After nearly 12 years of continuous warfare, the United States finds itself still struggling to understand the effects warfare has on our warriors. Perhaps embarrassed by the results of past wars and how those veterans were treated upon their return, the Department of Defense, along with the Veterans Administration, is placing a lot of focus on issues related to Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury and Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury. I don’t think you will be able to find anyone willing to say that those organizations are doing a good job with that focus but at least there is an effort being applied. Stigma and improper treatment/diagnosis may still be a part of the military community, but it certainly is a more understanding environment than it used to be.
Many veterans go untreated or misdiagnosed for years, which generally leads to many other issues in their life such as unemployment, broken families and homelessness. We all know those organizations are trying. We all know politicians in Washington talk about how these issues are being addressed. But, ultimately, we are still failing our veterans. One Hollywood actor, a man you will know from his role as Mack Gerhardt on The Unit, is doing what he can to bring awareness to these issues and aid related charities in their cause.
To be up front and honest, I am not a regular viewer of television programs. Therefore, I was only aware of The Unit in passing. That changed for me once I found myself in Northern Afghanistan. Without television or radio, it was a struggle to find a way to relax after long days on duty. A fellow soldier loaned his portable hard drive to me one night and recommended I watch The Unit. I did. In fact, over the course of that deployment I watched every episode of the series. Of course, I was then informed that it was no longer on the air. Go figure.
Fast forward to today and through a very complicated series of events, I give you my conversation with actor, shooting enthusiast and patriot, Max Martini. Max is trying to get support for a film project titled Will Gardner. The film will help promote awareness of the effects of PTSD and TBI on our veterans and 50% of the profits will go to specific charities that help veterans in need. You can catch Max in the recently released sci-fi film, Pacific Rim.
Ross: Max, I know you are currently involved in filming on another project so we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Tell me how you became aware of PTSD and TBI issues. What brought it to your attention?
Max: I went to Iraq and Afghanistan during the filming of ‘The Unit’. I met an Army Ranger there that I became buddies with. He returned with TBI and two purple hearts. He was only awarded 20 percent from the VA – which was way off considering his condition. He has been waiting years for his benefits. His story made me look into TBI and PTSD and as a result, I stumbled across the homeless veteran statistics and was floored. I love our troops and know that the freedom we have in this country is earned. Our men and women volunteer to go into harm’s way to ensure that we continue to live the way we do. We need to take care of them upon their return. This is my way of serving my country and our military. You don’t need to be in uniform to do so.
Ross: Where did the idea of doing a film come from?
Max: Well, since it is what I know best, it is the route I decided on. But, that said, it is an amazing way to reach people’s hearts. I think if I can appeal to them I can inspire them to become more involved in helping veterans.
Ross: Did you find a lot of support in Hollywood for such a project?
Max: (laughing) No. No.
Ross: Those of us who have paid attention know that the majority of celebrities really don’t support pro-military or veteran causes. Is that the source of the lack of support? Or, is it the fact it is a charity project that turns them off?
Max: Look, I won’t say that there aren’t celebrities who support the troops. Obviously, the USO has been bringing celebrities to the troops for years. That’s just one example. But in my opinion, with the amount of money and resources in Hollywood – could we be doing more? Absolutely. There is a crisis here in the US right now. 890,000 veterans are awaiting benefits. 360,000 veterans are diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. Arguably, 70 – 120,000 veterans are homeless in America on any given night. That number is hard to gage for accuracy. I think it is much, much higher. 22 veterans a day, almost one an hour, commit suicide in 2013. So coming back to your question, the majority of celebrities don’t get involved. I can’t speak for them. But you’re interviewing one that does.
Ross: TBI is a relatively new concern for the military. The NFL is also learning to manage and mitigate that risk. Have you had the opportunity to learn about that research?
Max: One of the charities we have chosen is a start-up charity called ‘Brain Scans For Warriors.’ It is run by a young Marine who returned from combat with TBI. He went to a doctor in Southern California who treats NFL players by determining whether or not they have TBI or PTSD using actual brain scanning technology. Then he prescribes supplements and monitors the progress using additional scans. We love the approach and 100 percent of the money raised through this organization goes directly to soldiers in need.
Ross: Which organizations will benefit from your film, Will Gardner?
Max: The aforementioned (Brains Scans For Warriors), ‘Vet Hunters‘, ‘Higher Ground‘ and ‘Volunteers of America.’ ‘Vet Hunters’ is dedicated to ending homelessness for all military veterans. The team is made up of 90% Iraq/Afghanistan veterans. They actually search out homeless vets and pull them off the streets putting them into drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs or getting them much needed shelter. ‘Higher Ground’ has a terrific TBI and PTSD program and does a three year follow-up with every soldier that passes through it. ‘Volunteers of America’ is one of the nation’s largest service providers to homeless veterans. They have an amazing program.
Ross: How is the gofundme.com campaign going?
Max: The truth – not as well as I thought it would. I thought that my Facebook page alone would bring in a half million. We are at 16,200.00 we need 2.5 million. We still have just under a month. The response and support getting the message out has been incredible, the donations have not. But I have faith. I recently did a FOX TV interview that gave us a spike in donations. I am doing an interview on CBS Wednesday. I’m moving forward. That’s all I know.
Ross: If the funding campaign falls through, what is your next course of action?
Max: The next course of action is to go back to finding financiers that are willing to invest, recoup their investment with a negotiated increase, and then allow the rest of the profits to pass on to the charities that we have picked. On 2.5 million, it will be easy to make our money back. The number is so low and we are using a professional and recognizable cast and a crew (The Unit) that works like a well-oiled machine. All working for scale pay. The film will look like it cost us 15 million dollars.
Ross: Other cast members from The unit are joining you on this project. Who has made a commitment to the film?
Max: Michael Irby, Dennis Haysbert, Audrey Marie Anderson, Abby Brammell, Demore Barnes, Regina Taylor, Rebecca Pidgeon, Wes Chatham, and Nicole Steinwedell. The idea to bring the cast on was a last minute decision. Unfortunately the script wasn’t written with this in mind so the number of roles were limited and these actors were the best fits. There are a few cast members missing.
Ross: So, I hear you are pretty handy with a pistol. Is that an interest that grew out of your work on The Unit, or were you a gun owner previously?
Max: My mother was in law enforcement so, it probably came from her. She’s a shooter and so am I. I’m real handy with a hand gun but I’m even better on a .50 cal sniper rifle. (laughs) My trigger finger’s twitchin’.
If you would like to donate to the Will Gardner project, go to GoFundMe.com and locate the project named Will Gardner. Also, author Kerry Patton is donating proceeds from his book, Contracted (at a reduced price on Amazon) to the project from now until the fundraiser ends. The same is true for my short story, The Fireman ($.99 on Amazon). All royalties from that work will go to the fundraiser.