Support Our Veterans Every Day
This year Veteran’s Day has taken on a new and very personal meaning. The day before I began my role of U.S. President at United Way Worldwide, my family and I joined almost 100 other families at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Tampa, FL to watch our loved ones be sworn into U.S. Military service. After witnessing this very emotional and moving ceremony (with our son Jack in his LIVE UNITED t-shirt), we said our goodbyes and Jack left for Ft. Benning, GA to pursue his dream of becoming an U.S. Army Airborne Ranger.
After three months of separation, two weeks ago we witnessed another moving and emotional ceremony – the moment when Jack and 253 other young men in Delta Company 2/19 Infantry Regiment put on their black berets for the first time, signifying their completion of basic training and their transition from trainees to soldiers. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Following the ceremony our family went to a local diner for breakfast. As we were finishing our meal, a patron came up to Jack and thanked him for his service (and unbeknownst to us later paid for his bill). In that moment, our new reality sunk in. My son was a soldier. I was the mother of a soldier. And someday I will be the mother of a veteran. I have never felt more pride for my son and the path he has chosen, and Veteran’s Day will forever be a day of appreciation and gratitude that I will hold dear.
Soon after assuming my new role, while Jack was starting his journey through basic training, I had a conversation with Stephen Moss, a former Army company commander during the Vietnam War and founder of MISSION UNITED. I had met Stephen during my tenure in Tampa when we were learning about Mission United and starting our own local version of this incredibly powerful program. Since its inception in 2013, MISSION UNITED has served more than 12,000 veterans and their family members.
Through MISSION UNITED, United Way and its partners help military veterans and their families successfully acclimate back to civilian life by affording them the services and support they need to ensure that they lead productive, fulfilling, healthy lives as members of our communities – services I want my son to have when he has finished his service.
- There are 40,000 military veterans living on the streets and struggling to survive.
- Studies show that almost 25 percent of veterans have a service-connected disability.
- 6,000 former service members die by suicide every year.
I applaud and thank the many programs already supporting our veterans across the country such as the VA, AmericaServes, America’s Warrior Partnership, K9s for Warriors, as well as the many companies with robust veterans hiring practices such as LaQuinta hotels, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank, and Lockheed Martin just to name a few. These are all incredible partners in our local Mission United partnerships. They exemplify the great work and partnerships that already exist.
But I want us to do more. I want every soldier who trained with my son to know that when he is done with his service, there will be a community ready to welcome him or her. I know we are not there, yet, which is why I’ve made it my mission to refresh the Mission United program, in partnership with its founder Stephen Moss, building a National Advisory Council that will help us expand across the country. Currently we have 23 United Ways leading Mission United partnerships and we know there are more communities interested and ready to join this important work. Today we recognize and celebrate the veterans in our communities who have served and sacrificed for us. Let us also ask ourselves, what else can we do support them? With the deepest gratitude.