The Leading Cause of Blindness for Veterans

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blind veteran witha cane crossing the street

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness for veterans over 60. But blindness from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment.

The disease damages your eye’s optic nerve. It usually happens when fluid pressure builds up in the front part of your eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure on the optic nerve. It can reduce blood flow to the optic nerve, causing damage and visual field loss.

Some forms of glaucoma can damage the optic nerve from reduced blood flow, even when the eye pressure is in the normal range during the eye exam. This can happen when the eye pressure becomes high at other times of the day and the patient does not feel the pressure elevation.

It can also happen when blood flow to the optic nerve becomes reduced below a critical level. That can happen during periods of very low blood pressure, even during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea can adversely affect glaucoma in some patients who take their hypertension medications right before bedtime, it can cause the blood pressure to drop too low during hours of sleep, and may also reduce the delivery of oxygen to the optic nerve.

VA research provides valuable tools for vision treatment

VA is at the forefront of vision research and glaucoma is one of its top priorities. A current study by Dr. Markus Kuehn is a Bioassay to Predict the Development and Progression of Glaucoma. The VA Rehabilitation, Research, and Development Division sponsors the study.

The project uses the recent discovery that glaucoma affects the development of a cellular autoimmune response that can further reduce vision. The investigators are testing if the strength of the reaction from a blood sample is predictive of future loss of vision and quality of life of the patient.

Using artificial intelligence to diagnose glaucoma severity

Another Iowa City VA study by Drs. Randy Kardon, Mona Garvin, Ray Wang, Young Kwon Johannes Ledolter and Michael Wall is using a new type of artificial intelligence of image analysis. This intelligence is called a deep learning variational encoder. It diagnoses the severity of glaucoma, detects the earliest signs of worsening vision and its response to treatment.

They are also relating the eye imaging to Veteran quality of life.

Early identification of patients at high risk to develop vision loss allows more aggressive treatment before the damage occurs. The development of a predictive assay and new types of eye imaging analysis will provide eye care providers with valuable new tools to preserve the quality of life for Veterans.

Veterans enrolled in VA health care can schedule appointments directly with Ophthalmology or Optometry without a referral from primary care. Schedule an eye exam at your VA health care facility today.

Source: va.gov

The Power of Adaptive Sports

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U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Andrew Hairston in wheelchair smiling with amputed leg and other leg in a cast

By Kellie Speed

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Andrew Hairston never could have imagined he would lose his left leg here in the States after returning home from being deployed. While the accident certainly changed his life, his impressive outlook has him proving nothing is impossible.

“After I got back from deployment, we were moving into a new house when I was loading a mattress onto the truck and it fell off,” he told U.S. Veterans Magazine in a recent phone interview. “Just as I was picking it back up, someone hit me. When I was hit, I thought the vehicle hit my funny bone which was why my leg was numb.

When they got me into the back of the ambulance, they gave me some meds for the pain. I was upset and hangry at the time because I had just ordered Domino’s. When I heard someone say, ‘left leg amputation,’ that’s when it hit me.”

Despite his injury, the U.S. Virgin Islands native has not only found many reasons to be grateful, but also push himself to incredible limits.

“As a Marine, we go from being active and physical specimens and being the best at everything to being reduced to having a caretaker,” Hairston said. “I had to fight to get back to my old self. When I was injured, I had another reason to be glad I joined the Marine Corps. I had a phone call with my Colonel at the time and I was sent to Walter Reed. They have the best adaptive program in the Department of Defense. When I was there, I told them I wanted to go to the Paralympics.”

Now holding the title of the first para-cyclist in Virgin Islands history and being the only hand cyclist in the Marine Corps to win at the 2022 Warrior Games was “the greatest feeling in my entire Marine Corps career,” he said. “Hearing guys in other branches saying ‘there’s a guy killing it in cycling’ or ‘watch out for that Marine’ was incredible. When I was injured, my physical and occupational therapists told me that even though I lost a leg, they kept reinforcing that I can still do what I did before; I just needed to figure out how to do it now. I was able to prove to myself that I can still be active and take a walk with my wife (a Marine helicopter pilot) or play with my dogs and being able to compete really helped me with my recovery.”

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Andrew Hairston para-cycling in formation with others

Hairston first competed in a four-mile race in Central Park. “It was the first time that I felt like myself,” he said. “As a Marine, we have to win everything, but I came in third place. That gave me the Paralympics bug. I have done a few marathons now in hand cycling and am getting ready to do three more.”

With two gold medals for cycling, a silver medal in archery and silver and bronze awards for track to his credit, Hairston’s continued determination to succeed has reinforced he is still the same specimen he was when he joined the military — just a little bit different now.

Hairston created a nonprofit called Salvage Life with the goal of inspiring others to lead a healthy and active lifestyle with a focus on veteran and disabled communities in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Knowing that people back home are disabled and not able to get the same support that I had here in the states was the reason I started the nonprofit,” he said. “As I continue in my recovery, I was able to host the first adaptive sports clinic in the Virgin Islands just before Warrior Games. I showed guys how to shoot archery and wanted to show people that you can make things work for someone with a disability. After my injury, I said if I can help just one person, it would be a success. I got to help eight people; that’s the best part of it.”

Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Migraine

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soldier holding the side of head in pain

Do you experience recurring headaches accompanied by intense pain and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light and sound? If so, you may suffer from migraine, a debilitating neurological disease that affects nearly 40 million Americans. While everyone experiences migraine differently, the impact can disrupt everyday life with attacks lasting from four to 72 hours.

Unfortunately, veterans are more likely to experience migraine and headaches than civilians, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs*. If you think you have migraine, it might be time to talk with your local Veteran Affairs doctor.

Here are some tips to help you get the most of out of your visit:

  • Make a list of questions to ask during your appointment
  • Be prepared to share your medical and headache history, including prior concussions, exposure to blasts, etc. that occurred during a military tour
  • Talk about potential migraine triggers, such as stress, weather or lack of sleep
  • Ask about treatment and prevention strategies, including an orally dissolving medication to treat and prevent attacks
  • Learn more about resources to help manage migraine, including National Headache Foundation’s “Operation Brainstorm”

Read more about taking control of migraine attacks

*American Migraine Foundation. Veterans and Migraine. Available at: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/veterans-and-migraine/. Accessed September 12, 2022.

Sponsored by Pfizer. PP-NNT-USA-0149

Disabled American Veterans (DAV) : Victories for Veterans

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Give a Minute to Support Victories for Veterans. America’s veterans are on their most important tour—the tour of their lives. DAV, a leading nonprofit, is helping more than 1 million veterans in life-changing ways each year.

While serving in Vietnam, a grenade took Michael Naranjo’s eyesight. His fingers became his new way of seeing. Starting with a lump of clay, he learned to create objects of beauty with his hands. Today, he’s a successful sculptor. Each year, DAV helps more than a million veterans like Michael in life-changing ways — helping them to get the benefits they’ve earned.

Support more Victories for Veterans®. GO TO DAV.ORG

Veteran PTSD Recovery with the Invictus Foundation

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Professional psychologist giving advice to military patient. Psychological therapy for war veteran, PTSD

Veteran PTSD Recovery – The Invictus Foundation is [at] the forefront of efforts to help veterans, active-duty service members and their families suffering the terrible effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and an array of behavioral health issues stemming from their experience in the crucible of war. TBI, PTSD and behavioral health issues afflict hundreds of thousands of people who have selflessly served in defense of our nation,” states Peter Whalen, founder and CEO of the Invictus Foundation.

To address this urgent need, the Invictus Foundation plans to build a series of eight specially-designed regional treatment centers of excellence (COEs) with the naming convention Invictus Foundation Centers of Excellence for TBI & Behavioral Health. These nationwide Veteran PTSD Recovery centers will serve veterans, active-duty military and their families, families of the fallen, public safety personnel and the community. They will receive the most advanced and proven care to address the complex symptoms of TBI, PTSD and an array of other behavioral health issues to return people to their activities of daily living within a new normal brought about by their experience in war and other psychological trauma.

Healing mind. Cropped shot of middle aged military man during therapy session with psychologist. Soldier suffering from depression, psychological trauma. PTSD conceptPatients at the centers will come from a diverse and inclusive subset of the community population they serve. These subsets will be rank-ordered preferentially, starting with veterans and their families, active-duty military and their families, families of the fallen, public safety officers and community members. Patients will receive comprehensive, interdisciplinary and individually tailored evaluations and treatment during Veteran PTSD Recovery.

Each Invictus Center will incorporate a variety of specialties: neurology, neuropsychology, audiology, ophthalmology, speech pathology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, family therapy, plus art and music therapy. They will also have physiatrists, psychiatrists and psychologists and offer orthotics and prosthetics.

The first Invictus Foundation Center of Excellence for TBI and Behavioral Health will be constructed in the Seattle area, with its opening planned for the summer of 2025.

Professional psychologist giving advice to military patient“The philanthrocapitalism fundraising model often referred to as a social funding model, will be utilized for the capital construction campaign. It is a model used by the Bill Gates Foundation and Bill Ackman’s Pershing Foundation, to name but a few. Investors have a choice of investing for purely philanthropic reasons or an adjusted rate of return on investment, given their affinity for the vision and mission of the Invictus Centers for Veteran PTSD Recovery. The philanthrocapitalism model will be harnessed with a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) governance that will allow investors to realize gains through the real estate the Invictus Centers are built upon as well,” states Mr. Whalen.

The Invictus Foundation’s capital construction campaign efforts will be supported and overseen by the Vice-Chairs of the Invictus Foundation Board of Directors, Wayne Ross and Bryan Hoddle. Mr. Ross has an expert knowledge base in developing partnerships in the oil and gas industry. In contrast, Mr. Hoddle has a specialist knowledge base in consulting with military and veterans’ organizations on the treatment of injured soldiers and veterans with Veteran PTSD Recovery. He is often referred to as the Soldier’s Coach. For more information or a prospectus on the Invictus Foundation’s Centers of Excellence for TBI and Behavioral Health, please

email info@invictusfoundation.org.

 

Veteran Suicide & Focusing on Suicide Prevention in the Military

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A marine sits with his hands in his faceon the ground contemplating veteran suicide

Since the beginning of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s tenure, he has been adamant about the importance of mental health in the military and prevention of veteran suicide. Secretary Austin has announced the establishment of a new program aimed at tackling one of the greatest issues surrounding mental health and military personnel: suicide prevention.

Secretary Austin’s newly established program, the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee (SPRIRC), will address and prevent suicide in the military pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022.

“We have the strongest military in the world because we have the strongest team in the world,” Secretary Austin stated upon establishing the program, “It is imperative that we take care of all our teammates and continue to reinforce that mental health and suicide prevention remain a key priority. One death by suicide is one too many. And suicide rates among our service members are still too high. So, clearly, we have more work to do.”

a military servicemember holds a pistol struggling with veteran suicideThe SPRIRC will be responsible for addressing and preventing suicide in the military, beginning with a comprehensive review of the Department’s efforts to address and prevent suicide. The SPRIRC will review relevant suicide prevention and response activities, immediate actions on addressing sexual assault and recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military to ensure SPRIRC recommendations are synchronized with current prevention activities and capabilities. The review will be conducted through visits to numerous military installations, focus groups, individuals and confidential surveys with servicemembers contemplating veteran suicide.

 

The SPRIRC recently started installation visits to prevent veteran suicide. The installations that will be utilized in this study will be:

  • Fort Campbell, Ky.
  • Camp Lejeune, N.C.
  • North Carolina National Guard
  • Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
  • Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska
  • Fort Wainwright, Alaska
  • Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
  • Camp Humphreys, South Korea

By December 20, 2022, the SPRIRC will send an initial report for review in advance of sending a report of findings and recommendations to Congress by February 18, 2023.

“As I have said many times, mental health is health — period,” Secretary Austin additionally stated, “I know that senior leaders throughout the Department share my sense of commitment to this notion and to making sure we do everything possible to heal all wounds, those you can see and those you can’t. We owe it to our people, their families and to honor the memory of those we have lost.”

To view Secretary Austin’s full memorandum on veteran suicide prevention and updates on the SPRIRC, visit the Department of Defense’s website at defense.gov.

Source: Department of Defense

‘A True Profile in Courage’

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Celebrity and former Army Ranger Noah Galloway poses for a portrait during the Tough Mudder's

By Kellie Speed

If ever there was a true profile in courage that is Noah Galloway’s story to tell.

While the U.S. Army veteran lost both his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee to an IED attack during Operation Iraqi Freedom, that hasn’t stopped him from pushing his own limits becoming a nationwide inspiration as a result.

Although his injuries certainly posed many unforeseen challenges and his life was forever changed, the Purple Heart recipient believes now he is mentally and physically stronger than ever.

“My mother always told me to join the military, but I never joined until I wanted to,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I told her if something happens, I chose this. I’ll never forget that conversation. When I got injured and I went through my depression that was the worst shape I had ever been in in my life. I wasn’t taking care of myself and that was a reflection of my whole life — I wasn’t being a good father; I wasn’t being a good husband or anything. It was my children who were the motivation for me to get back and start taking care of myself.

The first thing I did was change the way I was eating then I joined a 24-hour gym because I was embarrassed, and I think a lot of people can relate to that if they have never been into fitness. It’s hard to walk into a gym for the first time. I would go in at 2:00 in the morning because there were no books, magazines or anything on the internet that told you how to work out missing an arm and a leg. Actually, I would say that was a benefit because it motivated me, and I had to figure it out. I kind of fed off of that and I have met amputees from all over the world who told me they have seen my videos and pictures and that’s how they got into fitness. For me, that’s pure motivation to know that something I did inspired them, and it drives me to just keep wanting to do more and more. Getting back into shape was so critical with my recovery in accepting myself.”

In 2014, the Alabama native became the first amputee veteran to appear on the cover of Men’s Health. “When I was in the military, I used to say I wanted to be on the cover of Men’s Health because fitness has been a part of my life since I was 12 years old,” he said. After earning the magazine’s “Ultimate Guy” title, he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and later became a finalist on Dancing With The Stars.

Noah Galloway Book Signing For
Noah Galloway attends his book signing for “Living With No Excuses” at Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tasia Wells/FilmMagic)

“Once I went on Ellen, things just took off,” he told us. “As soon as that episode aired, I got phone calls from Survivor, which I was excited about, but I couldn’t do that because I have three kids who were young at the time, so I turned it down. When Dancing With The Stars called, I told them I had no dancing experience and had to stay in Alabama. They didn’t even hesitate. They said they would send a dancer to Birmingham where we would rehearse then they would fly me back and forth to LA for the live show. Then, I didn’t think I’d last long, but halfway through the season, I was still there. The fifth week, I did a dance to Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” and I did a one-arm lift and I got a standing ovation from all of the judges and the studio audience; it was incredible. I had veterans start reaching out to me, and that changed everything. But I didn’t become a better dancer.”

On September 16, Galloway’s No Excuses Charitable Fund is hosting their second annual charity golf tournament at Timberline Golf Club in Calera, Ala. with proceeds this year benefitting Homes for Our Troops.

“I know there are people who are more inspirational, but people reach out to me and say they got into fitness because of me,” Galloway said. “To know that you have done something, even if it’s for one person to improve their life, is just so motivating.”

To check out his book, Living With No Excuses: The Remarkable Rebirth of An American Soldier, visit noahgalloway.com.

The PACT Act and your VA benefits

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Disabled Veteran in wheelchair

The PACT Act is a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. This law helps us provide generations of Veterans—and their survivors—with the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

This page will help answer your questions about what the PACT Act means for you or your loved ones. You can also call us at 800-698-2411 (TTY: 711).

And you can file a claim for PACT Act-related disability compensation or apply for VA health care now.

 

What’s the PACT Act and how will it affect my VA benefits and care?

The PACT Act is perhaps the largest health care and benefit expansion in VA history.

The full name of the law is The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

The PACT Act will bring these changes:

  • Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras
  • Adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures
  • Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation
  • Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care
  • Helps us improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures

If you’re a Veteran or survivor, you can file claims now to apply for PACT Act-related benefits.

What does it mean to have a presumptive condition for toxic exposure?

To get a VA disability rating, your disability must connect to your military service. For many health conditions, you need to prove that your service caused your condition.

But for some conditions, we automatically assume (or “presume”) that your service caused your condition. We call these “presumptive conditions.”

We consider a condition presumptive when it’s established by law or regulation.

If you have a presumptive condition, you don’t need to prove that your service caused the condition. You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.

Read more about the PACT Act on the VA’s website here.

Improving Access to Healthcare

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soldier in wheelchair with son pushing him and daughter riding on lap

Google Cloud announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is partnering with Google Cloud to help developers implement new tools and applications that will improve veteran access to VA services and data.

Serving more than 19 million veterans and their families, the VA is the largest healthcare provider in the United States and manages a network of 170 medical centers and 1,000 outpatient sites. In addition to healthcare, the VA administers key veteran services ranging from education opportunities and unemployment assistance to housing aid, pension benefits and more. Ensuring veterans can access these services easily is a top priority for the VA.

Through a $13 million, multi-year contract, the VA will deploy Apigee, Google Cloud’s application programming interface (API) management platform. The implementation is part of the continued evolution of the VA’s Lighthouse API program, providing developers with seamless and secure access to VA APIs in the development of new tools and services. For example, with Apigee, developers can use the VA’s Benefits API to create applications that help veterans submit and track electronic benefits claims and add supplemental documentation. Developers can also easily access the VA’s Health APIs to build new online tools that help veterans manage their health and access their medical records.

“Google Cloud’s Apigee will help the VA to continue scaling the VA Lighthouse API program for third-party developers in a cost-efficient manner, offering veterans more choice in the applications and tools they use to obtain access to their data and services,” said Dave Mazik, director, VA Lighthouse. “This partnership is a logical next step to better connect veterans with VA services, innovate with trusted third parties and continue to offer a high-quality, digital-first customer experience to which they’re accustomed to in other areas of their lives.”

APIs are how software talks to software and how developers leverage data and functionality at scale in a secure fashion. They are products that need to be actively managed so that organizations and developers can execute business strategies and achieve innovation at scale.

“We’re honored to support the VA and our nation’s veterans,” said Mike Daniels, vice president of Global Public Sector, Google Cloud. “By making it easier for developers and partners to build new applications through Apigee, the VA is spurring innovations that will ultimately enable veterans and their families to more easily access important benefits and services.”

The VA’s Apigee deployment — built on Apigee’s FedRAMP-authorized platform — will support the department’s existing efforts to safeguard veteran data, in compliance with standards such as HIPAA regulations and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard for exchanging healthcare information electronically.

About Google Cloud
Google Cloud accelerates organizations’ ability to digitally transform their business with the best infrastructure, platform, industry solutions and expertise. We deliver enterprise-grade solutions that leverage Google’s cutting-edge technology — all on the cleanest cloud in the industry. Customers in more than 200 countries and territories turn to Google Cloud as their trusted partner to enable growth and solve their most critical business problems.

Source: Google Cloud

Looking for a Service Dog?

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labradoodle with guide dog pack on its back

They say that dog is a man’s best friend, which could not be more accurate for veterans. Dogs provide the sense of responsibility and companionship that comes with pet ownership, but they can also act as a source of support both therapeutically and physically.

If you’re a veteran looking for a service dog to aid you in your day-today life, here’s what you need to know:

What Are the Benefits of Service Dogs?
There are approximately 500,000 service dogs on duty in the United States, with 19 percent explicitly trained to help owners with PTSD. Service dogs can be trained to perform numerous activities that are helpful to your specific needs, whether it be to provide mobility assistance, interrupt harmful behaviors, calm panic attacks, retrieve medication and more. Service dogs have also been proven to help veterans recognize and cope with their symptoms, gain sleep, reduce anxiety, strengthen relationships, balance emotions and assist in healthy transitions.

Does the VA Provide Service Dogs?
Until recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs did not provide service dogs. However, in August of 2021, a new piece of legislation known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program on dog training therapy based on the promising “train the trainer model.” The program will provide dogtraining mskills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses, regardless of whether or not they have mobility issues. However, regardless of how you receive your service dog, you will need to apply for VA Veterinary Health Benefits to get approved for ownership.

How Can a Veteran Apply for VA Veterinary Health Benefits?
■ Hearing, Guide, Mobility: The veteran should meet with their VA clinical care provider to begin the application process for this benefit. The specialist will complete an evaluation and make a clinical determination on the need for assistive devices, including a service dog. Once the assessment is completed and a service dog is determined to be the optimal tool for the veteran’s rehabilitation and treatment plan, the provider will work with the veteran to obtain the necessary information and documents to request the benefit. This includes coordination with the local VA Medical Center Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service.
■ Mental Health Mobility: The veteran should meet with a VA mental health provider to begin the application process for this benefit. The mental health provider and care team will evaluate and determine whether the mental health condition is the primary cause of the veteran’s substantial mobility limitations. The team will also assess whether a mobility service dog would be the veteran’s optimal intervention or treatment approach. If the team considers a service dog to be the optimal intervention, they will request the benefit on behalf of the veteran through coordination with the local VA Medical Center Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service.

Each veteran’s case is reviewed and evaluated by a prescribing clinician for the following:
■ Ability and means, including family or caregiver, to care for the dog currently and in the future
■ Goals that are to be accomplished through the use of the dog
■ Goals that are to be achieved through other assistive technology or therapy The veteran will be informed of an approval or disapproval of their service dog request by the VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aid Service. Veterans approved for service dogs are referred to Assistance Dogs International, or International Guide Dog Federation accredited agencies.

Where Can I Find My Service Dog?
For more information on where to find a service dog and connect with a community of other veterans with their own service dogs, the VA will usually coordinate with an organization such as the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International.

To access more information on the service dog process, please visit the International Guide Dog Federation at igdf.org.uk and Assistance Dogs International at assistancedogsinternational.org.

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs, Purina, tillis.senate.gov

One Rifle. One Book. Two Hundred Veterans.

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Older man and young man on stage at a motorcycle rally

By Kellie Speed

Though Andrew Biggio served in the Marine Corps as an infantry rifleman during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), he never could have imagined the future impact he would have on veterans.

The founder of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, New England’s largest motorcycle ride now in its 11th year, helps America’s most severely wounded combat veterans by raising money to provide housing modifications, new transportation, financial support and basic living needs through his nonprofit.

While delving into his own family’s military legacy and reading letters sent home from his great uncle killed during World War II, Biggio felt compelled to honor the Greatest Generation. His great uncle, also named Andrew Biggio, spoke of the M1 Garand rifle in his letters, which inspired the younger Biggio to purchase one.

What happened after turned into a five-year journey for Biggio, traveling the country to hear the inspirational stories of these warriors and have them sign their name on his rifle. He has 240 signatures to date! The result of his travels and collection of combat stories turned into his recently published book The Rifle: Combat Stories from America’s Last WWII Veterans, Told Through an M1 Garand.

U.S. Veteran’s Magazine caught up with Biggio to discuss this year’s Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, how he decided to feature the veterans in his book and what’s up next for him.

U.S. Veteran’s Magazine: You’re celebrating the 11th year of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run. Did you ever think it would be as popular as it has become?

Andrew Biggio: I never thought I would be doing this for over a decade. Like every other organization, we haven’t gotten to see our peak numbers because of COVID. People are still coming out and riding 10 years later, and some people take pride in saying they have been at every wounded vet run, so I love doing it.

USVM: How do you choose the veterans to honor each year and how much money do you raise each year?

Hundreds of motorcycles and riders at rally eventBiggio: Really, it’s just people I come across, people I meet, referrals from previous wounded veterans. I had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with veterans who got wounded, and they spent time in these hospitals with veterans who they think should be honorees.

USVM: Why did you decide to write The Rifle?

Biggio: I started having World War II veterans show up to my wounded vet ride, and I started to realize how it’s not every day you see a World War II vet come to a motorcycle rally to pay respects to the younger generation of veterans. It got me into really focusing on America’s last World War II veterans. I started to read my uncle’s last letter home, who I was named after, and how much he enjoyed the M1 rifle. The M1 rifle just represented that whole Greatest Generation because that was the standard rifle of the times, so I went out and bought one. I wanted to collect signatures of all of the different World War II veterans while I still had them around. After hearing some of their stories and visiting them, I just realized some people hadn’t heard the particular stories of these men I was meeting.

USVM: How did you choose the veterans to feature in the book?

Biggio: I really wanted to write about the units that weren’t often covered in history; they were often overlooked, so I picked not well-known divisions and things like that because my grandfather had served with the 10th Armored Division. That was a division you don’t often hear about.

USVM: What’s up next for you?

Biggio: I think I am going to do volume two of my Rifle book. The book [took me in so many unexpected directions, including leading] me to bring a World War II veteran from the 17th Airborne Division back over to Germany. [In March of this year,] we unveiled a monument for the 17th Airborne Division in Germany because there was no memorial there.

For more information about Andrew Biggio, his book and the veterans whose stories were featured visit thewwiirifle.com.

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