I'm not a shill for Angelina Jolie or NBC Universal. Nonetheless, I'm going to encourage you to see the move "Unbroken". It's a fantastic story about courage, guts, resourcefulness - all the best traits of our service members, past and present.
I also want you to notice what is missing - glaringly so - from the movie. It should come as no surprise to you that, unlike the book of the same name, the Hollywood ending finds Louie Zamperini basking in the glow of his newfound freedom.
And that may be something veterans resent about television and movie storytelling.
From a vet's perspective, Hollywood left out the most impactful part of the story - what happens after the cheers and applause wears off and life "normalizes" once more. Unlike the novel, the movie didn't talk about any of the challenges Zamperini faced after returning home - or what his family experienced. It missed the anger, the depression, the anxiety, the adjustment to freedom and lack of a routine.
Not to diminish from the story, this absence of an aftermath continues to be a point of contention not just for me, but perhaps for many people who have ever been touched by military service. The needs of veterans and military families may evolve over time, but they do not disappear. Even now, the American public is lulled into the belief that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over because most of our service members have returned home. And as the wars wind down, so does interest in what comes next - transitioning the veterans back into their communities and a civilian life.
This unintended apathy is also reflected in corporate giving. According to the 2014 Trend Report from the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals, just one percent of corporate charitable budgets go to supporting efforts associated with our nation's veterans and military families. That's the same percentage that goes to arts and culture and workforce development.
The reality is that we veterans come home to our families, neighbors and communities who, while grateful, also expect us to pick up where we left off. So where do we go from here? Here are some idea-starters:
- First, I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand and read what the movie left out. You'll better understand the challenges and the mindset of a returning veteran, regardless of whether he/she was a prisoner of war or a "desktop commando."
- Connect with the Student Veterans of America chapter at your local college campus or your alma mater and offer to mentor one of its members.
- If you're an employer, be willing to trade skills for education and "in-field" expertise. And send your recruiters where the vets are - not just online or a job fair, but to bases and community service organizations.
- Go beyond the "thank you." Ask a vet how he/she is adjusting to life back home. And then simply listen, one-on-one, without problem-solving or offering advice. You'll be surprised at what you hear, at what you'll learn.
- Invest your time, treasure or talent to increase services for veterans and their families in your community. Your local Easter Seals is a great place to start. Check out the Easter Seals Volunteer page to find opportunities in your area.
And here's one especially for Angelina and NBCUni: Time to start working on the sequel.