VA Campaign Urges Vets to Use Benefits, Services

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2010 - The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a campaign to encourage veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to take advantage of available VA benefits and services.

VA broadcast the first in a series of paid multimedia advertisements last night in six major U.S. markets as part of its National Veterans Awareness Campaign, VA Press Secretary Katie Roberts said

The locations Norfolk, Va.; Raleigh, N.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Seattle; Watertown, N.Y.; and El Paso, Texas -- were selected because they're near major military bases and large populations of veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

The new ad promotes one of VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki's top priorities: providing more veterans access to VA services, Roberts said. Only about 8 million of the more than 23 million veterans around the country take advantage of VA benefits or health care, she said.

"This advertising campaign is an effort to bridge the gap," Roberts said. "VA wants servicemembers and veterans to know we are the resource. The sooner we meet their needs, the less likely they are to encounter the repercussions commonly associated with their post-combat experience."

Former Marine Sgt. Robert Kugler, an Iraqi war veteran, plays the lead role in VA's first television ad, "What Lies Ahead."

Kugler was deployed to Iraq when his brother, Mike Doheny, a Marine veteran working as a civilian security contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers, was killed during an improvised explosive device attack southeast of Baghdad. Kugler escorted his brother's body home to Broken Bow, Neb., and then returned to Iraq to finish his deployment.

After separating from the military, Kugler heeded the advice Mike left behind in a letter to be opened only upon his death: Follow your dreams and do the things you've always wanted.

For Rob, that meant moving to Los Angeles and pursing an acting career. He currently takes improvisation classes at the Groundlings Theater and School and has appeared in several TV ads.

In his VA ad debut, Kugler urges combat veterans transitioning back to civilian life to take advantage of the benefits and services they've earned.

"Welcome home!" he says in the ad. "You've served your country. Now that you've completed your service, you've got lots of opportunities for your future.

"But health comes first," he continues. "Sign up for health care at your nearest VA."

"Thinking about a job, or school?" he asks. "The GI Bill can help pay for college and VA's job assistance can prepare you for a career.

"Want to buy a house?" he questions. "See if you qualify for a zero-down VA home loan.

"It's your VA," he concludes. "Take advantage of your benefits."

The ad directs viewers to the "My VA" website to sign up for benefits.

The "What Lies Ahead" ad is slated to run through November, Roberts said, followed by a second ad to run through the year's end.

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