The foundation of Gary Sinise, perhaps best known as the actor who portrayed Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump, recognized the local nonprofit in March as one of five groups ready to “meet the future needs of America’s severely wounded heroes.”
The honor came during a “Closing the Gap” summit the foundation held in Los Angeles, in which more than 50 government, health care, education and nonprofit leaders came together to identify ways to help veterans from post-9/11 conflicts transition into normal lives.
The four other movements cited in the conference’s final report, released this week, include Charlotte Bridge Home, Illinois Joining Forces, Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative and Nevada Green Zone Initiative.
“To me, with all the bureaucracy and inefficiencies currently being reported within the VA, it’s important that we engage, encourage and inspire as many communities within this country as possible to address the needs of local veterans,” Sinise said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “If every community was like Augusta in this country, we would have a much reduced issue with regards to medical assistance for our veterans.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation’s final summit report found that while some 50,000 U.S. servicemen and women have been wounded in combat during the past decade, diminishing government funding and resources are hindering their transition into society.
To narrow the gap, conference participants recommended a number of initiatives aimed at developing relationships with military families through local business, government and civic leaders – similar to the proactive approach already being practiced in Augusta.
Augusta Warrior Project President Jim Lorraine called the recognition an “enormous honor.”
He said Thursday that he has e-mailed Sinise to see how the two groups could work together to close the gap in care many veterans fear could continue to grow amid a lack of public awareness.
“Gary is involved. He’s not just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk,” Lorraine said of Sinise, who has visited Augusta numerous times in the past three years in support of veterans and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. “When he comes out and says, ‘I like Augusta,’ that is an enormous honor for us.”
Last year, the Augusta Warrior Project was selected to take the program it developed locally and expand it into a multimillion-dollar movement that will help thousands of veterans nationwide transition into civilian life.
Lorraine said the effort is in four cities now, and will move to six this year and seven more in 2015. He added he has no problem with Sinise’s foundation replicating and promoting the AWP model.
“It’s validation that we are on the right track and doing the right thing,” he said. “Anyone who can improve quality of life for military families in a collaborative way, we will partner with them.”
Sinise is not sure what to expect from the foundation’s first summit in its four-year history, but said after 13 years of war, his organization is urgently working to generate greater community engagement and support for veterans.
“People will continue to fall through the cracks if we do not take the charge to give back to these defenders who have been on the front line in service of all of us,” he said.
“It is really the proactive boots on the ground support that veterans receive from communities and individuals that make the biggest difference.”