By Rosemary Williams November 9, 2017
November is Military Family Appreciation Month and also hosts one of the more popular patriotic holidays, Veterans Day. While Veterans Day is a time for local parades and events (and the time-honored Veterans’ discount at stores and restaurants), how Americans can honor and support military families can still be challenging. For those who look to increase their support of military families and Veterans, here are nine paths to consider:
1. Connect with your local military families.
70% of all military families, and 68% of single service members, live outside military installation gates in our civilian communities. Chapter organizations such as Team Red, White and Blue, Blue Star Families, USO, and other non-profits that serve military families and Veterans often look for non-military neighbors to participate in their events.
2. Honor their service where you work.
If you are a teacher, consider having a Military Family Day when military kids can describe what makes being a military family so unique and special. At work, offer to host a company-wide coffee for Veteran and military family employees. Many employers continue support through Veteran Employee Resource Groups or make a commitment to hire military spouses, Veterans, and their spouses.
3. Instead of “Thank you for your service” try, “Tell me about your service…”
Everyone appreciates a “thanks,” but asking about a Veteran’s experiences is a conversation starter.
4. Practice flag etiquette.
It may sound trivial to some, but military families and Veterans notice if your American flag is directly lit at night, needs replacing, or if it is not brought in during inclement weather.
5. Help to fight the stigma of the “damaged hero.”
The great General Shinseki says, “no one comes back from war unchanged.” This has been true since the beginning of armed conflict, but often overlooked is that not every warrior comes back damaged. The overwhelming majority recover from Post-Traumatic Stress. The challenges of PTSD and TBI are not confined to the military; non-military civilians also battle the challenges of PTSD from traumatic personal experiences and TBI from such things as car accidents.
6. Avoid thoughtless questions and comments.
Asking a military spouse how he deals with his deployed wife being gone so long is not helpful. Complaining to a survivor about your husband’s laziness/bad habits/football habit is one of the pet peeves of survivors. Coach your children as well – they do not mean to be thoughtless when they ask, “Has your father killed anyone?” Best to assume the military family is proud of their service and feel as though they also serve by supporting their loved one.
7. Keep the military out of political conversations.
Do not assume a military family or Veteran’s political affiliation. Military families and their service members serve regardless of which party is in charge, and serve so that everyone can make their own political choice. At the end of the day, service to the country and to the Constitution are what really resonate.
8. Hire a military spouse.
Post 9/11 Veteran unemployment is at an all-time low, but according to a 2016 survey by the nonprofit Blue Star Families, 43% of military spouses are unemployed, compared with 25.5% of civilian spouses. Military spouses lag even farther behind civilians when it comes to underemployment, with 38% military spouses underemployed relative to their level of education, compared with 6% of civilian spouses. This is primarily because each time a military spouse moves, she or he has to start their career from scratch, and many professional licenses don’t transfer across state lines.
Military spouses are innovative problem solvers, highly collaborative, hardworking, team players. Hiring a military spouse is not just good business sense, it is also a national security issue; the number one reason why military leave active duty service is because of the spouse’s lagging career. Add “military spouses encouraged to apply” to your job posting and/or contact your local military family non-profit chapter or military installation Family Center.
9. Continue to reach out when the military family becomes a Veteran family.
Transitioning from military service to civilian life can be the most difficult time in a military family’s journey. They leave a shared mission in a very close community with defined duties and the rigor of the military culture, to assimilate into a civilian life they may not readily self-identify with. Ask your new neighbor, church member or student “have you or your family served in the military?” And then proceed right to #3 above. They, and you, will be better for reaching out and engaging as a true measure of thanks from a grateful nation.