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Injury to former Marine spurs vets to join Occupy movement

Spurred by an injury to one of their own, military veterans are mobilizing to increase their presence and profile in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Wednesday on Wall Street, the New York City chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War and dozens of other uniformed veterans known as "Veterans of the 99%" are expected to mass near Wall Street, where Occupy began Sept. 17.

Although they've been participating in Occupy protests throughout the country, vets say their ranks have been swelling since last week, when former Marine and Iraq War vet Scott Olsen sustained a skull fracture when he was hit by a police projectile at an Occupy Oakland protest. Although still hospitalized, Olsen, 24, is expected to make a full recovery.

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"His injury has definitely galvanized veterans,'' says University of Illinois senior Scott Kimball, who served in Iraq as an Army specialist. He'll be helping coordinate today's New York City event, which begins with an 11 a.m. march from Vietnam Veterans Plaza to Liberty Square.

"We're getting calls from veterans across the country who are extremely angry and appalled that someone who served two tours in Iraq got injured as a well-behaved protester,'' says Kimball, 27. "It's rallying vets across the country. We're just seeing the beginning of it."

Interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan has said that the events leading up to Olsen's injury would be investigated as vigorously as a fatal police shooting.

Occupy Wall Street launched as a protest against corporate America's influence on government and the growing income disparity between the nation's rich and poor. Although many protesters have appeared aimless and disorganized, Occupy's central themes have attracted a widening band of followers, as Occupy protests spread to scores of U.S. cities and abroad.

The movement has been gathering support from labor unions and liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, although support from veterans has been less vocal. Occupy Marines, a Facebook support group that did not respond to calls, has been urging vets and active-duty personnel to show up at demonstrations, but not in military uniforms.

"I'm in it for the long term,'' says 25-year-old former Marine Shawn Riley, who served in Iraq and is a participant in Occupy Chicago. "This is an idea we're going to pass to future generations."

Joe Carter, a retired Army sergeant and head of the national Iraq Veterans Against the War association, expects increasing involvement from both retired and active-duty personnel.

"We're hearing from 80-year-old former Marines,'' says Carter, who served two tours in Iraq. "Scott Olsen was willing to put himself on the line, so a lot more people are willing to take a more visible role."

Carter hopes vets can parlay higher visibility in Occupy protests into heightened awareness of issues key to vets: high jobless rates and issues ranging from declining benefits to lingering physical and mental trauma of war. According to a recent Department of Labor report, unemployment among 18-to-24-year old vets is over 20%, vs. the national unemployment rate of about 9%.

 

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