Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America available for 21st century veterans

7 Nov 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

No matter what military occupational specialty an individual holds during deployment, he is ultimately impacted in one way or another by the stresses of war. Whether outside the wire or not, service members return home altered to some degree – unfortunately, some effects are worse than others.

There are countless numbers of organizations dedicated to providing aid to veterans who reach out for help for combat’s negative effects of war. One such entity is the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America - the country’s first and largest nonprofit veterans organization dedicated to helping veterans of the 21st century conflicts.

The organization was founded in 2004 by veterans of the Iraq War who were concerned about how the war and its returning service members were being portrayed by the media. From there, its mission has become a simple, yet all-encompassing one - addressing mental health injuries, a stretched Veterans Affairs system, inadequate health care for female veterans and GI Bill educational benefits.

“They are all about taking care of America’s veterans and offering a wide variety of benefits for members, who can join for free,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Hudson, instructor officer in charge for Maintenance Instructional Section, Motor Transport Maintenance Instructional Company, Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools. “One of the biggest things they do for the veterans is provide opportunities to attend recreational sporting events, such as a NASCAR race.”

That is exactly the opportunity that Hudson and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Ramsey, instructor officer in charge for Advanced Maintenance Instructional Section, Motor Transport Advanced Maintenance Instructional Company, MCCSSS, received as members of the IAVA. After signing up for a chance to the event, they were chosen and given tickets to the Wonderful Pistachios 400 race held Sept. 10 at the Richmond International Raceway in Virginia.

There, Hudson, Ramsey, their families and other service members from across the country not only witnessed the racing exploits of such notables as Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. Additionally, 37 veteran members also rode in the back of the pace truck, each alongside a random driver – Hudson found himself riding with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

“Events such as this are definitely something to take advantage of if you are a member if the (IAVA),” said Hudson. “But underneath that, it extremely humbles you to know there are groups out there that will do this for veterans, even those who don’t come back injured.”

Through partnerships with many large companies, IAVA is able to secure and provide to its members training opportunities as well as tickets to various sporting events and concerts, adding to its health and wellness capabilities for the veterans.

“These organizations are established to help those coming back who may not want to seek help through their command for fear of how they might be seen,” said Ramsey. “These groups offer so many different things to the veterans, yet out of all the veterans, only a fraction is aware of such groups and the help they offer.”

More than two million Americans have deployed overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan since the dawn of the country’s Middle Eastern involvement, yet IAVA itself only has approximately 200,000 veteran members and civilian supporters.

“If you qualify for benefits, at least look into them to see if they will benefit you,” said Hudson. “These groups aren’t here to make money off you or gain recognition. They’re here to help the men and women who have come back and might need some help.”

No matter what physical or mental impacts may have been incurred from one’s deployment, they are never alone when returning home. Countless nonprofit organizations have stood up for the men and women in uniform, and the least that can be done is to look at how they could help someone.