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Operation: Sandy Response

Every year on November 11, the country comes together to honor the service and sacrifice of our troops and veterans. It’s an important day not only for the veteran community but for all Americans — Veterans Day is about honor, service, and community. And this year, Veterans Day will be more important than ever as veterans around the country step up to support their communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in what Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is calling “Operation: Sandy Response.”

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is the nation’s first and largest non-profit organization dedicated to supporting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. With a membership of over 200,000 spread out across the country, IAVA’s mission is to support new veterans from the moment they return home through the rest of their lives. By developing innovative programs around mental health, education, employment, and community, IAVA is connecting new veterans with critical resources and services in order to build the New Greatest Generation.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, IAVA issued a national call to action to our community — to step up and serve in Operation: Sandy Response. We’re showing the rest of the country–and the world–our core values and our dedication to service and assisting those in need. We’re connecting veterans with volunteer opportunities to get New York and New Jersey back on their feet. And we’re making sure that vets who have been impacted by Sandy know that there resources and support available for them during this difficult time.

In 2008, IAVA and the Ad Council launched a new PSA to address a growing need for a new community of veterans — a network of veterans who can share their stories and struggles with fellow veterans across the country. The PSA shows a young man returning home from a deployment to New York City. But instead of the bustling airports, crowded subways, and busy streets, he is completely alone until a fellow veteran approaches him and says “Welcome home, man.”

The PSA encourages new veterans to join an innovative 21st century veterans hall, an online network exclusively for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans called “Community of Veterans.” Launched with the support of the Ad Council in 2008, COV has become one of IAVA’s flagship mental health programs and has connected tens of thousands of veterans to different resources, services, areas of interest and, most importantly, with other veterans. And every day COV is helping save lives from one extreme to the other. While it has acted as a launch pad for two veterans to find love and, ultimately, marriage, its community has also had the power to intervene in suicidal ideation. Inside COV, every day is veterans day.

Each year veterans come together on Veterans Day — whether it’s to march in a parade, grab a drink with a battle buddy, or to volunteer in the community. And, just like the PSA illustrates, a simple handshake has the power to connect new veterans to a community who’s got their back.

Even though this year will be no different, we will have a renewed sense of mission — to remind Americans across the country that Veterans Day doesn’t begin and end on 11/11. Veterans Day is every day and just as we take the time to honor veterans on this important holiday, we’re also showing that service and a commitment to supporting America doesn’t end when a vet takes off his boots for the last time.

Written by Paul Rieckhoff

Paul Rieckhoff is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), America’s first and largest organization for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. A nonpartisan, nonprofit founded in 2004 with over 150,000 members in all 50 states, IAVA’s mission is to improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. Paul served as a First Lieutenant and infantry rifle platoon leader in the Iraq war from 2003-2004. He is also the author of the critically-acclaimed Chasing Ghosts and a nationally recognized authority on the war and issues affecting troops, military families and veterans. Prior to his deployment, Paul worked as a high school football coach and an Investment Banking Analyst on Wall Street. He received a BA in Political Science from Amherst College in 1998 and lives in New York City.

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