The honor of serving those who served

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on November 11, 2019 # Military / Veterans

by Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Military Veterans ProgramApproximately 200,000 brave Americans will join the U.S. military by the close of 2019. In 1988, I was one of those fresh recruits. Each one of this year's volunteers will join the ranks of the 24 million Americans who either currently serve in the military or are veterans. As a small token of appreciation, our nation sets aside the second Monday in November as a day to honor their service.

Among the staff at the Administration for Community Living, more than 10 percent are either veterans or are currently serving in the military. When each of them made the decision to join, they knew the sacrifices that lay ahead, the risks they might be asked to take, and the responsibilities one assumes when they put on the uniform. This weekend, let us recall their dedication and remember that our freedom rests on the shoulders of those who agree to serve.

Let me share the stories of two veterans, one who is a member of the ACL staff and another who has been served through one of our grantees.

Omar Valverde is an Aging Services Program Specialist in the Administration on Aging. When he was a freshman at the University of Idaho in 1985, Omar observed a fellow student become transformed from “party animal” to focused adult in a matter of months. His friend had joined the Army Reserves and a few months at boot camp had helped him mature. Inspired, Omar and two other friends soon signed up under the buddy system. The three of them were shipped off to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Omar laughs now as he recalls his 19th birthday. He was being disciplined for a minor infraction and his sentence was to perform a lot of pushups – so many pushups that a pool of sweat formed under his face. That sweat formed a pool so deep and wide he could see the reflection of his own face. Omar knows that the Army took in an inexperienced student and helped him become a finely tuned instrument. He draws on that strength now, when he works to help and inspire ACL's grantees. He encourages them to think big by employing strategic thought and exercising tactical precision. Omar offers the grantees a line he often told himself when he was in the military: Fortune favors the bold.

At ACL, our involvement with veterans goes far beyond the appreciation we have for our fellow staff members. Our support of the aging and disability network has empowered many lives. Erin Cobb's story is a demonstration of how the network we support can enrich our nation by providing needed support.

Erin was a college student when she joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 2003. While she was in boot camp, the invasion of Iraq began. Erin returned to college and also went on to complete her combat training. In 2005 her studies were interrupted when she was deployed to Iraq. In 2011, after eight years of service, she was discharged from the military. Two months later, Erin's life changed dramatically. Erin was the victim of domestic violence that culminated in an attempted murder-suicide on September 24, 2011. She sustained a severe spinal cord injury and left the hospital with what soon become a life-threatening pressure sore.

Things were going from bad to worse as the sore progressed. Erin is convinced she would not have survived if she had not become connected to Bernadette Mauro at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation's Military and Veterans Program, part of ACL's National Paralysis Resource Center.

Bernadette is quick to point out that ACL's funding has allowed the Foundation to expand its support of veterans, including Erin. Bernadette reports that ACL funding has allowed the Foundation to take their deep knowledge of spinal cord impairment and match it to their veteran outreach efforts. Today Erin continues to serve her country as both a peer mentor and Veteran Council member at the Military and Veterans Program. Erin is one example of the reason ACL is so passionate about the networks we support.

ACL is determined to help bridge the gap between available resources and veterans in need. We fund a wide variety of programs, some directly, some indirectly. We applaud efforts such as the St. Mary's County, Maryland, Department of Aging and Human Services Veterans Resource Day, which is being held today. Through their efforts, older veterans are being connected to social and health programs that help them continue to live in, and contribute to, their communities.

At ACL, we also know that it is important to track the impact of our programs with metrics. Below are estimates of the number of veterans who are served under the Older Americans Act as tabulated in six ACL program categories:

  • Home Delivered Meals: 129,000
  • Congregate Meals: 178,000
  • Case Management: 24,000
  • Homemaker Services: 15,000
  • Transportation Support: 26,000
  • Caregiver Support: 22,000

On this Veterans Day, as I contemplate the impact of our work, I feel blessed to be part of the ACL mission. The stories I shared are just a small glimpse into the work we do that helps veterans nationwide. To all those who have served, or are serving, in our armed forces, we thank you. On Monday, may you know that a grateful nation appreciates your sacrifices, and that ACL will always believe in your right to remain a vital part of the community of your choice.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.