Service Dogs: A Solution to The Veteran Suicide Crisis

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Man with his service and trainer outside at training facility

By Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO, American Humane

The number of military service members and veterans in the United States is declining, but their suicide rates are increasing.

It’s clear that addressing the military and veteran suicide epidemic will take bold new solutions beyond marginal improvements to the status quo. All ideas to protect these brave men and women off the battlefield should be on the table.

One low-risk, high-reward potential solution is pairing combat vets with service dogs who are specially trained to mitigate post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, which commonly affect ex service members and contribute to suicide.

About 1 veteran in 6 suffers from PTSD. According to research in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety, 28 percent of those who reported a past traumatic event had attempted suicide. Another study found that those with TBI, which affects about the same portion of veterans, are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide.

There’s long been anecdotal evidence that service dogs can help treat these mental health afflictions.

Service dogs can be trained to perform countless tasks that mitigate these conditions, including retrieving medication, searching homes for perceived threats, grounding handlers during a stressful episode, aiding with memory-related tasks, and even turning on lights during a night terror.

Now emerging scientific research is also pointing to the promise that service dogs offer. A Purdue University study released last year found that veterans coping with PTSD performed better on a variety of mental health and emotional well-being metrics, including reduced symptoms of PTSD and depression if they were paired with a service dog. Veterans with service dogs also missed work less and performed better while there than their dogless counterparts.

A separate Purdue study also released last year measured the stress-mitigating hormone cortisol in PTSD veterans with and without service dogs. Those with service dogs produced more cortisol than those without, mimicking the amount expected in adults without PTSD. Those in the service dog group also reported less anger, less anxiety, and better sleep.

While these studies didn’t directly test those with TBI, its similar symptoms suggest significant promise for suicidal vets with this condition as well. Unfortunately, waiting lists for veterans in need of service dogs are long. The process is time-consuming and expensive, costing as much as $30,000 per dog. With the VA refusing to endorse service dogs as a PTSD and TBI treatment–while awaiting the results of its own in-depth study – funding is scarce.

In the meantime, nonprofit groups are doing what they can to fill the void. For instance, American Humane’s Pups4Patriots program finds dogs in need of homes and trains them to become service animals for military veterans struggling with the invisible wounds of war, potentially saving lives at both ends of the leash.

Dogs have always boosted emotional well-being. Now studies are confirming what veterans have been saying for years: Service dogs can have an even greater impact. With the veteran suicide rate rising unabated, it’s time to stop tinkering and pursue creative new solutions to this crisis.

Nothing has so much potential lifesaving impact as greater access to service dogs.

Source: American Humane

Suicides among U.S. Special Operations Command tripled in 2018 while suicides among active duty Marine Corps and the Navy reached a 10-year high. The veteran suicide rate is 50% higher than the general population, adjusting for age and gender.

The veteran suicide rate increased by 26% between 2005 and 2016, the latest year that data is available.

More than 6,000 veterans commit suicide each year.
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs

Foundation Trains Shelter Canines as Service Dogs for Disabled Veterans

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service dog trainer pictured with service dog in his arms

Miracles happen every day at CAMO Foundation, and the angels who perform them are the 4-legged variety. Dedicated to providing service dogs specifically trained for the unique needs of disabled veterans, the nonprofit organization in Palm Beach Gardens, FL is the only organization in the country that uses mature dogs rescued from local pounds.

The brainchild of Mike Lorraine, a professional dog trainer with 20 years experience, the foundation is located on a picturesque farm in south Florida, co-owned by Lorraine and a local area businessman, Joe Mullings. Their mission is simple: Provide military veterans who are physically or emotionally challenged with shelter dogs who have the right qualities—intelligence, focus, drive—to be service animals.

Yes, shelter dogs! Most service dogs are raised as puppies. However, Lorraine believes that there’s a certain fearless, stoic quality that makes select shelter dogs the perfect match for injured combatants. You might say that they’ve both seen conflict and survived.

One of CAMO’s biggest success stories so far is 26-year-old Matt Kleemann, a former Navy diver who specialized in underwater repairs on submarines. While driving home along a snowy road, he swerved to avoid a deer and plunged over a cliff. When he awoke, he was paralyzed from the chest down. Wheelchair-bound, he says, “The original plan was for me to just get my dog, Charlie Brown, but Mike saw potential in me. So, I started to come down every day.” Today, Matt serves as a mentor to visiting veterans.

Continue on to CAMO Foundation to learn more.

How Do Wounded Veterans Live with Trauma, Stress, and Disability

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Veteran with PTSD sitting down with hands folded

With today’s advanced medical technology and improved body armor, more people are surviving traumatic events, only to suffer posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In a combat setting, these events can happen suddenly and unexpectedly and cause life-changing injuries that inhibit the mobility of a survivor for the foreseeable future.

And some damage is invisible to the untrained eye. Traumatized veterans have a completely different set of challenges than other wheelchair users. Injured veterans are at risk for developing PTSD. It may even follow them in the form of combat stress, a normal reaction to the atypical conditions of a combat environment.

With the right tools, it does get better. A traumatized veteran can transition into their new life and take on challenges one step at a time.

The Challenges of Limited Mobility and PTSD
Each day brings new challenges for a wheelchair user to overcome. Older buildings often have limited accessibility, sidewalks, and other terrain can be tricky to maneuver, and it may take more time to get in and out of a vehicle without a wheelchair lift. Some days are better than others, but life improves as caregivers and wheelchair users work in tandem to tackle a day’s tasks.

Things are a bit different for traumatized, disabled veterans.

Physical disability and PTSD can occur simultaneously, leaving them with a different set of psychological and emotional challenges. Everyday tasks can trigger a bad reaction or a flashback to the traumatic event. There might be a steep learning curve, but veterans are survivors, after all. One just needs to remain cognizant that there could be a mental burden from the trauma that needs to be addressed.

Social Support is Key
Survivors of trauma, especially if their mobility changes, might not know exactly what they need as they adjust to their new life. It’s important for caregivers and loved ones to be understanding. New wheelchair users are not used to leaning on others, yet this is the time they need that strong support system the most.

Most importantly, friends and family need to remember that a disability can serve as a reminder of a trauma, and the rest of the world does not have this context. Those without physical disabilities may find it difficult to empathize with wheelchair users, let alone ones who have experienced trauma. Certain day to-day activities or conversations can trigger PTSD when a veteran least expects it.

Symptoms to Watch Out For
For some caregivers and loved ones, it’s easy to focus on mthe physical change and miss emotional or psychological symptoms. In addition to doctor’s appointments, it’s important to also see a mental health professional for a full diagnosis. Though PTSD and combat stress may seem similar in the beginning, it’s important to be able to tell them apart. Know the symptoms: disturbing thoughts, feelings, dreams, mental or physical stress, difficulty sleeping, and changes in thought patterns or their personality.

Symptoms of combat stress can include anything from fatigue, loss in concentration, to decreased reaction time. Familiarize yourself with the indicators. After adapting to life with limited mobility, as a caregiver or wheelchair user, you may identify a few symptoms of PTSD or combat stress through changes in behavior. Though combat stress tends to subside after a veteran returns to civilian life, in some cases, prolonged combat stress may even lead to the development of PTSD.

The only way to know for sure is to get a diagnosis from a licensed professional. Not only that, but veterans with PTSD can only find relief through therapy. Therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups to overcome PTSD, combat stress, or other psychological and emotional difficulties.

It Takes Real Strength to Ask for Help
It can be difficult to ask for help or address symptoms of PTSD head-on. But after making the choice to seek help, veterans will wonder why they waited so long. It eases the mental burden, freeing up energy to focus on adjusting to life in a wheelchair.

When an injured veteran’s ready to seek support, start with some of these resources:
• Wounded Warrior’s Combat Stress Recovery Program, woundedwarriorproject.org
• Veteran’s Crisis Hotline, activeheroes.org, 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255
• The National Center for PTSD’s About Face, ptsd.va.gov/apps/AboutFace

Caregivers need to be cognizant of what PTSD entails to fully comprehend what a new wheelchair user is potentially going through. It can affect their day-to day life in unforeseen ways. By arming yourself with the right resources, veterans in wheelchairs and caregivers can address and understand these problems one step at a time.

Source: vantagemobility.com

Gary Sinise Foundation Launches Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service

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Gary Sinise Foundation Logo

While we are doing our part in fighting COVID-19 by social distancing and taking the necessary precautions, we are grateful to those on the frontline fighting the effects of the disease head on. But as we do our part to protect ourselves, how are those on the frontline being helped?

One of the programs striving to assist frontline workers is the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, created by the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF). We interviewed Elizabeth Fields, COO of GSF, to find out more.

When did the GSF decide to form the Emergency COVID 19 Combat Service Initiative?

On March 9, 2020, a few days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Gary Sinise Foundation made grants available across the country to first responders in need of personal protective equipment (PPE) when answering coronavirus-related service calls. We also moved quickly to make financial assistance available to any military service members, veterans, and first responders affected by COVID-19, as well as their families.

This was the very beginning of our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, officially launched on April 1, and since then – in addition to meeting the urgent needs of our first responders, service members, and veterans – the campaign has grown tremendously and expanded to provide critical support to health-care professionals and all of our frontline workers.

What prompted GSF to create it? What is the main purpose?

As COVID-19 spread rapidly across the nation, we at the Gary Sinise Foundation thought: Just as our first responders and all of those on the front lines are working so hard to protect us, we want to do everything we can to protect and support them. So, we launched the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, which is an extension of our mission to serve and protect those who so bravely protect our nation – our first responders, military, veterans, their families and those in need – which we do 365 days a year.

Have you already sent out grants? If so, how many, and where?

Since announcing, the availability of grants for first responders and those battling this pandemic, the Foundation has made significant strides through our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service. We’ve donated PPE and key decontamination equipment to 54 first responder departments across the country, provided 5,074 pieces of PPE and large-scale decontamination equipment to first responder departments on the front lines of COVID-19, and assisted 25 states in the fight against this pandemic.

What has the response been to this initiative?

Elizabeth Fields Headshot
Elizabeth Fields, COO of Gary Sinise Foundation

The Gary Sinise Foundation has received an outpouring of support from our partners, as well as the military, veteran, and first responder communities we proudly serve. The Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service launched with a video call-to-action from our founder and chairman, Gary Sinise, and this video has inspired people across the country to pitch into this collective effort on a grassroots level. In these uncertain times, it has been incredible to see our country come together to support those who so bravely defend our freedom and safety, 365 days a year.

Anything else you would like to add?
If you are interested in learning more about our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, or any of the Foundation’s programs, please visit us at garysinisefoundation.org.

U.S. Veterans Magazine would like to thank first responders, veterans, service members, medical professionals, and everyone on the frontline fighting COVID-19.

How Military Training Prepares Doctors for COVID-19

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American Soldiers Saluting US Flag

Dr. Alice F. Healey, a College Professor of Distinction at the University of Colorado Boulder, has studied and crafted her expertise in translatability in training—the transfer of knowledge from past experiences into new scenarios.

Through her studies, she has found that skills taught in one kind of context doesn’t usually transfer to a different scenario. However, Dr. Healey recently ran one test of this experiment that has shown otherwise.

In a study done in collaboration with NASA, Dr. Healey ran an experiment in motoric and perceptual aspects in which test subjects were called to use one hand to study a sequence of numbers and use the other hand to solve the sequence. The results proved that in, at least, motoric and perceptual aspects, knowledge can be transferable.

The ability to transfer knowledge between fields might not come across as surprising, but it does serve as evidence for COVID-19 medical workers who previously served as veterans. Military veterans fight to protect people every day knowing they are putting their lives at risk, while medical doctors are normally confident that the ailment that they treat their patients for will not be a danger to themselves. With the arrival of COVID-19, medical professionals are now fighting to save their patients while dealing with the new stress to protect themselves. Military veterans turned medical professionals, however, are believed to cope with the stress of possible infection more effectively than those without a military background.

Former veterans turned medical professionals Matthew Groth, Kevin Manusos, and Jason Wood expressed to Forbes magazine that they believe their military background has helped them to better manage time, make sacrifices, adhere to discipline, and think quickly and critically under stressful circumstances.

“Getting yelled at brings you to a stress level you’re not comfortable with. You actually get used to that stronger stress response,” Manusos told Forbes of his military experience. “I think if you did well in combat, if you could mentally handle the stress, you would transition well into stressful situations anywhere.”

Empowering Veterans to Address Mental Health Challenges

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America's Warrior Partnership Operation Deep Dive-team members stand together in front of poster board for support group

By Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while veterans and their families are leaders in navigating stressful situations, there are times when they can use some help to overcome a challenge. Whether the severity of a mental health issue ranges from mild to critical, there are programs and services tailored to help veterans navigate their unique situation.

During times like this, it is important to connect with resources that are available to help.

Accessing Mental Health Support

First and foremost, as I have, you should memorize the number to the Veterans Crisis Line. Any veteran who is experiencing an urgent crisis should call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255. The Veteran’s Crisis Line enables veterans to reach caring and qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. These counselors can help veterans who may be feeling anxious, lonely, or are thinking about suicide. Veterans in crisis or need of help can reach out to the hotline for connection and immediate support.

For situations that are less urgent but no less severe, there are physical and virtual resources that veterans may be able to use. For example, in your community, there could be a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, Community Based Outpatient Clinic, or Vet Center. In addition to these programs, there are community behavioral health and health centers that can address many less urgent stressors. A great point of contact in the local community would be your local County Veteran Service Officer. They likely know of local resources and can facilitate your connection. Lastly, you may seek peer support from local Veteran Serving Organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Team Red, White, and Blue, or the American Legion.  However, if you are unable to navigate your community resources, you can contact the America’s Warrior Partnership Network, who will reliably connect veterans with a service provider from outside of their community, such as Vets4Warriors or the Cohen Veterans Network that specialize in peer and mental health support.

Advocating for New Resources and Programs

In addition to raising awareness of existing resources, one of the most important things that veterans can do this month – and throughout the rest of the year – is to advocate for new policies that will better support their brothers- and sisters-in-arms who live with a mental illness. One of the most cutting-edge pieces of legislation is Senate Bill 785, also called Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019. This bill unanimously passed the Senate and is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to improve mental health and end veteran suicide. We strongly encourage a bipartisan and bicameral approach to make this bill law.

Advocacy is especially critical in the national fight to reduce suicide and self-harm among veterans. One of the initiatives contributing to this effort is Operation Deep Dive, a four-year study currently being conducted by America’s Warrior Partnership and researchers from The University of Alabama with support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. The project is examining community risk factors involved in suicide and non-natural deaths among veterans in 14 communities across the country. By the study’s completion, researchers will develop a methodology that any community can implement to identify the unique risk factors of suicide among their local veterans and then address those factors through a customized support program.

As part of this study, Operation Deep Dive researchers are currently interviewing individuals who have either lost a loved one, friend, or acquaintance who was a veteran to suicide or a non-natural cause of death. These interviews will enable researchers to examine how a veteran was engaged within their community before their death, and more importantly, what can be done to better support veterans in the future.

To participate in an interview, individuals must be 18 or older and live within one of the 14 communities where Operation Deep Dive is taking place (the veteran must also have lived in that same community before their death). More information about the interviews and details on how to participate are available online.

By advocating for new policies and supporting essential programs, veterans can ensure their fellow service members who struggle with mental health challenges can build the quality of life that they have earned through their service.

About the Author

Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national nonprofit that empowers communities to empower veterans. The organization’s mission starts with connecting community groups with local veterans to understand their unique situations. With this knowledge in mind, America’s Warrior Partnership connects local groups with the appropriate resources to proactively and holistically support veterans at every stage of their lives. Learn more about the organization at AmericasWarriorPartnership.org.

A Military Wife’s Guide to Suicide Prevention

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Depressed soldier leaning against the window covering his face with his arm

Aleha Landry is one of the many people who has a military spouse suffering from a form of mental illness from military experience.

Through her personal experiences tending to her husband’s mental health conditions and her knowledge of the rising suicide rate among military personnel, Landry does everything in her power to help those suffering from these conditions.

Through her husband’s struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, Landry has had a look at the various military-implemented mental health programs that help military personnel in these specific instances. Though in place for good reason, Landry has expressed her husband’s distaste for the programs, as they claim to be a solution for an issue that is as complicated and complex as mental health. To bring awareness to what veterans are actually feeling in times of mental health issues, Landry writes letters to Air Force leaders and members of Congress.

Though she is yet to receive a response to her letters, Landry does offer three helpful tips that she believes should be implemented into the mental health programs for military personnel.

  • Therapists working through these programs should either be stationed to stay in one place or at least have a five-year commitment to where they are currently located. Many of the therapists that Landry’s husband has seen have relocated in a short span of time, forcing him to retell his story and rebuild trust over and over again. Lancey believes that having one therapist who is guaranteed to stick around would allow for trust, understanding and healing to be better implemented.
  • Guarantee off-base counseling. This would allow for those seeking therapy to have a wider range of choice in finding the right counselor, rather than feeling the pressure to have to talk with a specific person.
  • Reduce the redundancy in progress questionnaires. Many questionnaires given to track the mental progress of military personnel are redundant and frustrating, according to Landry, who believes asking the questions once and having them answered to a therapist rather than on a sheet of paper would decrease frustration and give patients the sense of being cared for.

How the Military is Relieving Doctors During the Pandemic

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A female member of the U.S. Navy standing in a hospital room

On March 30, the Navy ship turned medical facility, Comfort, docked in Manhattan to help medical professionals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

The Comfort was designed to take in patients that were suffering from non-COVID-related incidents, but was quickly turned into an additional treatment facility for COVID patients, as the need for non-COVID treatments decreased. However, within the last few weeks, the way in which doctors are being distributed needs to be shifted. The need for medical professionals in city hospitals has overcome the need for the physicians needed to tend to the Comfort. This is why Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, announced on April 14 that they will be transferring some of the medical professionals of the Comfort into hospitals treating COVID-19.

Although it is currently unclear how many of the medical personnel will be making the switch from ship to city hospital, we can estimate that the aide will come in significant numbers. Esper announced that at least 300 of those serving on the Comfort will be transferring to city hospitals. However, given that there are currently 1,100 medical professionals aboard the ship, with additional Army recruits on the way, it is possible that the number of physicians being transferred will increase.

In addition to redistributing the need for medical professionals, fifteen urban augmentation medical task forces were deployed nationwide to aid in the medical assistance needed to fight the virus. Four of these forces, in total carrying 340 medical recruits, will be sent to aid the state of New York.

As for the reception of military personnel coming to the aide of New York, Air Force Colonel Jennifer Ratliff says that their presence has been well received.

“You can walk around the hospital and just see that the attendings and the residents are really happy to have us,” Ratliff reported.

From Homeless to Hired: One Veteran’s Story

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USC-WarriorBards including former homeless veterans, onstage performing

The USC Warrior Bards, a new Veteran program at USC, is changing lives of military veterans through the arts.

The program follows the example of the Ancient Greeks, using their model for storytelling as a way to express their experiences of going to war and coming back home.

Nicholas Cormier III, a former air-traffic controller for the U.S. Air Force, is just one of the members who uses The Warrior Bards to heal from his past experiences. Cormier had always kept his anxiety and depression under wraps, but when the effects of these conditions were too much to handle, Cormier found himself on the streets after eventually losing his job.

“It was awakening for me to be sleeping on the street, sleeping on benches, figuring out what to do next,” Cormier told ABC 7 News.

But all of this changed when Cormier joined the Warrior Bards, describing the opportunity as a way for him to put himself “out there” again.

“These plays are actually performed by veterans to veterans and were designed as tools,” Nathan Graser, another member of the Warrior Bards, explained to ABC 7. “We are essentially using ancient tools to help people talk about their experiences in a way they hadn’t thought about before.”

Cormier has not only appeared within productions on stage but has also acted as a writer and director for the Bards. He is the director and main protagonist of the short film Smile and the author of a one-act play, portraying the life of a homeless veteran living on Skid Row.

Of the program, Cormier says, “The Warrior Bards program being on this campus at USC has lifted my spirits and it’s inspired me to dream bigger dreams.”

Blue Angels, Thunderbirds fly over New York to celebrate those on coronavirus frontlines

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Blue-Angels

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels will hold flyovers in the New York City area, Newark and Trenton, New Jersey, as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday as part of their America Strong collaborative salute.

The flyover salute is to honor health care workers, first responders and other essential workers while also standing in solidarity with Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The flyover in New York City, the surrounding area and Newark, New Jersey will start at noon and last about 35 minutes. The Trenton flyover begins at 1:45 p.m. and will last about 10 minutes.

The flightpath begins at the George Washington Bridge at noon where the aircraft will then circle around Newark, over Manhattan, then make their way to Brooklyn and Queens at about 12:20 p.m., go around Long Island, then they will head north toward White Plains where they will turn south and follow the Hudson River as they head through the Bronx, over Manhattan and Brooklyn again where their flyover will conclude at approximately 12:40 p.m.

Residents along the flight path can expect to hear jet noise as the 12 high-performance aircraft fly, in precise formation, overhead. The flyover should be visible as people quarantine from their homes and keep to social distancing guidelines.

In order to reach the maximum number of people, some portions of America Strong will feature only the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds, while others will include both teams flying in their signature Delta formations simultaneously.

“We are truly excited to take to the skies with our Navy counterparts for a nationwide tribute to the men and women keeping our communities safe,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbird 1 and mission commander of the flyover, said in a release. “We hope to give Americans a touching display of American resolve that honors those serving on the frontline of our fight with COVID-19.”

The demonstration squadrons’ flyover in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania is the first of their planned flyovers over the next two weeks.

Continue on to NorthJersey.com to read the complete article.

Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service —Gary Sinise Foundation

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Gary Sinise Foundation

With the continued spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) across the nation, the Gary Sinise Foundation has launched a dedicated campaign called, Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, which addresses the needs and priorities of those it is entrusted by the American people to serve and honor, with the addition of healthcare professionals.

During this public health crisis, Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service will be the gateway for providing grants to first responders in need of personal protective equipment when answering COVID-19 service calls.

Financial assistance is also available to healthcare professionals, service members, veterans, first responders, and their families who have been impacted by the novel coronavirus.

Listen now to our founder and chairman, Gary Sinise, address the Foundation’s response to COVID-19, and the steps being taken to accomplish the mission.

Since announcing the availability of First Responder grants on March 9, the Foundation has made strides in reaching departments in need of personal protective equipment and essential gear utilized in the fight against COVID-19.

Emergency Covid-19 Combat Service Infographic

We’re also providing financial aid to those affected by COVID-19, including covering the cost of groceries and utility bills, moving costs, and rent and mortgage payments.

The list of contributions goes on, yet our work is far from over. More help is needed, and more help will be on the way.

Read more about the Gary Sinise Foundation’s official announcement about proactive measures in response to the coronavirus.

Through your continued support and generosity, the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service will ensure our nation’s heroes and their loved ones are receiving the support and resources needed to overcome the crisis facing our country.

MAKE A DONATION TODAY

Read the complete article on the Gary Sinise Foundation website here.

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