Occupy Veterans Movement Growing Across U.S.

PHOTO: A photograph sits on a memorial for Scott Olsen.
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Since Occupy Wall Street protests have broken out in cities across the U.S. and abroad, support has come from what might seem like an unlikely corner: war veterans.

But two of the highest-profile protesters -- each from opposite ends of the country -- had served in wars. Last week, the world watched as bleeding, dazed 24-year-old Marine Scott Olsen was carried away by fellow protesters after he was struck in the head by an object apparently fired by an Oakland police officer. And before that, Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas was captured on video confronting a group of New York police officers he said had been too rough with protesters.

Both Thomas and Olsen have become rallying figures in the Occupy Wall Street movement -- not only among civilian protesters but among veterans whose participation in the protests has been growing, according to such veterans-turned-organizers as Paige Jenkins.

"For veterans especially, health care is paramount, yet is always on the table to be cut," Jenkins said in an interview with ABC News. "Vets in this movement don't want to fight anymore. We want to make peace and live peaceably. We shouldn't have to fight for our benefits, and if vets are fighting for their benefits then it can't be any better for nonvets.

"What do you think is going to happen in 2012 after everyone gets home from Iraq? No jobs, no benefits. This will not be a good scene," Jenkins continued. "I imagine the suicide rate will climb, and sadly, I think that some people in this country don't feel any responsibility for that."

Jenkins, who served from 1987 until 2002, first in the U.S. Navy and then in the California National Guard, said that some veterans were organizing to be "peacekeepers" and maintain "perimeter security."

"As vets, I think it is our job to protect our community through teachings of nonviolence and defensive measures like how to protect yourself from unprovoked police attacks," said Jenkins, who is currently studying military social work at the University of Southern California's Virtual Academic Center.

Another group that called itself Occupy Marines Corps recently posted on its Facebook page advice about how to protest in winter weather. According to a Tweet by @Kruggurl, the organization has offered protesters supplies for the winter.

"We are a collection of prior service Marines intent on protecting American citizens and their ability to exercise their First Amendment rights," a spokesperson for the group said.

"These riot squads deploy unlawful excessive force against Americans all service members swore to protect, and many veterans have sacrificed their lives in that honor. We at OMC will not stand idly by as these cowards continue to abuse the Constitution, hurting American citizens. We will use any nonviolent means to convince law enforcement agencies to understand that brutality will only strengthen our resolve," the spokesperson said, adding that the group acknowledged that not all Marines agreed with the group's position.

"As for Scott Olsen, we are outraged his life was nearly snuffed out by these cowards, and pray for his continued recovery and that of his family during this difficult time."

Olsen, who deployed twice to Iraq, is a member of the Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War. The Veterans for Peace issued a statement shortly after Olsen suffered his injuries.

"VFP members are involved with dozens of these local 'occupy movement' encampments, and we support them fully," it said.

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