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Veterans Affairs Department rolls out ad campaign

By Jennifer Rizzo, CNN
  • Some ads will run during the Country Music Awards and college football games
  • The main character outlines services to help veterans and servicemembers
  • The ads are targeted to markets with large numbers of vets and people currently serving

Washington (CNN) -- In an effort to reach out to more veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs is launching its first ever television ad campaign to alert servicemembers to the benefits for which they're eligible.

The multi-million dollar campaign kicked off this week and includes a $1 million ad buy on television, in addition to an internet campaign.

Out of the 23 million veterans in the United States, only 8 million currently access VA benefits or health care, according to the department.

"The sooner we meet their needs, the less likely they are to encounter the repercussions commonly associated with the post-combat experience," the VA said in a news release.

The National Veterans Awareness Campaign is running in six markets through November, including, Norfolk, Virginia; Raleigh, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Seattle, Washington; Watertown, New York, and El Paso, Texas. The cities were specifically targeted due to the large numbers of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn veterans returning to those communities.

The department also plans to buy national television commercial spots during the Country Music Awards and college football games.

"This advertising campaign is an effort to bridge the gap," VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said. "VA wants servicemembers and veterans to know VA is a resource."

The ad greets veterans with "Welcome home! You've served your country

"Now that you've completed your service you've got lots of opportunities for your future. But health comes first," says Marine Corps sergeant and Iraq war veteran Robert Kugler in the ad. "Sign up for health care at your nearest VA."

Kugler also mentions other veteran programs.

"The GI Bill can help pay for college and VA's job assistance can prepare you for a career," Kugler says.

Kugler moved to Los Angeles after finishing his tour of duty to pursue an acting career, a dream he decided to work toward after he received a letter from his brother imploring him to do so. Kugler's brother died while serving in Iraq, when an IED hit his vehicle.

A second ad will start airing mid-November and run through December, this time with a broader message intended to reach all generations of veterans. Both ads will cost the department around $5 million.