‘How can we give back to the veterans?”
It’s a commonly asked question and it’s an uncommonly tough question. On the one hand it means that America really cares about its veterans. On the other hand it’s very difficult to know what to give someone who is prepared to defend your freedom with his or her life.
From this grateful veteran, may I suggest an answer that we can all take to heart this Veterans Day: “Pay It Forward.”
Pay It Forward for all veterans and their families in your community. Do something that is really going to make a difference. Do something that is really going to change their lives and help them build a brighter future.
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At the moment, for the many veterans who are unemployed, a good job and a lasting career is the “something” that is really going to make all the difference.
Indeed, tackling unemployment is the biggest issue facing our nation right now, with the toughest economy in a generation. Whatever the national unemployment rate is, you can bet that figure is much higher for veterans with disabilities.
At Paralyzed Veterans of America, we are meeting this challenge head-on. We created Operation PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment) to help get America’s veterans back to work with good careers and great employers.
How does Operation PAVE work?
We directly engage veterans with disabilities by locating our network of Operation PAVE offices at VA spinal cord injury centers, and we aggressively pursue employers with vacancies.
We change lives and perceptions: For veterans with disabilities, we help them take that often hard next step to a good career and independence. For businesses, we educate them about the advantages of hiring veterans and how easy it is to adapt a workplace for employees with disabilities.
Overcoming the challenge of unemployment is part of a campaign we call Mission: ABLE (www.mission-able.com). It is a full-on effort by Paralyzed Veterans of America to enlist every single citizen, community and company to ensure that veterans receive what they need most: care, benefits and jobs.
When Catherine Ryan Hyde popularized the idea of “Paying It Forward” in her book of the same name, she suggested it should mean doing three good deeds for someone. So this Veterans Day here are three things you might do:
1. Think about the unique challenges paralyzed veterans face every day. Imagine a world with barriers, a world as experienced from a wheelchair.
2. Reach out to veterans and their families. This means more than you might imagine.
3. Pay It Forward for veterans — and if you are an employer, this means creating more jobs and hiring more veterans.
Now that would be a really powerful way to say thanks to all those who have worn the uniform.
Bill Lawson is a U.S. Army veteran from Woodward, Okla. He was elected national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America in 2010.