How do you honor military veterans who have given years of their life to support your freedom? Do you buy them gifts, say “thank you for your service” when you greet them, or take them out to eat on Veterans Days?
Those are all fine, but what if you wanted to make a positive, deeper impact on their lives? Here are 4 helpful ways to honor the veterans in your life.
1. Respect Their Time Off
Serving in the military means giving all of your time to not just the country, not just the government, but a local group of people who can make and break your career.
The concept of sacrifice is both massive and ambiguous. Although some civilian jobs involve 24 hours of constant connection with business needs, there’s still a chance to walk away. In the military, walking away is both an affront to patriotic duty and a contract breach with guaranteed federal consequences.
Because of these commitments, veterans often hold their time off to high regard. Even if it seems like your specific veteran doesn’t take enough time off, the small moments of autonomy are a massive breath of fresh air.
While many veterans need structure and guidance depending on how deeply they held their military routine, don’t take away their ability to say no. Even for those who demand strict schedules, check in periodically to make sure they’re on a track that makes them happy, health, and feeling accomplished.
2. Give Them Space When Needed
Camaraderie is important to military service, but being around the same group of people in a communal setting for months or years at a time can be damaging to one’s sense of self. Especially when combined with being in a foreign setting and potentially lethal situations, veteran status means taking a break by your self.
Some veterans have important psychological needs that require monitoring, but they still deserve a chance to be move freely. Give veterans a chance to enjoy a hobby, take a safe vacation, or plan their day without too much input.
Hearing stories from military service is a great way to spend time sometimes, but it’s not all that veterans want to think about. If your only questions to veterans involve how things were in the service or what their war experience taught them about a situation, consider scrapping the military language and just ask about their experience.
If you want to hear a war story, have you heard one already this week? Are they the ones starting the story, or do they seem tired or irritated before beginning their tale?
Too many retellings can spark PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) at the worst, or at least general annoyance and typecasting. There’s nothing wrong with identifying people by their experiences, but it shouldn’t be the onlyreason you look to them.
3. Appreciate Instead Of Worship
There is a big difference between giving someone appreciation for what they do and worshiping the ground they work on.
The freedom granted by military sacrifice is vital, but treating someone differently on a regular basis can be alienating. While some veterans–or people in general–may appreciate constant praise, make sure you’re not pushing veterans into a world where they feel like they’re being treated like an outsider.
Keep in mind that not all veterans are on good terms with their military past. Tough decisions are made, and in order to keep operations safe and successful, they may have been in the dark about details that later disturbed them.
Without prying too much, thank veterans and allow them to react to your praise. If they seem uncomfortable, your best praise is to give them common courtesy while giving them an opportunity to open up about their concerns. If they’re more than happy to accept praise, enjoy the praise with them.
4. Know The Medical Help You Suggest
If someone needs help with mental health, do you have a list of mental health professionals?
If someone needs to go to the doctor, are you sure they’re able to afford the visit?
Many people go through their lives with conditions that they don’t notice, but you don’t want to make basic suggestions to people who have been turned away or otherwise struggle with getting help.
If you’re going to suggest help, make sure to follow through. Think about the suggestion you’re making and walk through what you would do if you need the same help.
For mental help, do you know where mental health professionals are in your area? How much would it cost? Does insurance cover the visit? Now, can you answer all of these questions for the veteran?
If the answer is no, it’s time to think about giving veterans space once again. There’s nothing wrong with asking a veteran about their healthcare experience to figure out if they ran into a problem, but make sure you’re listening to their responses and giving real solutions if they open up.
Some people may turn down your offer for help. That’s fine, and you can’t make anyone seek help. You can, however, speak to veteran groups without giving the veteran’s name to be prepared if they come to you for help.
Honoring veterans isn’t a difficult task. Don’t confuse discounts and running errands for true respect and gratitude. Instead, think about their sacrifices and how you can respectfully repay them while being respectful to the uniform and yourself.
Contact a veteran outreach professional to discuss other ways to honor the veterans in your life.