On July 17, 2018, Dennis Nixon was elected Commander of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), but his connection with DAV started decades ago after his time in the Marine Corps.
In 1969, Nixon was on his second tour in Vietnam when a booby trap detonated. The resulting injury eventually led to the amputation of his left leg. In 1972, two years after Sgt Nixon was medically retired from the Marine Corps, he began working with DAV.
Nixon said that in 1969, all he could ever imagine was being a United States Marine. But, after his injury, he felt lost. He said, "those of us who have served understand the need fellow veterans have to be a part of something bigger than yourself - to have a mission to fulfill that calling."
Being Part of Something Bigger
Veterans are not alone in benefitting from "being a part of something bigger." A growing body of research shows that those who volunteer on a regular basis feel more socially connected, have lower rates of depression, lower blood pressure, and a longer lifespan than those who do not. Even if “being a part of something bigger” means getting paid for it, there's a measurable effect: research has shown that people are willing to take a lower salary if they believe their work is meaningful. And most frequently, that means helping others.
In 1969, Dennis Nixon had what many would call a bad day. But, as a disabled veteran, he was introduced to people helping veterans like himself. That day in Vietnam led to a life of helping other veterans. Though opportunities for helping others are not rare, especially in the veteran community, sometimes, folks just need an introduction.
You Can Help
There are many organizations that help veterans that we might be able to volunteer with: DAV, the American Legion, USO, the Fisher House Foundation, Honor Flight Network, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, even the VA. The website www.volunteermatch.org had thousands of volunteer opportunities to help veterans. And the opportunities don't end with organizations that just help veterans! There are thousands of organizations that can use your help doing all sorts of meaningful things.
If you have special skills, by all means use them, but - in most cases - you won't need them. When I went to law school, I volunteered with my law school's veterans legal clinic and was amazed at how my limited legal knowledge at that time could still be so helpful. Prior to law school, I was an actor and comedy improviser, and I used those skills to entertain U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines deployed to Djibouti, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Now, I volunteer with the disAbility Law Center of Virginia – and not as a lawyer or entertainer: I just help where I can.
There are hospice programs throughout the country that ask for veterans just to visit other veterans (just visit!) in their care. There are Bingo nights, dog rescues, library story-times for kids, and the list goes on. There is likely something you can do that will help someone else, and in helping someone else you will likely benefit.
Dennis Nixon felt lost. In helping others, he helped himself and, in so doing, he found a mission. I think the same is possible for all of us.
Semper Fi, Dennis!