For over a decade, Healing Ajax, a branch of Resources for Human Development, has utilized a trauma-informed approach to aiding veterans as they reintegrate into society. Through peer support groups, veterans share experiences and learn coping skills in an environment that encourages use of the shared language of service.
This year, as COVID-19 disrupted conventional functions, Healing Ajax adapted, offering veterans the same quality of care through a different medium. By employing online meetings of support groups, the organization continued to support all who sought its services.
For Tom Wagner, director of Healing Ajax, the transition to online groups was met with initial skepticism. However, as sessions progressed, he soon realized that the virtual encouraged the confessional. “People are more willing to share if they’re not sitting physically next to another person,” he said. “It seems like they’re participating at a higher level.”
While COVID-19 interrupted in-person support groups and countless other activities in veterans’ lives, the pandemic will also impact Veterans Day. Although celebration this year may look different, our appreciation of those who served remains unwavering.
To ensure we honor veterans in a manner befitting their sacrifice, Tom Wagner answers questions on celebrating and supporting those who served this Veterans Day and every day.
How can we honor veterans this year as social distancing measures limit gathering?
For individuals looking to celebrate safely this Veterans Day, Wagner pointed toward virtual ceremonies. In Healing Ajax’s home city of Philadelphia, a local news channel is making their annual military salute virtual. Many veterans’ organizations are following in these remote footsteps and bringing their celebrations online, including a live stream of National Veterans Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery.
Wagner also shared his personal rituals associated with the holiday, which include a re-watch of HBO’s Band of Brothers and a visit to a local veterans’ memorial park. By enacting small activities, veterans can still celebrate despite the limitations of COVID-19.
How can we best support the veterans in our lives and communities?
For Wagner, understanding is key to support. He underlined the “suck-it-up” culture ingrained within the military. Wagner explained that this mentality is pervasive in all military branches, and overcoming this ideology is one of the most complex challenges veterans face as they reintegrate with civilian life.
He urged active listening and learning as the best strategies for supporting the veterans in our lives and communities. To aid in understanding, Veterans Affairs (VA) also offers support groups for friends and family of veterans to foster this comprehension of struggle with the stigma associated with speaking out about difficulty.
Tips for support on Veterans Day and every day
“One of the best things you can do on Veterans Day is reach out and thank a veteran for their service,” said Wagner. “Give them a call, shoot them a text or message them on Facebook. Let them know you’re still thinking about them, even in the current environment.”
For veterans who are struggling, Wagner shared resources that friends and family should be aware of. Regardless of region, every county has a veterans’ services department. This organization can provide detailed information about local infrastructure. On a national level, the VA hotline is a resource, as well.
While it is important to celebrate Veterans Day this Nov. 11, it is equally important to support veterans every day. By familiarizing ourselves with the resources available and the struggles veterans face, we can better support the individuals who fearlessly served our nation.
A heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes out from all of us at Netsmart to all those who have served. Happy Veterans Day.
Learn more about RHD and how you can support their mission here.
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