For Injured Veterans, Healing in Service to Others

James Dao
New York Times

WHILE working with refugees and landmine survivors in Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia in the 1990s, a Rhodes scholar named Eric Greitens had an epiphany about teenagers in traumatic circumstances: the ones who fared best were the ones who helped others.

Later, after he had served in the Navy Seals in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Greitens had conversations with wounded troops, and a similar refrain emerged. If they could not return to active duty, they wanted to find a way to serve their communities.

“They didn’t use the word ‘serve,’ ” he said. “They talked about becoming teachers, police officers, coaches. But serving is what they meant.”

So in 2007, after he got out of the Navy, Mr. Greitens and some friends used their combat and disability pay to start a nonprofit group called The Mission Continues. Its goal was not to give veterans emergency funds, social services or family vacations, like many other charities, but to engage them in public service — as a way of helping them heal.

“Too many wounded veterans end up spending all day watching television, self-medicating, playing video games,” Mr. Greitens, 37, said. “That’s when many make their worst decisions.”

The Mission Continues, which provides stipends for veterans to work at nonprofit organizations, is one of an array of nonprofit groups created by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to help other veterans return to civilian life by engaging them in civic service. (More will probably need such services as the combat mission in Iraq comes to an end and troops withdraw this year.)

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