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Five ways to help a veteran today

By Betsy Anderson, CNN
U.S. Army veteran Sean Balenti attends a veterans event in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday.
U.S. Army veteran Sean Balenti attends a veterans event in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Simple ways to help veterans that can make an impact
  • You don't have to spend a lot of money to show gratitudefor veterans
  • Just saying "thank you" can go a long way
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(CNN) -- Veterans Day is a day to honor and celebrate the military veterans who have served our country, but if you don't have a veteran in your family or even know one, the meaning of the day may be lost.

The Veterans Administration says there are 23 million living U.S. Veterans. A veteran could be your neighbor, your co-worker or the person sitting next to you on the train. They are silent heroes we may run into every day and while we may appreciate their service, many people are not quite sure exactly how to help a veteran.

Historically, Veterans Day is marked by parades, official ceremonies and events, but many Americans only know it as a day off work or school. Since the 1950s, Veterans Day has been the day to honor veterans of all wars. Here are some ideas if you want to do something more for a veteran:

1) Write a letter

Many organizations, including California-based Operation Gratitude, sponsor letter writing campaigns for veterans. It's never too late to write a letter of gratitude to a Veteran.

Instructions:

1. Please make sure your letters will fit in a standard size envelope
2. Include your own name and address in the body of the letter
3. Do not write about politics, religion, death or killing
4. Please do not use glitter
5. This is strictly a letter-writing effort to thank Veterans; please do not send any care package items for Veterans
6. All letters will be screened
7. Send multiple letters together in one large mailing envelope or box

Please send as many letters (or copies with original signature) as you would like by regular mail only to:

Thank a Veteran
c/o Penny Alfonso
1970 Rangeview Drive
Glendale, CA 91201

2) Volunteer at a VA hospital

Veterans of all wars seek health care at the nation's many VA hospitals. And more than likely, there is a VA hospital in your community.

Cathy Pratt of veterans organization Freedom is not Free says visiting a VA hospital can make a big difference for a veteran. Many of those hospitalized may not have family or anyone to visit them. Taking a couple hours every week or month to volunteer can make a huge impact on your life and a veteran's life. This would also be a great way to teach children American history by introducing them to the people who have preserved America's freedom.

If you go to the Veterans Administration website, there is a way to sign up volunteer at your local VA hospital.

3) Donate simple things

Not money, but donating small items can help make some lonely lives better. Small donations to VA Hospitals are always welcome. Many patients are on fixed incomes and unable to buy some of the things that could make their recoveries better.

Check with your local VA Hospital, but here are some items they are looking for:

• Magazines
• Coffee and cookies
• New or gently used clothing
• Telephone cards

4) Help the homeless

According to VA, a little more than a fifth of the adult homeless population has served their country. The VA has founded a National Call Center for Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, that provides free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. Call 1-877-4AID VET (1-877-424-3838).

The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars also have homeless programs to assist veterans and several charities are dedicated to helping wounded service members and their families. Coming home from war and returning to the workforce while dealing with the wounds of war can also be economically challenging.

If you are going to donate money to help a homeless or struggling veteran, make sure you pick a reputable charity or organization that has 501(c)(3) designation. Contact your local VFW or American Legion to find out how to make sure your money stays in your community.

5) Say thank you

This may be the simplest and maybe the most effective way to make an immediate impact for a veteran. Many veterans may feel disenfranchised and forgotten by a nation. If you see a veteran or know of one, take a moment to say thank you.

"Thank you for your service," is a simple statement that can go a long way.

Veterans have given up a lot to serve their country, and many will deal with emotional and physical wounds for the rest of their lives. Knowing that we appreciate their service and their sacrifice can help.

And don't forget about the veterans still serving. Many of our active duty military personnel have served multiple tours in Afghanistan or Iraq. If you see a person in uniform in public, say thank you -- two words that can make a big difference.

These are just five simple ways to help a veteran, but there are hundreds more ways to make an impact.

 
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