Volunteering with Veterans
From preparing meals and organizing events to providing legal services, explore volunteer opportunities with veterans, gain expert insight, and learn how and where you can start making a difference.
Last Updated: 08/14/2020
Meet the Expert
Director of Psychological Health
As a teenager, Sean Walsh was often in trouble with the law. Entrenched in alcoholism, substance abuse, and depression, Sean needed a change. He found it through his faith and his knowledge of construction. Opening Walcraft Cabinetry served not only as his saving grace, but as a beacon to others with a history of incarceration. Today Sean is the leader of Walsh Built Homes and Walcraft Cabinetry, two companies that are now known for providing much-needed second chances to those who seek out a better life.
Do you want to show your appreciation to the veterans of our country? If your answer is yes, there’s no better way than offering your time and energy as a volunteer. In 2019 alone, more than 61,000 volunteers gave over nine million hours of their time to support veterans. And while this is certainly an excellent figure, 90% of Americans say they’d like to volunteer, but don’t know where to start.
Making a difference in the lives of veterans doesn’t have to be challenging if you know where to look. While it may seem like you need certain skills or training to work with the veteran population, there are numerous opportunities to volunteer with veterans for students, young adults, working professionals, and the average citizen without specialized training. In this guide, we offer a detailed look at some of the most impactful and accessible volunteer opportunities working with veterans today. We also offer expert insight and information for those of you who might want to pursue a full-time career in support of veterans, but aren’t sure how.
Why Volunteer with Veterans?
Volunteering with veterans is a thoughtful and productive way to show your appreciation for them. Many organizations and facilities today need the help of volunteers to keep providing their services and meeting the demands of vets across the U.S. From veterans’ hospitals and nursing homes to clinics and private practices, care facilities and support services are always looking for help. Below are just some of reasons we need more volunteers to help our veterans.
The Need for Volunteers
- Organizations need individuals to volunteer their time, especially those who are willing to help carry out and arrange day-to-day necessities for vets. Even if you feel like you have no qualified skills to be a part of this work, please reconsider. You have something to offer.
- Many organizations who provide support services for veterans are simply spread too thin. There’s almost always something you can help with.
- Volunteers with specialized training, from social workers to psychologists, can make themselves available to provide in-demand and impactful services that not every volunteer can offer.
- This work can be a big undertaking and requires manpower to make it happen. Unfortunately, there often isn’t enough funding to pay workers for their time and volunteers need to fill these gaps.
- Support services are needed for injured and sick veterans, but there’s also a demand for more socially based support for older vets. Volunteers are needed to help improve end-of-life care in a variety of roles, including spending leisure time with vets or providing bedside support.
- Veterans need help transitioning back to civilian life, and volunteers have proven to be very helpful in this process.
- There are many formal programs to help veterans handle overlooked day-to-day activities in civilian life. Volunteers can do many things, including helping vets with financial planning, enrolling in classes, finding engaging social activities, and more.
The Desire to Make a Difference
Whether it’s your desire to work with a particular group in the veteran population or expand your worldview, opportunities to volunteer with vets help you explore your own interests while helping others.
Many volunteers see these opportunities to use their own passions to help support vets in times of need. For example, volunteers with animals have found ways to bring joy to vets in hospitals and care facilities by scheduling pet visitations orchestrated by social workers, psychologists, and hospital programs. Others have been able to take vets on fishing trips so they can enjoy the outdoors, learn a new skill, or share in a hobby with someone else who is passionate about it. Whatever your desire may be, there are usually mutually beneficial ways to put them to use by volunteering with veterans.
Volunteer Opportunities with Veterans
Opportunities are available for everyone, from those who can only spare a few hours a month to those who wish to pursue a full-time career in the service of veterans. Volunteers of all talents and backgrounds are needed across the U.S. Sometimes your professional experience can be very valuable to these organizations, particularly if you’re a medical or legal professional or work in construction, mental health counseling, or the arts. Let’s a closer look at some of the specific tasks that volunteers encounter while offering their time to support vets.
There are various organizations that help provide transportation for veterans to and from necessary appointments, doctors’ offices, and more. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides transportation to VA facilities and other authorized locations with their Volunteer Transportation Network (VTN). They often need volunteers to drive, whether in their privately-owned vehicle or a government vehicle. The service also provides transportation for veterans and their families. Prospective drivers can contact the VTN or Disabled American Veterans (DAV) to get more information and even participate in a ride-along to see firsthand what this position is like. These volunteers must pass a physical examination by a VA health provider, possess a valid state driver’s license, and meet several other criteria that prove they’re safe and responsible drivers.
Both small and large organizations that support veterans need hands on deck to make sure that their services reach those in need. One of the most important ways you can get involved with an organization is by contributing to their organization of events, including tasks such as financial planning, coordinating volunteers, arranging logistics, and more. Many organizations have full-time individuals who handle some of the larger planning responsibilities. These workers, however, need responsible and organized volunteers to take some of the weight off of their shoulders. This keeps organizations from getting spread too thin and ultimately offering more supportive services to veterans and their families.
Whether a fundraising event or social gathering to provide camaraderie and companionship for vets, organizations need volunteers to help run the events they put together. These can be excellent opportunities for volunteers who can only offer a few hours of their time. Virtually every nonprofit organization that supports veterans needs volunteer workers in some capacity to make these events happen. Volunteers with special skills can find events where they would be especially valuable workers. For example, volunteers who are athletic or have a history of coaching or working with athletes can find a wide variety of veteran’s competitions and sporting events.
Helping with Medical Needs
There are many ways for individuals with specialized training in the medical field to volunteer their time in support of veterans. Similarly, volunteers without medical training can also support veterans with medical needs in valuable ways. There are various well-known organizations that position volunteers with and without medical training to volunteer with PTSD veterans and other medical conditions. You can also contribute your time to help veterans and their communities by participating in mental health awareness campaigns. So even if you don’t have medical training, there are ways for you to help veterans’ communities around them learn more about mental health and empower them with the knowledge to support those in need.
Assisting with Legal Needs
When it comes to meeting the legal needs of veterans in the U.S., the sad reality is that they are often overlooked. There are many ways, however, for volunteers with legal and civil service training to help the veteran population. As explained in the September 2013 issue of The Federal Lawyer journal, eligible volunteers can serve at local walk-in veteran legal clinics, take on veterans appeals in court, represent veterans organizations in impact litigation, take on veterans appeals before the federal circuit, and provide general legal counsel for vets as needed.
You can find a wide variety of opportunities to volunteer with veterans, especially when it comes to preparing and delivering meals. With nearly two million veterans in the U.S. who struggle with food insecurity, there is a huge demand for help in these types of programs. Organizations often need volunteers to pack up food, toiletries, and other common grocery store items and deliver them to veterans and their families. Additionally, food services for hungry veterans also includes working with the homeless veteran population where sanitation is a major cause of disease and death. Food preparation and distribution efforts for homeless vets includes taking extra precautions, including distributing cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer at locations where vets can meet volunteers.
Visiting with Veterans
One of the most valuable things you can do for a veteran is to spend one-on-one time with them. There are many foundations and organizations that help volunteers locate and schedule meetings at hospitals, care facilities, and veterans’ homes for these types of visitations. These opportunities are great for individuals who are considering a career path that directly supports veterans. Additionally, many veterans themselves benefit greatly from volunteering to visit with other veterans. Visits help volunteers develop a rapport and friendship with vets. For one-time visits, volunteers can be a conversation partner, help vets write letters, read to them, and more.
Mentoring and Teaching
Many veterans choose to begin their college or professional studies, or return to school, after serving. This aspect of reacclimating to civilian life can be more difficult than it sounds. Volunteers can take advantage of a variety of organizations who provide teaching and tutoring services for vets free of charge. Volunteers with experience in teaching or expertise in particular academic subjects can volunteer their time as tutors to help ensure veterans are getting the support they need to do their best work.
Working with Homeless Veterans
In addition to hands-on initiatives that help volunteers build homes for veterans, one of the ways that volunteers can help homeless veterans is through mentorship and coaching. Especially those who have experience building and running businesses, veterans can benefit from learning how to better position themselves for success and get back on their feet. There are also additional ways to work with vets, including supporting emergency shelters, fundraising, and volunteering in Stand Down programs.
Helping with Chores
Sometimes veterans are unable to take care of daily chores on their own. If you are an able-bodied individual or possess particular skills in areas such as carpentry or plumbing, there are opportunities for you to give back by completing even small tasks. In many cases, chores for veterans vary between yard work and weed removal to painting and appliance repair. You can find volunteer opportunities with veterans near you by taking advantage of a variety of volunteer postings, several of which we’ve included below. These sites allow you to search by location and view descriptions of the chores needed.
Other Opportunities to Help
Careers Working with Veterans
Volunteering with veterans can also be a great way to explore future careers. Many people realize how much they enjoy working with veterans through their volunteer experience and choose to pursue a related career. Below are just some of the careers where you can make a lasting impact in the lives of veterans through professional work.
Volunteering with Veterans: Ask the Expert
Matt Thompson is the Director of Psychological Health for the Tennessee Army National Guard. He is a veteran of the Navy, Army, and Tennessee Army National Guard and alumni of the Mission Continues and Wounded Warrior Project. Matt received a bachelor’s in social work from Belmont University and a master’s in social work from the University of South Carolina.