Standing Up for Heroes

I wanted to share some personal thoughts about ABC News’ commitment to honor our veterans with the new ongoing project called “ Standing Up for Heroes.”

Our own heroes, Bob and Lee Woodruff and their family deserve so much credit for helping all of us understand and focus attention on what our veterans and wounded experience on a daily basis. The 5th annual “Stand Up for Heroes” in NYC left all of us profoundly moved.

I was even more moved than usual (I am a proud board member of Bob and Lee’s organization) because the Iraq War is coming to an end. I worry that the country will think the war is behind us and move on. But the wounded and traumatized service members deserve our attention more than ever. We do not have to be objective about sacrifice. We need to come together as a nation, whatever our views of the war, and take care of our returning veterans.

Less than 1 percent of Americans have volunteered to serve this country. They have deployed into harm’s way for more than 10 years on 12-15 month deployments, some as many as six times (special operations, even more).

Like Bob, I have followed the wounded and think about them every day. For nearly 10 years, I have visited them in hospitals and comforted their families.

I watched a 24-year-old soldier come into a Baghdad combat hospital with both legs blown off in 2007. I visited Lt. Mark Little and his parents when he returned to Walter Reed. A few months later, I gave him my invitation to the White House Christmas party, and with Karen Travers by his side he rose from his wheelchair on his new legs so he would be standing for the commander-in-chief. A few months ago Mark sent me a DVD of his wedding. He wore a kilt. Whenever I am having a bad day, I watch it again. He is an inspiration.

And some of you may remember Lt. Col. Tim Karcher. I had known Tim for years when I visited him in Iraq in March 2009. A few months later, he lost his legs and nearly died from infection. I saw Tim and his family months later, all of them optimistic and Tim wishing only that he could return to duty. He, too, is now standing tall again with the help of prosthetics.

There are so many others like Mark and Tim. They will tell you they are the lucky ones. Their wounds are visible. People can see the sacrifice. It is the invisible wounds that are so often overlooked. Ten percent of seriously wounded Army vets have lost an arm and/or leg, but 50 percent of the most seriously wounded soldiers have PTS (post traumatic stress) and 16 percent have (TBI) traumatic brain injury caused by concussion. The National Institute of Mental Health finds that people with post traumatic stress are six times more likely to attempt suicide.

This is a great project for ABC News and I am so proud of the commitment as we move away from Iraq and continue the fight in Afghanistan for many years to come.

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