Mullen: America Must Help Its War Veterans

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.

 the annual Robin Hood Foundation Gala in New York
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanks tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist Tom Brokaw after appear­ing at the annu­al Robin Hood Foun­da­tion Gala in New York, May 9, 2011. The foun­da­tion has tar­get­ed pover­ty in New York by sup­port­ing and devel­op­ing orga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide direct ser­vices to low-income res­i­dents.
DOD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

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) 

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