By Ann Hardie
After Herman Anderson completed his tour in Vietnam, he returned to Georgia in 1968 and spent the next four decades looking ahead, never back.
But these days the 74-year-old Marietta resident and AARP volunteer devotes much of his time to helping other veterans.
“I am doing it because the military and their families are an underappreciated group of people,” Anderson said. “They are the reason that we have all the freedoms that we have.”
May, which is National Military Appreciation Month, is an opportunity to call attention to the contributions of, and the challenges faced by, service members, active and retired.
Throughout the month, AARP Georgia will hold or participate in events, including some in conjunction with the Atlanta VA Medical Center, largely focusing on the state’s more than 697,000 veterans and their families.
“AARP was founded on the premise to serve and not be served,” said Jil Hinds, AARP Georgia outreach director, and a veteran. “Veterans have done their time, and now it is our time to serve them.”
The events will offer former service members and their families information and resources on critical issues including:
Mental health Some 18 percent of Americans who commit suicide are veterans, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has made suicide prevention a top priority.
Veterans most at risk are often coping with mental health issues, substance abuse or difficulties transitioning back to civilian life.
Caregiving Many military families are juggling the demands of caring for older, wounded or disabled veterans.
“The majority of caregivers are female spouses,” Hinds said. “For many military families, female spouses also are veterans.”
Homelessness and unemployment A lack of financial resources and a job can lead to homelessness for some.
“Trying to translate your military experience to a civilian résumé can be daunting for a lot of folks,” Hinds said. “When you do get that job, adapting to that work environment is difficult.”
Veterans helping their own
Anderson had little trouble transitioning to civilian life after his four-year stint in the Air Force.
He went to college, married, had children and spent 40 years as an electronics engineer with a telephone company.
“I was fortunate enough that I was one of the few people I knew who could hit the ground running and not look back,” he said.
Still, he understands why many veterans have a hard time adjusting once they leave the military.
After retiring a decade ago, he started volunteering with AARP Georgia and is part of a team of veterans who work with other vets and advise the state office on outreach.
Anderson also founded a nonprofit, Black Veterans Helping Veterans, which aids former service members in better understanding available benefits.
“Whether you stay a few years or retire after 25, serving in the military is a life-changing event for you, your family and your community,” he said. “It is important for the general public to understand and respect that.”
Ann Hardie is a writer living in Atlanta.