Human Project: Hugs - Marion VA Medical Center
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Marion VA Medical Center


Human Project: Hugs

OIF Veteran Ian and VA Employee

OIF Veteran Ian and VA Employee Theresa Mcintosh exchange hugs.

By Williams Martinez - Public Affairs Specialist
Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It only takes three Veterans to radically change the atmosphere in a Medical Center.  Two Marines and one Navy veteran from three different wars have begun their journey in traveling to different VA’s to offer alternative healing by hugs.

The idea for Human Project: Hugs began with Marine Veteran Gino Griganti’s journey to recovery.  “I started my journey about a year and a half ago, when I was in the emergency room.  I was told that I could either leave with medication or be admitted into the psychiatric ward.  And I was dissatisfied with both of those options.  A social worker eventually came and said it just looked like I needed a hug.  And this changed everything.”

VA employees and the Human Project: Hugs Team

VA employees and the Human Project: Hugs Team

The other Marine on the hugging mission is Ian Michael, an OIF Veteran.  His journey to defeat PTSD began more recently in January.  He was a restaurant owner in Oregon and feeling depressed.

He decided to close his business and purchase a couple of bicycles to get out and heal.  “I was actually in Dallas and hadn’t talked to Gino and his wife for a few years.  His wife mentioned that they came across a Facebook post about a man giving away free hugs that reminded them of me.  We joked a little, but then Erin asked for me to visit in Nashville, so I drove down to visit them.  We shared our experiences with each other and just came up with the idea – me and Gino were both struggling, so we thought, lets heal together,” says Ian.

Now that the team has solidified, Ian has dropped off a couple of bikes at a Carbondale bike shop for an upgrade: he is getting the bikes painted to read “” and #humanhugproject.  They plan to bike from one VA to another VA in efforts to share their journey and hugs. 

Human Project: Hugs Team visits with VA Patient Micheal Biggs

Human Project: Hugs Team visits with VA Patient Micheal Biggs

The morning of Wednesday, April 29, 2015, Marion VA patients were greeted with a gauntlet of hugs as they approached the hospital.  Smiles, camaraderie, experiences and hugs were exchanged with high energy.

“This journey is about telling your story and having somebody tell their story back to you and listening.  Everybody has a traumatic experience, it isn’t just Veterans.  All we have to do is listen,” says Gino.

After greeting Veterans as they entered the facility, the team then toured the facility offering hugs to employees and Veteran in-patients at the hospital.

“I just ain’t used to hugging guys, but it’s a pretty good feeling,” shares Veteran Michael Biggs as he recovers from a recent procedure.

Michael Biggs, accepted the trio with open arms.  He had just found out the day before that he was cancer free, making the hugs much needed and welcomed. “It’s cool that Veterans from today’s wars are recognizing our Veterans from 30 years ago,” says Biggs.

Veteran families and Marion VA employees came out to receive hugs as word crept around the facility about the emotional happiness occurring at the hospital entrance.

Now the self-funded group aims to travel to Washington D.C. and visit different VA Medical Centers along the way in hopes of spreading their experiences and hugs with fellow Veterans and their caretakers.  “This is the beginning, and our journey has a goal.  We don’t want to just heal others, we are also giving ourselves some healing,” shares Gino.

If you would like to know more about Human Project: Hugs, you can email Ian Michael @, or you can follow the “Human Project: Hugs” @


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