New National Commander, Star-Studded Line Up Light Up Vegas Stage (Part 2)
By Joseph R. Chenelly
Eric K. Shinseki
Shinseki delivered a report he called “the state of the VA.” He spoke of higher survival rates among the wounded and ill on the battlefield, leading to more complicated recoveries than ever seen before, trumpeting the vital work being done in VA’s poly-trauma system.
Shinseki finished his report speaking about VA’s increased focus on mental health care.
“We know that when we diagnose and treat [mental health issues], people get better. Of the more than 8.6 million veterans enrolled in VA health care, mental health treatment is up—a good sign,” he said. “At the same time, for veterans receiving VA treatment, our suicide rates trend down—another good sign. It is an indication that treatment, including evidence-based therapy, is working. However, too many veterans leave the military with mental health issues we never find out about. Most veterans who commit suicide in our research, perhaps as many as two out of three, never enrolled in VA. So as good as we think we are in helping people in this arena, we cannot help them if we are not there to treat them. So this is another reason to increase access.”
Shinseki attended the opening of a new VA medical center in Las Vegas, the first new VA hospital to open in 17 years.
Also in the opening session, DAV bestowed the Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year award on one of the newest stars in Hollywood. Before J.R. Martinez won “Dancing With the Stars” or landed a role on the daytime drama “All My Children,” he was a soldier with the 101st Airborne Division patrolling Karbala, Iraq, when the front left tire of the Humvee he was driving hit a landmine. He suffered smoke inhalations and severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body.
“While some would allow such an injury to stop their forward progress in life, J.R. used it as a spring-board from which he would reach incredible heights,” said then-National Commander Donald Samuels in presenting Martinez with the award. “Through his incredible courage and unbreakable will, J.R. has become an inspiration to his fellow veterans, a television star and a pretty good dancer.”
A video about the 2012 Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year is online at http://youtu.be/fnL22AvOPNk.
“I signed up for three years in 2002. It was cut short in 2003,” Martinez told the convention body. “But I have kind of reenlisted—and said I want to do a lifetime of service.”
“I enjoy trying to uplift people … pick their spirits up one way or another,” he said.
“I learned something – every single one of us has a role. And it is important we do all we can to carry out that role,” Martinez enjoyment and my benefit, it is important to use that power, that platform and that voice to help others.”
“I now understand that as long as I am walking alongside you and you are walking alongside me,” he told convention goers, “we will be able to flank the enemy. The enemy here is unemployment, PTSD, addiction, all the issues we face out there. We can defeat those things together.”
On the second day of convention another Hollywood star took the stage. Longtime friend to DAV, Gary Sinise, was honored with a new, special award dubbed “Magic Legs.
“DAV created this special award to celebrate this amazing man, his integrity, big heart and sense of respect for our nation,” said Wilson.
Sinise was presented with a statuette in the likeness of the character Lt. Dan Taylor showing his titanium prosthetic legs from the 1994 blockbuster film “Forrest Gump,” in which Sinise played a Vietnam veteran who lost his legs in combat.
“Gary, my friend, it is an honor to present you on behalf of DAV and all disabled veterans who served everywhere this special Magic Legs award,” said Wilson.
“It was shortly after ‘Forrest Gump’ opened that I got a call from DAV inviting me to the national convention in 1994,” Sinise recalled in his acceptance speech. “Much like this, I was overwhelmed with emotion at the reception and how I was treated there, and I am no less overwhelmed today by this award.
“My association with DAV has meant so much to me. I have learned so many valuable things from the people who are associated with DAV, from the leadership to the delegates. I don’t think we can ever do enough for veterans,” Sinise said.
“So just thank you, to all of you who have served and given so much of yourselves for this country. I hope you always know that your sacrifices are never taken for granted —at least not by me. “
Later that evening, Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band entertained thousands for two hours during the convention “Fun Night.”
One of the more momentous announcements at the event came during Adjutant Wilson’s report when a new logo and tagline were revealed. Wilson explained the thinking behind the new look.
“This isn’t the first time in DAV’s history that we’ve made such a bold decision,” Wilson said. “This type of change and a more intensive approach to branding DAV is what so many of you have been asking for. It is now becoming a reality.”
“You can imagine how this new design will help us connect with veterans from all over the country,” he said.
“However, there is more than just an image. We now know from research that has been done that we need to refine our identity into one that is more relevant to prospective members, our devoted supporting contributors and the general public.
“Our mission statement is changing, but our purpose remains the same,” Wilson said. “We are, as we did for nearly 250,000 veterans and their families last year, empowering veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity.”
After the unveiling, the DAV Store broke sales records as shirts, stickers and lapel pins with the new look sold out within hours. The adjutant concluded his report by encouraging veterans to take to the polls in November.
“The men and women we elect this fall will determine the future of our veterans programs,” Wilson said. “We have witnessed how quickly veterans are forgotten when wars end. So, we must be vigilant for the rights of our veterans.”
VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey was among the guest panelists during the Service and Legislative Seminar at convention.
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