There are nearly 800,000 veterans in the state of Illinois, almost ¾ of them are war-time veterans. Our country is entering the second decade of multiple wars, while budget realities make it all but impossible to provide our service members with the resources they need to reintegrate into civilian society. As a result, 11.7% of veterans are unemployed compared to the civilian rate of 9.1%. And almost a quarter of the country’s homeless population are veterans.

Today’s veterans face a whole host of challenges that I didn’t have to worry about when I left the Army in 2000. Many have terrible wounds, including missing limbs, Traumatic Brain Injuries, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They are returning to civilian life during the worst recession in decades. Since fewer than 1% of the adult population has served in the military, many people don’t understand how veterans can continue to contribute after leaving active service.

I hope that you will take some time this Veterans Day to think of those who are serving and have served their country. Here are 5 simple ways that you can help support military veterans, those in active service and their families this Veterans Day.

5. Care for a pet
Active duty military and veterans often find themselves in situations where they may not be able to care for their pets for a time, due to deployment overseas, injury, or being stationed outside of the country where pet quarantine laws make it impossible to travel at the same time. You can help by agreeing to foster a pet! Foster terms are usually between 3-13 months and are available in all 50 states.

4. Drive a Van (DAV)
Travel benefit cuts left many vets with no way to get to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities for needed treatment. They may live a great distance from a VA hospital, and because so many exist on small fixed incomes, they find that the cost of transportation to a VA hospital is just too high. DAV and Auxiliary volunteers respond, driving vets to and from VA hospitals and clinics. The DAV has also donated vans, where needed, to make the program work.

3. Turn your used cell phone into a call home
Cell Phones for Soldiers turns old cell phones into prepaid calling cards for U.S. troops stationed overseas. The phones are sent to ReCellular, which pays Cell Phones for Soldiers for each donated phone, enough to provide an hour of talk time to soldiers abroad.

2. Send a care package
The Department of Defense has discontinued the “To Any Solider” program, but there are still many active military who would love to receive a care package. The Kitchen Table Gang Trust will send you the address of a soldier or Marine who has requested a gift from home. This is a great opportunity to include young children, as you use the suggested shopping list to fill a box and surprise a soldier!

1. Record a story
The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. Take time to share stories with the veterans in your life and help us preserve their memories and wisdom.

Today’s post is by our Executive Director, Bridget Altenburg.
Bridget served in the US Army Corps of Engineers from 1995 until 2000 .