Community Foundation of New Jersey

Called to Serve: Veterans Recovering Through Community Service

July 22, 2013

Nearly 2.5 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of these men and women return home to face enormous challenges: backlogged claims for benefits, homelessness, physical and emotional trauma and difficulty adjusting to civilian life.  Efforts to alleviate this transition have increased, and several nonprofit organizations work to assist service members as they settle into life at home.

Recently, Time magazine featured a cover article touting the benefits of community service as a means for healing and reconnection for veterans. The article, written by Joe Klein, features an organization called The Mission Continues, which was founded by post-911 Navy Seal veteran Eric Greitens. The Mission Continues offers networking and community for post-911 veterans through ongoing civilian service and fellowship. Participating veterans can volunteer 20 hours per week for 26 weeks and receive living stipends, training and transfer of military skills to service projects. Plus, they’re able to join a service-oriented community.

According to the Time article, several studies support the therapeutic benefits of community service for veterans settling into life after traumatic combat experiences. What’s more, over 92% of veterans express an interest in volunteering and ongoing service. For veterans coping with feelings of depression, isolation and disability, community service provides active engagement and a sense of purpose.  Connecting and building community through civic engagement stands to benefit more than just veterans and the organizations that they serve, Klein says. Studies also show that regular volunteerism and community service can lead to greater longevity and life satisfaction for most people.

New Jersey is home to nearly half a million veterans. The NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees employment, education assistance, counseling and other services for returning service members, has seen the NJ veteran community expand with younger veterans. While many veterans are reintegrating through service and receiving the support and care that they need, thousands of New Jersey veterans are struggling with homelessness, unemployment and the daunting psychological realities of war. As nonprofit and community organizations rise to meet the challenge and provide support for the growing number of NJ veterans, the call to service is one that Klein’s article extends to all citizens:

“If service can reconnect individuals to their communities, imagine the impact on our waning sense of civic engagement, our weirdly hollow democracy in which active citizenship has been displaced by marketing and political sloganeering. Would it be so bad if the rest of us became more attuned to the values and can-do spirit our veterans have brought home from the military?”

CFNJ is gathering funds to support New Jersey’s veterans.  Email Hans at hdekker@cfnj.org if you would like to contribute.

And click here for a video on Community Hope, the largest charity serving homeless and disabled veterans in New Jersey.