day, National Military Appreciation Month stands as an opportunity to remember, honor, and teach in very tangible ways.

While many Americans will take advantage of the warming weather and beautiful blooming trees to celebrate an unofficial start to summer, at Wreaths Across America, we share in the unity this month grants to continue to recognize our nation’s military and veterans. We’d like to offer ideas of how you can support the military, veterans, and their families in your own communities.

Beyond Thanks: Understand Experience

There was a time in American history when nearly every household would have been touched in some way by military service. Today less than 1 percent of the population is active-duty military personnel. That means a greater disparity in understanding of experiences between civilian and military populations. Unless you ask.

It is nearly reflex these days to say “thank you for your service,” and while important to acknowledge a veteran’s service, it is time we get to know our changing veteran population. Instead of just saying thanks, ask “where did you serve,” “what was your job or specialty,” etc. A conversation the length of an elevator ride or walk down the block can help bridge the gap of experience in our communities.

Know Your Local Peer Support Groups

According to a report from the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, nearly 20% of veterans who served in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from debilitating depression or post-traumatic stress (PTS). Of these veterans, only 50% will receive the services and support they need. Knowing where to find your local emergency and non-emergency resources dedicated to veterans and the military could save a life.

Support Veteran Entrepreneurship

Shop at a veteran-owned business. There are directories available online, or create one for your own community. Two great ones in DC are Compass Coffee (founded by two Marines) and Dog Tag Bakery. Dog Tag Bakery not only employs veterans, they also have a Fellowship program “educating through hands-on experience to create a living business-school, building a bridge to employment and helping veterans and military families find fulfillment in their professional and personal lives.” And, from what I’ve heard, their mini chocolate zucchini bread is AMAZING!

And speaking of supporting transitioning military service members, look for ways to hire a veteran or become a mentor in your industry. An estimated 250,000 service members depart the military every year. The needs of these veterans and their families are evolving, not disappearing. This translates to a need for partnerships within communities; partnerships with a finger on the pulse of the unexpected, the anomalies, the individual urgencies that arise during a service member’s transition.

Support Veterans and Military Service Organizations: Everyone Plays a Part

My husband Morrill’s dream when founding Wreaths Across America was to one day honor every US veteran by placing a living wreath and saying their name out loud so they are remembered. In his words, accomplishing this will “change the country’s perception of the military, educate generations to come, [and] give our veterans their due.” The deepening divide between civilian and military experience means we all must seek or make opportunities to bridge that gap, serving those who have served.

Fundraising for and supporting veteran and military service organizations in your community is just one way to give back. Organizations like Wreaths Across America, the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Travis Manion Foundation, the USO, and so many more, are well-equipped to serve our veterans and their families. Get involved. These organizations understand the changing demographics of veteran populations and provide space for all Americans to give back, and give thanks for the sacrifices made year-round by our nation’s military. Everyone, including you, can play a part.