June 18, 2015

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See John Wayne Walding in action on the first season of NRA Freestyle’s I Am Forever, sponsored by FNH USA.

“What would you say to a reporter who asked you what kind of help our returning vets need most?”

The best way Americans can help combat veterans is to validate their sacrifice. We are proud of our service and will always be compelled to serve this great nation. All we ask in return is for those we protect to acknowledge and appreciate the birthdays missed, holidays gone, bones broken, blood spilled and brothers lost. When we return from combat, we need the mental validation that proves every sacrifice made was absolutely “worth it.”

Think about the way Vietnam veterans were treated after fighting overseas. When being asked to serve their nation, they upheld their word as Americans should. They left their families and took being drafted like men by going into combat. After their service, they were treated worse than criminals, called “baby killers” and spit on by passersby. There are stories of veterans returning from Vietnam and changing out of their uniforms before even exiting the airport in order to avoid this treatment. Consequently, their sacrifices were never validated, and we saw that many struggled with depression and substance abuse. A great number of these warriors never truly returned home. 

With that being said, never underestimate the true magnitude of what the two words “THANK YOU” mean to veterans. I can tell you from firsthand experience that after losing my leg in battle, I would have tried to kill anyone who spit or shouted hate in my direction. Fortunately, that is not what I received. I received a huge bear hug from Americans that absolutely validated my sacrifice to this country. I have received more support than I could have ever imagined, and certainly more than I expected. That validation is why I don’t just want to be a citizen in my community, but a productive and successful citizen. That validation is why I don’t just want to be a husband or father, but a loving husband to my wife and caring father to my children. That validation is why I can proudly say I served the best, most exceptional country in the world. 

For those who need to convert gratitude into action, there is not one particular avenue of helping veterans that trumps all others. We are all different, with totally different needs. There will never be an end-all-be-all answer to supporting the troops. That is why I never recommend donating your hard-earned money to large organizations. You don’t know specifically how your money helped a veteran. My advice will always be to think about something specific that is near to your heart and find an organization that is designed to provide that service. You will always get the most bang for your buck, and you will know exactly how you helped veterans. 

If you want to help combat-wounded veterans that have trouble flying in airports, look at Veterans Airlift Command. The VAC provides free air transportation to post-9/11 combat wounded and their families for medical and other compassionate purposes, through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots. If you want to help Green Berets, there is the Green Beret Foundation. They provide immediate and long-term assistance for the wounded, the families and the fallen, including those who served alongside Special Forces. 

If you want to help veterans transition from military to civilian life, check out Sentinels of Freedom Foundation. They provide 2- to 4-year multifaceted scholarships to severely wounded post-9/11 veterans who pursue higher education after transitioning from the military. Honor, Courage, Commitment is another great veteran organization that trains and positions military veterans to become successful entrepreneurs, business and community leaders. They also have the program “22KILL,” designed to raise awareness of the 22 veterans every day who commit suicide. They honor those who have served by helping struggling veterans to find an advocate or “battle buddy” to discover their new direction in life.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here, but the point is that there are countless organizations out there trying to make a difference in the lives of veterans. Supporting the one that means the most to you is the greatest way you have of saying thanks.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Rifle Association. 

Source: by John Wayne Walding, Home Recipient, former Green Beret, trainer and 5 Toes Custom CEO