How You Can Help Veterans

Spark. Something that activates: a factor that sets off or acts as a stimulant, inspiration, or catalyst.

Finding a passion in life is a challenge that we all face, but there are times when it's
Especially difficult -- which often comes at a transitional period in our life. For many veterans, this means the period of time when they exit the military and return to the civilian world. Recent studies underscore the VA's shortage of mental-health programs that are supposed to support an estimated 300,000 post-9/11 Veterans who have psychological wounds, namely, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury

Forecasting this reality, I have an answer for any American who asks the question, "How can I help veterans?"

Help them find their spark and then ignite it.

Veterans personify the diversity that is America. They come from every state, every ethnicity, race and religion. This diverse list also includes their passions and what makes them happy. War entails dealing with a constant threat to personal safety, but it's also isolation from family, friends and the familiar. For many who have deployed since 9/11, their experiences have caused their passions to fade. In their place, many veterans find themselves devoting great time to the television, video games, internet and the like.

For many with post-traumatic stress disorder, they are relying on these outlets to cope with psychological stress---but not other people in their community.

Technology has made it incredibly convenient to live isolated from people in the community. In the process, many veterans struggling to process their combat experiences have missed friendship opportunities and lost "that something" that fills them with excitement. Whether it is physical fitness, music, art, cooking, animals or a myriad of other passions, these men and women need to ignite that spark.

Research in the field of Positive psychology has discovered that social relationships are the number one driver of happiness and life satisfaction. Money, where you live and how attractive you are have a marginal impact on happiness if you lack meaningful relationships in your life. One of the most common ways a friendship forms is over a shared passion or experience. This, I believe, is where the American people can play a critical role for veterans---and one that comes naturally.

Herein lays the biggest obstacle, though.

How do "Andy and Annie American" who enjoy hiking know that Sergeant (Retired) Jones, who lives three miles away, used to hike before he acquired post-traumatic stress from two deployments to Iraq?

Team Red, White & Blue is a recently formed nonprofit that is tackling this obstacle to successfully reintegrate wounded veterans. "Team RWB" is working to support wounded veterans in this personal way---by connecting them with reliable, passionate people in the communities where they live. Currently operating in Houston, Detroit and Washington, D.C., the organization is expanding to eight other locations in the coming months. As more wounded veterans come forward to join Team RWB, friendships will form over shared experiences and discussions. Taking in football games, running together, going to pottery classes, riding horses, going on hikes, playing the guitar, taking cooking classes: American communities all over the country are primed to ignite these sparks.

Words of affirmation and appreciation are great. They really are. They certainly make service members and veterans feel good in the moment. But authentic social interaction and shared experiences with people in their community are what many wounded veterans need.

So, while Veterans Day reminds us to say thank you, hopefully this year, it will also be a time to start expressing thanks through action.