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LOS ANGELES – With their hot red lips, swing skirts and flowered hair pins, there’s a group of gals turning heads around Veterans Affairs hospitals and military bases across the country.
“Am I dreaming?” asked one perplexed Vietnam veteran at the Long Beach, Calif. VA hospital last week as three vivacious women – Gina Elise, Julia Reed Nichols and Kelli Serio – with their Bettie Page looks and big smiles came to his bedside with goods to give out. “This is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time.”
Meet the Pin Ups for Vets.
Founded by Gina Elise in 2007, this unique organization not only makes morale-boosting, visits but produces WWll-style pinup calendars – eight so far – to support hospitalized and deployed troops. To date, the grassroots organization has donated over $50,000 worth of state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment for VA and military hospitals, and is currently amid a 50-state hospital tour.
“I began hearing stories about severely wounded service members coming back home from their deployments in Iraq. Many of the healthcare programs for wounded service members were overcrowded or underfunded, and sometimes the hospitals found it difficult to provide the best care for the Vets,” Elise told FOX411. “I wanted to do something to honor my Grandfather’s military service in the Army during WWll.”
And never under estimate the power of a sweet smile and chat. While recently visiting one VA Hospital’s spinal cord unit, Elise stopped by the bedside of a veteran to deliver a calendar gift.
“A nurse, who had been at the nurse’s station across the hall, later came up to me to tell me that the Vet had just spoken his first words in a month, since he had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI),” Elise continued. “I was so emotional to learn that the veteran finally spoke again.”
Elise and her team of volunteers come from an array of backgrounds and locations, some are wives and some are single, some are veterans and some are active duty military. Serio joined the Navy as a Navigator on-board the USS Ronald Reagan a year after high school in 2008.
“To me, this non-profit is pure light. I remember morale during deployments being very low at times,” she recalled. “The smallest gestures even from strangers made me feel good. It’s easy to become isolated and forget about the outside world during tough times.”
Then there is former Army SSG Mylee Cardenas who worked as a Civil Affairs Specialist and in an Army Special Operations Cultural Support team focused on Village Stability Operations in Afghanistan, survived an assault attack in her own home in 2009, and while in the middle of a deployment in November 2011 found a mass in her left breast.
“We were so busy with missions that I just brushed it off as a ‘girl problem.’ But we returned in March 2012 and I was diagnosed with Stage lll breast cancer thereafter. It has been a long two years of treatment, eight months of chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy, partial hysterectomy, maximum dose of radiation, multiple surgeries for reconstruction and physical therapy,” Cardenas, who medically retired in March this year, noted. “I remember telling people my biggest fear about getting out was losing my team and no longer being part of something bigger than myself. Through Pin Ups for Vets, I want to show veterans that there are so many of us out here that they can always count on to ‘have their 6’ covered.”
The non-profit also ships care packages far and wide, entertains wounded warriors with hula dance routines and live renditions of 1940’s songs, as well as bringing their glam to military wives and female veterans with makeovers and clothing.
“We pamper them and show them how much we appreciate them. I’m proud to make volunteering glamorous,” Elise added. “Women who never thought to step into a VA Hospital now contact us daily from across the United States to ask how they can join our calendar girl volunteers on our 50-state Hospital tour. I’m proud to know that we can make lives better for our nation’s heroes.”
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