What is the image that makes you feel the most grateful during the holiday season? For me, it’s the image of a soldier. The image of them serving overseas, and putting their lives at risk—while we comfortably break bread and open gifts—makes me conscious of how easy we have it here in America to feel safe. Only recently did I begin to see the battle that our troops are fighting when they return home.
In Iraq alone, more than 30,000 soldiers came home injured, 20 percent with brain and spinal injuries. This doesn’t include the psychological impairments that increasingly are leading to suicide. Today, the rate of suicide among veterans is epidemic, reaching a rate of 18 suicides per day. In fact, over 6,500 soldiers have not died from fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: but by taking their own lives.
Think of it this way: For every service member who dies in battle, 25 veterans die by their own hands.
We can help change this. Not by avoiding war, but by paying attention and supporting our troops when they come home. One nonprofit that comes to mind is the Wounded Warrior Project. This extraordinary organization not only tackles these issues holistically, but approaches their work on the pillars of fun, integrity, and loyalty. That’s something we can all jump on board to support.
As we think about the true service of our troops this holiday season, don’t stop short of when they return home. I often think of my childhood friend’s brother who survived the firefight in Afghanistan but lost the battle within himself after he got home. We must remember that just because they are back on US soil, their fight to find a new normal is just beginning. While we may not be able to help on the frontlines of the war overseas, we must help them in this fight when they return home.
Here are 3 ways to get started:
1. Tell a veteran that you're grateful.
2. Get a group of friends or your family to write cards to veterans spending their holidays at a VA Hospital.
3. Make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.