Veterans Day has passed and the parades are over until next year. But for many the commitment to honoring veterans is a full time job with most of the hard work occurring after the spotlights fade.
Since 2001, more than 7,800 nonprofit groups have registered with the federal government to provide support and services for troops, veterans and their families,—a third of those in just the last three years. These organizations range from providing networking help to access job opportunities, assistance tapping into benefits, physical therapy and emotional counseling.
The Travis Manion Foundation, named after 1st Lt. Travis Manion who died in Iraq on April 29, 2007, was founded by his mother with the goal of honoring the fallen by challenging the living. The words her son spoke before leaving for his second and final deployment to Iraq—“If Not Me, Then Who…” inspired Travis’ mother everyday as she built the foundation from the ground up, until her death on April 24, 2012.
Today, the Travis Manion Foundation, often called TMF, is headquartered in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and has helped over 18,000 veterans and survivors and inspired thousands of people to serve their communities in honor of fallen heroes. They have a few main programs that promote their efforts: Expeditions, Fellowships, Ambassador Corp & The 9/11 Heroes Runs.
Expeditions utilize service based or physical endurance challenges that are designed to develop social bonds and restore confidence and a sense of purpose for those who attend. The expeditions can be a transformative experience for groups of 10-15 veterans, and families of the fallen. Amy Looney, Director of the Survivor Services program, lost her husband LT. Brendan Looney, a Navy SEAL. This past August Amy held a climb in Colorado for twelve widows that all lost their husbands in combat. She described it as, “A life changing experience. We were there for each other in ways that most people would never understand. We created bonds that will last a lifetime”
The TMF Fellowships serve as a catalyst for veterans to take the next step in their lives. Applicants map their own course, and then apply to TMF for resources to assist their efforts. The five month funded internship provides mentorship, practical experience, life coaching and counseling. Programming occurs in cohorts of 10 veterans to facilitate team building, peer support, physical training and camaraderie.
Matt Owens, a 25-year-old veteran who served six years in the US Marine Corps and a participant in Iraqi Freedom in 2008 and 2009, received a TMF challenge grant. “I feel like my internship allows me to reach out to fellow veterans that have nowhere to go.” Matt said, “I’m not only learning practical tools like project management and development, but I also get to continue being around the same group of people that need support and in turn are my support system.” TMF utilizes an approach they created called MAP-V (Mentorship and Advocacy Program for Veterans). “It’s a holistic, goal-oriented, client-centered approach,” states Nicholas Borelli, Manager of the San Diego based program, “We assist veterans in finding their passions and achieving their post military goals by focusing on mind, body, and spirit aspects of transition.”
The Ambassador Corps program was designed to create and inspire the next generation of future leaders. James Brobyn, TMF Executive Director explained the process, “Ambassadors, comprised of veterans and families of fallen service members, go into schools and share relatable stories, carrying the “If Not Me, Then Who…” message, inspiring tens of thousands of young people to demonstrate character by exhibiting courage, integrity, leadership and service in their everyday lives. TMF has recently partnered with the United States Naval Academy to bring the program to the young people that attend the USNA Summer Seminar and USNA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) camp.
The 9/11 Heroes Run unites communities internationally with the goal to never forget the sacrifices of the heroes of September 11th and the wars since, including; veterans, first responders, civilians and military. This past September the race was held in 54 different locations, 25 states, and 9 countries and involved over 15,000 runners. Over $500,000.00 of the proceeds raised stay in the host race communities to support local veterans, their families, and first responders. The remaining proceeds support the TMF challenge grants, which provide veterans and families of fallen service members support through service-based team building events that foster camaraderie and facilitate successful life transitions.
The need for organizations like the Travis Manion Foundation is crucial to fill the huge gaps left by the overwhelmed VA system. There are about 2.4 million veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly a million of whom carry either physical or psychological wounds from their service. Young veterans ages 18-24 are entering the workforce with far more skills and work experience than their civilian peers, yet their unemployment rate in 2012 averaged 20.4 percent, five points higher than young non-veterans. Additionally, two-thirds of veterans (PDF) face some kind of health challenge as a result of their service. Mental health issues for some veterans are also on the rise including higher incidents of PTSD, TBI, anxiety disorders, and depression.
With only one percent of our country serving in the military, very few Americans shoulder the burden of service for the rest of us. There is a year between this past Veterans Day and the next—enough time for every American to find an organization in their community and make a real contribution to repay our debt to those who served.