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Don’t just thank veterans, give them the services they need

Service members packed away an American flag after the national anthem at Sunday’s Patriots-Redskins game at Gillette Stadium.
Service members packed away an American flag after the national anthem at Sunday’s Patriots-Redskins game at Gillette Stadium.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The sniper took aim at a very specific spot: Kurt Power's side, where the Kevlar vest is open.

The shot was supposed to go through his pectoral muscle and perforate his heart. It's a kill shot, but the sniper missed Power's heart by millimeters.

They saved his life in one of the combat support hospitals, but Power refused to leave Iraq. He was back with his Army unit in 30 days.

When his deployment ended, he flew back to Boston with 11 pieces of shrapnel still in his chest. He was on the Southeast Expressway, headed home to Abington when he saw the message on the IBEW billboard: Welcome Home US Army Sgt. Kurt Power.

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"That's when it hit me," Power said. "I almost died on a table in Iraq. I lost buddies over there. But the scariest thing was coming back to Boston. I said to myself, 'I don't belong here.' "

He ran a memorial race for a buddy who didn't make it home. He looked at the dead soldier's mother and wanted to hug her and say, "I'm sorry your son's not here and I am."

That sniper's bullet couldn't kill him, but survivor's guilt was making his life miserable.

His wife, Jessica, was happy when Kurt started attending charity events. Then it became obsessive, a symptom of his post-traumatic stress. Kurt, a transit police officer, was spending almost every free moment on charity events.

Luckily, one of them was the run for Home Base, the Red Sox and Massachusetts General Hospital program that treats the invisible wounds of war, post-traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury.

"A couple of years ago, I ran in the Home Base race," Kurt said, "and a year later, I was in the program."

Just as important, so was Jessica.

"When they asked me to come in, I was like, 'Why do I have to go? I'm not the one with post traumatic stress.' But that's the point. They don't just treat the veteran. They treat the family," she said. "It worked. It worked for both of us."

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When we talk about American values, we're really talking about what we value as Americans. And as we prepare to mark Veterans Day, how do we value our veterans?

We value them by tolerating more than 20 of them killing themselves every day.

We value them by allowing 50,000 veterans to live on the streets of the nation they served, by allowing a million more to be on the verge of homelessness.

We value them by allowing the avaricious National Football League, whose commissioner was paid more than $100 million over five years, to take taxpayer money to promote service to our country, creating the illusion that some of these franchises care about vets instead of their ever-expanding bottom lines. (All the other leagues, and all the Boston franchises, got taxpayer money, too.)

We value them by neglecting the Veterans Administration to the point that it can't possibly take care of all the vets like Kurt Power who came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with pieces of metal in their bodies and invisible shrapnel in their brains.

That is why public-private partnerships such as Home Base are so essential to supplement and complement the VA.

The Red Sox, whose principal owner also owns this newspaper, started Home Base six years ago after its players visited wounded warriors at the Walter Reed military hospital in Washington. The team was moved beyond tears as they sat with soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines who lost their limbs.

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I thought other sports franchises would follow suit, to create partnerships to help vets with the resources and services the political class seems incapable of providing. But most are too busy counting their money.

On this Veterans Day, instead of planning the next flyover, the next color guard, the next stirring version of the national anthem, it's time the richest franchises take care of those who put everything on the line for everyone else.

Instead of thanking them for their service, give them the services they need.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.