Musician Bret Michaels hears wounded vets' concerns
By VICKI VAUGHAN | San Antonio Express-News | Published: March 10, 2014
SAN ANTONIO --- Before he took the stage for a Sunday night show, musician Bret Michaels met with more than two dozen wounded veterans.
"Working with men and women in the military is my passion," said Michaels, who comes from a military family.
He asked the injured how he can help. Many voiced their frustration at the lack of help and even lack of information they need to secure benefits they've earned.
"There are lots of programs for us," said Kenny Walker, who lived through a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan, "but nothing for our spouses to learn about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
"I almost lost my family because my kids had no idea why I was being such an ass," he said.
For almost two hours, Michaels talked with the wounded, some of whom were in wheelchairs, at Operation Homefront, a nonprofit that offers emergency assistance to the injured, including housing them at Operation Homefront Village at 7027 FM 78.
Dino Sarracino, Operation Homefront's vice president of programs, said that when wounded veterans leave the military, the process can happen quickly and their finances "are typically in disarray."
Operation Homefront helps fill the gap as the injured await their Veterans Affairs benefits. In the past, that gap lasted about eight months, but now it's about a year, on average, Sarracino said.
That gap, Reggie Crump told Michaels, has left some of his fellow veterans homeless.
"Some of my buddies are on welfare," Crump said. "Why do our wives have to suffer the humiliation of going down and waiting eight hours to apply for food stamps?"
Officials need to be told: Quit making it so hard to get benefits, Crump said.
Michaels, who's in the band Poison, told the injured veterans that he doesn't pretend to know what they have experienced, but he knows that when his cousin came home from Vietnam, "he had nothing."
And Michaels said he knows the transition to civilian life is incredibly abrupt.
And all too often, Michaels said, the wounded veteran is suffering and "there is collateral damage with the family."
Michaels said he doesn't want Sunday's discussions to end with talk and no action.
"What I'm hearing is that (veterans) are treated with disrespect and sometimes their funding is cut off," he said.
Michaels plans to take the injured veterans' message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on April 10, where he'll deliver the keynote address at a ceremony to honor the five recipients of Operation Homefront's 2014 Military Child of the Year Award.