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How to support veterans and service members this Memorial Day in ways that actually make a difference

Every Memorial Day, there’s so much talk about weekend travels, barbecues, and upcoming summer plans that the true meaning of the holiday — taking time out of your day to honor and remember those who died while fighting in the military — often gets lost. On this year's commemoration, though, consider checking out one of the many ways to support military veterans and service members, all of which go beyond just donating money.

While donating to a charity is certainly commendable, it's far from the only way to help veterans monetarily, or even necessarily the best. As Nneka M. Brown-Massey, a veteran and the founder and creative director of Innovative Supplies Worldwide, Inc, explains to Mic, when you give to an organization, some of that money likely goes towards administrative costs — “so not all 100% is going to the veteran you want to help."

Luckily, if you want to do something to more directly show military members your appreciation this holiday (or whenever!), there are plenty of other options. “Veterans make broad contributions to society beyond their military service,” Carlos Perez, an Army veteran and the COO at the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association, tells Mic. “So it’s only natural that there are ample opportunities for civilians to help veterans beyond monetary donations.” Such as:

Shop at veteran-owned businesses

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If you're looking for your money to go straight to the people, Brown-Massey suggests supporting a veteran-owned business. According to a report from the U.S. Small Business Administration, 2.52 million U.S. businesses are majority-owned by veterans, so there’s certainly no lack of outlets for your dollars.

By patronizing a veteran-owned business, you “not only ensure that [the] veteran is employed, but [also that] their family is fed and they can continue providing services to the community,” Jerry Flanagan, an Army veteran and founder of JDog Brands, tells Mic. “Many of these Veteran-owned businesses, like JDog Junk Removal & Hauling, are also [staffed] by veterans, which instills a sense of camaraderie typically only found in the military. The more you can support these businesses, the more employment they can provide.”

Hire veterans

If you’re in a hiring position, you can help veterans find gainful employment at your company — and you might discover their skillsets really come in handy. “At a young age, military candidates are immersed in an intense experience that builds qualities like leadership, integrity, accountability, grit, camaraderie and calm under fire — qualities being taught right now at West Point just as much as Wharton,” Michael Hansen, national director of military affairs at Power Home Remodeling and creator of the Power Veterans Initiative, tells Mic. “Efforts to hire veterans in meaningful... positions can have a longer lasting positive impact on both the veterans and our company [than donating money].”

Plus, as Meg O’Grady, vice president of military and public sector solutions at Purdue University Global, tells Mic, businesses who hire veterans may qualify for tax credits and other incentives. She suggests using resources like the National Labor Exchange and Hiring Our Heroes to connect with and recruit veterans, and taking free courses from Psych Armor Institute to best support those who you hire. “Be mindful that vets with injuries or disabilities may not be able to work full-time and may depend on their spouses for income,” she says. “Consider flexible or part-time options for such workers or flexible arrangements for their working spouses.”

Even if you’re not in a hiring position, you can help vets by looking out for potential job opportunities that might be a fit. “If possible, connect veterans you know with professionals and influencers in your network,” says Perez. “Going through the job search and application process can be daunting for anyone, particularly a recently-retired service member — an introduction can sometimes go a long way.”

Become a mentor

While veterans leave the service with a long list of valuable skills, many can still use help in adapting those skills to “civilian equivalents that employers are looking for,” Perez says. “Offer to review their resume, if they’re comfortable with it, and share honest feedback from a civilian’s perspective,” he advises, noting that staging mock interviews can also be helpful. "Chances are, if you don’t understand a certain task they have written on a resume or that they are explaining in person, a prospective employer might not either.”

If you have business experience, use it to help out veterans who have entrepreneurship goals. “Veterans are seven times as likely as civilians to start their own businesses but have little resources with which to do it,” says Suzanne Garber, chair of the advisory board of Bunker Labs Philadelphia. Her organization is a national non-profit that helps veterans and their spouses start and grow their businesses through programs like Launch Lab Online and WeWork's Veterans in Residence, the latter of which pairs veterans who are small business owners with mentors. They're always looking for more people to get involved in that capacity, says Garber, so if you're interested in mentoring, you can find opportunities with one of the 24 Bunker Lab chapters on the website.

Help out service members' families

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While helping out veterans and service members themselves is obviously great, you can also focus on helping out their families. "Do you own a contracting business? You could volunteer to help renovate or rebuild a veteran’s home," Sergeant Chae Reid, the creator of Dance4Defenders and a current member of the U.S. Air Force, tells Mic. "Supporting veterans," she adds, "is not only limited to the member; you can also lend a hand to their spouses and/or their children, [and] you can support those who have lost someone killed in the line of duty.”

O'Grady echoes this, saying, “If you know that a neighbor is deployed, offer to assist with [things like] yard work [and] child care. Military life often requires multiple changes of residences, so a friendly and helpful neighbor is invaluable — even if the time spent together is short.”

Volunteer with veteran organizations

There are many organizations actively helping military members and veterans that accept volunteers, such as PsychArmor Institute; Wounded Warrior Project; Team Red, White, and Blue; and Blue Star Families. “If you’re interested in getting involved in your community and don’t know where to start, check out the Veterans Affairs (VA) website for VA-recognized Veteran Service Organizations with a presence in your area,” Perez says.

“You can also reach out to state and local VA advisory councils which might be able to identify which organizations in your area are most in need of volunteers, resources or donations," he adds. "This might include VA care facilities or hospitals, VA homes and homeless veteran shelters.”

Send a care package to active duty members

Alton Pete, an Army veteran and author of Life Is So Precious, tells Mic that one of his favorite in-uniform moments took place on his final flight home from combat in Iraq. Not only did he get a standing ovation from the plane's passengers and crew, he was given a first-class seat and a “beautiful care package,” he recalls. “I still have the package [today]. I felt like a true war hero because of the gratitude displayed for the sacrifice we made for our nation.”

But, he adds, “you don’t have to wait to see a military person to send them inspiration and love.” Instead, you can send a care package directly to an on-duty service member. Organizations like Operation Gratitude and Just Our Soldiers’ Helpers accept item donations for care packages they send to troops; you can also mail your own through the U.S. Postal Service’s free Military Care Kit, which includes all of the shipping supplies you’ll need (including boxes that say “America Supports You”).

Thank them in person

Don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face time and attention. Sergeant Brett Miller, a veteran and the founder of Warfighter Outfitters, suggests taking time to talk with and listen to a service member — whether it’s someone you already know, or someone you meet through an organization. “Be patient, because many veterans are not willing or able to open up about their experience, and many never will,” he says. “Don’t push, and don’t judge. If you have not served, you cannot know what they have been through. But being a patient listener goes a long way in showing you care, and that makes a big difference.”

So does a simple expression of your gratitude. “Although donating to a veterans' organization can make a real difference in veterans' lives, one of the ways to make a difference is to say 'thank you' and really mean it,” Miller says. “Many veterans have never heard 'thank you for your service,' and all the veterans I work with are happy to hear they are appreciated.”