By Andrew Millard
Whoever becomes the next president of the United States will have many issues to think about when he's officially sworn in on January 20. One of his top priorities, we believe, should be how to improve the care for the thousands of young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last week, MTV introduced the BRAVE petition which outlines five important points the next administration needs to enact for our returning heroes. Ensuring proper health care, education, housing, compensation and employment shouldn't be asking too much when these courageous men and women have put their lives on the line for us.
My job was to produce a video piece explaining what the BRAVE petition was. That meant I needed to find five veterans who would appear on camera to explain each of the calls to action. This should've been the most challenging part of the assignment. However, with the help of the Wounded Warrior Project and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), not only did I quickly find five enthusiastic participants, but I got a firsthand understanding of how important these young vets thought this petition was. Here's a little insight into who they are:
Our first shoot was with Jose Adams, a former Marine sergeant, who now walks with a limp after his legs were riddled with shrapnel while serving a second tour of duty in Iraq. When he returned home to his native NYC in 2006, he didn't have a place to live and was forced to live on the street for three weeks. The "Prevent Homelessness Among Veterans" part of the BRAVE petition was obviously very close to his heart and an issue he's currently fighting for with his employer, Black Veterans for Social Justice.
Justin LaPree was another former Marine who, at first meeting, seemed like a normal, happy-go-lucky 20-something who works at a bank. But Justin did two tours in Iraq and suffered battle scars that no bandage could ever cover. Justin suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an affliction he was diagnosed with after serving seven months in Fallujah. An interesting point he raised while we were shooting was that PTSD is generally not talked about while you're in the military because it can be perceived as a sign of weakness. That's another thing that, according to him, needs to be addressed along with veteran PTSD care.
With a name like Aubrey Arcangel, you pretty much have to be a soldier. He was a specialist in the 3rd Infantry Division and witnessed many of his Army comrades return home either maimed or disabled. Though he was lucky enough to avoid serious injury, he has been a dedicated advocate for veterans issues through IAVA. He got major props from me for arriving on shoot day with his entire read memorized. What a pro!
Nambia King had the longest military title I'd ever heard: SPC/E-4 assigned to 66th Military Intelligence company, of the Third Squadron, of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. She agreed to take part after she heard the BRAVE petition would be addressing VA hospital funding. She hurt her back while serving in Iraq and now goes there regularly for physical therapy and prescription refills. She claims that because the VAs aren't getting enough money, they're often understaffed and that routine 30- to 45-minute appointments can last up to three hours.
When former Army Staff Sergeant Brian Laguardia showed up at Brass Monkey, a bar in Manhattan's West Village that was acting as one of our shoot locations, we put him straight to work. One of our key lights broke, and our crew of four was so inept with tools that I had to ask him to fix it for us. Way to make a first impression!
Brian returned from Iraq last year and knows a lot of friends that have been asked to make multiple tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Getting stop-lossed has been a controversial issue among Marines and soldiers, especially when it comes to being properly compensated. Brian wholeheartedly agrees with the BRAVE petition, which asks that troops who are stop-lossed get an additional $1,500 a month.
All in all, the experience of working with these five servicemen and -women was not only memorable, but inspiring. Spending time with a young veteran reminds you how much they have sacrificed for this country and why it's so imperative that we do everything we can to ensure they receive the best care and support possible. So go ahead and sign that BRAVE petition today and make sure that happens.