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October 28th, 2008
06:15 PM ET

Rockin' out for our vets

Program Note: 3 out of 4 young people know someone who is currently serving or has served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Anderson helps MTV shine a light on issues facing young veterans... Check out MTV.com for how to get involved.
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Leslie Sanchez | Bio
CNN Political Contributor
Republican Strategist

Everyone says, nowadays, that they support the troops. It's a phrase that trips off the tongue with ease whether spoken by anti-war protesters or battle-hardened veterans of previous conflicts. In one sense, its part of the cure for 25-year long hangover America experienced after Vietnam, having overdone it on the Kool-Aid poured out by Massachusetts' John F. Kerry and other anti-war activists. Saying it makes you feel better.

But what does it really mean "to support the troops." Well, for recording artists Ludacris, 50 Cent, Hinder, O.A.R. and Saving Abel, it means sharing your talents to raise awareness so that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan can have access to physical and mental health screening, medical care, job counseling and training, education and, for those that want it, a fresh start in a new life outside the embrace of the U.S. military.

At MTV's "A Night for Vets: An MTV Concert for the BRAVE," those artists performed live along with taped performances by some of the entertainment industry's most recognizable stars, including Kanye West, Kid Rock, Angels + Airwaves, Fall Out Boy, Juanes, Nelly, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Will Ferrell, Cameron Diaz, Common, Fat Joe, Seth Green, Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, James Marsden and Wyclef Jean.

Over 950 veterans and their families attended, and they no doubt could feel the love. Austin Winkler, the vocalist for the band "Hinder" explained he was there because his dad was a Marine and that it was "definitely important to take care of our veterans."

O.A.R.'s Marc Roberge , who has been to Baghdad and to Walter Reed along with other members O.A.R., remembered a six-year-old boy he met in Iraq. The boy had been shot three separate times, he said, and was being treated by American doctors. And nurses who, he said "Were the most amazing people" he had every come across. "They keep the positive attitude. They take care of people regardless of their nationality, whether they were Iraqi kids or wounded American soldiers."

According to Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and an event partner, the focus on active and retired military is important. "With the economic downturn, our members are getting hit even harder," he said. "The average American is thinking about rising gas prices, the price of college, high food costs, and a mortgage crisis. Our folks are dealing with the exact same things but they probably just got back from a 12-month tour in a war zone."

The attention is needed. For all the talk of supporting the troops, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that, as of the end of March, 869,000 people who served in one of the current combat theaters have returned home and left the military. These are potential VA patients but, the VA says, they have seen only about 348,000 of them.

VA spokesman Phil Budahn points out, somewhat encouragingly that, "Only about 4 percent of Iraq and Afghan vets seen by the VA have been hospitalized."

These veterans are not only receiving services of physical injuries as a result of their service but, perhaps in direct reaction to the issues that plagued soldiers, sailors and Marines coming home from Vietnam, for mental health concerns as well.

Over the last year, the VA intensified efforts to diagnose and treat mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury (PTSD and TBI) thanks to the leadership of my former boss, the former VA Secretary, Jim Nicholson.

By way of full disclosure, I worked for Nicholson during his Chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. Former employer or not, however, he deserves credit for a landmark effort he launched to meet the mental health needs of our returning Vets.

A highly-decorated Vietnam vet and ex-Army Ranger, Nicholson realized that PTSD and TBI are extremely difficult to diagnose, and that the symptoms often occur long after the service event. That's why he instituted PTSD and TBI screenings for each and every veteran returning from Afghanistan and Iraq – not only by the military upon service discharge, but on every occasion the Vet seeks care at a VA Hospital, clinic or other medical facility. In addition, Nicholson launched an effort to place at least one psychiatrist at each of the VA Hospitals across the nation.

With just $39 billion out of an annual budget of $90 billion being spent on health care, the VA needs all the help it can get. The number of Iraq and Afghan veterans seen each year is mercifully small compared to the total number of veterans the VA sees each year. Which is why, when rappers like 50 Cent and Ludacris take the stage for a cause such as this, the money goes where their mouths are.

Take a look at these behind-the-scenes pics from the show:

The line outside the Nokia Theater in Times Square...
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A look at the stage just before the place filled up.
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CNN's Brooke Turnbull getting our location set up.
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See what i mean? Packed! CNN Headline News' Robin Meade (in the purple) on the floor talking with vets.
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Waiting with MTV PR maven Noelle Llewellyn to head backstage and talk with Ludacris about the event.
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Ludacris shares why he had to be part of this tribute to the men and women who serve in the armed forces. He tells me "regardless of how people feel about the war, we have to support the troops"
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Behind-the-scenes with Ludacris, Ciara and Ty Holbrook. Ciara also made an appearance to raise awareness about veterans’ causes
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Talking with the guys from O.A.R.
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Group shot with Hinder!
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That's 50 Cent way in the back. What an entourage!
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This was CNN's interview location where we sat down with some of the vets that came to the show. We talked about the war and what this concert meant to them.
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IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) teamed up with MTV for the concert. Vets at the show had sign a petition supporting BRAVE (Bill of Rights for American Veterans) to hold elected officials accountable for adequately caring for new veterans.
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CNN's Kay Jones – helping to make sure the shot was just right.
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Sgt Dedrick McDannell and Cpl Ryan Minnifield enjoying a night devoted to our vets.
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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Kate

    I am married to US Vet wo served in Iraq, I have spent many a day at the VA centre and I am continuously astonished at the lack of communication – they are under manned and overwhelmed. My husband did his 20 years of service has PTSD and traumatic brain injury yet whe he wants to see our local psych the medical benefits says "no" we won't pay ... what is their service worth – what are their lives worth. Just because he came back alive does not mean that their is not a great part of him that died over in combat. I pray ever day for his nephew who is currently there ... when you say we support our troops – mean it!

    November 10, 2008 at 1:03 pm |
  2. Stanley

    I hope and pray that President Elect Barack Obama as Commander in Chief restore the U.S. Citizenship of our U.S. Veterans.

    I am an African American Disabled U.S. Veteran. The State of Tennessee has permanently revoked my U.S. Citizenship.

    November 5, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  3. Linda

    We will never be able to do enough for our Vets, their service is priceless. Since the war has started I have seen so many friends and relatives go and come back and go back again. I have been blessed that all my friends have returned.

    October 28, 2008 at 10:19 pm |
  4. Billy Montgomery

    I am a three tour Vietnam Vet 100% disabled and I am not impressed with the phony media and entertainer support for Vets. This is nothing but hype and bull. These people just do not care about vets especially the media they just want to directly or indirectly showcase their annointed one and I am not impressed with that empty suit either! Not many Vets or active duty care one bit for the media annointed one. Too little , too late and too phony!

    October 28, 2008 at 9:54 pm |
  5. thomas

    Frankly, not enough has been done for our Vets dating back to as far as WWII to the present. Sufficed to say, the token gestures, in play, have served well as mere band aids in a futile attempt to fix the symptoms through the years, rather than the problem. Is there any change in sight?

    October 28, 2008 at 9:14 pm |
  6. Joy, Fort Gordon, Georgia

    The system regarding veterans health care and veteran's benefits in this nation is in disarray. To many fall through the system and many have to jump through hoops to recieve the slightest benefits. Vets wait in long lines for inadequate health care and the vet health care system is still not up to date on dealing with the mental and emotional toll our combat soldiers deal with. My husband is an active duty soldier who has been to Afghanistan once and Iraq three times, I hope in twenty years when he retires things will have changed dramatically, but the reality is that we need to fix the system right now and not just for our recent vets but for all our vets who have too long suffered in the dark.

    October 28, 2008 at 7:58 pm |
  7. David in Claremont

    I support everything that is being done for these Vets. My only problem is that NOTHING was done when I returned from Viet Nam. And now here I sit a 60 year old man about to loose everything. I have been unemployed for 8 months and about to loose my home. I have suffered from horrific dreams ever since I returned from the OLD war but that is my problem. My main concern now is feeding my family (wife and mentally challenged son and myself). I used ALL my savings and now have a total of $23 until my next unemployment check.

    October 28, 2008 at 2:57 pm |

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