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updated: 11/10/2013 7:13 AM

Stars align for telethon to aid US veterans

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By Lynn Elber
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Connie Francis, Alan Alda and Joe Montegna are joining forces to help raise money for veterans suffering the wounds of war.

The trio will host the Homeward Bound telethon to benefit victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The four-hour event, airing at 7 p.m. EST Sunday on the Military Channel, is a fundraiser for several charities.

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Other celebrities set to participate include Mark Harmon and other "NCIS" cast members, Kevin Spacey, Jason Bateman, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gloria Loring and James Brolin. Scheduled performers include the American Military Spouses Choir, Patti Austin, Michael Feinstein, Ben Vereen and Steve Tyrell.

"This is a 45-year-old dream for me," said Francis, who entertained troops during the Vietnam War. A telethon was needed then but the social climate wasn't receptive to aiding veterans, the singer-actress said.

The Homeward Bound telethon came together after she gave a speech two years ago criticizing the lack of help for injured veterans and caught the attention of businessman Leonard Wilf, an owner of the Minnesota Vikings NFL team, Francis said. She and Wilf joined with producer Bruce Charet to establish the Haven From the Storm Foundation for veterans.

Money raised by the telethon will be donated to charities that provide services and support to servicemen and women and their family members coping with war's aftermath, including the American Red Cross and Wounded Warrior Project, telethon organizers said. Gary Smith, whose credits include the Tony and Emmy Awards ceremonies, is the executive producer.

Francis, who said she endured a dark period in which she required mental health care, is focusing on victims of PTSD and the high rate of military suicides. She said she wants to erase the stigma of mental illness for those who have served as well as civilians.

In 2012, the U.S. military suffered the highest number of suicides ever recorded, prompting then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to declare it an epidemic.

The telethon will also stream live online and be rebroadcast on the Armed Forces Network on Veterans Day on Monday. The event's first two hours will air Sunday on stations PIX11 in New York, WGN Chicago and KTLA Los Angeles.

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