J.R. for the Win

November 9, 2011

For those of us who aren’t acquainted with an Iraq War soldier or veteran, the conflict may seem distant and unknowable. But each Monday night this fall, we gain an intimate perspective when we watch J.R. Martinez, above, who was badly burned in the war, perform on “Dancing With the Stars.”

One thing viewers will come to understand is “just how strong our veterans are,” says Sonja Batten, a clinical psychologist with the Department for Veterans Affairs. Commitment and discipline are part of their military training. Some “DWTS” contestants get frustrated, whine and threaten to quit. “You see that J.R. is not going to give up. He’s going to work and work and practice and adapt and overcome.”

Without a doubt, the charismatic Martinez is the most inspirational figure on TV this fall — and an effective role model for soldiers coping with burns, amputations and mental health issues. “The most powerful thing for veterans is to see someone who’s been through something like they have, who’s worked hard and gotten help and overcome challenges,” Batten says.

She thinks Martinez will win it all: “I bet on the veteran every time.”

Marc Silver has been watching TV since the days when people wrapped aluminum foil around TV antennae to improve reception.
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