Moving Past The Thanks

Veterans Day is a very special day in my family. We take time to remember the men and women with whom I have served, many of whom have eaten dinner with us, played with the kids and crashed on our couch. In the military, everyone is family.

My military family now numbers 21 million — the number of veterans we commemorate today. These heroes deserve to be thanked for their tremendous service to their country. But, like many civilians, often veterans are uncomfortable being singled out. So what to do?

Here’s one idea. Thank their family. Thank the spouse who serves as a single parent for six, even 12 months at a time while her service member is deployed. Of course, times have changed for the better and nowadays, you may actually be thanking a stay-at-home dad who is juggling the kids while his wife carries out her country’s duties on a ship thousands of miles away in the Pacific.

For a family whose deployed service member has recently come home, lend a hand. Offer to babysit the kids so that the parents can have some much-needed alone time. Be a real neighbor. Instead of waving from your front door and then disappearing back into your world, take the time to rake leaves or mow the lawn.

Here’s an even better idea. Instead of casual thanks, why not sit down and have a real conversation with a veteran? Ask if he/she is experiencing any challenges with reintegration. All reintegration means is that the veterans’ needs are evolving, not disappearing.

In her book When Johnny and Jane Came Marching Home, Paula Caplan writes that helping may be as simple (and as difficult) as not turning away when vets speak of their experiences, but rather listening attentively and non-judgmentally. In other words, show some empathy.

Americans love to talk. I’m guilty of it myself. But today, might I suggest a different approach? Sit down with a vet and simply listen, one-on-one. You’ll be surprised at what you hear, at what you’ll learn.

If you’re one of the 99 percent of our country who has not served in the military or have close family ties to someone in service, make a resolution today to get to know us. We are your neighbors, the person you stand behind in the supermarket cashier line and the family sitting next to you in the church pew. We like hot coffee and can be good listeners, too, if you need it.

It’s less about “help” or “thanks” than an opportunity to get to know a remarkable group of people. There’s no better day than today to start.

Originally published November 12, 2014, Huffington Post