16 Veterans Who Are Making a Difference

Bonnie Carroll, Air Force Reserve

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Bonnie Carroll, Air Force Reserve
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Serving a Second Time

It might be hard to expect veterans to "give back" after serving their country in the United States' armed forces, but so many of them do just that. Veterans from all branches and all generations use their return to civilian life as an opportunity to make a difference a second time around. Some work with other vets, active-duty soldiers, school children, or neglected animals, while others use their experience simply to inspire and even to entertain. Meet the vets whose service to their country didn't stop when their deployments ended. (And learn about these 15 Awe-Inspiring Memorials and Other Places to Honor Our Vets.)

Christy Gardner, Army
Christy Gardner

Christy Gardner | Army

After Army veteran Christy Gardner lost both of her legs in combat, a service dog named Moxie came into — and changed — her life. Now a member of the U.S. Women's Sled Hockey Team, Gardner credits the golden retriever with helping her complete daily tasks, but more importantly, serving as her emotional rock during her darkest days of recovery. To pay it forward, she rescued a dog with a disfigured leg named Tiny Tim and trained him to be a service dog like Moxie. A pet-supplement company covered the bills for a necessary amputation of the leg, which was the last hurdle to service animal certification. Today, Gardner sics Tiny Tim on the problems faced by at-risk elementary school kids.

Michael Linnington, Army
U.S. Army

Michael Linnington | Army

Few veterans can boast a resume more impressive than that of Michael Linnington, who served as the first permanent director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency after he retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of lieutenant general. His bona fides are too numerous to name, but among his most impressive credentials is his combat command of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Today, he's the CEO of one of the largest, most important, and consequential veteran-related organizations in the world: the Wounded Warrior Project.

Sharon McDougle, Air Force

Sharon McDougle | Air Force

The Air Force prepared Sharon McDougle (pictured on the right) for a high-flying career — but even she couldn't have guessed just how far her work would travel. As an Air Force aerospace physiology technician, McDougle worked with complex aircraft and pressure chambers. In her training, she learned how to get astronauts into and out of their highly complex and customized suits before missions. She would go on to break down racial barriers both on Earth and in the cosmos, becoming the first African-American woman to lead the Crew Escape Equipment department and would personally "suit up" the first African-American space shuttle commander and the first African-American woman in space.

Alan Pietruszewski, Navy

Alan Pietruszewski | Navy

Alan Pietruszewski's service credentials are impressive — the TOPGUN graduate was both an F-14 flyer and a flight instructor. It's his volunteer work, however, that has defined his life as a veteran. The Navy vet works with BookPALS, which was launched by the Screen Actor Guild's SAG-AFTRA Foundation. The program pairs veterans like Pietruszewski with SAG union members to give to school children the incredible experience of enjoying reading sessions with not just a real live veteran or actor, but both at the same time.

LeAnn Darland, Navy
Talea Beer Co.

LeAnn Darland | Navy

Although the source of the quote is disputed, Ben Franklin is believed to have said: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." No matter who said it, military personnel across the country have turned their own passion for beer into some much-needed R&R for civilian society: Dozens of vets have opened their own breweries, many of which incorporate community service into their business plans.

Among them is LeAnn Darland (shown seated), who developed a love for craft beer while serving in the Navy, which is famous for allowing two cans of beer to sailors at sea for more than 45 days without a stop at port. She co-founded Talea Beer Co., a brewery with a dedication to great beer and a slant on advocacy for aspiring female entrepreneurs.

Stephen 'Butch' Whitehead, Army

Stephen 'Butch' Whitehead | Army

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is a nonprofit charity with more than a million members. Serving all generations of vets, the DAV gives 600,000 free rides to veterans in need of transportation to medical appointments every year and helped America's vets secure $20 billion in earned benefits in 2018 alone. The DAV also helps vets find employment and hosts job fairs — and the man in charge of it all is Stephen "Butch" Whitehead, a combat-disabled veteran of the war in Iraq. A 2007 Bronze Star recipient, Whitehead was elected national commander of DAV in 2019.

Brian Tally, Marines
Brian Tally

Brian Tally | Marines

Marine Corps veteran Brian Tally lives in pain and uncertainty, disabled not from combat, but from medical malpractice he suffered at the VA. A contracted, non-VA doctor misdiagnosed Tally, whose condition persisted for months until he nearly died — then his family had to pay for private care.

The Marine, however, did not roll over. Instead, he rededicated his life to protecting America's 50 million veterans from enduring a similar ordeal. Today he spends his days in the halls of Congress, relentlessly petitioning lawmakers to eliminate loopholes that reduce VA accountability and make malpractice more likely. There are currently two congressional bills named for Tally.

Lisa Jaster, Army Reserve
U.S. Army

Lisa Jaster | Army Reserve

Lisa Jaster made history in 2015 when she became the first woman in the U.S. Army Reserve ever to complete the notoriously grueling Ranger School — at 37, she was more than a decade older than the average candidate in her class. Today, she's an officer who's using her prestige, clout, and fame as tools to steer military culture toward a philosophy that ignores social factors like race and gender to one that judges soldiers only on merit and potential. She reinforces her message through speaking engagements and her social media campaign, which is summed up in her hashtag #DeleteTheAdjective.

Anthony Torres Jr., Army

Anthony Torres Jr. | Army

Anthony Torres Jr.  began his military career in the Army Reserve as a civil affairs specialist, but after 9/11, he was placed on active duty as a mental health specialist. He served at Fort Hood, Texas, before being sent into the heart of the beast, where he was stationed at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison for 12 months, providing mental health care for both U.S. troops and detainees.

Today, he provides a different kind of mental health service. Torres is the executive director, as well as a writer and performer for The Combat Hippies, an ensemble of Puerto Rican veterans who put on shows with themes such as veterans adjusting to life back home, the experience of being a person of color in the military, and service as a form of community engagement.

Frederick Huston, Air Force

Frederick Huston | Air Force

Frederick Huston served as an electrical/environmental specialist in the U.S. Air Force. Upon returning to civilian life, he got into trouble and found himself serving a long prison stretch. When he was released, however, he put his bad experience to good use when he formed a business that changes the way America's massive prison population communicates with their loved ones. Pigeonly dramatically reduces the cost of long-distance phone calls — the only voice communication available to most prisoners — between inmates and their loved ones.

Joel Rockey, Marine

Joel Rockey | Marine

After serving with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, Joel Rockey and two of his Marine buddies founded Vet Friends. The organization helps two vulnerable and neglected populations at the same time, one human, the other canine. Vet Friends focuses on placing senior rescue dogs — older dogs are far less likely ever to be adopted — with veterans to live out their final days with loving families while the veteran adopters get all the benefits of four-legged companionship.

Dale F. Sutcliffe, Army

Dale F. Sutcliffe | Army

Like Joel Rockey, Dale F. Sutcliffe also formed an organization called VetFriends, although it serves a different purpose. Around 2.6 million veterans are registered members of VetFriends, which maintains a searchable database for veterans to find and reconnect with old friends and teammates from their days in the service. It also posts jobs, photos, and reunion updates.

Bonnie Carroll, Air Force Reserve
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Bonnie Carroll | Air Force Reserve

Bonnie Carroll built an impressive resume after 30 years in the service, including overseas deployments, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and high-level leadership positions that led all the way up to the White House. Carroll's husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in a plane crash during a training exercise. She decided to use the tragedy to help others who are suffering from the death of a beloved military member. She founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides round-the-clock emotional support, casework assistance, and mental health care for those impacted by the death of a loved one in the military.

Related: How to Prepare for the Loss of a Spouse

Bobby Muller
Don LaVange

Bobby Muller | Marines

Few people have given more and given more back than Bobby Muller, who was paralyzed after being shot in the spine in Vietnam in 1969. He went on to become one of the most significant peace activists in American history, leading the first veteran reconciliation delegation back to Vietnam in 1981, forming the International Campaign to Ban Landmines a decade later in 1991, and finally, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVA), which he still serves as president. The VVA was instrumental in passing landmark legislation regarding Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Related: How PTSD Affects Vets, First Responders, Moms and Others

James Peterson, Army
VAntage Point

James Peterson | Army

Veteran James Peterson is a social worker for the VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System who spent five years fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His work off the battlefield, however, has offered an area of peace for struggling vets. Peterson turned five empty garden planters into an official pathway station for endangered monarch butterflies, which pause to rest at stopovers like his on their epic migration journeys.

He filled the planters with milkweed to attract the delicate flying insects, eventually luring enough of them to make his garden a recognized waystation certified by the monarch migration governing body. The butterfly LZ doubles as a source of alternative therapy for veterans to gather, socialize, meditate, and de-stress.

Danielle Peters, Navy
Wounded Warrior Project

Danielle Peters | Navy

Danielle Peters served aboard ships in the North Arabian Gulf and off the coast of Africa. When she returned home in 2017, she moved back to her hometown of Buffalo, New York, and became active in three groups: WNY Heroes, We R Buffalo Strong, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

"All three are so near and dear to my heart in different ways and do such important work for our veterans," she said. The organizations serve everyone from homeless veterans and breast cancer survivors to young people who might become the next generation of warriors. Her volunteerism, which focuses on women veterans, has also given Peters an outlet to channel her own difficult experiences into something positive.

"I just tell my story that I have lived," she said. "I speak to people from my heart about what it's like to be down on your luck and to struggle. It has given me the opportunity to speak and volunteer at different events that give back and I have also gotten a lot of my other female veteran friends involved, as well. It has given me the opportunity to re-engage with my veteran community — something that I thought I had lost once I got out of the military. It has also been very therapeutic and forced me to get out of my house and not allow my own struggles to consume me but be a light that guides me."