As America remembered those who gave their lives for our country a veteran's group in Westwood quietly continues to fight for those who came home. New Directions held its annual Walk For Warriors on Memorial Day also bringing attention to the 6000 veterans in L.A. who are homeless.
I walked the 5k path along the Veterans Affairs property and chatted with a handsome and friendly 25 year-old who'd done two tours in Iraq. He was living in housing at the V.A. thanks to New Directions. He had dreams of becoming a police officer or a fireman. First, he was investing in himself and recovery after witnessing firsthand the horrors of war. Another vet, a muscular blonde, volunteered directing walkers. Pinned to his back, was a handwritten sign with the names of men who never made it back home. I was moved by these young men and their willingness to walk through the doors of New Directions and say "I need help."
As emcee, I was assigned an assistant, a woman vet named Mayra. She was staff at New Directions and told me of how alone she felt when returning from two tours in Iraq. Now, she's helping other vets get their lives back on track. New Directions doesn't run from PTSD or substance abuse. It tackles it head on. Another young vet talked to me about the nightmares.
I have a colleague who reminds usevery year, we "observe" not "celebrate" Memorial Day. This walk, however, was certainly a celebration of America and an appreciation for its freedoms. One woman stood on the side cheering runners, holding a huge sign that read "Freedom is not free." Walk For Warriors was sponsored by the West LA Chamber of Commerce. The top donor was Rosland Capital raising over ten thousand dollars. One vet, who appeared to be from the Vietnam era, came up to me and asked "ten thousand dollars?" "That's a lot of money" he exclaimed happily. As the nation looks at patient care and controversies at VA Hospitals New Directions is a partner aiming for more and better care for those who’ve served our country.
I so appreciate the opportunity to have been part of the real reason we observe Memorial Day. I wanted that to come before I hit the big furniture sale, or mall discounts, or even the family BBQ. A morning walk hardly feels enough, however, I chatted with one young African-American vet who watched from the sidelines. "What do you think of all these walkers" I asked. "God bless them" he responded. God bless HIM I thought for serving our country.
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