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Veterans Get Virtual Visits to Memorials

For elderly or disabled veterans who are unable to travel, there are some sacred tributes to their service that they will never be able to visit – like the new WWII Memorial in Washington D.C.

But thanks to technology, and a recently formed nonprofit called Honor Everywhere, they can now experience standing amidst the monumental site by using a virtual reality headset.

The organization’s founder, Sarah Hill, created Honor Everywhere in honor of her late grandfather, a WWII veteran who was never fit enough to travel to the memorial. Now they’re providing that service to ex-servicemen everywhere free of charge.

“The Virtual Reality experience is viewed with special goggles which are brought to a veteran’s bedside, wheelchair, or assisted living center,” says Honor Everywhere’s website. “These short films create immersive experiences for terminally ill and aging veterans using Stereoscopic 360, 3D video. Regardless of their physical location, veterans are able to experience the World War II Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, as if they were there in person.”

(WATCH the video below)

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Veterans and Horses

To most people, the animals in veteran Tice Ridley’s menagerie look like they’re living a comfortable life of leisure. But the five goats, two alpacas, two rabbits, potbellied pig, cat, guinea pig, dog and five horses (including two miniature horses) play critical roles in helping veterans, along with first responders and their families, heal from the wounds of war.

Ridley, a retired major and decorated Army war veteran who served for 18 years, calls this endeavor the Circle of Veterans and Families, and its mission is “to keep soldiers alive and families together.”

In 2015, after taking medical retirement from the Army the previous year, he co-founded the nonprofit organization with his wife, Samantha Ridley, in the Dade City/Lacoochee area of Florida. Located on his 10-acre Circle V Ranch, the project gives him purpose while providing peers hope — for the Ridleys are keenly aware that “not all wounds are visible,” he told TODAY.

The ranch welcomed its first veteran guests Nov. 2 in a joint effort with James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Florida, to provide services to veterans. The comprehensive curriculum includes transitional on-site housing in a 4,200-square-foot home, along with other supportive services such as therapy and counseling, food, transportation and individual case management.

The use of proven alternative therapies differentiates the ranch from more traditional treatment facilities. At Circle V, participants can engage in meditation, yoga, hypnosis and smoking cessation. They can also participate in peer group support, equine-assisted psychotherapy and companion dog pairing — canine therapy with man’s best friend.

Local Army veteran Gil D’Amore, whose leg was amputated in 1987, said being on the ranch has helped him put his life back together. “You give somebody a thimbleful of hope, and now they have something to live for,” he told TODAY. “We veterans are expected to solve our problems with medications, but those can create two or three other problems. Being here has helped me see the long-term effects and ramifications of change without negativity — if I just look deep enough inside myself.”

The animals allow veterans to “detach” from everyday worries, he said. “We can focus all our energy on the dogs, for example, that have unconditional love for us.”

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Veterans Given Federal Grant To Help With Homelessness

A $500,000 federal grant has been issued in the interests of keeping local veterans from being homeless in the country they served. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin met with local vets recently to see how the funds were helping them get an apartment, counseling to get sober or help with other personal challenges.

“Our job is to get them (vets) housed quickly and then we surround them with services, so going forward, hopefully we will break the homeless cycle that the veteran has experienced,” Chestnut Health Systems case manager Stacey Kwiatkowski said.

“I don’t look at them as an organization. I look at them… as angels and Stacey… is my guardian angel,” said U.S. Navy veteran Greg Snyder of Alton. “I ended up on the streets…. I never ever thought I would end up on the streets.”

The money operates two programs with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Supportive Services for Veterans and Families program has received $500,000 a year since 2014 and the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program has received $81,000 since 2013. They have served more than 800 vets and family members since 2013 through the four Chestnut clinics in Belleville, Edwardsville, Granite City and Maryville.

Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, was at Chestnut in Granite City to meet metro-east vets. The money is the local share of a $9.5 million federal grant to Illinois.

“Too often, our nation’s veterans find themselves facing financial difficulties and the prospect of homelessness. This VA funding will help ensure that organizations like Chestnut Health Systems have the necessary resources to help veteran families transition to permanent housing,” Durbin said.

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Veterans Commemorated in Wreath Ceremony

At the Gates of Heaven Catholic Cemetery in Sunnyvale California, dozens of family members and volunteers laid Christmas wreaths on the graves of 200 veterans who had served in the U.S. military.

Volunteers and families at cemeteries across the country were doing the same thing, marking the annual Wreaths Across America event in recognition of deceased veterans. The organization coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and at more than 1,100 other locations across the United States — at sea and abroad — in an effort to memorialize veterans and teach future generations of the honorable sacrifices they made.

Minutes before the ceremony began at Gates of Heaven, Sunnyvale resident Lolita Asunción paid a visit to her husband’s grave. Vietnam veteran Andres Daniel Asunción died eight years ago at age 62. But for Lolita Asunción, the pain is still fresh.

“It’s a very honorable event that America is giving to veterans after what they went through,” a local resident said. “They served for their country.”

It was the first time the cemetery participated in the national event. About 100 people gathered at a portion of the cemetery dedicated to veterans. The Monta Vista High School Choir performed the national anthem and the San Francisco nonprofit Stewart Tartan Pipes and Drums performed a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Speakers included U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Rob Ostenberg, Maj. Gen. Daniel Helix of the United States Volunteers and Army Lt. Colonel John Swensson.

The wreaths, which cost $15 each, were paid for solely through donations.

Leslie Schreiber, district commander for the American Legion in Cupertino, said the event fits the group’s mission.

‘We’re veterans. Our whole idea is to support veterans,” he said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

Many family members embraced as they placed the wreaths on the graves of their loved ones.

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Veterans – Love and War

Journalist Sebastian Junger was embedded with soldiers in the Korengal Valley during the war in Afghanistan. One of the reasons some veterans miss war, he says, is because it fulfills a deep human need to belong to a trusted group.

“They don’t miss killing people, they don’t miss almost getting killed … what they miss is brotherhood.”

Sebastian Junger is a journalist and filmmaker who has covered stories from the front lines of war. Junger spent extensive time with the soldiers at the Restrepo outpost during the Afghan war, which saw more combat than any other part of Afghanistan. The experience became Junger’s book War, and the documentary Restrepo, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011. He is also the author of The Perfect Storm and Death in Belmont.

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