How the Gary Sinise Foundation Helped a National Guardsman and Special Education Teacher

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Renee Villareel holding her daughter, Natalie, above her head.

By Brandon Black of The Gary Sinise Foundation

At the start of the year, one semester separated Renne Villareal from earning a degree in Special Education. One semester stood between her and starting a career teaching kids and adolescents diagnosed with physical and mental learning needs.

Her years-long endeavor started in high school, fueled by what she saw as malicious attacks on the boys and girls whose impediments made them targets of harassment. They were teased and bullied because of how different they looked and spoke. Some were called “stupid,” while others were called “lazy.” Villarreal was not one to stand idle and watch. She felt the instinct to charge to their defense. It was the right thing to do, no doubt, and it came as second nature.

Both her parents served in the military, which is how Villarreal inherited their values and sense of duty. Standing up for the rights of others, and advocating for kids with disabilities became her mission ever since her time as a student at Lyman Hall High School.

“I realized this is what I’m going to be good at. I want to be a teacher,” she said. “I want to help and stick up for these kids that need me.”

At Southern Connecticut State University, where Villarreal is currently an undergraduate, her fieldwork in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy puts her side-by-side teaching children with autism. Under the guidance of an accredited therapist, she develops individualized lesson plans focused on improving her client’s interpersonal behavior and learning skills.

At the same time, for the last two years, Villarreal has been serving part-time in the Connecticut Army National Guard, attached to the aviation unit of the 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group. Joining the National Guard was her way of fulfilling her patriotic duty and honoring her parents’ service. The pay isn’t much, she admits, so to make ends meet, she supplements her income from the army and therapy by working a few days a week at the neighborhood PetSmart.

Up until the second week of March, she was living paycheck-to-paycheck. But the 23-year-old single mother, the sole breadwinner with a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, was unprepared for the public health pandemic sweeping across the country.

A crisis loomed on the horizon.

On March 8, Governor Ned Lamont announced the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. The dominos fell right after with COVID-19 infections popping up in counties throughout the state.

Southern Connecticut State University closed its campus, opting to deliver the curriculum online for the next semester, which pushed Villarreal’s fieldwork courses from the spring term to the fall. It also pushed back her graduation date to later in the year.

One by one, her primary sources of income started drying up. The National Guard reduced her service hours, and with that, a drop in her monthly paycheck. Parents of her clients canceled ABA therapy sessions for the foreseeable future. And a number of part-time employees at PetSmart, including Villarreal, were furloughed.

Her life was upended in a matter of weeks. “How am I going to pay rent?” she asked herself. “How am I going to put food on the table?”

Sleepless nights beget sleepness nights. Alone and caring for her daughter with limited resources at her disposal, Villarreal was overcome by a cruel mixture of stress and depression. Standing amongst the throngs of people waiting in line at the local food bank one day, Villarreal felt she had hit rock bottom.

“I felt like a bad mom because I wasn’t able to provide,” she said. “No mom wants to feel that way.” As her finances started dwindling, Villarreal had her reasons for hesitating in asking for help.

“In my mind, I’ve always done everything by myself,” she said while ticking off a list of life decisions she made independently of others from enlisting in the army and working multiple jobs to paying for her bills and education.

By the time she contacted the Gary Sinise Foundation at the end of March seeking financial assistance, Villarreal said her situation was making her “drown with worry.”

“I put in all my effort to try to make the best life for my daughter and me that I can. I felt like it was all about to go down.”

To keep her afloat, the Foundation paid two months of her rent through the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service fund. Villarreal also received a Walmart gift card to cover the costs of groceries and other out of pocket expenses, such as buying diapers.

“The foundation literally changed my life,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have made it without them.” In a matter of days after receiving help from the Foundation, Villarreal has experienced an about-face in her life.

No more waiting in line at the food bank with her fingers crossed that staples such as milk and eggs will be available, and more importantly, not past their expiration date. No more stressful days and sleepless nights that mired her for weeks on end.

Renee Villareal's daughter, Natalie, smiling up at the camera
Renee Villareel’s daughter, Natalie, who will be three in September.

“It’s scary to think that I could have lost everything I’ve worked so hard for,” she said about being embarrassed and afraid to ask for help. In short order, she and her daughter, Natalie, have become glued at the hip.

“I’m able to really take advantage of my time now and just catch up with myself,” she said about having time to relax and read a book or take Natalie outdoors to go fishing and to the park.

When Villarreal graduates this fall, she will be among a growing number of professionals nationwide who are entering an in-demand occupation. Projections from the Connecticut Department of Labor show a dearth of special education teachers at the primary and secondary school levels. Increasing numbers of children over the years have been diagnosed with a physical or mental disability that adversely affects their ability to learn in the classroom, explained Villarreal.

In the 2015-16 school year, more than 70,000 students in kindergarten to 12th grade in the state of Connecticut required special education. That number has since ballooned in the last five years to well over 79,000 students representing 15.6% of the state’s student population.

Despite the uncertainty of what lies ahead for her and Natalie with the state yet to see a bend in its curve of coronavirus cases, Villarreal remains focused on becoming a special education teacher.

20 US Veterans, Aged 28-92, to Skydive at the National WWI Museum and Memorial this Veterans Day

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In commemoration of Veterans Day, the National WWI Museum and Memorial serves as a fitting place to honor those who have served — and continue to serve — our country. To recognize these men and women, admission to the Museum and Memorial is free for veterans and active duty military personnel from Saturday, Nov. 7 through Sunday, Nov. 15. General admission for the public is half-price on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11.

A “Legacy Jump” will kick off the Nov. 11 Veterans Day activities at 6:30 a.m. CT Led by Purple Heart Recipient, former Navy SEAL and extreme sports enthusiast, Ryan “Birdman” Parrott, the “Legacy Jump” will feature an All Veteran Group parachute team who will tandem skydive a veteran from each war – World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan War & Iraq War, as well as Sept. 11 – and land on the Museum and Memorial’s North Lawn. The veterans range in age from 28 to 92.

Parrott will cap off the jump with a symbolic WWI Soldier & “Missing Man” BASE Jump from the 217-foot Liberty Memorial Tower in honor of POW-MIAs and a war that is talked about infrequently. The “Legacy Jump” will bring together generations of veterans, including news host Pete Hegseth, to raise funds and awareness for veteran and first responder causes through the Bird’s Eye View Project.

“We’re excited to host this special ‘Legacy Jump’ on Veterans Day,” says Dr. Matthew Naylor, president & CEO of the National WWI Museum and Memorial.  “We are proud to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country.”

Additionally, the Museum and Memorial will offer a wide variety of events throughout Veterans Day. A free, public Veterans Day Ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. CT in the Memorial Courtyard with a keynote address from Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas will deliver a special reading. This year’s abbreviated ceremony, along with all other Veterans Day special events, will be held outdoors with social distancing and masks to ensure the public can celebrate our veterans safely.

Following the ceremony, at 11 a.m. CT, locally-based Cars 4 Heroes will be giving away 11 vehicles to veterans on the North Lawn. The bi-annual Walk of Honor dedication ceremony takes place at 2 p.m. CT, followed by a special outdoor performance from the Kansas City Symphony. Their Mobile Music Box will be on the Southeast Lawn from 3 – 5 p.m. CT.

Support for Veterans Day is provided by Jackson County Executive and County Legislators and Weather or Not.

VETERANS DAY ACTIVITIES: Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020

LEGACY JUMP

When: 6:30 a.m. CT

Where: National WWI Museum and Memorial, North Lawn

What: Organized by the Bird’s Eye View Project and led by Purple Heart Recipient, former Navy SEAL from Team 7 and extreme sports enthusiast, Ryan “Birdman” Parrott. An All Veteran Group parachute team will tandem skydive a veteran from each war – World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan War & Iraq War, as well as Sept. 11 – and land on the Museum and Memorial’s North Lawn. Parrott will cap off the event with a symbolic WWI Soldier & “Missing Man” BASE Jump from the 217-foot Liberty Memorial tower.

VETERANS DAY CEREMONY

When: 10 a.m. CT
Where: National WWI Museum and Memorial, Memorial Courtyard
What: Join us for a moving ceremony honoring our nation’s veterans with a keynote address from Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Mayor Quinton Lucas will deliver a special reading. This year’s abbreviated ceremony will be outdoors to ensure we can celebrate our veterans safely. Please dress warmly, practice social distancing and wear a mask. FREE to the public.

LIVING HISTORY VOLUNTEERS

When: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. CT
Where: National WWI Museum and Memorial, Memorial Courtyard and Paul Sunderland Bridge
What: History is brought to life with our Living History Volunteers who will be available for social distanced pictures. FREE to the public.

CARS 4 HEROES CEREMONY

When: 11 a.m. CT
Where: National WWI Museum and Memorial, North Lawn
What: For 24 years, Cars 4 Heroes has provided free, basic, reliable transportation to Veterans, First Responders and their families, that otherwise are not able to obtain transportation for themselves. Join us for a moving ceremony as the organization hands over the keys of 11 cars to deserving individuals.

WALK OF HONOR DEDICATION CEREMONY

When: 2 p.m. CT
Where: National WWI Museum and Memorial, Memorial Courtyard
What: More than 100 new Walk of Honor granite bricks will be dedicated during a special ceremony. The Walk of Honor is divided into three sections: bricks dedicated solely to those who served in World War I; bricks dedicated to veterans of any military service; and bricks that honor civilian friends, family or organizations. Walk of Honor bricks are dedicated twice each year during Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. FREE to the public.

KANSAS CITY SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE

When: 3 – 5 p.m. CT
Where: National WWI Museum and Memorial, Southeast Lawn
What: At a time when audiences cannot visit indoor venues, the Symphony is taking the music on the road to reach music lovers and families in every corner of the metropolitan area. Kansas City Symphony’s new outdoor stage on wheels, the Mobile Music Box, will be on the Museum and Memorial’s Southeast Lawn for a 3 p.m. CT performance. FREE to the public.

About the National WWI Museum and Memorial

The National WWI Museum and Memorial is America’s leading institution dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community. The Museum and Memorial holds the most comprehensive collection of World War I objects and documents in the world and is the second-oldest public museum dedicated to preserving the objects, history and experiences of the war. The Museum and Memorial takes visitors of all ages on an epic journey through a transformative period and shares deeply personal stories of courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice. Designated by Congress as America’s official World War I Museum and Memorial and located in downtown Kansas City, Mo., the National WWI Museum and Memorial inspires thought, dialogue and learning to make the experiences of the Great War era meaningful and relevant for present and future generations. To learn more, visit theworldwar.org.

About the Birds Eye View Project

The Birds Eye View Project (BEVP) uses extreme sports to raise funds and awareness for veteran and first responder charities. Veteran and former Navy SEAL, Ryan “Birdman” Parrott knew that it takes big events to make a significant impact. That’s what this is. That’s why we are here. One man’s idea of running from Dallas to Waco in 24 hours to raise $100K for charity, turned into a charity that performs over-the-top stunts to impact those who need it most – veteran and First-responders injured in the line of duty – raising funds and awareness for small charities that need help doing their awesome work.

Photo Credit: The National WWI Museum and Memorial

Veteran Launches Advanced Lifestyle Management App Called BE LUX

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BE LUX CEO headshot

The COVID pandemic has prompted people to change how they conduct their business and personal activities. 

 

More than ever, people have come to rely on mobile applications to order groceries, make appointments, and otherwise meet a wide variety of their needs.

With this in mind, Waldron McCritty, a black U.S. Navy and hospitality industry veteran, set out to revolutionize concierge services for those who want to enjoy their best-available lifestyle. He designed BE LUX, the new mobile app by Bold, Inc., to provide personal concierge service in today’s high tech world. The BE LUX lifestyle management platform will help people with everything from travel arrangements to lawn care. All they have to do is sign up for a membership, and everything will be handled by quality trained service professionals.

 

“I come from three generations of hospitality and management services, and have made it my mission to introduce to this segment the power of today’s advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence,” explains Waldron McCritty, chief executive officer of BE LUX. “I have a passion for providing great services, and BE LUX is going to help streamline that process.”

 

The company and its service platform, is a concept that occurred to Waldron while he was helping his family develop their property and hospitality businesses. He envisioned a mobile app that would help solve some of the customer services and logistics problems that they had encountered regularly. After researching and testing various alternatives, BE LUX was born.

 

Today the BE LUX app is available for download on Apple and Android devices.  Users may choose a membership level that includes a range of services that suit their personal concierge preferences. Membership levels include Basic, Premium, and Executive, with service options that span personal assistant, home services, lodging, party and events, travel, and delivery service needs.

 

Members seeking Home Services, for example, will have all of their essential needs met without having to source the specific individual service providers to perform the work. Services such as yard work, repairs, cleaning, and laundry will integrate seamlessly.  Likewise, those who choose the Executive membership level will have all of their office assistant needs addressed. BE LUX will help people save time and money by running errands, having groceries and take-out delivered, or making travel plans.

 

Five things to know about BE LUX include:

 

1.    The company that created Be Lux, Bold Inc. is a certified Black- and veteran-owned business. Waldron served eight years in the U.S. Navy.

2.    Waldron’s experience in the military prepared him for entrepreneurship. He served with the Elite Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Counter Narcotics Units as an Operations Specialist, and Coordinator.  After obtaining a degree in Industrial & Systems Engineering, he gained 15 years of professional experience in management and mobile technology.

3.    The app is currently launching in Atlanta, but will soon be available in cities around the country.

4.    Currently the services offered include restaurant and grocery delivery, package and alcohol delivery, and transportation services. Transportation services include on-demand, as well as chauffeur services. More services will follow shortly.

5.    The BE LUX platform and underlying services will focus on helping people with everything from simple chores to corporate office assistance.

 

“Everyone wants more free time and less stress, despite all the daily tasks and chores to be done,” added McCritty. “BE LUX does all this and so much more. Constant attention to a list of to-dos around the home or office can consume a lot of time and energy. Users of BE LUX can while our trained service providers ensure that everything on their list gets properly handled in a timely and professional manner. BE LUX is the app for those who want to spend more time living their life to the fullest, rather than taking care of all the little tasks that need to be done.”

man's hand holding a serving tray with white gloves on

Those interested in learning more about Be Lux can log online and watch a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmcwxEoI9tk, download the app: https://play.google.com. Please visit the website: https://beluxllc.com.

About Bold, Inc.

Bold, Inc was founded by Waldron McCritty, a black veteran whose service experience prepared him to be an entrepreneur. He spent eight years in various positions within the U.S. Navy. As a third generation concierge professional, he is tapping into new technology to help streamline this service domain. BE LUX is the revolutionary new App that offers advanced lifestyle management services. To learn more about the company and app, visit the site at: https://beluxllc.com.

CARES Act Extends VA Home Loan Options for Financial Hardship

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Young couple looking at family finance papers

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was designed to help Americans economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and to help homeowners avoid home foreclosure.

Along with the CARES Act, the VA’s Loan Guaranty Service is focused on ensuring veterans and their families facing temporary or more long-term difficulty paying their monthly mortgage understand their options.

How does this law affect my VA home loan?

If you experience financial hardship caused directly or indirectly by COVID-19, you should immediately contact your loan servicer. If you do lose income, you always have options to avoid foreclosure on your VA home loan. Your options include forbearance extension under the CARES Act.

The CARES Act allows borrowers with government-backed loans (including VA loans) to request special forbearance—an agreement between you and your mortgage servicer—where your servicer agrees to either delay payments or to accept partial payments for one or more months. The details of any forbearance agreement are between you and your servicer, which means you don’t have to call VA for permission. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a video summarizing the mortgage forbearance changes.

  • You can request a forbearance for up to 180 days without paying late fees or other penalties by simply stating you are affected financially by COVID-19.
  • If necessary, you can request up to 180 additional days of forbearance before the first forbearance period ends.
  • Your servicer cannot report delinquency if you take advantage of relief related to COVID-19 throughout the current emergency and 120 days afterward.

What does ‘up to 180 days’ mean?

Not all borrowers need 180 days. Your financial situation and ability to repay after the forbearance ends will help determine the length and terms of your forbearance agreement.

What do you need to know about forbearance?

It’s important to understand that all delayed payments covered in a forbearance period are still owed. For example:

Your monthly mortgage payment is $1,100 and you request a forbearance for three months. After the three-month forbearance, you’ll owe your mortgage servicer the $3,300 of missed payments in addition to resuming your monthly mortgage payment of $1,100.

Your servicer will try to help you reach affordability, so you must be honest about your income, savings and expenses. VA encourages you to be realistic about what you can afford and how much time you will need. If you attempt to overreport your income to keep your home, you could face an insurmountable debt and raise your risk of foreclosure. Your servicer does not have to accept partial payments unless that was part of the agreement. If you underreport your expected income to try to save money, your servicer may determine that you can’t afford your loan and may raise your risk of foreclosure.

When are my missed payments due?

This depends on your forbearance agreement. Your repayment plan could be that you make the payments all at once, if you are financially able, or spread payments out over an agreed-upon time period.

What if I can’t afford the higher monthly payments?

In this case, VA allows loan modifications. This can offset the size of your monthly payments by extending your loan out beyond your 360-month (30-year) loan, as long as your loan does not exceed 480 months from origination date. Instead of 30 years, your loan term could be 30 years plus 1 month or up to 40 years.

Keep in mind, your mortgage note is a legal document that specifically states the date of first payment. Those payments are due on the first of each month. A VA loan can be repaid early without penalty, but your mortgage note must be legally modified to adjust any of the terms mentioned above.

What if I don’t have a government-backed home loan?

  • All homeowners can use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) “Find a Housing Counselor” tool to find counseling agencies approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in your area.
  • You can also call the HOPE™ Hotline, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (888) 995-HOPE (4673).
  • If your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, other programs may be available. As a homeowner, you can find out if your loan is owned by Fannie Mae by going to knowyouroptions.com/covid19assistance and by Freddie Mac by going to myhome.freddiemac.com/getting-help/

More information

Visit the VA home loan CARES Act webpage for more information. If you experience any issues with your home loan, you can call a VA Regional Loan Center at 1-877-827-3702. We may have additional call volume, so please be patient with us. Stay safe and remember VA is here to serve you.

Source: blogs.va.gov

How I Got Into The Best Shape Of My Life At 51

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King Cuz promotional poster

by Ellis King

Most are generally surprised to find out my actual age of 51. “How do you look so young and fit? That is a question I get often and with a grand smile I pass on the great advice I received from my father; if you take care of your body, your body will take care of you!

As a retired Navy Veteran for 26 years and spending 4 years in amateur boxing, I’ve developed my own blended fitness program that combines the physical military training with the intensity of boxing training. This approach I consider my “Ageless” workout plan consists of building and maintaining lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat to achieve a healthy body and mind.

Growing up in a large family of 6 brothers and 5 sisters in southern Georgia and whose father is a Brick Mason and Farmer, hard work and fitness came hand to hand.

Being the shortest of all my brothers and the only twin to my younger sister,  I’ve prove to myself that my strength matched their sizes and never needed their support.

During most of my tours in the Navy, I was appointed as Command Fitness Coordinator (CFC) where I’ve trained Sailors to pass a physical fitness assessment (PFA) twice a year!

I’ve developed a deep passion to continue this training after retirement and my results have been amazing!  I’m truly am at the best shape of my life!

Earlier this year I started to conduct live virtual workout sessions to support others looking to make improvements to their health regardless of their past fitness level which can be done from the comfort of their own homes.

Since COVID-19 made its entrance in 2020, the world has never been the same and now more than ever we need to make health and fitness our top priority. The truth of the matter is with a weak immune system, poor diet, and lack of exercise we’ve been a huge target of health issues before this pandemic occurred. The stakes are much higher now and we must do all we can to defeat it.

I am honored to mentor and coach others on their path to fitness success.

Learn more at www.50andfit.org

Send A Birthday Greeting To The Oldest Living World War II Vet In The U.S. As He Turns 111

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Lawrence Brooks smiling with people in background

In a week’s time, the United States’ oldest living American to have served in the Second World War is going to turn the grand old age of 111. To help him celebrate, the National World War II Museum is asking people from all around the world to send him a birthday greeting.

So what is life like for a 110-year-old? If you’re Lawrence Brooks—who in the early 1940s was stationed in the Pacific as part of the 91st Engineer Battalion—you spend lots of time doting on your five children and five stepchildren, your 12 grandkids, and an incredible 23 great grandchildren.

If you’re Lawrence, you also love celebrating your big day with others at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

On those jubilant occasions, there’s live music. There’s cupcakes. It’s a fun day for all.

But because of the pandemic, on his birthday this year Lawrence won’t be able to celebrate with lots of others.

Luckily, the museum has come up with a novel idea for Lawrence’s September 12 birthday this year: Well-wishers can send the supercentenarian a birthday card the old-fashioned way: by mail.

Lawrence, who lives with his daughter in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood, reflected on his long and interesting life to National Geographic. And he gave a few words of wisdom. Eat right. Stay healthy. Most importantly? ”Be nice to people.”

Now you know a little of Mr. Brooks’ story, perhaps it’s time to find that stash of letter paper, your fanciest pen, and celebrate by sending the veteran a card?

Here’s the mailing address you can send your birthday greeting to:

The National WWII Museum
c/o Happy 111th Mr. Brooks!

The National WWII Museum
c/o Happy 111th Mr. Brooks!
945 Magazine St.
​New Orleans, LA 70130

Happy writing! And be sure to check out the National World War II Museum’s social media on September 12 for a special birthday video.

Image source:  National World War II Museum

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

StableStrides: Why Horses are Used for Therapy for Veterans

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A man wearing a camoflauge shirt, looking at a black horse

by April Phillips, StableStrides

Horses are not only “good for the inside of a man,” but uniquely suited for mental health therapy for veterans due to both instinct and behavior.

When paired with a human, a horse will intuitively react to behavioral patterns or body language from the human. This gives insight into how a person is being perceived. Because they are prey animals, horses are constantly on the lookout for danger and respond quickly with either confrontation or flight. This instinct allows for a deeper level of intervention with a therapist that surpasses any other mental health treatment.

StableStrides is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose primary focus is mental health therapy with horses. Situated in the large military community of Colorado Springs, CO, StableStrides is uniquely positioned to serve veterans, active duty servicemembers and military families. On a mission to significantly improve the lives of people through a connection with horses, StableStrides exists because of horses and their ability to touch the lives of people.

Horses and humans share a history that goes back to ancient times and has continued to today. Their role in medicine was first prescribed by Hippocrates (460 BC-375 BC) as a form of natural movement that strengthened the body. Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine,” believed in health that united body and mind and studied treatment for trauma and mental healthcare. Since then, relationships between horse and human has been studied and incorporated into modern medical practices, both physical and mental.

The physical aspects of horseback riding are used to develop physical strength, muscle development and other physical benefits, while the relationship between horse and human is known to strengthen both mind and spirit. Today, the term Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) defines the use of the horse in recreational and medical intervention. A large portion of EAAT is focused on veterans and their healing journeys during and after service. When partnered with a horse, a veteran is asking the horse to enter into a relationship with them that requires mutual trust and some degree of vulnerability.

One veteran reflects on his mental health sessions at StableStrides by asking:

“How could they go from resting and relaxed to full alert, with a first instinct to run, then to relax again, in seconds? How they could let go of that tension and anxiety and just “be?” As a herd animal, they entrust leadership to the strongest. That leader makes the decisions for the herd for as long as it’s capable or trusted. How can a prey animal, the horse, come to trust an apex predator, a human, with their safety? What a concept. This huge, powerful animal, easily capable of killing me, that fears me because I am a predator, could come to trust and work for me because it wants to.”

As prey animals, centuries of domestication have done little to lessen the horse’s response to danger. They understand that their best chance in escaping danger is to flee. As a result, the horse’s “fight-or-flight” instinct is used for decision making. In addition, horses are extremely perceptive and communicate with body language to convey fear, anger, calm or anxiety.

In a herd, each member relies on the leaders in the hierarchy to make decisions for the safety of the herd, if that leader can be trusted. When in the absence of a herd, the horse will determine if the human is to be trusted as the leader. If not, the horse will decide on his own what is safest.

Therapists have selected horses to incorporate into therapy due to these characteristics, including what many call “mirroring of emotions”. While horses aren’t mirrors, they will often reflect their leader’s emotions. If their leader senses danger and responds with fear, so will the horse. If the horse senses calm in their leader, the horse will likewise be calm, trusting their leader’s instinct. In mental health therapy, the therapist incorporates the horse and the relationship between veteran and horse for a dynamic and therapeutic environment. Through the horse’s reactivity, a veteran and therapist are able to examine and process behavioral reactions or emotional incongruencies. This requires the veteran to be present and mindful as to what is unfolding, and to be transparent about reactions.

Many organizations such as StableStrides exist for the horse-human connection and improve lives through EAAT. Through a connection with horses, mental health therapy strengthens families and individuals. Because of the horse’s unique qualities and instincts, incorporating horses into mental health allows for a therapeutic intervention that surpasses any other form of mental health therapy.

Photo Credit: Amy May Images 

 

 

 

Financial Resources Available During the Pandemic

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An army soldier standing with his wife, speaking to a doctor.

In light of the public health crisis brought about by COVID-19, many Americans across the country have seen their lives suffer. Veterans and military families are no exception and have experienced both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

The Veterans Administration (VA) has adjusted its operations and existing programs during the COVID-19 outbreak, but veterans’ benefits and services should not be affected. Veterans will continue to receive their benefits and survivors will continue to be provided.

However, more help is available for veterans in need of financial assistance as a result of the pandemic.

VA Compensation and Pension Benefits

Tens of thousands of veterans can access VA benefits. But during the pandemic, VA has changed how it administers and processes these benefits. For their safety and security, especially for those with underlying health conditions, all 56 regional VA offices are closed to the public for in-person services.

Compensation and disability evaluations usually done in person are currently evaluated electronically, via “tele-C&P” exams, virtual-tele-compensation and pension. Regional offices continue to operate, but now communications with health care providers, which determine how much money veterans can get, are being made via computer.

There is a significant backlog of these benefit cases and the pandemic added to it, delaying access to health care and other benefits. Veterans can wait more than 125 days for a decision. “These benefits are worth tens of millions of dollars to veterans amid the pandemic,” informs Gregory Cade, an attorney at Environmental Litigation Group P.C., a community toxic exposure law firm in Alabama.

During the pandemic, VA makes it possible for veterans to submit late claims and appeals, alongside requests for extensions on submissions.

Exceptionally, the appeals for veterans diagnosed with COVID-19 will be expedited.

VA Caregiver Support

Veterans in need of home-based care and their families are eligible to receive money to cover various necessary services by participating in the Veteran Directed Care program.

The CARES Act has made special provisions to help veterans in need of home-based care navigate the uncertain path ahead. During the pandemic, no in-home visits will be required and they can enroll or renew their participation in the program through telehealth or telephone.

Veterans and their caregivers who can’t get to the post office or a printer due to COVID-19 will not be penalized for sending in late paperwork. Also, their caregiver can still be paid for services, even if they are out of their home state and can’t travel due to COVID-19 restrictions and health concerns.

Other Military-Focused Efforts

A good starting point for veterans who suffer from COVID-19’s economic impact would be their branch’s relief organization, such as the Air Force Aid Society (AFAS) or Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.

Also, veterans and their families can get help for expenses not covered by current military support systems from several organizations:

  • The Red Cross works in conjunction with military relief societies to provide help.
  • Operation Homefront has a financial assistance program.
  • The Gary Sinise Foundation has a dedicated emergency Covid-19 campaign that provides financial assistance to veterans and service members.
  • PenFed Foundation has launched a COVID-19 relief fund. The program has closed after receiving over 6,000 applications in four days. But it may open again.

Additional Financial Help

Veterans who suffer from serious health conditions, such as cancer, and their immediate family members find themselves in a complicated situation during this period. This is not only because they are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 but also because they need to continue their treatment but may lack the financial resources.

Therefore, they need to know that there are other options available to them. For instance, they can access legal help. When veterans are diagnosed with any disease stemming from asbestos exposure that took place in the military, they can recover money from one or more asbestos trusts, whether they already receive benefits from the VA or not.

Also, veteran firefighters who’ve been exposed to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and suffer from kidney, testicular, pancreatic or liver cancer can seek compensation from chemical manufacturers.

There are many services available to help during this time. Veterans have served, and organizations and lawyers are available and will do all they can to serve them now, during this unprecedented and challenging period.

Environmental Litigation Group P.C. is a national community toxic exposure law firm dedicated to helping victims of occupational exposure to toxic agents, including asbestos and the PFAS in AFFF.

Empowering Veterans at the Seventh Annual Warrior Community Integration Symposium

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Sal Giunta and Clint Romesha

By Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership

The Warrior Community Integration Symposium has served as an annual gathering for the past seven years to empower communities to empower veterans, their families and caregivers.

Our team at America’s Warrior Partnership is transforming this year’s event into a free and virtual experience from August 25 – 27 that is open to all who wish to attend.

Sessions and panels will cover topics ranging from best practices for veteran-serving nonprofits to inspirational presentations from well-known veterans. Our goal is for every attendee to walk away with a greater understanding of how they can help make their community a more empowering environment for veterans.

Many presentations will focus on the transition from military to civilian life, and few individuals better embody the possibilities for veterans than our keynote speaker this year: Navy Lt. Cmdr. and NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji. Iwuji graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was deployed for a total of 15 months to the Arabian Gulf on two Naval Warships, and after transitioning to the Naval Reserves, he debuted in the NASCAR Truck Series where he had a Top 25 finish. Outside of racing and his Navy service, LCDR Iwuji owns a drag racing events company and a trucking business.

At the Symposium, Iwuji will share how he has managed the transition from active-duty service to professional sports and business management. His presentation will shine a light on the wide range of career and lifestyle choices that veterans can consider for their civilian lives. The diversity of possibilities for veterans is also reflected in the influential leaders who will introduce each event session, including:

  • Gary Sinise, Chairman and Founder, Gary Sinise Foundation
  • William McRaven, ADM (Ret.), The University of Texas at Austin, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
  • Mike Linnington, LTG (Ret.), CEO, Wounded Warrior Project
  • Douglas Petno, CEO of Commercial Banking, JP Morgan Chase & Co.
  • Harriet Dominique, Senior VP, Corporate Social Responsibility and Community Affairs, USAA
  • Catharine Grimes, Director of Corporate Philanthropy, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation
  • Mike Hall, Executive Director, Three Rangers Foundation

Medal of Honor Fireside Chat

Another session aiming to inspire attendees is a fireside chat that Fox News anchor Jon Scott will lead with Medal of Honor recipients Sal Giunta, Clint Romesha and Kyle White. Each of these men served in the U.S. Army during the War in Afghanistan, and they will share how their military experience affected the decisions they made upon transitioning to their civilian lives. Their conversation will highlight the value that veterans can bring to their communities even after their service ends.

Empowering Women Veterans

The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) will lead a panel discussion on the evolving needs of women veterans, with leaders of WWP teams ranging from Physical Health and Wellness to Government and Community Relations contributing their insights. The panel will empower community organizations to better understand how they can collaborate with women veterans to create more effective services and programs.

Veteran Purpose

Harriet Dominique of USAA will introduce a session on the importance of veteran voices, including how veterans can be leaders within the workforce and broader community. Mission Roll Call Executive Director Garrett Cathcart will moderate the discussion with former Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer, Medal of Honor recipient Flo Groberg, and LinkedIn Head of Military and Veteran Programs Sarah Roberts. The group will focus on how veterans can make their voices heard on social issues and empower their community to overcome any adversity.

Veterans in the Workplace

Multiple sessions at this year’s event will cover workplace, employment and entrepreneurship topics for veterans. Misty Sutsman Fox of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University will moderate one of the first of these sessions with a focus on helping communities build stronger entrepreneurship ecosystems. Additionally, Douglas Petno, CEO of Commercial Banking at JP Morgan Chase & Co., will introduce a panel discussion diving into the many facets involved with empowering veterans to thrive in the workplace, from initial recruitment to their long-term career progression.

The full Symposium agenda breaks down each of these panels and other sessions that will take place over the course of the week. The agenda and information on how to register to virtually attend the event at no cost are available at AmericasWarriorPartnership.org/Symposium.

About the Author

Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national nonprofit that empowers communities to empower veterans. The organization’s mission starts with connecting community groups with local veterans to understand their unique situations. With this knowledge in mind, America’s Warrior Partnership connects local groups with the appropriate resources to proactively and holistically support veterans at every stage of their lives. Learn more about the organization at www.AmericasWarriorPartnership.org.

Photo: Sal Giunta (left) and Clint Romesha

Marine Corps Marathon canceled for first time in 45-year history because of pandemic

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large group of Marine Corps marathon runners

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed yet another event for long-distance running enthusiasts.

The Marine Corps Marathon, with its picturesque course that takes runners through some of the most historic parts of Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., will not be held in person in 2020 for the first time in its 45-year history. The main event had been scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 25.

“We explored various approaches to safely execute a live event and held numerous meetings with Marine Corps leadership, local government and public health officials,” said Rick Nealis, director of the Marine Corps Marathon Organization (MCMO) in a statement. “We understand this is disappointing news for many, but we could no longer envision a way to gather together in compliance with safety guidelines.”

Race organizers will instead offer participants opportunities to register and complete distances for certification via the Marine Marathon website.

“Health and safety are our top priorities during this challenging time,” said Libby Garvey, Arlington County Board Chair. “The Marine Corps Marathon is a treasured event and tradition in our community that Arlingtonians look forward to each year. As we celebrate the race’s 45th anniversary this year, we will be enthusiastically and virtually cheering on each runner. We can’t wait to welcome these dedicated athletes and fans back to Arlington in person in 2021.”

Continue on to USA Today to read the complete article.

Indian Motorcycle Continues Support Of Veterans Charity Ride & Motorcycle Therapy Adventure To Sturgis For 2020

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two military veterans riding on a side car motorcycl with others following behind during the event

Indian Motorcycle®, America’s First Motorcycle Company, today announced its continued support and sponsorship of the sixth annual Veterans Charity Ride (VCR) to Sturgis.

This year, in addition to using the organization’s unique brand of motorcycle therapy to aid combat veterans dealing with PTSD, the veteran-operated, non-profit organization will implement a “service before self” initiative to show appreciation to first responders who have been working on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veteran’s Charity Ride uses “motorcycle therapy,” a proven remedy that provides therapeutic solutions to help fellow veterans move forward and adjust to civilian life. The 2020 ride will include 15 total veterans – nine new veterans, along with six returning veterans who will serve as mentors.

“During these extraordinary times, getting our veterans out of the house and supporting them with the liberating power of motorcycle therapy is more important than ever,” said Dave Frey, U.S. Army Veteran and Veterans Charity Ride Founder. “To be able to combine those efforts and honor our selfless and invaluable first responders during this unprecedented pandemic makes this journey even more gratifying. In light of COVID-19, we will be implementing necessary precautions to stay safe and healthy, as we come together to heal and support one another on our ride to the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.”

This year’s ride to Sturgis will start on July 29, 2020 in Moab, Utah where the group will cruise through the mountainous roads of Utah, stop in the cities of Craig and Fort Collins, Colorado and ride through some of the nation’s most scenic backroads and highways before arriving at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota on August 7, 2020. The travelers will be riding a variety of Indian Motorcycle models, outfitted with ReKluse auto clutch systems and custom-built Champion Sidecars for amputee and paraplegic veterans. The journey provides an experience for veterans to bond by implementing team-building exercises that allow riders to share stories and memories of their service during a two-week, mind-cleansing motorcycle ride.

For years, VCR has supported veterans by creating a healing atmosphere through motorcycle riding and camaraderie when stopping at several small towns to commemorate and honor our nation’s veteran heroes. This year, the event will have an added focus on lives outside of veterans, extended to first responders who have courageously held the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.  By following strict safety and sanitary guidelines, VCR will extend an additional hand out to these frontline workers by providing personal protection equipment and hosting barbecues at select tour stops.

“Our nation’s veterans and healthcare workers are an inspiration, and we’re grateful to be a part of an experience that honors their selflessness and sacrifices for our country,” said Reid Wilson, Vice President for Indian Motorcycle. “We’re honored to continue supporting the Veterans Charity Ride and are humbled by their work and positive impact on our veterans.”

The Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis was conceived and developed by veteran Army Paratrooper Dave Frey and Emmy Award-winning producer and director Robert Manciero, leveraging the therapeutic effects of motorcycle riding to create an adventure of a lifetime for wounded veterans.

To support the Veterans Charity Ride, donate, or to learn more visit IndianMotorcycle.com and VeteransCharityRide.org. Riders can also follow along on Indian Motorcycle’s social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and Veterans Charity Ride’s social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

ABOUT INDIAN MOTORCYCLE®

Indian Motorcycle is America’s first motorcycle company. Founded in 1901, Indian Motorcycle has won the hearts of motorcyclists around the world and earned distinction as one of America’s most legendary and iconic brands through unrivaled racing dominance, engineering prowess and countless innovations and industry firsts. Today that heritage and passion is reignited under brand new stewardship. To learn more, please visitindianmotorcycle.com.

ABOUT VETERANS CHARITY RIDE

Veterans Charity Ride (VCR), started by veterans for veterans, is a non-profit organization that delivers Motorcycle Therapy and additional life changing, life-saving holistic programs specifically designed to assist wounded and amputee combat veterans with their needs and the issues they deal with on a daily basis. Helping our fellow veterans through outreach, action, activities, education and follow-up is what drives our organization. The end result of our program is a healthier and happier, more capable individual, who is now living life in a much better physical and mental condition, and able to help and support other veterans to do the same. Visit veteranscharityride.org to learn more and support this worthy cause.

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Upcoming Events

  1. Veterans Legal Institute Networking & Fundraiser Event
    November 9, 2020
  2. Vietnam POW 47th Remembrance
    November 14, 2020
  3. VA Healthcare Online Summit 2020
    December 2, 2020 - December 4, 2020