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Tim McGraw giving homes to veterans, and hope for greater awareness

Tim McGraw in Nashville on May 21.
Tim McGraw in Nashville on May 21.Mark Humphrey / AP

Singer Tim McGraw announced on Thursday that he’s going to give away 25 mortgage-free houses -- one for each stop on his upcoming “Brothers of the Sun” tour with Kenny Chesney -- to wounded or needy service members.

The campaign, which kicks off with a Memorial Day concert for military members at the Beacon Theater in New York, was inspired by the close relationships McGraw has with veterans in his life.

“My sister’s a veteran, my uncle’s a veteran, my grandfather was a veteran, one of my best friends is a veteran,” McGraw said in an interview. “I’ve known people my whole life who are in service to America. And I think in my position to be able to do something like that is probably the ultimate thing. So to be able to go on tour and provide sort of a stable foundation for a veteran and their family is something I really look forward to.”

No doubt, McGraw’s gesture is a fantastic one. Veterans who’ve given so much get homes, and it’s impossible to quantify the impact that greater awareness of veterans' needs could have on their plight. It does however, raise a question: no matter how well intended, how beneficial are these grand gestures? In short, very beneficial, but it’s complicated.

“It’s a fantastic gesture from someone who has done well and wants to support the troops with something far greater than lip service,” Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars told TODAY.com. “Supporting the troops means impacting lives, and I know this heartfelt donation will tremendously strengthen 25 former military families in their readjustment to civilian life.”

Jon Soltz, Iraq war veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, emphasizes that McGraw’s donation is wonderful and generous, but points out that such offerings don’t fix some of the more specific issues that impact veterans on a broader scale. “We hope he (McGraw) uses the opportunity to call attention to the fact that there are thousands of homeless veterans across the US, and in just the past few years, banks have wrongly foreclosed on a large number of our troops,” Soltz says. “We veterans sincerely thank Tim McGraw for his amazing gift to veterans, and hope he uses this as a springboard for speaking out about the need to not cut Federal funding -- even in these hard economic times -- to help veterans in need.”

Hiring our Heroes: A focus on getting vets back into the workforce

To Soltz’s point, McGraw’s donation does spotlight, but doesn’t specifically address, an incredible housing need among veterans. Between 2008 and 2010, the rate of foreclosure filings in military communities spiked 32 percent, according to USA Today and data collected from RealtyTrac, a foreclosure research firm.    

But let’s be fair here: What’s just one person to do? Gary Sinise is often used as an example of a celebrity who displays the ultimate support of veterans. In addition to his dedication to Building Homes for Heroes, which builds homes for severely wounded veterans, the actor supports at least 25 other charities that point to various other needs via the Gary Sinise Foundation.

“The veterans community has known about Gary Sinise’s dedication for years, and the public is finally aware now, too,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “But what Tim is doing is a wonderful effort, too. If you can give a veteran a house, then that’s a huge impact.”

Impact aside, the elephant in the room is this: celebrities are often derided for their involvement in causes, especially if their involvement seems less-than-sincere. Ultimately, and importantly, that’s not the case with McGraw.

"He comes from a military family, and has a real connection with veterans. So many campaigns are only awareness and don’t have a monetary value. He has a cultural competency that everyone doesn’t have,” Rieckhoff emphasizes. “At a time when most folks aren’t doing anything, we should celebrate folks like Tim who are stepping up."

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