After spending 15 months on the frontlines of the war in Iraq, former Army reservist Paul Reickhoff says he came home in 2004 to a nation obsessed with pop culture and seemingly uninterested in the war. "When you come home, you feel like no one really understands your situation, no one understands what it is like to be shot at, no one understands the stress on your family," he says. Gayle talks with Paul, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, about his efforts to raise awareness about the plight of military personnel serving and returning home from war.
Paul says he founded the organization to give a new generation of war veterans a voice. The IAVA's website offers stories, pictures, videos and diary entries of veterans. Paul says the personal stories highlight serious problems many veterans face after serving their country, from unemployment to divorce to depression. "Not everyone comes home with a missing limb or a shrapnel wound, but nobody comes home unchanged," he says. "The mental health issues are serious and the scope tremendous."
Eventually, Paul says there will be even more veterans with stories to share, after many finish their extended tours of duty in Iraq. "It's the first time in our nation's history that we've really had a protracted, prolonged war with the all volunteer military," he says.
Paul says the IAVA is working to make sure those who have sacrificed in war are supported by the government, but that it needs the help of all Americans to make that happen. "The new presidential election is coming down [and voters] have got to push both parties—all of the presidential candidates—to make veterans issues a top priority," he says.