The American Military Spouses Choir performs onstage at historic American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood as part of the Homeward Bound telethon to help veterans with PTSD and TBI. Photo by Jeff Stoffer

Legionnaires pack Post 43 for telethon

Historic American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood, Calif., was the setting Sunday for a star-studded four-hour live telethon to support veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The Homeward Bound program featured  film and television stars, singers and, most importantly, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, veterans and families dealing with difficult transitions from military service. Actors Alan Alda and Joe Montegna and singing star Connie Francis were hosts of the fundraiser attended by dozens of American Legion members.

The telethon was aired live nationally on the Military Channel on the eve of Veterans Day.

Proceeds will be distributed to a collection of five charities that help veterans coping with PTSD and TBI, including: The American Red Cross, New York Presbyterian Hospital, One Mind 4 Research, Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Finally Home.

Haven From the Storm, a tax-deductible foundation established in 2012 by Francis, Minnesota Vikings co-owner Leonard Wilf and producer Bruce Charet, will distribute the funds among the groups.

The telethon profiled several individuals and families struggling with PTSD and TBI. "I lost 15 of my friends, and I helped carry six of them out," said Army Staff Sgt. Robert Butler, who has had difficulty adjusting after combat service in Iraq. "War is awful. It's very important for soldiers to know to get help."

Butler said the biggest difficulty after discharge from service after combat is that military support network is suddenly gone. "Once you get out, you don't have that team anymore," explained the father and husband who says his primary source of relief has come from his wife and children. "I need you guys to be my team," he told the crowd, which largely consisted of veterans. "That means everything to me. We have invisible wounds. They are deep. They are debilitating."

Shortly after Butler spoke in front of the camera, Alda announced to the crowd that actress and producer Candice Bergen had called in a pledge of $20,000.

One segment of the program highlighted a documentary film about historic Post 43 under way by a member and U.S. Coast Guard veteran. Post 43 Adjutant Terry Duddy was featured in the video segment that reflected on the post's history as a venue for boxing matches and a place where Hollywood greats rubbed elbows with veterans, often being one and the same.

Live performances by such entertainers as pianist and singer Michael Feinstein, singer Patti Austin and Tony Award winner Ben Vereen were interspersed throughout the show, which also included appearances by Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos. The Temptations Review, which performed at the 96th American Legion National Convention in Houston last August, took the stage after a brief documentary profile of one of the group's members, Dennis Johnson, a Vietnam War combat veteran. Shortly afterward, the hosts announced that Cher had contributed $5,000 to the cause. Others whose donations were announced from the stage were Steve Lawrence with $5,000 and Penny Marshall with $2,000.

At the end of the telethon, Post Adjutant Duddy thanked the large crowd from the stage and promised that if it proves successful this year, the telethon will become an annual event. Donations, which had surpassed $300,000 by the end of the program, can still be made by clicking here.