University of Chicago – Honoring the Hurt and their Heroes (August 24-26 Virtual/In-Person)

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The event, “Honoring the Hurt and their Heroes” brings awareness to service-connected injuries and the impact it has on the veteran, military families, and caregivers. Our goal is to make attendees aware of the entire life cycle (evolution) of veterans being hurt in combat, transitioning into civilian lifestyle and, the strength, dedication and support of the caregivers.

The event is being co-presented by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Hidden HeroesBlue Star Families (BSF), Robert R. McCormick FoundationDixon Center for Military and Veterans ServicesJesse Brown VA Medical Center, and Illinois Joining Forces (IJF). We would also like to thank the Veteran Exchange for their support in hosting this program.

The event will be conducted in a hybrid format: both in-person at Pritzker Military Museum and Library and as a webinar to allow people across the country to attend.

In-person is by invite only..

Each event day will have a unique focus:

Day One – Discussion around service-connected injuries and the impact it has on veterans and their families. We will show excerpts from the documentary, “A Debt of Honor” and ask Colonel (retired) Greg Gadson and Colonel Kenneth Wilson MD to serve on a panel to discuss battlefield injuries and medicine. Colonel (retired) Sam Whitehurst is being asked to moderate.

Day Two – Attendees will view a screening of the documentary, “The Weight of Honor” and participate in a one-hour reception before the screening. Core Issue Production’s, Stephanie Howard, will be asked to answer questions about the documentary.

Day Three – Various organizations will present on the resources and support they provide to veterans with service-connected injuries, their families, and caregivers (Elizabeth Dole Foundation, BSF, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Dixon Center, University of Chicago Veterans and Family Readiness Program, and IJF).

Gregory Gadson

US Army Veteran, Actor and Public Speaker

Colonel Gregory D. Gadson, USA (retired)

Colonel Gregory D. Gadson, a Chesapeake, Va., native; served our nation in the United States Army for more than 26 years.

Col. Gadson’s service culminated as the Garrison Commander of Fort Belvoir, where he oversaw the daily operations of the post, a strategic sustaining base where more than 50,000 military personnel and employees provide logistical, intelligence, medical and administrative support, and command and control for a mix of more than 140 commands and agencies for the Department of Defense.

A 25-year career Army officer, Col. Gadson’s life is a portrait of courage in the face of great adversity. In May 2007, as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, Col. Gadson’s greatest challenge came in Iraq, where an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack cost him both legs above the knees and normal use of his right arm and hand. Despite this, Gadson remained on active duty in the Army and continued to inspire many with his message of courage, perseverance, determination and teamwork. Refusing to be defined by the proverbial “hail of bullets,” he has since drawn upon the lessons of Pride, Poise and Team, learned as a West Point linebacker, and applied them to his life, career and family.

Commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant of Field Artillery in 1989 from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Greg served in every major conflict of the past two decades, including Operations Desert Shield/Storm in Kuwait; Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia-Herzegovina; Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Greg served in various assignments throughout the world.  He dedicated himself to leading the Soldiers, civilian employees and family members in living the Army Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage.  Greg is a passionate advocate for wounded warriors, veterans and those with disabilities; sharing his experience and perspectives on several board of directors and advisory committees.

In 2007, Tom Coughlin, New York Giants head coach, asked Gadson to meet with the then-struggling team. Gadson talked to the players about service, teamwork, duty, perseverance and adversity. His message resonated and the New York Giants defeated the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.  Greg made his silver screen debut in 2012 as a lead actor in the blockbuster movie Battleship; where he portrayed a war-injured veteran that helped save the world from an alien invasion.  In 2015, he completed season one of The Inspectors, an educational television series on CBS.

Greg continues a very energetic and dynamic lifestyle where he continues to serve his nation as an entrepreneur and managing partner of Patriot Strategies, LLC, a government services company.  He is also an accomplished photographer/artist and remains active in cycling, skiing, skydiving and scuba.

Greg’s military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit (2); Bronze Stars (3); Purple Heart; the Meritorious Service Medal (3) and the Army Commendation Medal (3). He is a graduate of Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and holds masters degrees in Information Systems from Webster University; and Policy Management from Georgetown University. He holds an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Webster University.


Sam Whitehurst

Vice President, Programs & Services, Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services

Colonel Sam Whitehurst, USA (retired) 

Colonel (Ret.) Sam Whitehurst is the Vice President for Programs & Services at Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services. Since 2012, Dixon Center’s collaboration and capacity building has impacted nearly 2.1 million individuals and organizations.  Dixon Center partners with business and industry, service providers, and training institutions to develop and operate direct service programs for veterans and their families. The goal is not to create new programs. Rather, the goal is to enable the integration of military and veteran services into existing programs to increase impact.

Colonel Whitehurst joined the Dixon Center team in 2019 and drawing upon his 29 years in the United States Army as an infantry officer, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, is now focused on ensuring that service members, military veterans, and their families reach their full potential and successfully integrate back into their communities. He finished his military career as the National Director for the Army’s Soldier for Life program.


Kenneth Wilson MD

Professor of Surgery and Trauma Medical Director, University of Chicago Medicine

Colonel Kenneth Wilson, USA Reserves

A native of Baltimore, Dr. Wilson is an Emory University graduate who attended medical school at Howard University. He has worked for more than a decade as a trauma and acute care surgeon for both adult and pediatric patients, including most recently at Hurley Hospital in Flint, Michigan, as the director of Pediatric Trauma. He treats all related conditions, including giant ventral hernias, a condition that can occur after abdominal trauma and requires an extremely complex surgical approach. Dr. Wilson has a long history as a military surgeon and is currently a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, where he has multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Wilson is an active researcher, and has been widely published on topics including military trauma and trauma surgical outcomes. He is interested in the association between race and socioeconomic status on trauma-related health outcomes. He currently serves as Director at the University of Chicago’s trauma center.


Megan Everett

Director, Veterans Programs, Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Megan Everett, MBA, MPP, USN Veteran

Serves as the Director of the Veterans Program for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and is a former Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy. As Director of the Veterans Program, Megan manages a grant portfolio focused on veteran employment to include education and entrepreneurship, behavior health and wellness, and systems navigation. Megan received a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University receiving her commission through Naval ROTC. She has a MBA from Penn State University and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University.


Dr. Stephen Curda

Executive Director, Illinois Joining Forces

Stephen K. Curda, Ph.D., USA Brigadier General (retired)

Formerly served on the Governor’s Cabinet as the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA). He was responsible for establishing long term strategic goals for the future of the IDVA and provided oversight of four veteran homes caring for over 900 Veterans and coordinated over 80 veteran service offices throughout the state of Illinois.

Dr. Curda served in the US military for over 30 years in active duty, Guard and Reserve positions. He commanded units at every echelon, from platoon, company, battalion, brigade and two general officer level commands. He is an Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veteran. His numerous awards and decorations include the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal.

Dr. Curda is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology from the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Curda serves as an Associate Professor in the National College of Education at National Louis University and as Senior Advisor to the President on Student Veteran programs. He has previously held faculty positions at Florida State University, the University of Toledo, and the University of West Florida as a professor of Instructional Technology.


Laurel Haxton

Community Engagement Manager, Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Hidden Heroes

Laurel Haxton, Active-Duty Spouse

Laurel Haxton serves as the Community Engagement Manager, where she oversees the Hidden Heroes Cities & Counties Program. In this role, Laurel implements and expands the program by engaging caregivers, community partners, and elected officials across the country.

Prior to joining EDF, Laurel spent five years in the government relations and policy department at YMCA of the USA. As a Partnerships and Policy Specialist, she worked with members of Congress and national partners to advance the YMCA’s federal policy priorities including passage of the Child Protection Improvements Act, Every Kid Outdoors Act, Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act, and the inclusion of 501(c)3 nonprofits in the Paycheck Protection Program. Laurel has facilitated partnerships, grants, and programs with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. National Park Service, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Laurel graduated with a B.A. from Drake University.


Jessica (Jess) Heise

Community Engagement and Partnerships Coordinator, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center

Jessica Heise, LCSW, RYT

Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Community Engagement and Partnerships Coordinator at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. She began working in community housing and behavioral health in 2009 and has worked in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings with adults and children alike, where she has spearheaded projects to create relationships between her organizations and community inpatient psych units, as well as a CPD Diversion pilot to provide care linkage to more mental health consumers.

Jess is a proud alumni of Jane Addams College of Social Work at University of Illinois-Chicago. She is also a registered yoga teacher who completed trauma-specific training through the Veteran’s Yoga Project and deploys mindfulness and somatic techniques with patients in her private therapy practice.

Jess has been with the VA since 2017, previously serving as the facility’s Suicide Prevention in Emergency Dept Champion where she developed and maintained tracking methods for patient ED visits, Suicide Prevention Safety Plan documentation, communication with providers, and patient outcomes to fortify facility safety measures. Suicide is part of her lived experience and she has a personal passion for reducing stigma around seeking mental health treatment and enhancing equal access to care. To that effect, Jessica participates in the LGBT Special Emphasis Program, Social Work Service Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and Jesse Brown 4 Black Lives.