Last column, I began featuring Retired Army Sgt. First Class Michael Schlitz, of Forston, Ga., who experienced third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body and has had roughly 85 medical operations since 2007, the year an Iraqi insurgent roadside bomb exploded near him. Three soldiers died. Today, Schlitz uses mechanical claws for hands and is blind in one eye.
In a telephone interview, 38-year-old Schlitz said, “I’m a veterans’ advocate now. I’ve done all kinds of work, including speaking in front of Congress about military benefits. But now I’ve moved to the nonprofit world working with (veterans and doing) suicide prevention, social transition, homelessness, and unemployment issues. The two organizations I’ve worked with most are the Gary Sinise Foundation and GallantFew, where I’m special adviser to the board. I advise (GallantFew) on new programs to veterans and on the disabled veteran perspective of what they need when transitioning out of the military.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation was founded by actor/director Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump), which has a mission of serving our country by “honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.” It offers unique programs. GallantFew has a mission of facilitating a “peaceful, successful transition from military service to a civilian life filled with hope and purpose.”
In his work with GallantFew, for example, Schlitz said, “I’ve helped a lot (of veterans) by taking suicide prevention calls. Sometimes I get those calls at three in the morning. Sometimes I just listen to them or go to their home to sit with them. It’s tough work, especially helping them socially or in finding a job. There is a lot of need out there, and it’s underrated.” One time he talked over the telephone with a troubled veteran, only to learn later the veteran committed suicide.
He advised veterans: “You don’t have to do it on your own. Most of us coming from the military like the challenge of doing things on our own and not asking for help. Whether it’s an injury, not having the network to find a new job or socially putting yourself into a new environment—you have to reach out to others. It’s very humbling for most of us to ask for help, but at some point you have to suck it up and do it anyway. For most veterans that’s the hardest thing to do.”
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