Eight years ago I was an Infantryman in the 101st Airborne, when the Humvee I was driving hit a landmine and I sustained severe burns over 40% of my body. Since then, I've experienced first-hand the difficult road to recovery faced by an injured veteran. I spent 34 months at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas where I underwent 33 skin-graft surgeries.
It was a long road from that hospital bed to the ballroom floor of Dancing With the Stars. Although it may not seem like much now, there were plenty of moments of self-doubt, fear and despair. Ultimately, I was lucky. Not every veteran who endures injuries like mine or worse is as fortunate. I was able to find a way through and carve out a path for myself, thanks to incredible support I received from friends, family and organizations. And I found a determination inside of me that gave me a new sense of purpose.
This Veterans Day you have the power to do the same for a veteran. I am participating in a special program this Friday night on ABC at 8PM EST/PST in honor of all of the brave men and women who serve our country. It's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition "Rise and Honor" A Veterans Day Special -- a long title for a program that goes a long way. In addition to several heartwarming stories about the struggles and realities our veterans face, there will be call-to-actions from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and others, as well as a touching performance from Jewel. But more importantly, there will be a phone number for those of you at home to call: 1-877-96-HONOR (46667), donate and make a difference. The funds raised will benefit six organizations passionate about veterans issues: Fisher House Foundation, Hire Heroes USA, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, USO (United Service Organizations), Volunteers of America, and Welcome Back Veterans. They provide vital services to vets and military families aiding them with the reintegration process.
The money raised from this broadcast will help veterans find jobs, housing, and receive medical care and mental health support. The statistics facing our veterans are alarming. As of June 2010, Veterans Affairs treated 594,000 Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran patients. Of those, 295,000 were diagnosed with at least one mental health condition such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As recently as January 2011, the unemployment rate among veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was 15 percent; that's nearly double the national average. This begins to magnify when you consider 700,000 children have experienced one or more parental deployments.
Many veterans lose a sense of purpose upon returning home and too many have resorted to taking their own lives. We must do better for those who've sacrificed so much for our freedom. This "Rise and Honor" Veteran's Day program is a good start.
I am very grateful many people have found inspiration in my story. But inspiration is all around us, if we're open to it. I've crossed the country and traveled the world meeting other vets with similar stories, and while our injuries may be different, we all share the same resilient spirit, and are proud of the time we spent serving our country.
This Veterans Day, take the time to give back to wounded vets everywhere by donating whatever you can to our veterans. They're proud of their country. Let's show them we're proud of their service.
For more information, please visit: http://www.riseandhonor.org