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11/11/11 12:00 AM EST

MLB honors the troops on Veterans Day

Baseball has been there through a Civil War, through two World Wars, through Korea and Vietnam, through Operation Desert Storm and the post-9/11 combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has waited while its stars like Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller served their country in conflict, and it has been there when a battle-weary nation needed a lift after Pearl Harbor nearly 70 years ago.

On Veterans Day, Major League Baseball is saluting the men and women who have bravely sacrificed so that others can enjoy everyday freedoms in the United States of America. This comes less than a month after a World Series that began in St. Louis with emphasis on all returning military members and their families, and MLB again puts its primary focus Friday on asking fans to support its Welcome Back Veterans initiative.

"Major League Baseball is proud to celebrate Veterans Day in honor of all the men and women who have served our country and all those who continue to represent the United States," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "We are proud to be the sport of Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Jerry Coleman, Willie Mays and Stan Musial, who were among the many players who served with excellence during their careers.

"In their honor, as a social institution with important social responsibilities, we are committed to supporting our country's true heroes. I am very pleased that Major League Baseball makes an impact through our Welcome Back Veterans program, which help veterans and their families make a successful transition back to civilian life."

Welcome Back Veterans is an MLB Charities initiative in partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, and in the last three years it has awarded more than $11 million in grants to nonprofit agencies and programs to benefit veterans and their families' greatest needs. It was designed to support returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their family members as they transition to civilian life.

MLB is asking that all fans tune into ABC at 8 p.m. ET on Friday for a special one-hour episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" that will revisit some of the most heartwarming military stories featured by the reality TV show over the years, and also to highlight issues veterans face after serving. "Rise and Honor" is hosted by Ty Pennington and Jewel, and it will include appearances by Shane Victorino of the Phillies, Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox and Daniel Murphy of the Mets, along with celebrities Whoopi Goldberg, George Lopez, J.R. Martinez, Rachael Ray, Sherri Shepherd and Robin Williams.

Rise and Honor is a program that raises critical funds to support important reintegration services for veterans and their loved ones. The program will benefit not only Welcome Back Veterans, but also veteran service organizations including Fisher House Foundation, Hire Heroes USA, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, United Service Organizations, and Volunteers of America. These organizations provide vital services and support to our nation's veterans and their families including housing, job placement, health care, rehabilitation and mental health treatment.

"We are thrilled to partner with ABC and the 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' team to honor the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country," said Entertainment Industry Foundation President and CEO Lisa Paulsen. "We hope this inspiring program will rally Americans to give back to our military families and support organizations that provide vital services to our veterans and their families."

"We've highlighted the difficult struggles our veterans often face when returning home. We are so proud to take this a step further with a moving tribute to our nation's heroes, while inspiring Americans to give back to those who've given our country so much," said George Verschoor, executive producer the show.

As of June 30, 2010, Veterans Affairs had treated 594,000 Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran patients. Of those, 295,000 were diagnosed with at least one mental health condition such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In addition, some face a grim economic reality. As recently as January 2011, the unemployment rate among veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was 15 percent; that's nearly double the national average. Their sacrifice extends to their families, as more than 700,000 children have experienced one or more parental deployments.

"All across the country, we have talented and dedicated veterans who have been unemployed for far too long," said Hilda Solis, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. "These service men and women are right here and ready to get back to work. They just need a little help from all of us to find a good job at a fair wage and successfully transition from military to civilian life. We applaud ABC and the Entertainment Industry Foundation for broadcasting this special show to raise awareness of the needs of our returning veterans and their families."

MLB also works with Disabled American Veterans and encourages fans to support that organization. The unemployment rate for veterans is 11.5 percent, compared to 9 percent for the entire country. Follow @DAVHQ on Twitter throughout Veterans Day, check out special videos profiling some of the veterans who are overcoming tragic injuries, and find key resources that help military families in need.

Many players are highly involved in reaching out to veterans as well. Take right-hander Justin Verlander, perhaps in line for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Verlander's Victory for Veterans program allows servicemen and women with injuries from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to enjoy a game with their family from Verlander's private suite at the park on days he pitches. The suite holds about 18 people, which allows up to three veterans and their families to use it for a game.

The 2011 season marked the sixth anniversary of Strikeouts For Troops, a national nonprofit organization founded by Giants pitcher Barry Zito. Its mission is to provide injured troops with comforts of home while they are undergoing treatment at military hospitals.

During the World Series, MLB unveiled a public service announcement featuring Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and Rays outfielder Johnny Damon, both of whom come from military families.

"We're not heroes," said Teixeira, whose father was in the reserves when Teixeira was born. "The real ones are those who protect our freedom."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.