Want to thank a veteran? Instead of offering charity, choose to do business with a veteran.
Patronize a veteran-owned business, and you invest in the veteran's family, as well.
In honor of Veterans Day, this week the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network is highlighting companies such as Berwyn-based JDOG Junk Removal & Hauling.
JDOG awards franchises exclusively to military veterans and their family members. Founded by Army vet Jerry Flanagan and wife Tracy, "our model is based on the idea that, given the choice, Americans would rather do business with a veteran-owned firm," says Flanagan.
Michael O'Neill opened a Main Line JDOG franchise in his hometown of Narberth. He did so well that he left his full-time job and bought a second Center City franchise. He now employs six veterans.
"Why use JDOG? First, our service is usually cheaper than the competition because of the business model. We work for ourselves and not a big corporation. So we pass the discount on to the customer," O'Neill says. "Second, you know who's coming into your home - veterans who've had FBI background checks. Most people want to help vets, they just didn't know how - until now."
He adds, laughing: "Vets are like sled dogs. We love to work."
O'Neill wasn't always so upbeat. After returning from the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan, he worked as a therapist treating other vets, and to cope started self-medicating with alcohol and "barking commands at my kids."
"Finally, I just broke," he says. "I became suicidal, and my wife checked me into the emergency room."
After treatment, he quit drinking and left his profession as a forensic psychologist. One day, in the office of City Hall's Veterans Advisory Commission, he saw an advertisement for JDOG.
"Everything they do makes sense - giving vets an opportunity to be their own boss with low entry cost. I use a laptop, a cellphone, and my truck."
Franchises cost $25,000 initially, and owners hire only other veterans. Unlike other franchisors, JDOG charges a flat royalty fee instead of a percentage of revenue, which allows vets to keep the majority of the profits.
"Jerry and Tracy Flanagan want franchisees to keep most of the money they earn to hire more veterans," says O'Neill, 50, a father of four.
Donations of food and other assistance help temporarily, "but then the vet doesn't have anything they can live on. If people are looking to help veterans, we're asking for the opportunity to do what we do best - and that's work," he adds.
"Just getting back to normal is the most powerful thing you can do. Paying our bills and taking care of our families, paying taxes, that's what we want."
The brokerage firm Drexel Hamilton is another local business owned by a veteran. It was founded in 2007 by Lawrence Doll, a disabled Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts.
Doll wanted to support other veterans, so in 2010, he hired Cauldon "Cal" Quinn as chief financial officer.
A Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Quinn was about to quit Wall Street for good before joining Drexel Hamilton in Center City. He has expertise in electronic equity execution services, and program and algorithmic trading.
As CFO, he has helped the firm grow - it had three people in 2007 and almost 100 today - half of whom are veterans. He estimates $25 million in revenue this year.
"It's extremely difficult for veterans to break into finance. They often don't have Ivy League pedigrees and don't get in the door," said Quinn, a 1997 Naval Academy graduate.
"Give the veteran the ability to provide for their family. It's something so much more to take their dignity home with their paycheck. We need disabled veterans to be restored as leaders in their families."
Instead of sending veterans to the Super Bowl or offering gifts for the holidays, find them in your community, Quinn advises, "and give them your business."
How do you find them?
First, explore social-media profiles, such as the ones on LinkedIn, to see whether a business owner served, says Alex Archawski, head of Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network.
Databases are run by the National Veteran Owned Business Association (www.navoba.com) and VetBiz.gov, compiled by the Veterans Administration. Their websites are not complete but offer a starting point.
ID cards, for vets starting businesses or seeking work, can be obtained through the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, www.dmva.pa.gov, and through individual New Jersey counties.