By Debbie Gregory.
“It’s always a good time to hug a veteran. After all a hug is love wrapped up in arms.”
So says the Human Hug Project, the vet-hugging team of veterans and volunteers, offering hugs to any fellow Veteran they see.
On their mission to spread awareness of PTSD, the vet-hugging team founded by Marine veterans Ian Michael and Gino Greganti has visited more than 20 VA medical centers across the country.
Kicking off 2016, the team has already made a stop at the VA Medical Center’s Leestown Road campus in Lexington, KY. They have upcoming stops at VA medical centers in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Richmond, VA.
The long-term goal is to visit every VA medical center to share their message. Both Michael and Greganti suffer from PTSD from serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an effort to cope with the effects, Michael stumbled upon an article regarding the psychological benefits of hugs.
So with his dog and a “free hug” sign in tow, Michael began traveling, giving out hugs.
Greganti was on the same path after a hug from a VA employee helped him. Teaming up with Michael, the two Marines are paying it forward.
The Human Hug Project may help fill the gap left by the recent passing of Elizabeth Laird, lovingly known as the Fort Hood Hug Lady. For the last 12 years, Laird physically embraced hundreds of thousands of Fort Hood soldiers.
The 83-year-old great-grandmother had been battling cancer for some ten years. But in spite of her illness, she regularly made her way to Fort Hood and hugged those being deployed. She reassured those who were afraid, and provided company to those who felt alone. She encouraged and prayed for them all. And then she was there again, when they returned, to give a warm welcome home hug.
Adding a new dimension to the Human Hug Project are letters from the children at Knoxville’s East Tennesse Children’s Hospital, who wrote heartwarming expressions of love and gratitude to the veterans.