Do More Than Thank a Veteran

The old man sipped his coffee slowly in the corner of the poorly lit diner. The decades of tough living were written deep within each of the many wrinkles that spread across the landscape of his face like a farmer’s terraced field. On his head he wore a black ball cap with the simple words VETERAN in red across the front.

I took the final sip of my coffee and headed to the front counter of this small-town café to pay for my breakfast. As I passed the old timer, I stopped and said, “Excuse me, sir. I just wanted to say thanks for your service.” His eyes instantly sparkled as he sat up straight as if snapping to attention, and replied, “It was my pleasure son.” I shook his hand and headed to the cash register where I insisted that I pay for his ticket. As I pulled onto the two-lane highway heading west, I couldn’t help but feel that simply thanking him and paying for his breakfast just wasn’t enough, but what could I really do?

November 11, or Veterans Day, is a public holiday held on the anniversary of the end of World War I to honor US veterans of all generations. I am embarrassed to think that it takes an actual holiday to bring to mind what we should really be doing to show our appreciation to these amazing men and women who have served our country so admirably.

Many veterans come back from serving and are never the same. I can’t even start to understand the emotional and physical wounds that make assimilation back into civilian life a challenge.

Fortunately, there are many organizations that exist today that are seeking to truly appreciate our veterans by helping them to overcome a plethora of obstacles, both physical and emotional, and connect them to programs and services that REALLY help this “warrior community” re-adjust and thrive in our culture today.

Recently, I had a chance to visit with Karen Lee Davis, the VP of Strategic Communications for HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS (https://www.hopeforthewarriors.org) and hear more about the amazing work they are doing for our veterans. HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS reaches out to the veteran community and the general public to make them aware of the programs and services available to those in the warrior community who are in need. HOPE focuses on individualized care realizing that each veteran’s needs are unique. Not one is the same! They use an intake process where a veteran or someone who cares about that veteran fills out an online application and then within 72 hours receives a phone call from a HOPE team member who understands that each veteran’s path must be personalized. HOPE then seeks to connect people and veterans to resources and services, both in and out of house, that the warrior community may not be aware of but desperately need.

Karen shared the story of Kevin Bittenbender, a veteran who struggled with depression, physical challenges and finding his way back to a sense of normalcy after his service. Through HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS he was able to get plugged in to the resources he needed to start on his road to healing. (For Kevin’s full story check out https://go.mossyoak.com/videos/kevin-bittenbender-honor )

This is where the rubber meets the road. I am in no way suggesting that we quit thanking our warrior community or occasionally paying for a veteran’s meal, as those are gestures that communicate our gratitude. But by supporting organizations like HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS, this is where we as individuals can really “THANK” the veteran community by investing in those who walk with them every day on a path of healing and success.

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