Beyond 9/11: President Bush’s new initiative to help the vets he sent to war

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

On the Radar

Nearly 13 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that terrible day continues to shape the work of President George W. Bush.

The former president sat down exclusively with “On the Radar” to discuss his new Military Service Initiative to help post-9/11 veterans integrate back into the workplace. And he grew emotional remembering the attacks and the nation’s response.

“I don't think about the day as much as I used to,” Bush said. “I think about the circumstances that enabled and encouraged kids to attack us, and I think about the decisions that need to be made to protect the homeland a lot. I really think about our vets a lot. I mean, I've developed a kinship with a remarkable group of people.”

Bush said he takes inspiration today from the resilience of hundreds of veterans he’s met over the years who’ve overcome post-war trauma and injuries to lead productive lives. He pointed to the example of Dan Gade, a veteran who resolved to conquer his handicap as a one-legged amputee so that he could once again play Legos with his young daughter. Gade has since been able to ride a mountain bike alongside the former president.

“I said to Gade, ‘I'm sorry you got your leg blown off,'” Bush recalled. “He said, ‘I'd do it again.’ There's no self-pity, no ‘woe is me.’ It is, ‘I'm going to continue to live life to the fullest.’”

Bush was joined by Marine Corps veteran Jacob Wood, who is collaborating with the former president on his Military Service Initiative. After returning from service in the Iraq and Afghanistan, Wood co-founded Team Rubicon, an organization that employs veterans in disaster relief efforts. He said it was significant that Bush is showing leadership within the post-9/11 veteran community.

“It's really important for the veteran service or the veteran service community to see President Bush open up the doors of this institute for veterans’ issues,” Wood said. “I served four years. Every one of those years was under President Bush, and he was our commander-in-chief. And I think that there are a lot of veterans that are still looking to him to lead us through our service.”

Bush also said that he wants to remove the “D” from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, to help de-stigmatize the illness. Wood echoed the president’s sentiment and said the national focus on veterans needs to become more nuanced.

“I think that too often society and the media, they focus on the extremes,” Wood said. “They focus on the heroes on one end of the spectrum, you know those who have come home and had enormous awards pinned and placed on their chests, or focused on the other end of the spectrum with those veterans who are struggling. And those two spectrums exist. But they're not the entirety of the veteran population.

“Yes, there is an employment gap, yes there's a perception gap between the civilians and the military,” he continued. “But, by and large, veterans are simply looking to be understood. They are looking to be challenged.”

For more of the interview with Bush and Wood, and to hear Wood’s advice for veterans and civilians in how to break down the barrier of understanding that sometimes exists, check out this episode of “On the Radar.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Gina Sunseri, Gary Westphalen, Ron Ladd, Dale Hancock, Ken Collins, and Bob Fazio contributed to this episode.