I'm using my 50th birthday as an excuse to celebrate what I love. First, I am most grateful for my parents -- all of them. I also have the gift of a loving extended family and the most wonderful friends. I can't think of a better way to celebrate a milestone than to give back. This year, I'm giving to the Iraq and Afganistan Veterans of America (IAVA). I was inspired by board member Wayne Smith, who is part of my amazing extended family. Check out the organization here: https://iava.org/ and read about Wayne below.
Wayne Smith is an accomplished veterans advocate who has worked with war veterans for nearly four decades. A native of Providence, Rhode Island, he was an altar boy and choirboy. After serving nearly 18 months in Vietnam as a combat medic, Smith overcame his own wartime trauma before becoming a nationally recognized mental health therapist and advocate for war veterans. Smith has led educational programs about veterans and the causes and consequences of war, and helped raise more than $2 million for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. In 1998, Smith returned to Vietnam with 20 American veterans to promote peace and reconciliation. Together with 20 Vietnamese soldiers, these former enemies rode bicycles 1,200 miles, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, to help heal some of the wounds of that war. Smith is one of the veterans featured in the Emmy Award winning documentary about the experience. He is on the Board of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
More about IAVA:
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America…remains the most important organization representing the new generation of veterans.” – TIME Magazine
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is the premier veterans advocacy and support organization on the planet. Every day, we fight for veterans. Hard. We are the tip-of-the spear non-profit engine of impact that connects, unites and empowers over 400,000 veterans and allies nationwide. Founded by an Iraq veteran in 2004, IAVA is the non-partisan leader in advocacy, public awareness and 1-on-1 case-management support. We organize locally, and drive historic impacts nationally.
IAVA is vanguard of the veterans movement and the most powerful network of veterans on the planet. We have connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and community, and provided thousands of veterans of all generations with life-saving and life-changing personalized support from IAVA’s Master’s-level social workers.
We partner with all those who share our commitment to this generation of veterans—whether they’re Democrat, Republican, or independent. We’ve led in the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act and numerous other pieces of game-changing policy and legislative change. We’ve worked closely with the White House, Members of Congress, the Department of Defense (DoD), the VA, corporations, and other nonprofits to create powerful networks for impact. We’re a tough watchdog as well, holding political and media leaders accountable for failures to support our community. This year, we’ve listened to our members nationwide and prioritized what they want action on the most: our Big 6 Advocacy Priorities. These include: 1) combatting suicide, 2) recognizing and supporting women vets, 3) defending the GI Bill, 4) reforming VA, 5) driving support and recognition of burn pit exposure and 6) empowering wounded veterans to utilize medical cannabis.
This work is powered by IAVA’s incredible national membership and by our innovative Research Department, that uses real data to drive the development of scalable solutions to benefit veterans and their families. Through careful analysis of IAVA’s powerful annual member survey and continuous surveillance of data about service members, veterans and their families, IAVA’s Research Department informs the development of IAVA advocacy campaigns and programs and promotes accurate representations of veterans in the public discussion on the most important issues of our time.
We believe veterans are not a charity, we’re an investment. We know veterans are powerful source of hope, unite and impact. We are not damaged or broken. We are the future. We are #VetsRising.