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December 8, 2013

Easter Seals has long served disabled veterans

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Christmas fast approaches. What better time, then, to write of Easter Seals. And veterans.

Say what?

The combination is not nearly as odd as it may sound. Let’s start with Easter Seals. It has long been one of America’s most well-known charities.

The organization started in 1919 as a charity to help children with disabilities. In the early days, it was known as the National Society for Crippled Children. In 1934, the group launched its first Easter "seals" fund-raiser. To show support, donors placed the seals on envelopes and letters. Eventually, the organization changed its name to that most recognizable symbol: Easter Seals.

The organization is still largely thought of in terms of its work with disabled children. But Easter Seals has long been a national leader in serving disabled veterans as well.

At the end of World War II, Easter Seals committed its network to help returning veterans recover from the wounds of war. Since then, chapters and service sites have always had their doors open to service members and their families. Today, Easter Seals runs a variety of programs to help virtually any service member, family member or veteran who is struggling. With service sites in 550 communities, it serves more than a million children and adults with disabilities and special needs, as well as their families.

That’s a huge capacity for service. And every bit of it is needed. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced the largest generation of combat veterans since World War II.

Many of the chief executive officers of the 72 individual nonprofits that form the Easter Seals network are themselves veterans of the Vietnam conflict. Seeing the needs produced by the war on terrorism, and remembering how their generation was treated, they responded to the situation with but one thought: “Never again.”

Consequently, in 2007, Easter Seals ramped up its efforts to implement “best practices” in serving vets and to build its capacity to help. In surveying needs across the nation, it found, for example, that while New Hampshire doesn't have a military base, its National Guard units were deploying many troops to the Middle East. Easter Seals helped establish deployment support for guard members and their families--from the moment when the troops went overseas until well after they returned. Today,

In 2012 Easter Seals established the Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Community Services to build partnerships and establish programs rooted in local communities. Their aim is to pull together the efforts of many people who are trying to help keep service members and their families healthy while they are in uniform, and to make successful transitions to civilian life when their military service ends. Together, Easter Seals and the Dixon Center are helping veterans cope with problems ranging from war trauma and traumatic brain injury to unemployment and homelessness.

America’s military men and women have made tremendous sacrifices to keep our nation free. Some have given all. And many more have suffered debilitating injuries and infirmities that make day-to-day living a challenge if not an outright ordeal.

Which bring us back to Christmas. It is a season of hope and a season of giving. What better time to give to those who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe and free?

While e-shopping this week, perhaps you could pause long enough to skip over to the Dixon Center website. Take a moment to read about the wonderful work they do. And consider donating right there online. It's a wonderful way to honor those who have given so much in trying to assure peace on Earth.

- James Jay Carafano, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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