We all acknowledge that serving others is a noble pursuit. Perhaps the noblest are those who put their lives on the line, volunteering to wear the uniform of our nation. Individuals leave their comfort and loved ones at home, accepting hardship and willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice to defend others they don’t even know, and to advance our ideals to improve the world. From birthing a free country, to ending slavery, to beating Nazis, to stopping communism, to repelling invasions, to ridding the world of evil dictators, to ensuring girls can attend school and people can dance, our troops have greatly enhanced our world. They have paid a steep price in doing so, and many ordinary citizens want to give back.
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The problem is the vast majority of Americans do not know personally know a servicemember, let alone have a veteran family member ... The downside is being disengaged from those serving our interests in harm’s way.
The problem is the vast majority of Americans do not personally know a servicemember, let alone have a veteran family member. The benefits of technological advantage and an all-volunteer force mean less than 1 percent of the population ever wears the uniform. The downside is being disengaged from those serving our interests in harm’s way. The Veterans Administration scandal of poor care and deceit is heartbreaking, and part of the reason it happened is lack of attention. While steps are being taken to address the VA mismanagement now, you can add to the pressure by emailing and calling your elected representatives, no checks necessary.
How Donors Can Support Military, Veterans and Their Families
For those who want to do more to show gratitude to those who go into harm’s way on our behalf, and to show compassion to those who sacrificed so much for us and those they never met, philanthropy is a great method. A multitude of charities devoted to serving our military, veterans, and their families exist, which shows how indebted we feel. You are not alone in exploring more ways donate to members of our Armed Forces.
Here are several examples from my own giving:
United Service Organization: Since 1941 the USO has provided morale, welfare, and recreational activities to servicemembers and their families. Bob Hope and Lucille Ball famously performed for the troops for decades. Today’s big names — Jon Stewart, Katy Perry, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood and Nicki Minaj, among others — now entertain the troops and waive their fees. However there are still big production costs to host shows for deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen & Marines. Closer to home, the USO operates lounges in airports for military families to rest and relax and enjoy donated food & beverages while in transit to postings around the world. The USO centers offer seating, libraries, TV, luggage storage, toys, Internet access and more.
The Special Operations Warrior Foundation: Provides a full college education to the surviving children of fallen heroes, and provides financial assistance and support to severely wounded personnel in the Special Operations community. These volunteers go above and beyond to serve at the tip of the spear.
They are the most tested and specially screened to conduct the most difficult and dangerous missions. They endure more hardship than most in service to our country, and work significantly harder than most in uniform.
[The author with Gold Star children who lost their parents in combat]
Wounded Warrior Project: With a tagline, “The greatest casualty is being forgotten,” this national non-profit seeks to honor and empower our wounded warriors. The organization focuses on severely injured servicemen and servicewomen with programs to aid and assist each other, and to raise awareness in our increasingly distracted society. While the organization was under scrutiny for its spending in recent years, it’s currently listed as an accredited charity by the Better Business Bureau and has a 3-star rating (out of 4) with Charity Navigator as of May 2018.
If you’re looking to conduct more research about these and other military nonprofits, one good resource is The Patriots Initiative, an organization led by military veterans to serve military veterans. It produces a directory of military and veterans support organizations that it assesses for effectiveness alongside efficiency and spending. This set of organizations is working in different geographies on different aspects of veteran support and all have been vetted for effectiveness.
Original article by Brian Vowinkel. Vowinkel is an Eagle Scout who graduated from West Point and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has led people and managed resources in postings around the world as an Army officer and business leader. Brian is a board member of the USO Northwest and Tateuchi Center, and has been a board member of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, Swedish Hospital Summit Club, City Year Seattle and Gen-Next Seattle. He spent 13 years as a Social Venture Partner.
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