Chairman of the Joint Chiefs calls for community support of returning veterans

By Christen DiClaudio

The highest-ranking military officer in the nation told a crowd gathered in Oakland yesterday… The highest-ranking military officer in the nation told a crowd gathered in Oakland yesterday that they can play a crucial role in helping wounded soldiers adjust back into civilian life.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to an audience of about 200 people during a town hall meeting in the Soldiers and Sailors’ auditorium.

The event opened with a welcome by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. He recognized and thanked each of the eight panelists of “veterans and those who are devoting their lives to the delivery of services to veterans.”

Mullen then spoke for about 10 minutes about the role the community plays in welcoming soldiers back home, getting them back on their feet after suffering physical and mental wounds and in comforting their families, who according to Mullen often suffer from their loved ones’ wounds almost as much as the injured soldiers do.

“It is very important to articulate that the Department of Defense and the [United States Department of Veterans Affairs] can’t do this alone,” Mullen said. “The third piece is community.”

He said he believes there is a “sea of good will out there” — a large population of community members across the United States, and particularly in Pittsburgh, who want to help veterans adjust to returning home. He said he thought more would volunteer to help these wounded veterans if they were less shy or knew how to help.

Some of the panelists agreed that able veterans should show community members how they can help because each soldier’s situation and wound is different.Mullen said he chose Pittsburgh to address in a town hall meeting because Pitt is known for its relationship with the military and veterans and conducts much of the research that is necessary for betterment of the military. Examples he gave are technology of the visually impaired, hand implants and entertainment technology, which is similar to video games for the preparation and rehabilitation of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mullen and the panelists stressed the issue of homelessness of veterans. A way to avoid this is, again, to encourage community members to reach out and offer their services. Retired Sgt. Jeremy W. Feldbusch, the national spokesman of the Wounded Warrior Project, suggested working one-on-one with veterans to get them back to civilian life, in school or a job and in homes. Feldbusch was blinded by shrapnel as a soldier.

Panelists also briefly discussed the relationship between veterans and their children and ways of adjusting together and the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center’s recognition for women veterans’ care.

“We really try to make it one-stop shopping for women veterans,” said Terry Gerigk Wolf, director and chief executive officer of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Nick Bosch, a Pitt sophomore specializing in emergency medicine and an Air Force ROTC member, attended with a handful of his friends in their crisp blue uniforms. ROTC members were not required to attend the address, but Bosch felt honored to.

“Any opportunity to hear a leader, especially in the military, speak is good,” Bosch said. “It makes [his experience with the military] more real.”

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