The definition of “empowerment” reads as follows: The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights. This sounds like something we want for our veterans. It seems straight forward and easy to understand. However, achieving empowerment for those who have experienced significant challenges, stress and trauma is difficult.

One element that is often overlooked in efforts to empower our veterans is ensuring that they are emotionally healthy as they navigate the transition to civilian life. If we fail to support their mental well-being, all other efforts to empower those who have served will fail as well.

Most of our service members and their families gain tremendously from serving our country. They develop new skills, confidence and a sense of greater purpose. And yet, understandably, some veterans – and those they love – experience emotional pain during and after their service. Sometimes this results from the demands of service itself – the frequent moves and uncertainty that make it difficult for some families to thrive. Some may unknowingly enter the service with compromised mental health just as others enter with compromised physical health. And sometimes, those who serve experience trauma during service – trauma that takes its toll on loved ones as well.

Fortunately, we are finally beginning to understand that no one can be empowered or thrive if their emotional well-being is compromised. Indeed, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget for mental health has more than quadrupled since 2005. However, there is much more that needs to be done. And each of us can do our part. The next time you speak with one of the men or women who have served our country, ask him or her, “How are you … really?” and be prepared to listen.