“Veterans and their families are the single greatest natural resource this country has.” – James Carafano

Veterans are highly skilled, dedicated individuals who bring to the civilian workforce those same qualities. However, transitioning from the battlefield to civilian life can be difficult. The panel of veterans and philanthropists at Heritage’s Protect America Month event, “Serving Those Who Serve,” gave some insight on how communities can help.

Different veterans need different kinds of help. Some have serious physical injuries, others have psychological wounds. Some have post-traumatic stress disorder, others have traumatic brain injuries. Some families have been destabilized through one member’s military service.

Colonel Lettie Bien, representative of the Fisher House, noted that the female veteran population is growing and widely misunderstood. Women returning from service have different needs than men, including different health and family issues.

Devin Holmes, founder and CEO of Warrior Gateway, explained that one of the most difficult aspects of supporting veterans is simply finding them. Many return from service and don’t recognize the community they return to. They are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of organizations wanting to help them, so many don’t seek help at all. Warrior Gateway helps veterans find assistance for their specific needs through local resources, whether it’s counseling, physical therapy, or housing.

For wounded veterans, returning to civilian life may seem overwhelming. Engaging in physical activity, which veterans are very familiar with, may give them the courage to take the first steps. Organizations like Team River Runner and Warriors and Quiet Waters help wounded warriors begin their transition back to civilian life with kayaking and fly fishing, respectively. Organizations like these that cater specifically to the families of service members and veterans are especially important.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) provides grief and trauma resources to the families of those who made the greatest sacrifice. ThanksUSA helps families by “providing need-based college, technical and vocational school scholarships for their children and spouses.” ThanksUSA’s founder, B. Robert Okun, said that supporting “the family structure back home” is a top issue for service members, and education is an important readiness and retention issue.

One organization, Esprit de Corps, has the mission of educating individuals and other organizations on how to best help veterans. Veteran Nation is their documentary film on the “experience of how America has treated our veterans and their families from Bunker Hill to Baghdad; the challenges facing this generation; and how the American people can best serve those who served.”

Every generation has a community of veterans that made sacrifices to provide for the common defense. The communities they return to should show their gratitude by providing them the best help possible. A few long established organizations that help veterans include The American Legion, Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Easter Seals. These groups and others like them welcome help from general and skilled volunteers, as well as donations.

To all Americans who have served our country, thank you.

Genevieve Syverson is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.