Want to do something for veterans today? Make sure you're doing it for them and not just for a bunch of people who work for a charity with “veterans” in the name.
There are many ways to thank a veteran for his or her service, but helping the people who help them readjust to civilian life, deal with battlefield trauma and treat their wounds is just about the best way to do so. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are roughly 22 million veterans in the general U.S. population. The number of veterans from recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to surge to 3.8 million by 2018, but there are still 7.2 million veterans from the Vietnam war alone.
However, roughly 30% of those newest veterans has a service-related disability, while about 8% live in poverty. That's compared to just 16% of other veterans who are similarly injured and 7% of that broader group living in poverty. Meanwhile, the June 2012 Monthly Medical Surveillance Report published by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center suggests annual incident diagnoses of mental disorders among active service members have increased by roughly 65% in the last 12 years. That doesn't just go away when service members are discharged, either. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that roughly 13% of the overall U.S. homeless population are veterans, with 50% experiencing severe mental illness and 75% struggling with substance abuse.
Younger vets from recent wars make up approximately 10% of that veteran homeless population and 31% of all veteran suicides. As we noted three years ago while telling the story of 21-year-old Army Specialist Adam Kuligowski -- who took his rifle into a bathroom stall at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and shot himself on on April 6, 2009 – often the very drugs soldiers are using to combat depression, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder are the ones interacting with other drugs and pushing military personnel toward suicide. Meanwhile, the 288 suicides among active-duty military members last year far outpaced the 58 combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same span. What's more, according to the VA's 2012 report on suicides, roughly 6,500 former military personnel kill themselves each year, which equates to one suicide every 80 minutes.
Within the last decade, the budget for Veterans Affairs has increased from $73.1 billion to $163.9billion. That includes $58.7 billion for medical care, $1.6 billion to help homeless vets and their families, $7.2 billion for mental health services, $4.2 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans alone and $1 billion over five years for a new Veterans Job Corps. Yet that still isn't enough to meet the needs of veterans and their families. A web of charitable organizations also pitches in and offers resources beyond what the VA already offers.
How can donors know who's making the most out of their money? CharityWatch notes that there are more than 40,000 nonprofit organizations dedicated to serving the military and veterans and an estimated 400,000 service organizations that in some way touch veterans or service members. The 2013/2014 Directory of Veterans and Military Service Organizations published by the VA lists more than 140 national nonprofit organizations. Additionally, the number of new veterans charities has grown by 41% since 2008 compared with 19% for charities in general, according to The Urban Institute. With help from CharityNavigator, Charity Watch and even the Internal Revenue Service, we've come up with seven charities that are worth your time and money if you really want to help veterans: