NEW YORK — Thousands of U.S. military veterans are heeding the rallying cry of Occupy Wall Street, saying corporate contractors in Iraq made big money while the troops defending them came home — and can't make a living now.
"For too long, our voices have been silenced, suppressed and ignored in favor of the voices of Wall Street and the banks and the corporations," said Joseph Carter, a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran who marched Wednesday to Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the movement that has spread worldwide.
The former Army sergeant from Seattle spoke to fellow Occupy protesters and passersby on Broadway after joining about 100 veterans marching in uniform from the Vietnam Veterans Plaza through Manhattan's financial district nearby.
Their unemployment rate outstrips the national average and is expected to worsen. They worry about preservation of First Amendment rights. And they're angry.
A week before Veterans Day, generations of former U.S. military men and women threw their considerable weight behind the Occupy movement born in mid-September when about 100 protesters also marched in the Wall Street area.
"For 10 years, we have been fighting wars that have enriched the wealthiest 1 percent, decimated our economy and left our nation with a generation of traumatized and wounded veterans that will require care for years to come," said Carter, who leads the national Iraq Veterans Against the War group.
Requiring care now in California is a former Marine whose skull was fractured last week when he was injured by a projectile at an Occupy Oakland rally. Police there are now the subject of a formal investigation by the city's Citizens' Police Review Board.
In New York on Wednesday, police circled the veterans as they stood in formation in front of the New York Stock Exchange, chanting, "We are veterans! We are the 99 percent!" and "Corporate profits on the rise, soldiers have to bleed and die!"
By the stock exchange, Josh Shepherd, a former Navy petty officer 2nd class who was next to Olsen when he was injured, read the oath members of the armed forces take to defend the U.S. Constitution.
"We are here to support the Occupy Wall Street movement," he then declared.
Police officers on scooters separated the veterans from the entrance to the stock exchange. On the other side of the marchers was a lineup of NYPD horses carrying officers with nightsticks.
"We are marching to express support for our brother, Scott Olsen, who was injured in Oakland," former Army specialist Jerry Bordeleau told The Associated Press earlier.
At the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway, they paused for a moment of silence for the Marine who served two Iraq tours and remains hospitalized.
Olsen was honored Wednesday by veterans and other activists at Occupy protests around the nation, from Boston and Philadelphia to Los Angeles and Chicago.
"Wall Street corporations have played a big role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Bordeleau, 24, who served several years in Iraq over two tours ending in 2009 and now attends college in New York.
He said private contractors have reaped big profits in those countries "in pursuit of corporate interests that have had a devastating effect on our economy and our country, benefiting only a small number of people."
"The 99 percent have to take a stand," Bordeleau said, to rectify the biggest income gap between rich and poor since the Great Depression, fueled by what protesters say is Wall Street's overblown clout in Washington politics.
From the stock exchange, the veterans walked down Broadway to the bronze bull that symbolizes the stock market.
"Halliburton and Bechtel think these wars are swell," they chanted, invoking the names of American companies that received federal contracts for work rebuilding Iraq.
They say those who risked their lives fighting for their country have the right to protest economic policies and business practices that give them a slimmer chance of finding jobs than most Americans.