Many are donating to veteran organizations via a TV commercial or a magazine ad. ‘Tis the season!

Many veterans complain about society’s lack of an accurate depiction of vets. I admit it, I complain about our society’s misuse of constructed images of veterans.

Televised major sports events show veterans in commercials, ‘living the dream.’ At televised State of the Union speeches, troops and veterans are mentioned.

But at these events—or in a New York Times article—is society getting regular information about the daily struggle veterans experience? It takes a new bombing or the start of a new war to get updates or special features on veterans. Usually, the spectacle of a veteran is presented only when veteran coverage is taken on by mass media outlets.

In the midst of this lack of attunement towards veterans, I am given hope by the special group of civilians who care and fight for the welfare and rights of veterans.

Giving by problem-solving

On my weekly veteran podcast, “Warrior Wellness and Lifeworlds,” in collaboration with the Veteran Spirituality Fellowship on the Warfighter Radio Network, there was a listener (a few years ago) who donated a generous amount of money to an Iraq War veteran who lost his job and needed to support a wife and two young children.

The listener happened to be a woman from my hometown. Elizabeth Counts Villanova just gave to the struggling veteran with the deepest level of compassion. This assistance helped the veteran fight another day in the war zone called ‘home.’

There was no bureaucratic mess tied to the giving and the veteran was not shamed in the process of receiving help. This was a successful mission. The force multiplier here was Elizabeth. Elizabeth happens to be a civilian and the sister of a Persian Gulf War veteran. I salute her and others who are helping veterans!

Teri Nichols from the Warfighter Radio Network is a civilian who has created a diverse community of veterans and civilians with her radio shows. She let me be the Billy Graham and Sigmund Freud for veterans and helped produce more than 70 of my Veteran Spirituality and Wellness podcasts for the veteran community.

Teri gave so much of her time and resources to help veterans in need. She was on the frontline and remains there, helping veterans in dire need. I salute Teri.

Teri and I would spend hours talking about specific veterans and their needs. Teri never went to a Social Work school, but much like Jane Adams, she just got into the trenches and started helping many veterans in dire conditions.

The civilians I mention are special and distinct because they truly care. They do not read a veteran article in the newspaper and feel sorry for veterans. These folks make a difference. If they read about the veteran on the streets refusing to enter a shelter, these civilian warriors try to examine the reasons for the abject conditions of the veteran in need. These warriors aim to problem-solve, instead of engaging in the unresolved hero-worship of veterans.

Peter Schneeberger started a non-profit that places meaning on veteran holidays and other patriotic holidays. It is called Beyond Tribute, and there is amazing energy behind this organization.

I have spent many hours talking to Paul about my life since Iraq. He is a civilian who’s willing to invest his heart into veteran causes. He has been a true warrior for those causes.

Giving by creating space for understanding

Prudence Coffey is another true patriot and veteran ally. She is a warrior who spends a great amount of time contemplating the lives of veterans who have died of suicide. She is sewing more than 600 flags together to remember the forgotten troops.

These are the forgotten troops society has just identified as a number: 22—the number of veteran suicides each day. Prudence is always looking at the lives that served and the losses tied to those valuable lives.

Many overlook the warrior who is overwhelmed and may not fit the image of a cheery veteran on a TV commercial, but warriors like Prudence remind us that veterans are not a commodity. Veteran lives truly matter. Here are some words from Prudence, tied to her work with veterans:

OK. So, kidney failure and limb loss disrupted my plan to become an LCPC Counsellor or even return to a school, so I wanted to volunteer. I have to work. I considered needy populations, and vets was an easy choice, since I have suffered from depression, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), limb loss.

I started at Battle in Distress, which may not have been the best choice, yet I am thankful for the fake foot in the door. Then I had helped individuals and earned trust. I have been in and out of various vet groups, keeping my eye on the prize of veteran wellness. I have been lucky in meeting truly admirable and humble helpers, many of which you may have never heard of.

I have found that certain veterans with a large audience self-promote, but offer little more than lip service to their brothers and sisters. Pretty much, if you are a brand, I’m probably not a fan. I have done individual and family counselling and a lot of social case management work.

I talk to a lot of friends and family members of veterans that know me. I find that a huge compliment; as you know, I did a bit of radio and podcasts, sometimes on the planning side and now and then on the air. I have found my life experience as valuable as my formal training at Loyola University. I am in it for free and for the right reasons. I need to work and I was born a helper.

On civvies, many of us have gifts we want to share, namely with veterans. I’m thankful to be accepted by the community and hope others will have opportunities, too. Sure, we haven’t had the experiences a veteran has, but I feel that strong advocates should be welcomed, unless proven unworthy.

I have good reasons for focusing my veteran voice on Prudence and other civilian warriors who are also in the fight for veteran causes.

Dr. Marcelle Mentor, a South African scholar, has helped me understand war and the meaning of forgiving others. She lives the warrior life. My doctoral advisor, Dr. Yolanda Sealey Ruiz, told me about her uncle who served in the Second World War as a proud African-American soldier, and the grit behind this narrative helps me examine my grit. There are special meanings behind civilians who are truly making a difference with their service.

I have good reason to look at warrior-civilians servicing veterans in direct and indirect ways. With all the challenges facing veterans, veterans cannot be in this fight alone.

Jane Olivier from this magazine has been a great battle buddy in processing many of the themes in my weekly pieces. I truly feel she is there for me. This reminds me of the few great battle buddies I have had in the military.

While voting is important, trying to understand the issues and truly being in the trenches with veterans is a true sign of giving. Let’s remember veterans in a deep way and get involved whether you wore a uniform or not.

‘Tis the Season.

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit A LOVE FOR THE IMAGE OF MILITARY UNIFORMED MEN: How I ask “Where is the Love?” from an article in The Economist»

>image 1 Give by Xavier Sandel via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) 2 Homeless and Cold by Ed Yourdan via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) 3 Pixabay