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Lisa Daniel - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 27, 2010 - The military's top officer yesterday turned to American's philanthropic community to help military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan avoid the devastation of substance abuse, mental illness and homelessness.
Community non-profit groups are the answer to meeting veterans' needs after they've left the federal system, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Council on Foundations, a membership organization that supports the management of grant makers, during a visit to troops in Colorado.
Reminders of the need to do more for veterans, Mullen said, are visible from his home here.
"Outside my window at night, I can look out on the streets of Washington and see my peers from Vietnam who are homeless and who are sleeping on the streets at night," Mullen said. "We did not do a good job of addressing the problems of those veterans from Vietnam."
Community organizations are in the best position to identify veterans in need and to use agility and innovation to help them, Mullen said.
Mullen said he is happy that the American public supports today's war veterans in ways they didn't during Vietnam.
Calling today's veterans "an American treasure," the admiral said they go off to war without questioning the decision, yet "come back as changed people." And, their families, he said, also are "changed in ways they could not have imagined." Military leaders are just beginning to understand today's veterans' common-signature injuries, such as post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and amputations, he said.
"Yet to these families, their dreams haven't changed one bit," Mullen said. "They want to raise their families, they want to go to school; they want to own a piece of the rock."
More than a million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have returned to communities across America, and they need help with education, training, medical care, substance abuse and mental health, the admiral said.
"I'm asking that you reach out to them; first understanding what our challenges are," Mullen said.
"Time is of the essence," he said.