Mullen Talks Veteran Issues in Pittsburgh
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
PITTSBURGH, Apr. 19, 2010 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with community leaders and organizations here today as part of his “conversations with the country” initiative to ensure better futures for Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans.
The admiral met with University of Pittsburgh faculty and student veterans, the Veterans Leadership Program – a nonprofit veteran outreach organization – and visited the Department of Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Health System.
Mullen had a similar visit at Columbia University in New York yesterday and will be in Morgantown, W.V., tomorrow. He chose Pittsburgh as one of his stops because of its large veteran population, and the great work of the community to care for those nearly 3,000 veterans, he said.
“The University of Pittsburgh has been known for its relationship with the military and veterans for decades,” he said to an audience at the university’s Soldier and Sailor’s Memorial Hall. “[Pittsburgh] is a community that cares a lot, and it’s a place that I thought would be very important initially as I start throughout the country over the next year or so to try to get the message out to communities [about] how we connect them to those who’ve given so much.”
Mullen and his wife Deborah began their visit here at the university’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. They saw first-hand the breakthroughs its researchers have made in improving quality of life for disabled veterans through integrating science and systems engineering.
By combining the two specialties, the institute has been able to realize the vast potential of tissue engineering to repair damaged or diseased tissue cells and organs.
In 2008, the institute was able to regrow an upper leg tissue in a Marine who had lost most of his leg to an artillery attack in Iraq. In March 2009, another Marine who had lived without his right hand and wrist for two years because of a training accident underwent the university’s first hand transplant. Both Marines have almost full function of their limbs now.
Many of the institute’s initiatives are still years away from becoming common practice, but their efforts are noteworthy and must continue, Mullen said.
“There’s breakthrough research [at the institute] that has created opportunities for a much more wholesome healing of these injuries that have come out of this war,” he said.
The Mullens also spent time with the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania. The nonprofit organization serves veterans in the tri-state area – Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – and prides itself for its intensive case management services to veterans and their families.
The organization reaches out to veterans and helps servicemembers transitioning out of the military find jobs, buy homes and ultimately helps prevent homelessness.
Nearly 4,000 job referrals from the organization in 2009 were made to social service and government agencies, private sector businesses and military service organizations. The direct economic impact in those communities is estimated to be worth more than $10 million, according to the organization’s statistics.
This is the type of impact Mullen hopes to see in other outreach organizations throughout the country. Not only are the needs of veterans being met, but also the country benefits from their productivity, he said.
During his “conversations with the country,” Mullen said he hopes to learn best practices from organizations and share their processes with others throughout the country. The chairman hopes his campaign eventually will streamline the initiatives of the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and the local communities to provide for the nation’s veterans.
“I hope to reach leaders to get them to join hands, if you will, to address the challenges that we have with our young men and women who have served in these wars and their families,” Mullen said. “I want to help in leading the joining of all three of those critical parts of the country to address these needs.
“We hope that we can ignite something here that catches on throughout the land,” he continued. “I hope that we continue to take significant steps … taking advantage of these young men and women and their families … who I know will make America greater in the future.”