Navy Veteran Receives Financial Support from the Gary Sinise Foundation in face of Foreclosure and Cancer Battles

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Allyson Petersen sitting in a hospital bed

By Brandon Black of the Gary Sinise Foundation

The first time it happened caught Kimberly Petersen off guard when she was watching her daughter, Allyson’s softball game. Seconds had passed, yet Allyson still had a blank stare, if not, unconscious look on her freckled face. Episodes like this kept repeating on and off the softball field, with each instance lasting for between 20 to 30 seconds.

Allyson, 11-years-old with long brown hair that matched the color of her piercing hazel eyes — the spitting image of her mother at that age — had something wrong going on inside of her. From what her daughter was exhibiting, it appeared to Petersen to be a type of epilepsy known as absence seizures, which are common among children.

Petersen spent eight years in the Navy as a corpsman. Her grounding in medicine came from advanced placements at clinics and hospitals. She and her “Ally” thought nothing more of the seizures. Allyson, unsuspectingly thought she was merely spacing out.

Appointments were scheduled with her regular doctor but problems arose with her insurance provider, preventing necessary scans being done. The alarm bells slowly began to ring as the length of each seizure Allyson experienced began to intensify, and were now accompanied with facial grimacing and her right-hand curling inwards during each episode. The noise finally hit a crescendo one summer evening in June 2016, when Allyson experienced several prolonged seizures in the same day, including a terrifying moment unlike anything before.

“We were out on the front deck when she collapsed on the flowers,” Petersen said of the startling scene that took place at their home in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Allyson’s body draped over the broken pots.

“I rolled her over, and she had stroke-like symptoms on the right side of her face.”

Allyson needed immediate medical attention and was soon after taken to the emergency center at Regional Hospital in Rapid City, a 30-minute drive from their home. After undergoing several tests, including a CT scan, it revealed that a tumor had massed over a section of Allyson’s brain that controls for speech and motor functions. Scared and frightened by the revelatory news, Allyson looked at her mother and said, “Am I going to die?”

Nearly 5,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed each year with a brain tumor, according to the American Cancer Society. As the second most common form of cancer in children, very few drugs exist in the marketplace to treat brain tumors, making traditional methods of radiation, chemotherapy, and invasive surgery typical medical care options that supplement clinical trials.

Days after visiting the emergency room, Allyson was admitted to the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she underwent an open craniotomy to remove the brain tumor. The procedure didn’t go according to plan.

Allyson Petersen's headshot
Allyson Tedder was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 11 years old and continues treatment to this day.

During the surgery, the pediatric neurosurgeon recognized that the tumor had embedded itself deep in the brain. In the best interest of Allyson’s quality of life — ensuring she has full ability of speaking and motor functions — the decision was made to leave a fraction of the tumor in her brain to avoid any permanent damage.

In the three months that had passed since the procedure, it was discovered that the tumor had begun to regrow. With limited treatment options, Allyson was placed in a clinical trial to mitigate further growth of the tumor. The treatments didn’t work as Allyson developed complications that resulted in her leaving the trial. Chemotherapy became the next preventive measure to quash the tumor’s growth.

“She started developing cells behind her cornea which can cause blindness and irreversible damages,” explained Petersen about the dangerous side effects Allyson experienced from the cocktail of drugs that had been pumped into her body.

Several years had gone by since Petersen and her husband divorced. She wasn’t just taking care of her sick daughter and keeping her family afloat. She was also midway through a master’s degree program. The balancing act came at a high cost.

“Even though I have good insurance,” she said, “the out of pocket expenses, the food, the hotels, gas, time away from my other kids, putting the dog in the kennel, it felt like I was robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

She and Allyson frequently commuted more than 600 miles from Sturgis to Masonic Children’s Hospital so that Allyson was able to receive critical follow ups and MRI scans each phase of her cancer treatment. Depending on how much time Petersen was able to take off from the Meade School District, where she serves as a special educator, she wasn’t left with many options.

Flying to and from Minneapolis wasn’t in the cards. Petersen would either have to book it to Minneapolis in one day or spend the night at her parent’s home in Watertown, a six-hour drive from Sturgis, before spending the next four hours getting into the city.

Bills began piling up. Those that could be paid were done in piecemeal. Other bills weren’t paid at all. Downsizing expenses and making ends meet became the survivalist mentality she and her family adopted under the sole income she was bringing in. They had no other choice. It got to the point where she had to seriously ask herself, “do I pay the credit card bill, or do I pay the water bill?”

In the pecking order of priorities, Petersen was stretching every dollar she could to ensure her children had food on the table, a roof over their heads, and that she had gas in her car. She even picked up a summer job to supplement her salary by working nearby Black Hills National Forrest at an RV resort in Spearfish, South Dakota. Yet for all that she was doing to make ends meet, she was delinquent on her monthly mortgage payments.

Five months overdue, her home loan provider gave her notice that if she were unable to pay the balance and associated late fees in full, she would face foreclosure on her home.

“I have four kids looking up to me. I can’t quit, and I can’t sit there and wallow about it and have a pity party,” she said of finding any ways to deal with her financial circumstances.

While there were plenty of times, she admits, where she broke down and cried out of sight of her children, sometimes in the car or the backyard, she was resolved to seek help. Her mother, Linda, insisted she look into the Gary Sinise Foundation as a few years ago, the organization had helped her younger brother with the purchase of a new suit for his wedding. Perhaps the Foundation could help another veteran in financial need.

Through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Relief and Resiliency program, the urgent financial needs of those like Kimberly Petersen are addressed through an initiative called heal, overcome, persevere and excel or H.O.P.E.

Petersen was hesitant at first but eventually relented, and in early February of this year, she submitted an initial inquiry seeking mortgage assistance. Within days of her submission, the Foundation’s Outreach team contacted her, requesting additional information to supplement the initial application. Not long after, she received a phone call from the Foundation with an update on the status of her application.

“She was taken aback and almost relieved of her stress,” said Nick Wicksman, who handled Petersen’s application from the start, and who was on the phone with her as the bearer of good news.

The Gary Sinise Foundation was going to cover the last four months of her mortgage and associated late fees. Petersen, having struggled tooth and nail year after year supporting her family as a single mother, was overcome with gratitude.

“She’s able to no longer worry about what is owed but to focus on the present and future by focusing on the health of her family,” said Wicksman. Had she not received financial assistance from the Gary Sinise Foundation, Petersen said matter of factly, “We would’ve lost the house.”

familytrip
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Allyson, her three brothers, and Kimberly were able to take a family trip to London in June 2019.

While they’re not out of the tunnel just yet in Allyson’s cancer treatment, they can see the light. Despite setbacks in her regiment of treatments, Allyson was able to compete on the freshman girls’ volleyball and softball teams during the school year while also participating in the school newspaper as a photographer and journalist.

She fights the fight as oral chemotherapy treatments continue as do visits to Masonic Children’s Hospital. Looking back on the last four years and thinking about the question Allyson had asked her late in the night while at the emergency center, Petersen said, “In some ways, the tumor and her cancer diagnosis have brought us closer together because we’ve learned that you don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day.”

“Between Masonic Children’s Hospital and the Gary Sinise Foundation, I know I wouldn’t have my daughter.”

Armed Forces Bank and U.S. Army Working Together to Employ Veterans

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two business people shaking hand during meeting

Armed Forces Bank (AFB), a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907, today announces a new partnership with the U.S. Army Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) Program. Working together with PaYS, Armed Forces Bank will guarantee soldiers an interview and possible employment after serving in the Army.

The PaYs program is a strategic partnership between the U.S. Army and a cross section of corporations and public sector agencies. The program provides America’s soldiers with an opportunity to serve their country while they prepare for their futures. PaYS partners promise soldiers five job interviews, job mentoring, and the potential for employment as they return to civilian life.

To celebrate this partnership, Armed Forces Bank will hold a ceremonial signing on Thursday, August 18, at 3 p.m. at the Fort Leavenworth branch (320 Kansas Ave). Members of the media are invited to attend, but advance clearance is required. Key U.S. Army and Armed Forces Bank representatives will be on hand for the ceremony, which will include the singing of the national anthem, remarks by 1st Lieutenant Caleb Plug from the U.S. Army, a plaque presentation, flag salute and refreshments.

U.S. Army Captain Micah Robbins will be signing the Memorandum of Agreement along with Jodi Vickery, EVP and Director of Military Consumer Lending for AFB. U.S. Army General Robert Arter, former Board Member for Armed Forces Bank and retired Commanding General of the Sixth United States Army, will also be in attendance. General Arter’s military awards and decorations are extensive. They include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Cluster), the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart.

The Fort Leavenworth ceremony location is significant, as it is the oldest active U.S. Army post west of the Mississippi River. Established in 1827, the military base has devoted more than 190 years of service to the nation.

“Our partnership with PaYS is a natural extension of our longstanding commitment to support the distinct needs of military service members and their families,” said Paul Holewinski, President & CEO of Armed Forces Bank. “We’re honored to join forces with the U.S. Army to connect soldiers with the business community, as they return to civilian life.”

Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 service members exit the military, often with uncertainty about transitioning into the civilian workforce and without a defined career path. Soldiers who participate in the PaYS program gain valuable leadership, professional and technical skills, as well as experience and confidence, as they pursue career opportunities. In addition, service members gain access to employment possibilities with organizations that understand the value of their military service. In turn, PaYS provides employers with a pool of highly skilled, motivated and responsible candidates from which they can fill their personnel needs. The PaYS partnership provides a win-win situation for all.

Armed Forces Bank also is proud to work alongside U.S. Army Recruiters, Army National Guard Recruiters and local ROTC programs through PaYS to send the message of staying in school, setting goals, choosing appropriate friendships, leading a values focused life and staying off drugs. Granting employment interviews gives AFB the opportunity to mentor soldiers and newly commissioned officers on resume/interview skills and building better qualifications as they transition to private employment. Often, this will be the soldier’s first experience with interviewing in the private sector.

Armed Forces Bank’s Longstanding Military Commitment

With its headquarters in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Armed Forces Bank has been dedicated to serving military service members and their families for more than 115 years. Approximately 75% of AFB associates have some type of military affiliation either by spouse, retired themselves or their children. AFB, and its sister bank, Academy Bank, currently employ 22 veterans of the armed forces and 57 spouses of active or retired members of the armed forces.

AFB’s dedication to the military includes many leadership initiatives and awards:

  • AFB is a founding partner of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership. MSEP connects military spouses with hundreds of partner-employers committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses for long-term, portable careers with advancement opportunities.
  • AFB is a leader within the S. Army’s Training with Industry (TWI) program, a yearlong training program with AFB for one Officer and one Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army Finance and Comptroller Corps. The TWI program is designed to take selected officers out of the military environment and expose them to the latest commercial business practices, organizational structures and cultures, technology development processes and corporate management techniques.
  • For each of the last eight years, AFB also has earned the “Military Saves Designation of Savings Excellence” by the Association of Military Banks. The program helps service members and their families save money, reduce debt, and build wealth.
  • AFB was named “Distinguished Bank of the Year” for 10 of the last 11 years by at least one branch of the military. Nominated by the Command Leadership at military installations around the country, the award recognizes AFB’s leadership in serving military service members and their families with a vast array of banking services, installation support and financial education. In 2019 and 2020, the Department of the Army and Navy recognized AFB. In 2021, AFB received 13 nominations from the Army, Navy and Air Force with the award ceremony to be conducted at the end of August 2022.
  • AFB was named the official financial services partner for A Million Thanks, a national organization that collects and distributes letters of support and thanks directly to active duty, reserve and veteran military men and women around the world.

“As a spouse of a 20-year Army veteran, I understand the importance of stepping up and providing service members with an interview and the potential for employment,” said Jodi Vickery, EVP and Director of Military Consumer Lending for AFB. “Transitioning from the military is not easy and our partnership with PaYS is an important way to actively express our gratitude for the many sacrifices military men and women endure.”

Armed Forces Bank offers a variety of exciting career paths in the fast-growing banking and financial services industry. Serving both active and retired military, as well as civilian clients around the world, AFB values former service members as employees. AFB provides a wide variety of training, development and mentorship programs for veterans across the company.

“The best way to honor a service member is to hire one,” adds Tom McLean, SVP and Regional Military Executive for Armed Forces Bank. “We thank our Armed Forces for protecting our freedoms. There’s no place else where people can dream such big dreams and reach their goals. Our business and our country will only improve by employing more military veterans.”

About Armed Forces Bank

Armed Forces Bank (AFB), founded and headquartered in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907. With 23 locations, Armed Forces Bank has more on-installation locations than any military bank in the country. Armed Forces Bank provides affordable, personal and convenient banking and financial services to both active and retired military, as well as civilian clients in all 50 states and around the world. AFB has $1.2 billion in assets and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dickinson Financial Corporation, a $3.5 billion bank holding company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. AFB’s sister bank, Academy Bank, is a full-service community bank with over 70 branch locations in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. For more, visit www.afbank.com. Member FDIC.

About the Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) Program

The Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) Program is a strategic partnership between the U.S. Army and a cross section of corporations and public sector agencies. The Program provides America’s soldiers with an opportunity to serve their country while they prepare for their future. For more, visit https://www.armypays.com

Armed Forces Bank Launches “Militarily Speaking” Podcast Series Dedicated to Helping the Military Community Navigate Finances and Military Life

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side view of four Armed Forces service members

Armed Forces Bank (AFB), a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907, today announced the launch of its biweekly “Militarily Speaking” podcast series, which is dedicated to helping the military community navigate finances, as well as military life overall.

Militarily Speaking shares stories and offers insights about both good and bad financial practices, as well as strategies to help service members get ahead. The podcast discusses military benefits members should take advantage of to become more financially independent. Topics highlight resources that help service members prepare for important milestones, such as Permanent Changes of Station (PCS) moves and the eventual transition to civilian life.

At the end of each episode, the podcast concludes with its “Military Minute,” a guessing-game segment featuring military history, military facts and pop culture. Correct answers by listeners result in cash prizes, as well as a donation to a charity of the winner’s choice.

“We’re excited to share amazing stories and provide a force for opportunity, security and success for our military community,” said Paul Holewinski, CEO of Armed Forces Bank. “The podcast features inspiring leaders who offer solutions that give our military men and women financial and personal advantages for lifelong success.”

Militarily Speaking is hosted by Tom McLean and Jodi Vickery, two AFB executives with deep experience supporting military banking locations and their service members around the country (click here for bios). Tom and Jodi provide wisdom and wit as they conduct in-depth conversations with thought-leaders on key issues affecting the military community. Guests include:

  • Dan Bozung, author of This Civilian S**t is Hard, a book offering helpful advice on making the transition from a military career to civilian life. Bozung enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997, and then became a naval pilot. He left active duty in 2005 and eventually graduated from Harvard Business School, only to find his transition to civilian life challenging. Bozung persevered and has words of wisdom to impart.
  • Danielle Adams, is a real estate agent for the MilHousing Network, which understands the journey, joys and challenges of moving as a military family. Adams is a military spouse and went through a PCS move during the pandemic.
  • Melanie Aguto, VA loan specialist. VA Loans are a $0-down mortgage option issued by private lenders and partially backed, or guaranteed, by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Eligible borrowers can use a VA loan to purchase a property as their primary residence or refinance an existing mortgage. Aguto is a VA loans specialist with over 27 years of experience.
  • Shauna Fleming is founder of A Million Thanks, a national nonprofit organization that collects and distributes letters of support and thanks directly to active duty, reserve and veteran military men and women. The organization also provides higher education scholarships to their children. Fleming founded A Million Thanks in 2004 when she was 15 years old.
  • Tim Ney is executive director of the Armed Services YMCA, which provides innovative, interactive programs and services designed especially for junior-enlisted service members, their spouses and their children—all who sacrifice so much for us and our country. Ney is a retired, decorated Marine who has dedicated his life to serving others.
  • Kim McCallister-Young is co-director of Military Saves, which seeks to motivate, support, and encourage the entire military community to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. McCallister-Young is a proud Air Force veteran and active-duty Army wife.

“Our podcast guests offer insights and ingenuity to service members providing them with resources to adapt to life changing situations and emerge even stronger than before,” said Tom McLean, SVP and Regional Military Executive for Armed Forces Bank.

Militarily Speaking is available on popular podcast platforms, including Audible, Spotify, Amazon Music and Blubrry, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. The podcast lasts 25 to 30 minutes and airs live every other week on Wednesday evenings, with the first podcast having aired on April 6. Recordings of the podcast are posted and may be listened to at no cost. Episodes are also available on Armed Forces Bank’s website (www.afbank.com/media/category/podcast), which includes a summary of each episode.

Armed Forces Bank’s Long-Standing Military Commitment

With its headquarters in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, AFB has been dedicated to serving military service members and their families for more than 110 years. Approximately 75% of AFB Associates have some type of military affiliation either by spouse, retired themselves or their children.

“At Armed Forces Bank, we celebrate the contributions and sacrifices made by military families. As the spouse of a 20-year Army veteran, that hits home,” said Jodi Vickery, EVP and Director of Military Consumer Lending for Armed Forces Bank. “Our podcast gives us another important way to actively express our support and gratitude for the many sacrifices military men and women endure.”

About Armed Forces Bank

Armed Forces Bank (AFB), founded and headquartered in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907. With 23 locations, Armed Forces Bank has more on-installation locations than any military bank in the country. Armed Forces Bank provides affordable, personal and convenient banking and financial services to both active and retired military, as well as civilian clients in all 50 states and around the world. AFB has $1.2 billion in assets and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dickinson Financial Corporation, a $3.5 billion bank holding company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. AFB’s sister bank, Academy Bank, is a full-service community bank with over 70 branch locations in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. For more, visit www.afbank.com. Member FDIC.

Veteran Kayla Blood Takes on Monster Jam World Finals® in Soldier Fortune®

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Kayla Blood in soldier uniform smiling

A mom, Monster Jam® driver and military veteran, Kayla Blood is a force to be reckoned with. She proudly served in the Louisiana Army National Guard for six years and now brings her tenacity to the dirt, competing in Monster Jam competitions around the world.

Kayla competes in Soldier Fortune®, a camo-clad, tank-inspired Monster Jam truck dedicated to the thousands of men and women in the U.S. Military around the world. During her six years of service in the Louisiana National Guard, Kayla served full-time in Force Protection. Just as her unit received word of deployment to Afghanistan, Kayla learned she was pregnant with her son and had to stay home in Louisiana. While she wanted to serve overseas, her son is her greatest blessing, and the Guard helped lead her to so many great experiences.

Kayla is also the first female National Guard veteran driver for Monster Jam, crashing through glass ceilings as she competes in a male-dominated sport. Kayla never turns down a competition, and her signature move if an attempt goes awry? Military pushups on the wreckage.

“I want to win fair and square,” says Kayla on competing against men. “I love being able to show little girls watching that they can do whatever they set out to do and to never back down from a challenge.”

Kayla Blood took her fiercely competitive talents to Monster Jam World Finals®, the series marquee event, which took place in Orlando May 21-22, 2022. Each year, Monster Jam World Finals highlights the best of the best in Skills, Racing, High Jump and Freestyle competitions. Drivers pull out their best moves and risk it all for the championship title.

“It’s truly an honor to drive Soldier Fortune in competitions around the world and to have done so at Monster Jam World Finals,” says Kayla. “Representing the brave men and women who have served the United States is a something I take great pride in doing.”

For more information on Monster Jam World Finals and Kayla Blood, visit MonsterJam.com/WorldFinals.

Can soldiers consume CBD energy drinks?

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U.S. Soldier drinking Rockstar beverage with hemp leaves in the background

by Sarah Sicard, MilitaryTimes

Rockstar has become the latest in a string of energy drink companies to add a hemp-infused beverage to their offerings, so consumers can chill out while they rage.

But soldiers beware, these drinks have a slim chance of causing you to pop positive on a drug test.

“A single use of some hemp products may result in a positive drug test result for THC,” Matt Leonard, Army spokesperson, told Military Times.

“[Regulation] AR 600-85 prohibits soldiers from using products made or derived from hemp, including CBD, regardless of the product’s claimed or actual THC concentration and whether such product may be lawfully bought, sold, or used in the civilian marketplace,” Leonard said.

Hemp plants contain more cannabidiol (CBD) than cannabis, which contains more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Although it’s unlikely, there’s no guarantee that hemp or CBD users will avoid showing positive for THC, which is what the Army tests.

“No test currently exists to identify the source of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a urine sample to determine if it was derived from illegal marijuana, or other products such as hemp energy drinks or Cannabidiol (CBD) infused products,” Leonard added.

“Hence, to protect the integrity of the Army’s drug testing program the only type of hemp products authorized within the Army Substance Abuse Program, Army Regulation (AR) 600-85 are those used as a durable good (eg. rope or clothing).”

So soldiers should avoid the hemp, unless you’re taking up twine-braiding or decide go on a hippie handmade hemp clothing bender. But it seems easy enough to abstain. These drinks aren’t exactly designed to keep the average soldier awake on duty.

Rockstar Unplugged, which comes in three flavors — blueberry, passion fruit and raspberry cucumber — isn’t meant to keep an exhausted person alert.

Click here to read the complete article posted on Yahoo!News.

Arkansas veterans honored as motorcyclists travel cross country

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motorcyclists honor veterans in Arkansas

By Jade Jackson, THV11

RUSSELLVILLE, Arkansas — A large American flag hung by the local fire department blows with the wind as motorcyclists ride over a hill to the River Valley Veterans Memorial Park in Russellville.

They are riding as part of ‘Run for the Wall’, and are stopping to rest and eat at the memorial park along their journey. ‘Run for the Wall’ is an annual motorcycle ride in the United States that features parades around the country supporting Veterans and patriots traveling from Ontario, California to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.

They ride across the country to remember those Veterans missing in action, killed in action, or others who are prisoners of war.

Their ride through Arkansas counts as day 5 for them traveling from the West Coast to the east. While resting, they also honored the veterans remembered at the memorial.

“It’s the longest and hardest ride through the entire journey. We have a lot of miles to put in,” said Christina Roulston, the Arkansas state coordinator for ‘Run for the Wall’.

Roulston said the stop in Russellville is a new one. They usually stop for lunch in Coal Hill, Arkansas but the usual organization they work with has veterans who are aging and dealing with health problems. So unfortunately they weren’t able to feed them this year.

Click here to read the full article on THV11.

New Minnesota Veterans Law promises to ‘protect and support’ those who served

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A man wearing appearing with half civilian clothing and the other half of a military uniform

By Dana Thiede, Kare 11 NBC

Vowing to make good on Minnesota’s duty to “protect and support” those who have served in the military, Governor Tim Walz on Tuesday signed the new state Veterans Bill into law.

The legislation, which passed through both the House and Senate nearly unanimously, was written to end and prevent future veteran homelessness, fund veterans’ homes and cemeteries around the state, and award bonuses to Gold Star families who have sacrificed while their loved ones were serving.

“This bill makes good on our duty to protect and support our veterans during and after their service – and it demonstrates that we can come together in a bipartisan way to honor the sacrifices of our veterans and their families,” said Governor Walz in a released statement. “As a 24-year veteran of the National Guard, this is a bill that’s close to my heart. I know that this is going to have a real impact for our veterans and I’m proud to sign it into law.”

The new Veterans Law includes:

  • $5.4 million that will fund a grant to provide assistance to veterans and former service members and their families who are homeless or in danger of homelessness.
  • $1.7 million annually to fund temporary housing options for vets experiencing homelessness and to increase outreach activities to end homelessness.
  • $10.3 million in fiscal year 2022 and $16.5 million in 2023 for the design, construction, furnishing, and equipping of new veterans homes to support vets in Bemidji, Montevideo, and Preston, Minnesota.
  • Nearly $25 million in fiscal year 2023 to fund service bonuses to post 9/11 era vets and Gold Star families.

“Minnesota’s more than 304,000 Veterans know that their voices were heard and their service honored with the historic passing of this first-ever Veterans Omnibus Bill,” said Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke.

Along with support for Minnesota’s veterans, the new Veterans Law also provides $4 million for enlistment incentives designed to retain trained and ready members of the Minnesota National Guard over fiscal years 2023-2025.

Click here to read the full article on Kare 11 NBC.

Military Makeover: Meet Our New Military Makeover Family

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Military couple pose together with red white and blue cutain backdrop with a Military Makeover logo inserted above left

On our special milestone 30th Military Makeover, we are proud to be honoring not one, but two deserving veterans on our upcoming season, and a love story unlike any we’ve told before!

Childhood sweethearts, Justin and Kristie Ziegler, first met in 8h grade in South Florida. Fast forward to the 10th grade, Justin joined the same cheerleading team Kristie was already a part of, they ended up spending hours and hours training together. The team’s coach noticed the chemistry and encouraged them to go on a date together. The couple have been together ever since – supporting one another through each of their hardships and challenges, and even decided to join the Air Force together.

Justin and Kristie married just before Kristie left for basic training in 2003. They were stationed together at Travis Air Force Base in California.

Staff Sergeant Justin Ziegler was assigned to the 60th CES Wing as a Fire Protection Technician. He was soon deployed to Afghanistan to support “Operation Enduring Freedom”. Justin was immediately responsible for the safety of over 2000 troops, as well as over $750 million worth of Aircraft.

Justin’s duties as a Lead EMT and Crew Chief within the fire department, whether on deployment or at Travis Air Force Base, involved being a 1st Responder to medical emergencies which often resulted in encountering traumatic and stressful events; from car accidents and cardiac arrests, to shootings, house fires and wildland fires. Being a first responder to all medical emergencies, including suicides of fellow troop members, took a heavy toll on Justin and opened his eyes to the crippling levels of stress, trauma and PTSD that military service members experience.

Senior Airman Kristie Ziegler quickly emerged as a rising star and natural leader after completing her formal training as a Dietary Technician, and was awarded Airman of the year in 2006 for her dedicated service. When Kristie deployed to Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan her role would change dramatically, providing treatment to soldiers wounded in battle, as well as local civilians who had been wounded or hurt. One of the hardest and most heartbreaking struggles of her career was treating young children who had been injured in bombings; witnessing sights no human on this planet should ever be forced to endure.

Life as a young married couple together in the military was challenging for Justin and Kristie, with deployments separating them from one another for long periods, and both witnessing many tragic events and loss of life. While they still struggle with PTSD, the support and love they give one another has provided the foundation for a loving home for their two children and pets.

For our landmark 30th Military Makeover, and with the support of our devoted partners, we cannot wait to provide a “forever home” for two heroic and deserving military veterans!

Tune in to Military Makeover Thurs. & Fri. at 7:30 a.m. (ET/PT)

The before and after photos will be posted after the Big Reveal, so you will see the family reaction to their newly updated home. Stay tuned!

About the Hosts

Montel Williams: Montel began his professional career in the United States Marine Corps, becoming the first black Marine selected to the Naval Academy Prep School to then go on to graduate from the United States Naval Academy. Williams earned a degree in general engineering and a minor in international security affairs and served in the military for a total of 22 years. He is best known as the Emmy Award-winning host of The Montel Williams Show, which aired nationally for seventeen years. Along with being a New York Times bestselling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Montel is a passionate advocate for veterans, education and health. He serves on the board of directors for the Fisher House Foundation and the Anne Romney Center for Neurological Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Montel is thrilled to be a part of Military Makeover, relishing the opportunity to give back to his fellow veterans.

Art Edmonds:  Art Edmonds is a TV host, spokesperson and voiceover talent with over 17 years of experience. He is currently best known as the co-host of the TV series Military Makeover.

Since the show’s inception, Edmonds teamed with the late, great R.Lee Ermey, famed character actor and veteran, to give a complete home makeover to a deserving wounded U.S. veteran and his family. Now Art serves on the series alongside talk show legend and prominent veteran advocate Montel Williams to give back to our service men and women.

Art’s prominent narration credits includes three seasons on the Nat Geo Wild top-rated series Swamp Men for three seasons, docudrama series Planet Xtreme on The Weather Channel and two seasons on the Nat Geo Wild series Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER.

Jennifer Bertrand: Jennifer Bertrand is best known as the winner of HGTV’s popular series Design Star, drawing over 5 million viewers thanks to her no-nonsense, accessible approach to making positive and impactful design changes without breaking the bank. After taking the competition by storm, Jennifer moved on to host her own show, Paint Over! with Jennifer Bertrand, featuring families in transition and in desperate need of help.

Bertrand currently is the designer on the series Military Makeover, airing on Lifetime TV, and has appeared in countless media outlets such as USA TodayThe New York Post, Rachel Ray Magazine, Life & Style Magazine, InStyle Magazine and is a frequent contributor to NBC.

Read more at MilitaryMakeover.TV

At Risk of Losing Your Home? Help Could Be a Click or Call Away.

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Financial challenges can take a serious toll on anyone, but have been especially felt by veterans in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why they remain dedicated to supporting veterans, service members and their families with resources during these difficult times.

If you or someone you know is struggling financially, you can reach out to VA for support. Overcoming financial challenges can be stressful, especially when your home is at risk. You don’t have to carry that burden alone.

Veterans Affairs home loan assistance:
Solutions to help you keep your home

Housing hardships have remained one of the top concerns for many people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have found yourself struggling to afford housing, VA’s home loan assistance may be able to help. If you fall behind on your mortgage payments, your mortgage servicer (the company that handles collecting the money for your lender) can take your house to cover the money you owe. This process is called foreclosure.

However, VA is here to help and guide eligible veterans in understanding your home retention options.

There are six general ways to avoid foreclosure:

Repayment plan: If you’ve missed a few mortgage payments, this plan lets you go back to making your regular payments, with an added amount each month to cover the ones you’ve missed.
Special forbearance: This plan gives you some extra time to repay the missed mortgage payments. At the end of the forbearance, you must repay the missed payments in full to bring the loan current.
Loan modification: This plan lets you add the missed mortgage payments and any related legal costs to your total loan balance. You and your mortgage servicer then agree upon a new mortgage payment schedule.
Extra time to arrange a private sale: If you need to sell your home, this plan lets you delay a foreclosure, so you have time to sell.
Short sale: If you owe more money than your house is worth, your servicer might agree to a short sale. This means the servicer will accept the total proceeds from the home sale (even if it’s less than the full amount you owe on the mortgage) as full payment of the debt you owe.
Deed in lieu of foreclosure: This plan lets you avoid the foreclosure process by signing over the deed to the home to your servicer. The home will then belong to the servicer.

VA loan technicians are available to answer any questions you may have about debt, VA loans and other housing financial concerns. You may also be eligible to receive VA financial counseling to help avoid foreclosure.

If you are struggling with how to make your mortgage payments, contact your nearest VA Regional Loan Center to explore your options and find solutions.

You can also contact a VA Home Loan Representative by calling 1-877-827-3702 Monday through Friday, from 8am to 6pm EST.

Other resources that can help VA also provides veterans, service members and their families with a wide range of financial literacy resources to help you better manage your money, including financial counseling.

For more information

Remember, you can always visit VA’s housing assistance site at va.gov/housingassistance.

If you want to learn more about managing your mental health, visit mentalhealth.va.gov. Here, you can explore a variety of mental health resources, information, treatment options and more. We are aware of the stress that financial challenges may cause. If you find yourself in crisis, do not hesitate to reach out for immediate help. Emergency care is available by calling 911 or going to your nearest emergency department. The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 if you are a veteran). You can also chat or text at 838255.

Source: Vantage Point Blog

What Medical Benefits are Available for Veterans and Their Families?

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Veterans and their loved ones may be eligible for health benefits and medical assistance, including the basic Medical Benefits Package for Veterans, which may include eligibility for dental and mental health benefits, as well as care for dependents and family including Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) (CHAMPVA).

What does the basic medical package for veterans cover?

All enrolled veterans receive the VA’s comprehensive Medical Benefits Package, which includes preventive, primary and specialty care, as well as diagnostic, inpatient and outpatient care services. Veterans may receive additional benefits, such as dental care depending on their unique circumstances.

To check your eligibility, visit the Basic Medical Benefits Package for Veterans program page to take a quick questionnaire, or use the Benefit Finder at benefits.gov to compare your eligibility to over 1,000 assistance programs. If you are eligible, you may also be entitled to other specialized healthcare programs including:

  • Mental Health Services: The VA provides general and specialty mental health services for treatment of a range of mental health conditions, including treatment for substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma and serious mental illness. Services are provided in the outpatient and inpatient mental health setting.
  • Dental Care: Outpatient dental treatment is available to eligible veterans and may include the full spectrum of diagnostic, surgical, restorative, and preventive procedures.

How can I apply for these benefits?

To apply, complete the VA Form 10-10EZ, Application for Health Benefits online, on the VA’s website.

What coverage is available for dependents?

Health Care Benefits for Dependents (CHAMPVA) is a comprehensive health care benefits program in which the VA shares the cost of covered health care services and supplies with eligible beneficiaries.

For your dependents to be eligible for CHAMPVA, they cannot be eligible for TRICARE/CHAMPUS, and must be in one of these categories:

  • The spouse or child of a veteran who has been rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability by a VA regional office.
  • The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who died from a VA-rated service-connected disability.
  • The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who was at the time of death rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability.
  • The surviving spouse or child of a military member who died in the line of duty, not due to misconduct (in most cases, these family members are eligible for TRICARE, not CHAMPVA).

To check your eligibility, visit the CHAMPVA program page to take a quick questionnaire, or use the Benefit Finder to compare your eligibility for over 1,000 assistance programs.

Where can I find other benefits for veterans?

Benefits.gov provides information on a variety of resources for members of the military and their families, such as housing loans, healthcare, counseling and career assistance, and you can check your eligibility using the Benefit Finder questionnaire.

Curious to learn more about available programs for veterans or other healthcare benefits? Check out our new articles about military benefits and healthcare and medical assistance on our News page.

We hope these resources will help you discover benefits you may eligible for. We encourage everyone to take time this month and throughout the year to appreciate our armed forces and their service to our country.

Source: Benefits.gov

Here’s What You Need to Know About the New Tax Laws

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The coronavirus pandemic led to some temporary changes in tax laws. Most changes apply to the general public, but some have special implications for the military community.

Even within the military, the changes will not have the same impact on everyone. So, it is important to know your circumstances and adapt to the reforms and changes in a way that reflects your finances and lifestyle.

COVID-19-related changes

Provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act may affect your 2020 federal income tax return in the following ways:
Expanded advance child tax credit: As part of the American Rescue Plan to help Americans recover financially from the pandemic, the child tax credit for 2021 was expanded to $3,600 for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 for children 6-17 years old. Eligible families will automatically receive monthly payments from July 15 through December 2021, totaling half of the credit. Families may claim the other half of the credit when filing their 2021 tax return.
Retirement account withdrawals: The 10 percent tax penalty for an early withdrawal from a retirement account has been suspended in 2020 for those who suffered financial hardship due to COVID-19.
Economic Impact Payments: You should have received a $1,200 Economic Impact Payment in 2020 ($2,400 if you are married), plus $500 for each qualifying child. If you did not, or if you received less than the amount for which you were eligible, you may claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your federal income tax return.
Charitable contributions: To encourage giving in 2020, the CARES Act allows taxpayers to deduct up to $300 in cash donations to eligible charities without itemizing the contributions.
Unemployment benefits: If you are a military spouse who received unemployment benefits in 2020, you will receive a form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments, that states your unemployment income and any income tax withheld. Be sure to report this information on your tax return.
Social Security payroll tax deferral: Social Security taxes were deferred for service members from mid-September through the end of December 2020. The deferred Social Security taxes will automatically be taken from your wages from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2021, so will not affect your 2020 income tax filing.

Key tax reforms

Picture your financial and personal events over the last year. Perhaps you are looking forward to having your first child. Maybe the ink just dried on the paperwork for your new home. Take a look at these key reforms and see if they will affect your spending and family circumstances:
Standard deduction: For tax year 2020, the standard deduction is $12,400 for singles or those who are married but filing separately, $24,800 for those who are married and filing jointly and $18,650 for those who file as the head of household.
Personal exemption deduction: Beginning in 2018, you can’t claim a personal exemption deduction for yourself, your spouse or your dependents. This may impact decisions on the itemized deductions and dependents you claim on your tax return.
Itemized deductions: Beginning in 2018, the following changes were made to itemized deductions that taxpayers can claim on Schedule A:
• Your itemized deductions are no longer limited if your adjusted gross income is over a certain amount.
• You can deduct the part of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.
• Your deduction of state and local income, sales and property taxes is limited to a combined, total deduction of $10,000 ($5,000 if married and filing separately). As a military member, your state of legal residence and the state in which you own a home will determine how much this change impacts you.
• Under the new rules, unreimbursed business expenses, including auto, travel, meals, entertainment and home office expenses, are no longer deductions.
• For debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, the deduction for home mortgage interest is limited to interest on up to $750,000 ($375,000 if you are a married taxpayer filing a separate return) of home-acquisition debt. This new limit doesn’t apply if you had a binding contract to close on a home after Dec. 15, 2017, and closed on or before April 1, 2018. The prior limit would apply in that case.
• Beginning in 2018, you cannot deduct interest on a home equity loan or line of credit unless it’s for buying, building or making substantial improvements to your home.
• The limit on charitable contributions of cash increased from 50 percent to 60 percent of your adjusted gross income. However, for tax year 2020 only, the limit is 100 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Child tax credit: With the exception of the temporary expansion of the child tax credit for tax year 2021, as of 2019, the maximum credit is $2,000 per qualifying child. The maximum additional child tax credit is $1,400. Also, the income threshold at which the credit begins to phase out is now $200,000 ($400,000 if married and filing jointly).
Credit for other dependents: A credit of up to $500 is available for each of your dependents, such as an adult child with a disability or an elderly parent who does not qualify for the child tax credit. In addition, the maximum income threshold at which the credit begins to phase out has increased to $200,000 ($400,000 if married and filing jointly).
Education: As a result of the new tax codes, you can use funds from your 529 education savings plan to pay for private K-12 educational expenses at secondary public, private or religious schools with a limit of $10,000 per student per year.
Reserve service members: Reserve service members are able to deduct unreimbursed travel expenses to attend drill duty only if it takes place more than 100 miles away from home.
Moving expenses: Members of the armed forces can still deduct moving expenses as long as the move is part of an authorized permanent change of station or PCS. If you’re voluntarily moving, you will join most other taxpayers in no longer being able to deduct moving expenses from your taxes.
Deployments to the Sinai Peninsula: If you previously served in the newly designated combat zone, you may qualify for retroactive tax benefits. If so, you’ll need to submit an amended tax return, or Form 1040X, for the year in which you were there, dating to 2015. You generally have three years from the date you filed your previous tax return to claim the refund.
Alimony or maintenance payments: If you make alimony or maintenance payments, you will no longer be able to deduct them from your taxable income, and the recipient will no longer have to claim the payments as income. This went into effect for any divorce or separation agreement signed or modified after Dec. 31, 2018.
Estate tax exemption: The estate tax exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, so an estate valued at less than the new threshold will not be taxed when the owner dies.
Investment fees: You can no longer deduct investment fees from taxes. If a major part of your financial strategy includes investments, and you have substantial investor fees, you will be paying more in taxes.
Penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage: Beginning in 2019, the penalty amount was reduced to zero.

Source: MilitaryOneSource

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Multiple Hire GI Hiring Events During June-December!
    June 21, 2022 - December 8, 2022
  4. Commercial UAV Expo Americas
    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022
  5. Department of the Navy Gold Coast Small Business Procurement Event
    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022