When actor Gary Sinise starred as Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump, he spoke to a number of veterans in order to accurately portray a soldier and a disabled veteran.
It was then that he made the decision to do all he could to help military veterans and first responders as well. In 2011 the actor established a 501c non-profit organization to assist veterans, the Gary Sinise Foundation.
While many charities invest donations or use the money for operating costs the Gary Sinise Foundation invests 91% of funds that directly aid veterans and first responders who need help. Not just physical wounds but the mental and emotional wounds of these people who have seen horrors most people could not imagine, according to garysinesefoundation.org.
Now he is expanding his foundation to help even more of the nation’s heroes. He has created the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network partnering with the Marcus Institute for Brain Health and Boulder Crest Foundation which focuses on those with traumatic brain injuries, depression and PTSD just to name a few. Avalon was the healing sanctuary for King Arthur in the Arthurian legends.
From the Revolutionary War to the Middle Eastern wars, soldiers were expected to come home and blend back into society without a hitch. For the most part mental and emotional problems that arose from the stress and savagery of battle were never acknowledged much less treated.
With no help, former military members suffered through amputations, emotional problems, divorces and often disrespect causing many to kill the pain with alcohol, drugs and even suicide. These problems affected entire families, not just the soldiers.
This writer’s grandfather was exposed to mustard gas in World War I causing pain and depression throughout his entire life. He rarely spoke and when he did his voice was raspy because of the scars the blisters left in his respiratory system. To make matters worse two of his children, also members of the military, died before reaching the age of sixty from leukemia as a result of the mustard gas exposure.
Emotional problems went untreated and people who suffered were told to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and get over it. Some veterans cannot handle fireworks because it sends them back to the noises of war and others must always sit with their back to a wall for fear of what may come up behind them.
Imagine dealing with these and a number of even worse fears and nightmares for an entire lifetime. Most are evaluated using a general examination at the end of their tour that does not correctly address any brain or unseen traumas.
Many are too embarrassed or reluctant to deal with these issues because of misdiagnoses or stigma and don’t get the help they need to live a full life.
Thanks to caring people like Gary Sinise these people now have a voice. According to the Foundation’s website, almost three million military members have been deployed to war zones just since 9/11.
Bernie Marcus and Arthur M. Blank, co-founders of The Home Depot, a hardware superstore chain in the United States, helped to establish The Avalon Fund in 2019 with the belief that those wounded in battle or first response can come back stronger with complete diagnoses and proper help.
Boulder Crest Foundation addresses depression, anxiety, emotional problems and PTSD in soldiers as well as their families while those who suffered brain trauma are helped by the Marcus Institute for Brain Health.
The patients are treated and receive follow up meetings, counseling, training and tools for as long as it takes to help them resume a normal life.
You can learn more about the Gary Sinise Foundation here.
Other institutions aiding the Avalon Network are The Travis Mills Foundation, the Permission To Start Dreaming Foundation, Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, Camp Southern Ground and GratitudeAmerica.
The Tulane University Center for Brain Health, Jefferson Veterans’ Brain Health and Wellness Initiative, the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center and the University of Florida Health Brain Wellness Program are giving help to those with traumatic brain injuries.
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Donations from private citizens are also important. According to garysinisefoudation.org, “while we can never do enough for our defenders and their loved ones – WE CAN ALWAYS DO A LITTLE MORE”.