How to Thank a Veteran on Veterans Day
Observed annually on November 11, Veterans Day is a day for Americans to honor those who have served in the U.S. military. This Veterans Day, Americans should reflect on the debt we owe our veterans who have protected our way of life, and recommit ourselves to ensuring their success in post-military life.
There are currently more than 16 million living veterans in the United States. Yet despite two decades of conflict in the Global War on Terror, a recent Mission Roll Call national poll found that 67% of Gen Z does not know a veteran. And in a 2022 Mission Roll Call poll, we asked veterans, “After the United States’ exit from Afghanistan, do you think veteran issues have become less of a priority for the American public?” 75% said yes.
There are many ways to show veterans that you value their service, even if you don’t know a veteran. In this article, we’ll recommend some of the best ways to thank veterans based on data from real veterans. But first, we’ll discuss whether or not you should even thank a veteran for their service. Does it really matter?
Should you say “Thank you for your service”?
A few studies show younger veterans are uncomfortable with it and some civilians worry the phrase feels overused to the point of lacking meaning. Overall, however, veterans have told Mission Roll Call they really do appreciate it.
In 2023, Mission Roll Call asked veterans, “Does telling a veteran ’thank you for your service’ feel like an obligation, or genuine recognition?” 85% said it felt like genuine recognition.
But to make sure the phrase sounds sincere, follow it up with a question. Listening can be a powerful form of gratitude. A 2019 poll found that veterans actually prefer questions about their service to thanks. Ask how long they served. What was their job? What unit were they in? Most veterans are proud of their service and appreciate people showing genuine interest. That being said, be careful not to ask questions that are too probing and recognize that while some veterans want to talk about their service, others don’t.
One great way to “listen” is to watch Mission Roll Call’s “Veteran Voices” videos. In this series, we share the stories of veterans on topics like transitioning out of the military, starting small businesses, their experiences with the VA, and more.
Encourage the veterans you know to share their stories with Mission Roll Call. We believe in the power of veterans' stories to inspire change, and the more veterans who share their stories publicly, the more others will know they aren’t alone.
What if you don’t know a veteran?
If you don’t know a veteran but want to say thank you, organizations like A Million Thanks and Soldiers Angels will help you send notes of gratitude to veterans. Engage your family and friends, school, church or business to write as well. These notes really do make a difference to veterans.
Another way, even if you don’t know a veteran directly, is to share messages of gratitude on social media. These can have an impactful reach outside of your immediate circle of contacts.
The fact is, there are also many other ways that you can thank, support and advocate for the veterans around you. Here are a few of the many ways that you can, practically, thank veterans for their service:
1. Recognize their continued service in your community.
The values and habits the military instills from day one don’t disappear when veterans transition out. Coupled with the GI Bill, VA home loan, and numerous other benefits, the work ethic, discipline, and confidence the military imparts can rocket young men and women into successful careers or job tracks.
As we honor our country’s veterans this year, we should remember that their service continues long after they take off the uniform. While it’s important to focus on veterans in need, we can’t forget the many major contributions veterans continue to make to their community after they leave active duty. This year, thank a veteran by also thanking them for the service they’re doing after the military.
There are 9 million veterans in the U.S. workforce today. Values of selflessness, duty and integrity naturally lend to leadership positions and roles in business, public service, healthcare, law enforcement and national security. According to the most recent statistics, veterans represent 1 in 4 police officers, 1 in 5 firefighters, and 1 in 10 EMTs. And according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, approximately 1 in 4 current Federal employees is a veteran, with more than half a million veterans employed today in U.S. agencies around the world. Some studies have found that 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs have military service in their background.
Outside of their day jobs, veterans unselfishly continue to volunteer their time and money to their communities. In 2020-2021 – at the height of the pandemic – veterans averaged more volunteer hours per year than their civilian peers. Even outside of military and veteran-focused organizations, veterans can be seen volunteering to aid disaster relief efforts, in youth mentorship and other community programs.
One way for businesses to thank these veterans is to hire them. Veterans make excellent employees. They understand teamwork, are goal-oriented, have proven leadership skills, and are used to performing under pressure.
In a Mission Roll Call poll, 97% of Americans said they believe veterans make good employees. The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) reports that 68% of employers say veterans perform “better than” or “much better than” their civilian peers, and 63% say veterans are more resilient remote workers, compared to civilians. A LinkedIn study found that veterans also have lower turnover, remaining with the companies that initially employ them 8.3% longer than nonveterans.
For businesses looking to hire, the U.S. Department of Labor’s website features insightful resources and tips for attracting and hiring veteran candidates.
2. Support veteran-owned small businesses.
9.1% of U.S. small businesses are veteran-owned, generating $1 trillion in annual receipts and employing more than 5 million Americans. As we approach the holidays, make an effort to support veteran small businesses, both local and online.
A Small Business Administration study found that veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than nonveterans. And because veterans are more likely to hire other veterans, when you shop at a veteran-owned small business, chances are you’re also supporting veteran employees.
You can find veteran-owned shops and services near you in directories like American Veteran Owned Business Association and Buy Veteran. You can also search for veteran-owned businesses by state to find the ones in your area.
3. Volunteer to help veterans
If you know of a veteran in your neighborhood, offer to mow their lawn, help with yard work, or deliver a meal. Even if they don’t “need” the help, the gesture is meaningful.
There are also thousands of organizations and nonprofits aimed at helping veterans. Consider making a monetary donation or volunteering your time or skills, but make sure you do your research first. In the past, Mission Roll Call has highlighted the work of America's Warrior Partnership, Boulder Crest Foundation, Camp Southern Ground, and Black Ops Rescue, among many others. You can also find volunteer opportunities in your area at the VA Voluntary Service Office, including driving/escorting veterans to their medical appointments.
The ETS Sponsorship Program provides Military Transition Support to service members who are returning to civilian life. The program, in partnership with the VA, matches a transitioning service member with a sponsor within their new post-military community. Visit their website to be matched with a transitioning service member. Sponsors share their knowledge of the local area and available resources, and serve as a touchpoint for veterans, through a weekly “check-in” call or text and a monthly in-person meeting.
Another way to show gratitude to veterans is to sponsor a service dog. Service dogs are life saving heroes for the veteran community, providing essential support and companionship. There are several organizations that allow you to sponsor a companion or service dog for veterans. K9s for Warriors, Patriot PAWS, Semper K9, Warrior Canine Connection, and Labs for Liberty are among those we recommend. Watch the "Veteran Voices" video of how a service dog became a lifeline for U.S. Army Combat Veteran Greg Stevens.
4. Advocate for veterans.
On Veterans Day, don’t just say “thanks” and wait for someone else to do the rest. Join Mission Roll Call to advocate for veterans on Capitol Hill.
Our country and our government still have a long way to go supporting veterans. Mission Roll Call’s 2023 research study found that 42% of Americans believe the government has “not effectively addressed veterans' transition to civilian life.” And 60% of veterans say they’re not satisfied with the VA's current approach and success rate for PTSD treatment for veterans.
Mission Roll Call is a nonpartisan movement providing veterans with a powerful, unified voice that is heard by our nation’s leaders and communities.
Sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media, or consider donating to support our mission. You can also write a letter to your Senator or Congressperson and ask them to support a specific veterans’ issue. You can find out more about what’s going on at Capitol Hill by signing up for our newsletter.
Whether in public service, the private sector, or volunteerism, veterans continue to display their unwavering dedication to those around them. And the unique set of tools and skills cultivated during their time of service continues to pay dividends in service of the American people.
This Veterans Day, commit to doing one thing to show gratitude to a veteran you know – or haven’t met. But don’t stop there. We shouldn’t only thank veterans on one day of the year. A “thank you” is always appropriate – and appreciated.