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Let's Stand Up for Vets!
Connie Britton
Connie Britton
From Yoga to Virtual Reality
You Won't Believe
Why It Matters
© Compliments of David W. Sutherland
© Pete Chiarelli
© Kimberly M. Mitchell
© Justin Constantine
© Gaetano A. Noriega
© Blake Michael Hall
© Roman Baca
© Rick Yarosh
© Christopher Villatoro
© Melissa Arroyo
© Melissa Arroyo
© Ashley Reherman
© Ashley Reherman
© Jay Brittain
© Melissa Arroyo
© Kristi Baumgarten
© Melissa Arroyo
© Kristi Baumgarten
© Ashley Reherman
© Jay Brittain
© Kristi Baumgarten
© Melissa Arroyo
© Melissa Arroyo
© Rachel Donelson
© Melissa Arroyo
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© Getty
1/27Vets Share Why They Serve
David W. Sutherland

Colonel, Army; Hometown: Alexandria, VA.
"I fought for my family, my neighbors, my community, and my buddies on my left and my right; and I come home to my family, my neighbors, my community, and I look for new buddies on my left and my right. The bonds that exist on the battlefield and being part of something much bigger than yourself is our inspiration." (Photo: Col. Sutherland pins the Purple Heart to his soldier’s pillow; Courtesy of Eros Hoagland)

2/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Pete Chiarelli

General, Army; Hometown: Seattle, WA.
"A desire to serve my country and follow in the footsteps of my father. My father was a meat butcher before WWII, enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor, fought with Patton, received a battlefield commission, and returned to Seattle to continue meat cutting. Dad would not talk about his wartime experiences, but one of my earliest memories is being with him when he visited the parents of a soldier on his tank crew who was killed in the war. The necessity to live a life of service, believe in a cause bigger than self, loyalty, and caring for those you lead was a huge part of my youth and was demonstrated daily by the man that I loved more than any other. How could I not serve?" (Works for vets at One Mind for Research.)

3/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Kimberly M. Mitchell

Lieutenant Commander, Navy; Hometown: Solon Springs, WI. "I chose to serve this nation and give back to a country that gave me the life that I live today. Had I been left at the orphanage in DaNang, Vietnam, I would have a very different life. I owe everything to the Vietnam veterans who sacrificed so much so that I could, in return, serve this country also. After 17 years in the Navy, I have made the decision to continue to serve our veterans and military families by establishing, in conjunction with Easter Seals and with Col. David Sutherland, U.S. Army (ret.), the SSG Donnie D. Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Community Services. I will not and cannot tolerate another generation of homeless veterans."

4/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Justin Constantine

Major (selected for Lt. Col.), Marines Reserve; Hometown: Fairfax, VA. "I did not have the opportunity to deploy while on active duty, so was excited to volunteer with the Fourth Civil Affairs Group. Nobody joins the Marine Corps to sit on the sidelines, and I was inspired by the mission to help rebuild war-torn areas of the country and to lead Marines in a combat environment. I had contemplated the scenario that I may be killed in action, especially due to the strength of the insurgency in 2006. I had come to terms with that, but hadn’t considered being seriously wounded. Even though I was shot in the head by a sniper, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything; I now draw on my lessons learned as an inspirational speaker."

5/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Gaetano A. Noriega

Sergeant, Marines/Army; Hometown: La Puente, CA.
"My inspiration to join the Armed Forces was fueled by the desire to travel. I joined the Marine Corps in 1997 and traveled to many countries. I loved it. I was released from active duty in 2001, but was immediately recalled due to conflicts abroad. I deployed a few times, then in 2006 I was again discharged. I joined the Army in 2007 when I felt the need to continue to defend freedom from aggressors. I deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan and made some truly remarkable friends along the way. They were the reason I continued to fight. I was wounded a few times in the process, but in the end it all came down to my friends, my team, and my unit."

6/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Blake Michael Hall

Captain, Army; Hometown: Lawton, OK.
"My father spent 30 years leading soldiers, and my mother raised three boys in different places around the world. Our home was where our country called my father. My parents taught me about justice and hard work. An inscription at Ellis Island reads, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That is the unique promise our country has given generations of immigrants, the marginalized and disenfranchised. America is a promise of a better life for which so many have risked everything. I volunteered to serve because I believe in that promise and because men better than me have sacrificed everything so I can live free." (Founder, TroopSwap.org)

7/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Roman Baca

Sergeant, Marines; Hometown: New York, NY.
"My service started with a passion to serve my country and was strengthened when my unit was deployed to Iraq. In Fallujah, as a machine gunner and fire team leader, my primary driving force was bringing my team home safe. As the months passed in the deployment, our mission turned from a strictly combat element to incorporating a humanitarian element. We visited local schools in the villages and handed out book bags, paper, and soccer balls. We gathered and distributed warm clothing in the winter. That call to service continued when I came home in a fellowship with The Mission Continues, where I taught dance in New York and Iraq." (Also volunteers with IAVA.org)

8/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Rick Yarosh

Sergeant, Army; Hometown: Windsor, NY.
"I never thought of my service as risking everything. I joined the Army for many reasons. First, 9-11 is an obvious reason. The unity of our nation after 9-11 was inspiring. Second, I needed a change of pace from my regular life. Third, and most importantly, the thought that I hadn’t done anything for my country while so many had given everything. It was my turn to give what I could to my country. I wasn’t risking anything. No matter what happened to me, my service was going to shape me into a better, stronger, more confident person. I made it home, unlike so many others. Please remember these names: SFC Anthony Venetz and SGT. Luis Montes. May they rest in peace."

9/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Christopher Villatoro

Sergeant E5, Marines; Hometown: Whittier, CA.
"I served my country as a United States Marine because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I was intrigued by the tradition and by the men that came before me. As an American, I felt it was my duty to serve and it has been one of the greatest honors I have ever had in my life. I will forever cherish my time in the Marine Corps as well as the men that I have served alongside with." (Volunteers with IAVA.org)

10/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Operation Love ReUnited

The following images have been provided by photographers affiliated with Operation Love ReUnited, a nonprofit, volunteer organization founded in 2006 by military wife and photographer Tonee Lawrence. The organization connects military families with professional photographers across the country who donate their time and talents to create memories for servicemen and
-women who are getting ready to deploy, are currently deployed, or are coming home. (This photo and gallery cover: Kristi Baumgarten)

11/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Erin + Ryan Gulden

Major + Lieutenant Colonel, Air Force; Hometown: Burke, VA. "Many people have asked us ‘why we joined’ or ‘why we serve’ in the military, assuming they’re asking the same question. But we have two very different answers. We joined to help finance college educations. But now, years later, we’re humbled and privileged to serve for the honor of our family. Not just for our children and families at home, but for our selfless, honorable, and courageous military family around the world. We serve for our family, our family’s family, and all of those family members that will follow us..." (Photo: Melissa Arroyo)

12/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Steve Ziegfeld

Sergeant E5, Army National Guard; Hometown: Edgewood, MD. "I serve my country to honor those who have gone before me and to help protect those after me. I serve to continue the pride and tradition instilled in my family’s heritage and to inspire those around me to do the best they can do, no matter the situation."
(Photo and MSN Causes cover: Ashley Reherman)

13/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Matt Wright

C17 Pilot, Air Force; Hometown: Magnolia, DE.
"I serve to defend American lives and American liberty. To keep our country strong. And most of all to protect my family. At the end of the day, all families deserve the freedom to feel safe and happy." (Photo: Ashley Reherman)

14/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Melissa Tilson

Quartermaster Officer, Army; Hometown: Georgetown, TX. "Why I choose to serve has changed over the years as I’ve grown up. When I was in my 20s, it was about me—about adventure and opportunities. In my 30s, it was about family, community, and pride in the American tradition. Now in my 40s, it’s for the love of the soldiers and all families that make up the communities and this nation. Not everyone can serve, and not everyone should, but EVERYONE can support in their way, fighting for what makes America the amazing country it is! I serve because I want to; there is no other profession more important to me, no matter the cost." (Photo: Jay Brittain)

15/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Mel Helgeson

Major 04, Army; Hometown: North Potomac, MD.
"When I first joined the Army, it was with as much bravado as any other adolescent male pre 9-11. However, almost 17 years later, I now realize the importance of supporting our country for future generations. Looking into the eyes of my five daughters, even for a split second, makes me realize: I serve for them." (Photo: Melissa Arroyo)

16/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Matt Templeton

First Lieutenant, Army; Hometown: Greenville, SC.
"I serve because I want to have a part in preserving the freedom and security of my country—my friends and my family. Our country isn’t perfect, but it is unprecedented and unequalled in its ‘liberty and justice for all,’ and that makes me proud to call it home and proud to serve in its defense." (Photo: Kristi Baumgarten)

17/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Michael Smart

Staff Sergeant E5, Air Force; Hometown: Fort Meade, MD. "I serve because I enjoy protecting the people of the United States and the rest of the world. I believe the people of certain nations need our help, and I’m willing to sacrifice my time away from family and friends to help these people. I love my country, I love the world, and I will do everything possible that I can to help."
(Photo: Melissa Arroyo)

18/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Jose Schwarz-Castillo

Staff Sergeant, National Guard; Hometown: Utica, NY.
"I joined the military because I wanted to serve like my maternal grandfather in Korea and because my father served in the Air Force. I’ve been in the army for 16 years. I want to serve and honor my country, family, and kids. I really didn’t realize why I serve until I was deployed overseas to Kosovo and Iraq. I have a childhood friend who was killed in Iraq back in 2003; I knew his family—sister, mother and father—and they knew my family too. I serve to honor all those who have sacrificed their lives and put their lives on hold, day in and out, so that we can all enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted." (Photo: Kristi Baumgarten)

19/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Dennis Arias

Staff Sergeant, Air National Guard; Hometown: Bel Air, MD. "I serve because many of my family members have served this country in the past. I serve today to protect my family and to provide them a safe future."
(Photo: Ashley Reherman)

20/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Geoffrey Radley

Sergeant First Class, Army; Hometown: Temple, TX.
"I joined the Army 12 years ago to help straighten my life out and give it a direction. I found that direction, and the sense of belonging to a team, during my four deployments and other stateside assignments I’ve held. Though I’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and many other milestones, it’s the feeling of being part of something bigger that keeps me signing on the dotted line to reenlist." (Photo: Jay Brittain)

21/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Brian Green

Captain, Black Hawk Pilot, Army; Hometown: Sackets Harbor, NY. "The primary reason I serve is to defend a country I love. America has given all of us freedoms we tend to take for granted. These freedoms are worth protecting and fighting for. 9-11-01 was a very emotional time for everyone in the U.S. I was a freshman at West Point when the hijacked planes struck. On that day, I felt a sense of duty to serve our nation and help protect those freedoms that are the backbone of our country. I also serve to protect my family. I want to provide my family with a safe environment to live and grow up in, one free from tyranny and oppression."
(Photo: Kristi Baumgarten)

22/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Will Brown

Sergeant E5, Army; Hometown: Brooklyn Park, MD.
"I serve to defend our great country, so that all Americans may have the freedom they deserve."
(Photo: Melissa Arroyo)

23/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Chance Brown

E5 / Operations Specialist 2, Navy; Hometown: Norfolk, VA. "I serve because I felt I needed to do my part in defending the freedoms I enjoy and to honor those who defended it before me." (Photo: Melissa Arroyo)

24/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Tim Howard

Lieutenant Colonel, Air Force; Hometown: Charleston, SC. "I’ve served in the USAF for over 20 years because I love the United States. It has been an honor to be a part of preserving our freedoms and our way of life and protecting my family and our country."
(Photo: Rachel Donelson)

25/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Scott Henry

Master Sergeant, Air Force; Hometown: Bowie, MD.
"Simple: I serve for the love of our country."
(Photo: Melissa Arroyo)

26/27Vets Share Why They Serve
Take Part

Veterans need jobs to come home to. Last year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched Hiring Our Heroes with a job fair in Chicago. When it was over, more than 1,300 veterans and military spouses had come through the doors. A little more than 18 months later, they are celebrating their 300th hiring fair milestone. Find an event near you.

27/27Vets Share Why They Serve
More Great Reading

With tough competition for jobs and ever more troops coming home, find out The 9 Companies Employing the Most Veterans.

Celebrity Hero Q&A
Jessica Ashley, TakePart.com

For Nashville's Connie Britton Veterans Day Is Personal
When Connie Britton started acting, fame was not foremost on her mind. Still, she's had roles on some of TV's most iconic shows, including West Wing, Spin City, and Friday Night Lights. What all this has afforded her, Britton says, is the opportunity to be a traveling, participating, giving citizen of the world. Her work with veterans may not be well known, but she has made a habit of visiting wounded warriors to listen to their stories, thank them, and offer encouragement. She's participated in veterans events and is the celebrity host of Homefront Heroes. Connie took a break from shooting her latest show, Nashville, to talk to MSN Causes about her work.
You've participated in many veterans events and family outreach, and now it's Veterans Day. What's your connection to veterans and the issues military families are facing?

To me, it's kind of a no-brainer, actually. I guess I can tell you the journey of it for me. I was invited to be a part of an awards ceremony with the Rockets in New York; they were awards for people who came up with great ideas and different ways of caring for people who were returning home—Wounded Warriors. It was so incredibly moving and amazing—the human dignity and grace and power shown by these veterans. I am so grateful to all of these warriors, and I think as a whole we feel gratitude, and it’s our duty to show it. We have to make sure they are taken care of when they get back home. And, really, we cannot do enough for these people and their families.

MORE: Fighting Stereotypes: 10 Photos of Military Women on the Front Lines

Stories are so much more powerful than statististics. What was it about listening to their stories that impacted you personally?

When you look into [these vets'] eyes, while hearing how they've served so courageously and how they are moving on with their lives tremendously—you know that's...well, there's nothing that can compare to that experience.

When you’re behind the camera or off set you’ve invested a lot of time in philanthropy, especially with ONE in Africa. Has this shifted you personally?

It's funny. I always had a really strong desire to work in the world and work with people in the world. And acting was and is something that I loved and felt that I had a strong desire to do. It felt like, not only a career path, but if I am doing a thing I love, I can also go beyond that and really be involved in the world. That's really always been the goal for me, even from the beginning. I think some people get into acting to be famous, which was never the priority for me. For me, it was really about living my own dream but also being in the world to experience life with other people and cultures and give back wherever I can. That's really the bottom line for me.

Rayna, Tami, Niki—audiences love these characters because they all have a little bit of grit. Which characters or characteristics have you admired most?

I love the way you say that because actually I think that is key for me. I love playing characters who aren’t perfect and are complicated and, you know, have a lot of different aspects to them. But also characters who are strong and powerful and kind of have a clear vision, even when it sometimes gets foggy; there's a backbone. As a woman, that's something that is really important to me. I like to put images of powerful women out into the world. For so long, so many of the images of women—particularly on television—were pretty one-dimensional. I’m looking to put images of women out that are powerful and still have femininity and softness to them. I think that's really what makes women interesting.

You have a son! What are your hopes for him as he watches you volunteer time and energy to others?

Oh, he's going to do great things! I was just thinking about that today. Listen, I hope he does whatever he wants to do and is comfortable in his own skin. But I already see in him that he loves to be around people. He already—at a very, very young age—has a strong capacity for empathy and compassion. I just hope for him that he will live the life he dreams of.


Hurtful Healthcare: Overmedicating Vets

The award-winning Sundance documentary Escape Fire, now available on iTunes, tackles a pressing question of our time: How can we save our broken healthcare system? On the way, it explores better ways to heal wounded veterans.
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Hurtful Healthcare: Overmedicating Vets

The award-winning Sundance documentary Escape Fire, now available on iTunes, tackles a pressing question of our time: How can we save our broken healthcare system? On the way, it explores better ways to heal wounded veterans.
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1/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD
Virtual Reality

According to the Veterans Administration, the overall rate of PTSD in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is currently at 20 percent. That’s a big number—and critics say the real number is bigger—so demand for alternative treatments is high. One therapeutic tool, the Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan project, is now being used by some 50 U.S. hospitals and clinics. The apparatus simulates a variety of scenarios and sensory experiences, such as the smells of body odor and the sound of spice market chatter suddenly erupting into gunfire. With professional guidance, veterans can use these re-created moments of trauma to work through their memories so they can stop being haunted by them. [Gallery by Alison Singh Gee]

2/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD
Couples Therapy

This past August the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that concluded PTSD sufferers could benefit from couples therapy. Those afflicted with PTSD may suffer from stress and demonstrate uncontrollable anger and violent behavior, all of which affect relationships. The study suggested that even a short period of treatment—about four months—in tandem with a partner may help.

3/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD
Music Therapy

In the past few years, the Veterans Affairs clinic in southern New Jersey has more than doubled its number of music therapists. Studies show music can trigger the brain’s release of chemicals that distract the body from pain. For instance, sounds played on lower-pitched instruments, such as violas, are more soothing than flutes and drums. Music stirs up deeply felt emotions and astute music therapists analyze which songs are healing to their patients. These songs lull vets into a more relaxed and open state of mind, which also helps with the one-on-one or group therapy that follows.

4/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD
Power Dreaming

In development since late last year to fight recurring nightmares experienced by PTSD veterans, the power dream will be viewed on laptops or 3-D goggles in the aftermath of a disturbing dream. The person will be shown a world she has created, with such elements as peaceful rivers and idyllic woodlands populated with animals or avatars that can even be made to look like family members or friends by scanning in photographs. According to Wired, the long-term purpose of power dreaming is that it eventually creates neurological reactions that enable vets to relax on their own. [Left image is not power dreaming experience.]

5/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD

This traditional Chinese medicine approach to renewing the body’s energy is now used on PTSD sufferers. A practitioner inserts needles at specific points in the skin to encourage the body’s energy to flow through the brain, organs, and limbs in a more balanced way, so the body operates more efficiently, more calmly. A typical treatment schedule might be one session a week for three months. Recent trials suggest that the treatment not only helps lessen PTSD stress and aggressive impulses, but it also rapidly alleviates depression.

6/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD

As Arthur Boorman, a paratrooper in the Persian Gulf War, attested in his inspiring and viral video of 2012, yoga can seriously transform a veteran's life. It had been about 20 years since his service. He weighed 300 pounds, walked with crutches and leg braces because of his injuries, and had every reason to believe his situation was permanent. He was inspired to begin a yoga program and inside of a year lost 140 pounds and was walking, even running, without assistance. While Boorman's may be a story of extreme success, many vets at Yoga Warriors in Massachusetts and other similar organizations are finding that yoga helps them relax, experience peace, sleep, and build strength.

7/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD
Horse Therapy

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Cowboy Up! program offers hands-on horse experience for veterans suffering from PTSD. In communing with gentle four-legged creatures, vets begin “listening to the breath of the horse, and as they start grooming and being around the horses, something magical starts to happen with that connection,” says Cowboy Up! president and combat veteran Rick Iannucci. In addition to experiencing the equine camaraderie, the former soldiers spend time with the ranch’s cowboys, many of whom are veterans themselves. Cowboy Up! is just one of many programs under the organization Horses4Heroes, which offers opportunities to veterans all over America.

8/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD
Take Part

If you (or someone you know) may be struggling with PTSD, you can take this self-assessment test from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and locate someone to talk to near you.

9/9Surprising Treatments for PTSD
More Great Reading

Many vets seek new degrees when they return home from duty. Guess which colleges have the highest graduation rate for veterans.

Veterans Day Update From D.C.
Christopher Elam, TakePart.com

Jobs, Homes, and Health: An Update From the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
One million new veterans will apply for services provided by the VA (the Department of Veteran Affairs) over the next five years. Congressman Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has been working to improve services and conditions for veterans. Here he gives us his unique perspective on what’s being done and how we can do better.
What’s the most pressing issue facing the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs?

It’s the job of my committee to help ready the VA for these returning heroes. That includes updating the antiquated disability claims process—900,000 claims are backlogged right now. And also working more closely with the Department of Defense to smooth transitions.

But I think our top issue is veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. The VA has been behind the curve on these issues. We have to think outside the box when it comes to healthcare related to issues of mental health.

Currently, we have a shortage of over 1,500 mental health providers. One solution might be for vets to be referred to the local Tricare provider near their home. The care would still be overseen and paid for by VA. But it would be more timely, compared to the current wait of 50 to 60 days.

MORE: Find Veterans Service Organizations

On a related note, veteran suicides are up. What do you think is the number one thing the VA can do to help.

Eighteen serviceman suicides a day is unacceptable by any measure. I will say that if a veteran calls and expresses suicidal tendencies, he or she is seen immediately. Unfortunately, too often the VA simply offers a medical prescription, and doesn’t provide follow-up of any kind. But prescription medicines only mask the symptoms.

MORE: Veterans Crisis Line and Mental Health Services

These are real injuries. These vets need continuous care with a healthcare provider. The challenge is we’re already operating in a stretched environment. There’s no easy answer, but my committee is committed to exploring new solutions over the coming period.

Tell us about the home loan program.

That’s an extremely popular program. Rates are currently very low, and veterans are able to purchase homes with no down payment. There are also a variety of mortgage refinance options, payment assistance programs, VA-acquired properties for sale, and information portals. We’re doing all we can so vets have a home to return to.

Employment is on everyone’s mind, is there a vets employment program that you’re particularly proud of?

The Hire Heroes Act of 2011 has been a great piece of legislation. The central provision is veteran re-employment training. One hundred thousand veterans can apply for up to a year of free retraining or learn new skills for today’s in-demand jobs via the Montgomery GI Bill. This Act serves unemployed veterans aged 35 to 60, which accounts for fully two-thirds of all unemployed. Overall, I’m proud to say we’re seeing unemployment levels drop for veterans for the first time in a long while, in some instances below the national level.

Finally, what would you tell an employer considering whether or not to hire a veteran?

I hear people say that the skills that service members developed in Iraq or Afghanistan aren’t skills they can use in the U.S. today. I heartily disagree. Hard work, decision-making, and responsibility are things that all employers are looking for! Veterans have these for sure. They can be trained to do almost any job.

Specifically, I want to work more with state governors to encourage them to recognize the skills that veterans possess as they return from active duty. For certain jobs, licensing is done at the state or local level. Encouraging state licensing boards to accept the experience that vets gained in the military—say as a combat medic—will go a long way to getting that vet back to work quicker than having to repeat lessons they already learned in the field.

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