NEW YORK, May 10, 2011 — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke about service member and veteran issues to a crowd primed for a Lady Gaga show here last night.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff found a nontraditional audience for his message about the military as part of a fundraiser for the Robin Hood Foundation at the Javits Center. The group raised $132 million last year for charities all over the city, and this year announced a special fund to help veterans in Metro New York.
Mullen followed Tony Bennett — who at 84 can still bring it — and Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live.” The 4,000-member audience listened respectfully to the chairman, who was interviewed on stage by veteran journalist Tom Brokaw. Kid Rock and Lady Gaga followed.
Brokaw told the audience that as they were enjoying the $3,000-a-plate dinner, young Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq were putting on Kevlar and getting ready for another day of war.
“They represent less than 1 percent of the American population,” Brokaw said. “The rest of us — 99 percent — nothing is asked of us.” Brokaw noted that New York has a growing problem with veteran homelessness and asked the chairman what the Defense Department is doing about it. As a Vietnam veteran, Mullen said, he is particularly concerned about the issue because veterans of that war were experiencing the same thing when the current wars started.
“My peers were still sleeping on the street in Washington and cities throughout the country, and I swore I would do whatever I could to address the homelessness challenge,” Mullen told Brokaw. “As we’ve engaged in this, I find we’ve generated homeless veterans at a higher rate than we did in Vietnam.”
The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are working together on the issue, the chairman said, but it will require the commitment of people in local communities to solve. “I find local leaders want to structure something to take care of our veterans,” Mullen said. “The focus is on education, employment and health, and the private side has to help.” Communities will lose a lot if they do not help the veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the chairman told Brokaw and the audience.
“More than 2 million have served in the wars, and they are a generation that is wired to serve,” he said. “They are going to make a difference in the future. What they need is a bridge, and communities like New York need to provide that.”
Post-traumatic stress is another issue that Americans need to know about, Mullen said, because of reluctance in the military culture to seek help means that more than the reported 18 percent of today’s combat veterans are affected.
“We are fighting a stigma of asking for help, which is not strange for our country, and certainly not for the military,” the chairman said, noting that post-traumatic stress penetrates right to the heart of military families.
“It is the most significant invisible wound of these wars,” he said. The chairman urged the crowd to reach out to the families of those who have lost someone in the wars. Many family members who have lost loved ones tell him their greatest fear is the country will forget the sacrifices service members have made, he said.
“These are extraordinary young men and women who go out every day, and in too many cases, give their lives for this country so we can be the country we are,” he added. Mullen urged the crowd to connect with these families.
“They are very proud,” he said. “I promise you, they won’t ask for help, so figuring out how to connect with them to support them is really important.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)