TIME the backstory

The Images That Moved Them Most: Photographers on America's Veterans

LightBox asked 26 photographers, who are veterans of war themselves, to describe which of their own photographs of veterans had a deep impact on their lives or moved them a significant way.

On Veterans Day, TIME explores the profound effects of war—both on those who serve, and the people who support them.

LightBox asked 26 documentary photographers who have covered conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to describe which of their own photographs of veterans had a deep impact on their lives or moved them in a significant way.

Their testimonies are part of TIME’s veterans project. Find out more about it on the #TIMEvets page here.


Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME


TIME Military

New VA Chief Proposes Fixes for a Troubled Agency

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor VA Secretary Bob McDonald previews the coming changes at the VA last Thursday.

Bob McDonald details four steps he’s taking to improve health care for vets

Former Procter & Gamble chief executive Bob McDonald showed over the past week that he has learned a lot about rolling out a new product. On Monday—the eve of Veterans Day—the new secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled what he called the largest restructuring in VA history, aimed at cutting delays for veterans seeking medical care that forced out his predecessor in May.

In a slow rollout that featured a Road to Veterans Day Action Review, and interviews on 60 Minutes and with print reporters, McDonald showed the marketing savvy he acquired as a 33-year veteran of P&G. But actually turning around the huge agency and its 300,000 workers will prove harder than heralding the fact that it’s happening.

Scandal enveloped the VA earlier this year after whistleblowers reported that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. Although investigators said they couldn’t prove that the delays were what caused the deaths, the resulting probes revealed a widespread effort by some in the VA to manipulate record-keeping to make delays appear shorter than they actually were. McDonald has said he has proposed disciplinary action for about 40 employees stemming from the scheduling scandal, and that as many as 1,000 more could face punishment as probes into their actions wrap up.

The systemic nature of the problem led to Shinseki’s ouster. McDonald took over in July.

“As VA moves forward, we will judge the success of all our efforts against a single metric—the outcomes we provide for Veterans,” he said in a status report he released last week. “The mission is to care for Veterans, so we must become more focused on Veteran needs.” But, in a message to VA workers on Monday, he conceded the retooling is a “long-term process” and that “we don’t have the all the answers right now.”

McDonald said he is making four major changes designed to simplify a veteran’s visit to the VA and make the organization more responsive to vets’ needs:

  • Create a “Chief Customer Service Officer” to “drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our Veteran customers,” McDonald told VA employees. They’ll be encouraged to submit ideas on how to improve the agency beginning Tuesday, Veterans Day.
  • Build a “single regional framework” within the VA to allow vets “to more easily navigate VA without having to understand our inner structure.”
  • Work more closely with local, state and community partners “to coordinate better service delivery.”
  • Wring inefficiencies from the VA by sharing support services among different parts of the agency.

McDonald has won plaudits from insiders for his business acumen, his willingness to give out his cell phone number to pretty much anyone, and for encouraging VA employees to call him “Bob.”

But even if 99% of the VA’s employees act properly, that could still leave 3,000 potential troublemakers. The challenge he faces is the same that brought down the prior VA secretary, retired Army general Eric Shinseki. Like McDonald, Shinseki was a veteran. But Shinseki also had been wounded in Vietnam, treated in VA facilities, and had run a major governmental organization—the U.S. Army—before taking the reins at the VA when President Obama took office.

If the VA bureaucracy stumped someone like Shinseki, how confident is McDonald that it won’t do the same to him? “When you’ve run an $85 billion company in 200 countries around the world and you speak multiple languages and you’ve operated in those countries and you’ve traveled to 41 different sites,” McDonald said, “it’s pretty hard to hide stuff.”

TIME Health Care

Veterans Affairs Chief Announces Big Restructuring Over Wait Times

Announcement comes on the eve of Veterans Day

The Department of Veterans Affairs will undergo a large organizational restructuring following the explosive revelations that hundreds of veterans were subjected to long wait times before receiving health care, Secretary Robert McDonald announced on Monday.

Disciplinary action had been taken against 5,600 employees within the last year and more firings were to come, McDonald told CNN, adding “we are acting aggressively, expeditiously, and consistent with the law.” The day before McDonald’s announcement, he acknowledged plans to hire around 28,000 medical professionals—including 2,500 devoted to mental health care—to join the VA’s hospitals and reduce the lack of timely appointments. He also said he intends to recruit young doctors with incentives like student loan forgiveness.

Since the scandal came to light, there have been more than 100 investigations of VA facilities take on by organizations from the FBI to the Department of Justice.

[CNN]

TIME Interview

#LightBoxFF: Using Instagram to Help Homeless Veterans

Welcome to this week’s edition of TIME LightBox Follow Friday, a series where we feature the work of photographers using Instagram in new, interesting and engaging ways. Regularly, we introduce you to the person behind the feed through his or her pictures and an interview with the photographer.

This week, LightBox speaks to Pablo Unzueta (@unzueta_), a freelance photographer based in Los Angeles who has been using Instagram to draw attention to the persisting problem of veteran homelessness. TIME LightBox selected Unzueta’s work as part of #TIMEvets, an initiative launched ahead of this year’s Veterans Day to explore the profound effects of war on soldiers and their families. Visit the #TIMEvets page for more information and for details on how to contribute your own images and stories.


LightBox: Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in photography.

Pablo Unzueta: I come from a family of photographers. The person who has influenced me the most was my grandmother who did documentary photography covering the landfills in Central America. She also was a wedding photography in Los Angeles. More often than not, I would find myself in the darkroom watching her develop rolls of film. At the time, I was not aware that I would become an aspiring photojournalist. I was only five or seven years old. Early on at 17, I began to document street life in Los Angeles. There, I began to develop my aesthetics; but also, I became aware that it wasn’t always a happy life for everyone. I felt that no one cared about poverty, war, corruption, etc. I found photography [could be] a source to generate some advocacy.

LightBox: What does Instagram provide you and this project specifically that other platforms don’t?

Pablo Unzueta: Instagram allows me to share with my followers these stories on a personal level. There are no guidelines, no AP style as to how you want to tell the story. It’s just me putting the context with the picture and allowing my followers to decide how they want to react. A lot of people have an account, so it makes it a great source to share stories and opinions, without getting [rejected] by news outlets.

LightBox: What is the purpose of your project?

Pablo Unzueta: The purpose for this project is to make people think critically and question why there are so many war veterans living on the street. More things should be done to prevent poverty rates from growing each year. The stories of these war veterans reflect the loss of hope. Overtime these people accept their lives the way they are. Many believe that shelter programs are “unreliable” and “unsafe”. Eventually, the street life molds into a long-lasting lifestyle. This issue is fairly complex to understand, personally speaking.

Gregory Thomas. November 30, 2013 Alameda St. Los Angeles, Calif.

LightBox: Tell us about your process creating the work. How do you approach these homeless veterans?

Pablo Unzueta: I carry two black trash bags with clothes in the back of my trunk and I drive around looking for homeless residents. If I don’t have clothes to give, I carry food and coins. This gives me a reason to approach them with a camera in hand. I [often] spark conversation with a simple handshake. If they open up to me, I’m usually allowed to take their portrait. Sometimes it takes a few visits for a picture, but that’s what makes the process all worth it. Most of my conversations are recorded on my iPhone, sometimes on a black notebook.

LightBox: Many photographers who started with analog or digital photography find themselves adapting to smartphones and Instagram. You started photographing at 17, and you are now 20. Can you call yourself an Instagram native? Do you find it liberating to be able to produce and distribute work instantaneously?

Pablo Unzueta: I think I can call myself that. I always loved Instagram. When I first started using it, I uploaded photographs from my DSLR. Every once in a while, I do a series with just iPhone photographs. I think it’s easy for someone to call themselves a photographer because of smartphones. But there is much more to it than just taking a picture with a phone. Going beyond your comfort zone and photographing something meaningful that contributes to a good cause automatically separates you from the category of “photographer”. It is important that we have a variety of documentarians in this world who present us with information, so why not use smartphones to illustrate the world with something informative and influential. Instagram is a perfect example of that. I am starting to see more and more Instagramers publish photographs with stories, which inspires others to do the same as well. It’s like a domino effect. Storytelling is imperative.


Pablo Unzueta is a freelance photojournalist in Los Angeles. He has been documenting protests, poverty and homelessness.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


TIME Business

Job Fairs Are Not Enough

soldier saluting flag
Getty Images

Mike Stajura is a doctoral candidate at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. He served in the U.S. Army from 1995-2002.

Our military drawdown overseas means more veterans will be hunting for employment at home. How can we find them meaningful work?

As the military drawdown in Afghanistan continues, the United States will add an additional 80,000 veterans from the Army alone to the civilian workforce. This is on top of the normal annual rate of separations from military service. On this Veterans Day, let’s think about all of America’s soldiers who are receiving pink slips.

Members of the military receive rigorous training from a very selective institution, and they served their country under difficult circumstances that required adaptability, perseverance, teamwork, and maturity. What more could an employer want?

It would seem a lot more. Despite the many veteran employment initiatives out there—put forward by the White House, mayors’ offices, corporations, and nonprofit organizations—it’s still difficult for veterans to find work, let alone jobs that use them well. The Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families offers one explanation that applies to me and other veterans I’ve talked to: many veterans take work that is a poor fit for their knowledge, skills, ability, and experience. This leads to dissatisfaction, lower performance, and job-hopping.

If you were a helicopter mechanic in the military, then it makes sense to seek work fixing helicopters as a civilian. It’s harder for veterans whose primary military job skills don’t directly translate to the civilian workforce. As an infantry officer for the Army (who left before the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started), my work included managing a fleet of armored vehicles, supervising the distribution of water in Honduras, and assisting a State Department official in Bosnia-Herzegovina. When I completed the coursework for my doctorate degree in public health, I started applying for emergency management and disaster services positions.

I wasn’t even getting called for job interviews, though. Rather, I’d get letters saying that I met the education and skill requirements, but didn’t have the “right” experience for a job. They were looking for specific junior job titles on my resume that I would never have unless I was to start at the lowest rung of the career ladder at 41 years old.

I was rejected from about a dozen jobs in three months. Even after working with mentors and consulting with guides to help veterans find civilian work, it was hard to figure out how to present my skills and experience. The “skills translator” at www.military.com said that in civilian-speak I was trained in “message processing procedures.” Seriously?

I got my next two jobs precisely because I am a veteran. The first employer emailed a job announcement to a group of Los Angeles veterans because he had a contract with the Army and needed someone who could “speak Army.” I became highly prized for my ability to produce PowerPoint slides and “decision-support matrices” according to Army norms.

My second job involves an organization that serves veterans and their families. During the first three months, I worked on occasional tasks but I could not even explain to other employees what my job was because I didn’t have an official description or direct supervisor.

This was very different from the Army, where everyone has a clear task and there’s constant interaction and feedback. Things finally changed for the better after I explained that I needed a project and accountability.

Michael Poyma, an employment specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Michigan, has heard many stories similar to mine. And he thinks some of the most common approaches to matching veteran job seekers and employers need to be rethought. For example, both job seekers and employers have told Poyma that many job fairs are a waste of time. While some people find jobs this way, it’s a drop in the bucket. They also create high-pressure, high-expectation situations that can magnify disappointment.

Poyma and others have also noted that veterans gravitate in disproportionate numbers towards certain fields: government service, law enforcement, government contracting, work with veterans. These jobs allow veterans to continue working in a familiar environment related to public service.

But isolation can just entrench the misunderstanding. This is why Chris Marvin of Got Your 6, and previously, The Mission Continues, has embarked on projects to help veterans integrate fully into the civilian world that they have rejoined. The Mission Continues, for instance, puts veterans to work painting houses, tending community gardens, or mentoring kids at a wide range of community and nonprofit organizations.

Poyma and other VA representatives are about to start pilot seminars will seat potential employers and veterans on opposite sides of the room, separated by a “demilitarized zone.” He will conduct exercises to dismantle the demilitarized zone by discussing systemic barriers to employment (some of which I’ve already talked about, but others such as the cost of retraining for civilian licenses), the stigmas that follow veterans, and each side’s particular acronyms and jargon. In the end, he hopes to demonstrate that there is hidden value in a veteran’s resume if employers will only take the time to look.

Mike Stajura wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME portfolio

Life After War: James Nachtwey’s Photographs From Walter Reed

Last week, TIME contract photographer James Nachtwey visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md, to photograph combat veterans and wounded soldiers recovering at the facility.

“He was patient enough to listen to what happened to me,” says Army Master Sergeant Cedric King, a bilateral leg amputee and the main subject of a ten-page photo essay published in this week’s TIME magazine. “When it was time to get his shot, he explained exactly what he wanted.”

In August 2012, King woke up in the Walter Reed Bethesda to his mother and wife beside his bed. Both his legs had been amputated. A week before, King was on a combat patrol in an explosive-making factory in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked. While trying to get his fellow soldiers to safety, King stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED), which immediately threw him out into the air and blew his legs off.

King, from Norlina, N.C., appears confident and comfortable in front of the camera. He believes his injuries had gifted him strength and wants his family as well as the readers to see his positivity.

“It’s not about what happened to you, but what happens in you,” King says.

Lindsay DeckardArmy master sergeant Cedric King finished his first New York City Marathon on Nov. 2—despite breaking his prosthetic legs twice.

One year after his injuries, King began running. Last Sunday, he took up the challenge to run the New York City Marathon, during which his prosthetics broke in Brooklyn, forcing him to stop and get them fixed.

His make-or-break moment came when he was close to the 59th Street Bridge. Volunteers have already started cleaning the streets and getting ready to go home. King was exhausted, both his mind and his body.

“I kneeled down the bridge and I just started to pray,” King said. “I just put one foot in front of the other. That was the only thing I could do.”

After 10 hours, He was among the last 10 people to kiss the finish line.

The New York City Marathon was not his first marathon. In April this year, King completed the Boston Marathon and participated in a Ironman 70.3 competition in Georgia in September.

King is going to retire from the military and leave Walter Reed in July, 2015. He plans to run about 400 miles from Walter Reed to North Carolina in two and a half months to raise funds for a new home.


James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer, documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

With reporting by Olivia B. Waxman from Bethesda, Md.

See TIME’s #TIMEVets project.


TIME the backstory

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 21, 2014

Photojournalism Daily is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Moises Saman’s project, Discordia: Arab Spring. The Magnum photographer has charted the Middle East tumult for the past four years for some of the most renown publications in the world, but this collection is more of a personal exploration of that time. Discordia includes many outtakes and quieter pictures which originally went unpublished as well as fascinating photo collages made by artist Daria Birang that explore gestures repeated throughout Saman’s Arab Spring work. The photographer was just awarded the W. Eugene Smith fellowship to continue the project.


Moises Saman: Discordia (The New Yorker Photo Booth)

JeongMee Yoon: The Pink or Blue Project (The New York Times Lens) Mesmerizing photographs of South Korean girls and boys surrounded by all of their childhood belongings: pink for girls and blue for boys.

Bruce Gilden: The Face of Camden (Vice) Portraits of men who have turned their lives around, in a city declared one of the most dangerous in America.

Stephen Dupont: Veterans in Their Own Words (Time.com) Polaroid portraits of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.

What every storyteller needs to know (Storehouse.co) Some of the photographers and photo editors who recently taught at Eddie Adams workshop share their advice to young photojournalists.


Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.


TIME the backstory

#TIMEvets: Share Your Stories and Photos of Inspiring Veterans

TIME has launched #TIMEvets, a four-week special project that will explore the profound effects of war – both on those who serve and the people who support them – through the stories of our country's veterans

TIME has launched #TIMEvets, a four-week special project that explores the profound effects of war—both on those who serve and the people who support them—through the stories of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

These stories—both inspiring and harrowing—highlight the personal costs and enduring consequences when nations and politicians decide to go to war.

3T
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME

“After coming back from deployment in Fallujah, I thought I was adjusting fine,” says Roman Baca, a U.S. Marine veteran. “I found a good job, bought a condo, got serious with my girlfriend. However, she had to sit me down and say, ‘You’re angry. You’re depressed. You’re anxious. Some people are really afraid of you.'”

When U.S. Army veteran Steven Moore returned from Iraq, he got married, found a decent job and had a son shortly after that. “For maybe a year or so, things were going pretty good,” he says. “Then our second son was born, which turned my whole life upside down. When I saw both my kids together, the only thing I could see in their faces were these two little Iraqi boys hanging off the archway over the roadway leading into the town of Husaybah, who were executed for selling me sodas at the checkpoint and helping Americans—supposedly. I started having nightmares of people dropping out of the sky from nowhere, hanging from their necks.”

These stories are just two of the many TIME will publish ahead of Veterans Day 2014. We will also present new and original photographic essays by Balazs Gardi, David Guttenfelder, Peter van Agtmael and Nina Berman, among many others.

But we’re also looking for your own testimonies and photographs.

Are you a war veteran, or do you know a vet whose story has inspired you? Submit your pictures through Instagram, using the hashtag #TIMEvets. The best submissions—as chosen by TIME.com photo editors—will appear on the TIME Vets website.


TIME movies

How Fury‘s Director Made the WWII Film as Realistic as Possible

Columbia Pictures

Director David Ayer met with vets to learn what life in a tank was really like

Perhaps more than any other historical event, World War II has provided fodder for Hollywood. From The Bridge on the River Kwai to Saving Private Ryan to Schindler’s List, directors keep turning to “the good war.” This year alone, Fury (in theaters this weekend), Imitation Game and Unbroken all feature World War II heroes and will all battle for Oscar buzz.

Fury director David Ayer, who is a veteran himself, wanted to distinguish his World War II film with an air of authenticity. The movie takes on a single day in April 1945, when the Allies had for all intents and purposes beaten Germany. But American soldiers were still fighting on the front and, some would argue, needlessly dying. Calling into question the glory of war, Ayer and the movie’s actors—including Brad Pitt, returning to the time period he visited in Inglourious Basterds—met with veterans to get more intimate details on the challenges of fighting in a tank crew, the Credits reports.

According to the vets, the life expectancy of a tank crew member was only six weeks. Ayer incorporated this and other details he learned from veterans into the movie, like that every fifth bullet from a gun’s machine is a tracer, which is ignited with a burning powder that glows brightly so the shooter can follow the trajectory of the bullet with the naked eye. The actors also learned that the soldiers would differentiate between outgoing and incoming artillery by the whistling sound a projectile make when coming towards you (but not away from you).

Read about the connection between reality and another WWII movie, The Monuments Men, here in TIME’s archives: George Clooney’s Art of War

[The Credits]

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