Recently, I walked through our historic downtown in North Carolina, replete with boutique shops and upscale restaurants. Families passed without any apparent thought of how the rest of the world is getting along, so it was a shock to me when a homeless man reached out asking for money. I asked him his name and he described his situation. He was out of work and homeless.
And he was a Marine Corps veteran.
Veterans Day is a federal holiday that most employers honor. Schools are out. People generally take a “long” weekend. They might go on vacation with the kids, work on a home project, start holiday shopping or stay in to watch football all weekend. All of which is very nice and very American.
But Veterans Day should be so much more.
It should be a day off from your normal workday, but the work shouldn’t stop. In our country, we have an inordinate number of veterans who are struggling to transition home from these wars from as far back as Vietnam and Korea. Some are homeless and have no income. Too many are dealing with the trauma of war and lifelong physical and psychological scars.
These men and women have sacrificed much for this country, and they shouldn’t be isolated from the rest of our communities. We should celebrate Veterans Day by committing to do more work in support of them and with them. Veterans have proven their ability to contribute greatly to our society; they’re adaptable, tough and resourceful – especially when they’re part of a unit and a mission.
If your employer gives you the day off, don’t sit at home. Volunteer at a local veterans center or homeless shelter, arrange for veterans to speak at your local schools or get involved with groups like The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon and the Pat Tillman Foundation to see how you can contribute long-term. For one day at least, help ease the burden that our veterans carry with them. Make community reintegration and bridging the civilian-military divide priorities.
Why spend such a valuable day off staring blankly at a television, navigating the holiday rush at the mall or searching for the best barbecue wings for your Monday Night Football spread? Instead, in just a few hours, you can change a veteran’s life and help continue to change our country.
Michael Kothakota is an Army veteran and graduate student studying predictive analytics at Northwestern University. He is a 2013 Tillman Military Scholar. His piece was originally featured in Stars and Stripes on Veterans Day 2013.