Mission K9’s Intercontinental Rescue Reunites Hero Dogs With Hero Handlers

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In an intercontinental rescue operation, Mission K9 Rescue — a nonprofit that finds loving homes for retired military, police, and contract working dogs — has reunited four retired military working dogs with the handlers who cared for them during their years in service. Now the dogs can have the happy retirement they deserve.

Working dogs are an integral part of the efforts that American law enforcement, military, and supporting contractors undertake at home and abroad. Sadly, however, many of these dogs end up left at kennels to suffer alone after their usefulness as high-performing working dogs has run its course. Mission K9 finds forever homes for the dogs, often with the professional handlers they had worked with, so that they may live out their retirement in peace.

In their most recent rescue mission, the organization flew three retired military working dogs to Germany, bringing one back to the United States, despite complicated travel protocols due to the pandemic. The dogs have now been reunited with their former handlers, who eagerly awaited their arrival. (Pictured: Spyk and Justin).

Mission K9’s president Kristen Maurer and vice president Louisa Kastner accompanied the dogs on their cross-Atlantic journey, reuniting them with their former handlers in person.

“This journey posed some challenges. A cross-Atlantic flight is always a big undertaking for transporting dogs, but protocols due to COVID-19 made this trip even more challenging. Nothing would stop us from giving these military dogs the retirement they deserve, though, and now they are all happily reunited with their former handlers.”

Retired Military Working Dogs: Home at Last

Military Working Dog Spyk and Handler Justin Reunited in Germany

Justin and Spyk worked together for 4 years in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Spyk has retired after 9 years of service, two deployments, and many “temporary duty travel” (TDY) assignments. Spyk and Justin developed a strong bond during their time together and are now enjoying Spyk’s retirement as a family in Germany.

Military Working Dog Syrius and Handler Debbie Reunited in Germany

Handler Debbie shares that after finishing up a Kennel Master/Trainer course, she picked up and helped transport Syrius to Tinker Air Force Base in 2015. “After arriving back to Tinker, I was given his leash. So that’s when our adventure began.”

“We ended up taking a few POTUS missions,” Debbie shares. “Those were always filled with laughter. Syrius has — and always will have — a special place in my heart.”

Military Working Dog Rango and Handler Adrian Reunited in Germany

“Rango and I were partners for 2 years and he was my first Military Working Dog,” says Adrian, who is now giving Rango the peaceful retirement he deserves. “As a Narcotic dog team we busted many cases of illegal drugs coming onto Luke Air Force Base.”

Despite being a fierce, hard worker, Adrian says Rango always acted like a puppy. After serving the Air Force for eight years, Rango was retired due to spine health issues. “Rango will be joining me in Germany and will continue to live with me for the rest of his life wherever I go, giving him the best retirement life he deserves. I still continue to serve as a K9 handler and have had 6 other dogs I’ve worked [with], but none of them gave me memories like Rango.”

Military Working Dog Vulkan and Handler Jonathan Reunited in the United States

After reuniting Spyk, Syrius, and Rango with their loving handlers in Germany, Kristen and Louisa flew back to the United States with Vulkan, so that he could go home to his former handler, Jonathan. In his career as a Military Working Dog, Vulkan had been deployed to Turkey and supported multiple United States Secret Service and Department of State missions in Europe, where he spent six years. But there will be no more hard work for Vulkan, who will be spending the rest of his life enjoying his retirement with Jonathan.

Since 2013, Mission K9 has brought over 1,000 working dogs home from abroad. Over 520 of those K9s have been reunited with their former veteran handlers. The organization has helped hundreds more with veterinary care, and have completed dozens of transports in the United States.

About Kristen: Kristen Maurer is the president of Mission K9 Rescue, an animal welfare group dedicated solely to rescuing, reuniting, rehoming, repairing, and rehabilitating American working dogs. Since 2013, the group has provided a wide array of services to working dogs in an effort to offer them a comfortable and peaceful retirement. Mission K9 focuses on retrieving dogs both from overseas and national shelter situations where they are suffering without proper care or medical attention. Their work has been featured numerous times in the national media, including appearances on “America with Eric Bolling” and “Pit Bulls & Parolees.” Learn more at MissionK9Rescue.org.

About Louisa: Louisa Kastner is the vice president of Mission K9 Rescue, an animal welfare group dedicated solely to rescuing, reuniting, rehoming, repairing, and rehabilitating American working dogs. Since 2013, the group has provided a wide array of services to working dogs in an effort to offer them a comfortable and peaceful retirement. Mission K9 focuses on retrieving dogs both from overseas and national shelter situations where they are suffering without proper care or medical attention. Their work has been featured numerous times in the national media, including appearances on “America with Eric Bolling” and “Pit Bulls & Parolees.” Learn more at MissionK9Rescue.org.

About Bob: Bob Bryant is the chief technology officer of Mission K9 Rescue, an animal welfare group dedicated solely to rescuing, reuniting, rehoming, repairing, and rehabilitating American working dogs. Since 2013, the group has provided a wide array of services to working dogs in an effort to offer them a comfortable and peaceful retirement. Mission K9 focuses on retrieving dogs both from overseas and national shelter situations where they are suffering without proper care or medical attention. Their work has been featured numerous times in the national media, including appearances on “America with Eric Bolling” and “Pit Bulls & Parolees.” Learn more at MissionK9Rescue.org.

I’m a Vietnam War Veteran. Here’s How Writing My Memoir Has Helped Me Heal

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Bill Taylor, Vietnam Veteran, dressed in suit coat smiling in a library

I fought in Vietnam for 13 months at the age of 18. After my tour in Vietnam, I returned home a changed man. And while there was nothing extraordinary about my experience compared with others who had fought, I remain changed by my experiences there.

It’s estimated that around 30 percent of Vietnam Veterans have experienced PTSD in their lifetime. The disorder, however, doesn’t have to be as a result of war; it can be caused by any traumatic experience. For veterans who have fought in wars, PTSD can be lurking just under the surface and ready to take the place of rational thought. It pushes you into an uncontrollable urge to win the perceived battle. My urges are deep-seated and come from just over a year of constant combat.

I Had to Get My Story Out 

When I came home, I knew I had an amazing story to tell. It took me nearly 50 years, but last year, I published my memoir, On Full Automatic: Surviving 13 Months in Vietnam. I always knew getting my story down on paper would be a great way to explain to those who have never fought in a war, what it’s like to actually be there. What I didn’t expect was that the whole process would be so cathartic.

Here’s How Writing My Book Has Been Healing:

I’ve Found a Way to Honor the Heroes I Knew in Vietnam

I’m not the hero in my book. People have said to me, “Thank you for your service. You are a hero in my eyes.” But I’m thinking, “I’m not the hero. The guys in my book that I wrote about are the heroes. Especially those that gave their all, they are the real heroes.” I was just a scared kid and in a lot of ways it was pure luck that brought me home at the end of my tour. Many guys weren’t as lucky.

Bill Taylor in battle uniform early Vietnam war days
Just south of the DMZ before our battle during Operation Buffalo

In writing my book, I’ve been able to tell the story of all the men I knew. Many of them lost their lives but writing about them is a way of honoring them. They are back with us forever. My story is their story, and it’s finally being told.

I’ve Helped Other Survivors Process Their Own Experiences 

So many veterans come home from war and can’t talk about it. They keep their experiences bottled up inside, where they can do real harm. But people respond to shared experiences. When I’ve talked to other vets who have been through war, our stories just come out automatically. It completes, verifies and justifies something inside us. I’ve had a lot of feedback from other vets who have read my book and feel that by telling my story, they have found healing too. In a way it’s their story, the one they weren’t able to tell themselves or to their families.

I’ve Given Those Who Weren’t There a New Understanding of War

On the flip side, many people who haven’t experienced war don’t know why the vet acts the way they do. They may see erratic behavior in a loved one and not know why their behavior has changed. I’ve also heard from a lot of readers who in reading the book finally understand. If you haven’t experienced it, you just don’t know. My book has given people the experience of being there. It has opened their eyes like never before.

I wanted people to know what happened. I wanted to get those memories out of me. And now that it’s all out in the open, it’s there for everyone to see and experience. When I’ve traveled to talk at book clubs, I’ve had some amazing experiences. At times I’ve had up to 20 people surrounding me asking questions. And that’s 20 more people that have a better insight of what veterans have been through.

I’ve Learned How to Process and Control My Own Emotions 

When I first sat down and actually wrote my book, I didn’t experience healing immediately. It wasn’t until I started going through rounds of editing that the real healing set in. The first time I edited my manuscript, I cried after each story. Then the second time, I cried. Third and fourth times the same thing would happen. But the more I edited the less I would cry. And now I can tell the stories when I speak to crowds of people and for the most part, do not have a problem anymore.

A lot of veterans attend support groups and share their stories. But for those guys who just can’t talk about it for whatever reason, writing can be very therapeutic. I’m not suggesting that everyone write a book. And grammar or spelling shouldn’t be a concern. A lot of guys are just like me; they went into the military straight from high school. But it’s about getting your story out on paper. Once it’s there you have a choice. You can save it and share it with your children or grandchildren, or you just tear it up. The important thing is that you got your story out.

Gary Sinise: Positive About Service

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Gary Sinise collage of his phots

By Brady Rhoades

When the inaugural issue of U.S. Veterans Magazine hit the stands — and the internet — Gary Sinise was on the cover.

He’s back, and for good reason.

Sinise, best known as Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump, has devoted his life to serving veterans.

What’s the author of the New York Times best-selling Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service have to say 10 years down the road?

“I’ve been honored to be featured, and it’s an honor and a pleasure to be featured again,” he said. “I did not serve. One way I can serve is by shining a light on those who do serve. U.S. Veterans Magazine does that.”

The 67-year-old husband and father of three has been busy for the past couple of years. He continues supporting veterans through the Gary Sinise Foundation, and the Illinois native moved from California to Nashville, Tenn.

“I was looking for a change, and there are so many veterans groups from that part of the country,” he said, adding that his foundation — which supports veterans and their families by building homes for wounded warriors (as part of its R.I.S.E. program), hosting day-long festivals at military medical bases and serving meals to deploying troops — is in its 11th year. “We’re poised and positive to do so much of service to the men and women of our military.”

He said he’s looking forward to Veterans Day and a salute to veterans ceremony at the National World War II museum in New Orleans, La. That week, he’ll be giving away another house to a wounded veteran, as well.

When Forrest Gump first played in theaters in 1994, Lt. Dan — Gump’s no-nonsense platoon leader in Vietnam — resonated with veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam. One oft-cited scene, which critics have called a classic in American film, involves Lt. Dan climbing to the top of the mast on Gump’s shrimping boat during a lashing storm, shaking his fist and hollering at God.

“Never once did he think that either one was going to happen, that he was going to lose his legs and also suffer PTSD and tremendous guilt,” Sinise said. “This is not an uncommon thing, and then he isolates, drowning himself in alcohol and drugs.

“That scene is an absolute metaphor for wrestling those demons… That was the story of many Vietnam veterans.

“And he wins. It’s the story of a Vietnam vet that we hadn’t seen before.”

Lt. Dan Band performs at an Invincible Spirit Festival providing respite from medical treatments for wounded warriors and their family members
The Lt. Dan Band performs at an Invincible Spirit Festival providing respite from medical treatments for wounded warriors and their family members. (Courtesy of Gary Sinise Foundation)

After the storm, Lt. Dan is seen floating on his back in the calm waters of Bayou La Batre. Later, at Gump’s wedding, he shows up with what Gump calls “magic legs.” Lt. Dan has received prosthetics. He is newly married and clearly sober and happy.

Sinise, a rock and roller from the Chicago area (he’s a lifelong Bears and Cubs fan), didn’t anticipate the attention that would come his way.

But it did, and quickly.

It was a pivot point in Sinise’s life. He said he was so deeply moved that he felt compelled to turn his emotions into action.

Around the turn of the new century, that’s what he did. One strategy he employed was to introduce himself as Lt. Dan when trying to make inroads with organizations.

“They’d patch me right through,” he joked in an earlier interview.

In time, the bass player formed the Lt. Dan Band, which has put on more than 500 concerts for veterans who get to revel for a few hours in the 13-member group’s covers of Adele, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Charlie Daniels and others.

Said one Marine, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons: “Upon returning from my first tour in Afghanistan, the loss of more brothers than I’d like to remember was taking its toll. I saw a poster that the Lt. Dan Band was performing in my area and decided to attend. I like to believe that one show kept me from doing the unthinkable. Thank you for all you do.”

Sinise’s work on behalf of the military is described in detail in Grateful American, which includes, Sinise said, “hilarious things about my childhood.”

Mostly, it’s about his transformation.

Gary Sinise with Christian Brown during a RISE home visit
Gary Sinise with Christian Brown during a RISE home visit (Courtesy of Gary Sinise Foundation)

“The book continues to sell three years later,” he said. “It’s an interesting journey from self to service.”

None other than Clint Eastwood said about the 254-pager: “The book is called Grateful American, and I promise you after you read it, you will be grateful for what Gary has accomplished and contributed to our country.”

Forrest Gump won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis) and Best Actor (Tom Hanks). Hanks and Sinise went on to team up in two other classics, Apollo 13 and The Green Mile.

“We hit it off,” Sinise said.

Hanks has joined Sinise on several occasions in efforts to benefit veterans.

“Tom’s been a good supporter of mine and what I’m trying to do,” Sinise said.

Sinise has also starred in Of Mice and Men (which he directed), Reindeer Games, Snake Eyes, Ransom, Mission to Mars, The Stand and Impostor.

In 2004, he began his first regular television series with the crime drama CSI: New York, in which he played Detective Mac Taylor. He was credited as a producer from season two onward and wrote the storyline of an episode.

In 2008, he was the narrator for the Discovery Channel’s miniseries, When We Left Earth.

Sinise was the executive producer — along with David Scantling — of the Iraq War documentary Brothers at War. The film features an American military family and the experiences of three brothers.

In 2009, Sinise narrated the highly acclaimed World War II in HD on the History Channel. In 2010, he narrated the World War II documentary, Missions That Changed the War on the Military Channel.

He has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and with the Presidential Citizen Medal — given to him by President George W. Bush for helping the military and Iraqi children.

Mona Lisa Faris and Gary Sinise standing together smiling for camera
U.S. Veterans Magazine’s publisher Mona Lisa Faris catches up with Gary Sinise at Sky Ball Foundation benefit.

But for all his fame and accolades, Sinise is that rare celebrity whose off-screen work might turn out to be his greatest legacy.

His foundation faced a major challenge when the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, ending the longest war in American history.

“That was a tragic withdrawal,” he said. “To watch the Taliban raise their flag was difficult for our military members to watch… We found ourselves reaching out to a lot of Afghanistan veterans and letting them know they have our support.”

The impact of Sinise’s foundation (garysinisefoundation.org) on the lives of veterans, first responders and their families is evident in the math.

To date, the foundation has built, modified or retrofitted 77 homes for severely-wounded heroes, dished out 771,144 meals to the nation’s defenders, donated 12,020 pieces of essential equipment to the military and first responders and provided supportive experiences and resources to 11,181 children of fallen servicemen and women.

“It is upon us to give back to our heroes to ensure they have the tools and resources to deal with their physical and invisible wounds,” he said. “It’s up to us to give them comfort. To give them support. To give them hope. I believe while we can never do enough for our nation’s defenders and the families who sacrifice alongside them, we can always do a little more.”

Military Veterans in Journalism

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Mobile news application in smartphone

In order to ensure that military veterans are covered properly, truthfully and ethically in the news, the Military Veterans in Journalism, in collaboration with News Corp Giving, the nonprofit organization, will be providing a range of resources for reporters covering military and veteran issues through an online resource portal.

MVJ will provide standards, tips, and guidance to reporters navigating sensitive topics using this portal. The organization will put together a directory of experts on such subjects as post-traumatic stress and veteran suicide. MVJ will also create a style guide with explanations on technical terms to help journalists avoid common stereotypes and tropes.

The U.S. Veterans Magazine sat down with Zack Baddorf of MVJ as he expanded upon their mission and its importance to the veteran community.

USVM: Tell us more about the mission and purpose of this new initiative and how it got started. Why did your founders feel it was important and necessary to include access to veteran writers and journalists?

MVJ: The purpose of this new initiative is to improve the quality of reporting on military issues across the board and help journalists who may not have much military experience properly cover these topics. We felt it was necessary to include access to veteran journalists in the initiative so that newsrooms would have a resource for contacting (and hiring) journalists with firsthand experience.

USVM: How did you seek out/receive funding and how do you plan to allocate the funds to support your mission?

MVJ: I submitted a request for funding to News Corp Giving in 2021. In December 2021, we received the news that funding for the project had been approved. We plan to allocate the funds toward the creation and development of the portal and to pay the veteran journalists who will be contributing to our reporting tips guide.

USVM: What kind of resources can veterans and publications expect to find on your portal?

MVJ: Veterans and publications can expect to find several things:
■ The Military Veterans in Journalism Style Guide, which will provide definitions of technical terms and usage corrections while also providing some useful information on thematic issues like veteran disabilities. The goal of this is to help reporters who are not familiar with the military avoid these mistakes in the future. This Style Guide will follow standards set by the Associated Press.
■ A series of blog posts and videos intended to provide tips on how to broach sensitive topics and dig deeper. The blog posts will be specific to one issue, while the videos will teach skills for conducting stronger reporting on military and veteran affairs.
■ A showcase of military veteran journalists that are doing great things in their field. This showcase is intended to focus on the veterans themselves.
■ A directory of experts that can provide insight and analysis on a range of topics. This will include military veterans working in journalism who have carved out a niche. The current topics covered include VA medical care, veterans’ mental health, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, Iraq, anti-war activism and special operations.

USVM: How do active duty and veteran journalists enroll in your database? Will there be any vetting tools or procedures in place? Can they create a portfolio of their work along with their profile?

MVJ: Active duty and veteran journalists can email me at zack@mvj.network to be included. Our team will also be performing a standard vetting process on each showcase submission prior to placing them on the site.

USVM: Will there be breaking news, commentary or opinion pieces, or will the articles you publish mostly cover specific subject matters, like PTSD, transitioning out the military or veteran-owned business stories?

MVJ: We will not be publishing breaking news articles on this site. Instead, we will be publishing blog posts and videos with reporting tips. These will cover specific issues within reporting on veteran and military affairs.

USVM: Who will have access to your portal, or will it be completely free to the general public?

MVJ: The portal will be free to the general public. We will be promoting it to newsrooms nationwide for their use. We intend to create this portal as a tool for reporters and newsrooms to learn and improve their journalism.

USVM: How quickly do you hope to get started and be fully operational?

MVJ: We plan to have the site up and running by Veterans Day this year – November 11, 2022. We’ve already begun the process of building the portal and are putting together our directories with help from our community.

Rear Admiral John ‘Mac’ McLaughlin & the Magic of USS Midway

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Rear Admiral ‘Mac’ McLaughlin standing at podium with US flag in background

By Annie Nelson

San Diego is one of the hot spots for tourism and for our nation’s west coast Navy. People flock to San Diego for many reasons, the weather, the beauty, the Pacific Ocean, the sightseeing, sports and conventions. Whatever the reason, the city’s number one tourist attraction is the majestic USS Midway aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1945, eight days after the surrender of Japan during WWII, and decommissioned in April 1992, the Midway Magic now has her permanent home in the San Diego Bay and still serves the country as a history museum.

While visiting the museum you get a sense of rich history, respect and love of country of all those who work on her who beam with pride. At the helm of this beauty is retired Rear Admiral John “Mac” McLauglin. After an amazing career in the Navy, Mac has served aboard the Midway for 18 years, guiding her safe passage as a tourist destination. Often, you will see Mac on the decks of the ship, his infectious smile, warm personality and twinkle in his eyes; you know he loves his job, the ship and all those who work aboard her. A true leader and the driving force behind the growth of the Midway and her outreach.

I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing Mac and wanted to share just a bit about his story as a veteran who truly continues to serve. We talked about his journey to get to the Midway and what makes her so special.

Navy Born

Raised in a military family, his father was a sailor in the Navy and at a very early age Mac too wanted to join the Navy. He ended up going to the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned an ensign in June 1972. He is not one to boast, so, as he says, “The rest is history.” I pushed a bit —,] asking him what the highlights of his career were. “A few highlights in my Naval career were getting my wings, flying helicopters, getting to command a squadron and a Naval Station, being selected for Flag rank, all the while staying married to the same girl the entire time!” A true accomplishment. His personal decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals. His final role of active duty was Commander of the Naval Reserve Forces Command. Mac retired from the Navy in August 2003 and was hired as the Chief Operating Officer of the USS Midway that December.

Midway Magic

The ship has become the most visited historic ship in the world. They have over 1 million guests annually, while also hosting 250 special events and 400 military ceremonies.

I asked Mac what led him to the Midway after he retired from the Navy. “When I retired from the Navy, I got a call from a Midway Board member asking me if I’d be interested in interviewing for the Midway CEO job. I interviewed and began work in December 2003, and the ship arrived in SD [San Diego] the next month.” As our conversation continued, I wondered if there were any similarities in both careers. According to Mac both careers involve the management of people and projects. The clothes you wear are different, but the leadership challenges of both careers are very similar.

I have been aboard the Midway many times for events, ceremonies and meetings. I find part of the charm of the Midway experience is due to the crew who share the rich history of the ship, her stories and magic with the guests. They share stories about each of the aircrafts on board, her battles, her milestones and so much more. I asked Mac about his staff because they all are very special. “The volunteers are the key to the great success Midway has enjoyed since we opened. San Diego has a rich demographic of retired veterans and many have volunteered to work on Midway since they retired. We like to call the Midway the best adult day care center in San Diego, and the enthusiasm and professionalism of our volunteer corps is the secret sauce of Midway Magic.”

He continued “The Midway is a LIVING tribute to the service of all veterans and we try to honor their service when they come aboard. We hope that the ship will remain a popular tourism venue long into the future so that everyone that comes aboard can understand the importance of service and sacrifice of many great Americans to ensure our freedoms are preserved for future generations.”

Looking Forward

Speaking of the future, they do have big plans, “We are planning on building the largest veterans park on the West Coast of America. The park will surround the Midway and cover approximately 10 acres right here on the San Diego Bay. Our education programs continue to expand nationally, and our events’ after-hours business has become and will continue to grow its international audience.”

The legacy of Rear Admiral Mac Laughlin goes far beyond his Naval career; it is continuing to grow through his service as president and CEO of the USS Midway Museum and also in his son who is active duty in the U.S. Navy. A true, rich military family who exemplifies the dedication, sacrifice and love to these United States of America. While not everyone in our nation is friendly to our veteran community, you would never know that on the Midway. Patriotism is alive and strong aboard the ship, and it truly starts with its leader! If you have not given yourself the gift of a day on the Midway and you find yourself in San Diego, it is a must! You can learn more information about the ship and tours offered at midway.org.

One Rifle. One Book. Two Hundred Veterans.

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Older man and young man on stage at a motorcycle rally

By Kellie Speed

Though Andrew Biggio served in the Marine Corps as an infantry rifleman during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), he never could have imagined the future impact he would have on veterans.

The founder of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, New England’s largest motorcycle ride now in its 11th year, helps America’s most severely wounded combat veterans by raising money to provide housing modifications, new transportation, financial support and basic living needs through his nonprofit.

While delving into his own family’s military legacy and reading letters sent home from his great uncle killed during World War II, Biggio felt compelled to honor the Greatest Generation. His great uncle, also named Andrew Biggio, spoke of the M1 Garand rifle in his letters, which inspired the younger Biggio to purchase one.

What happened after turned into a five-year journey for Biggio, traveling the country to hear the inspirational stories of these warriors and have them sign their name on his rifle. He has 240 signatures to date! The result of his travels and collection of combat stories turned into his recently published book The Rifle: Combat Stories from America’s Last WWII Veterans, Told Through an M1 Garand.

U.S. Veteran’s Magazine caught up with Biggio to discuss this year’s Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, how he decided to feature the veterans in his book and what’s up next for him.

U.S. Veteran’s Magazine: You’re celebrating the 11th year of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run. Did you ever think it would be as popular as it has become?

Andrew Biggio: I never thought I would be doing this for over a decade. Like every other organization, we haven’t gotten to see our peak numbers because of COVID. People are still coming out and riding 10 years later, and some people take pride in saying they have been at every wounded vet run, so I love doing it.

USVM: How do you choose the veterans to honor each year and how much money do you raise each year?

Hundreds of motorcycles and riders at rally eventBiggio: Really, it’s just people I come across, people I meet, referrals from previous wounded veterans. I had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with veterans who got wounded, and they spent time in these hospitals with veterans who they think should be honorees.

USVM: Why did you decide to write The Rifle?

Biggio: I started having World War II veterans show up to my wounded vet ride, and I started to realize how it’s not every day you see a World War II vet come to a motorcycle rally to pay respects to the younger generation of veterans. It got me into really focusing on America’s last World War II veterans. I started to read my uncle’s last letter home, who I was named after, and how much he enjoyed the M1 rifle. The M1 rifle just represented that whole Greatest Generation because that was the standard rifle of the times, so I went out and bought one. I wanted to collect signatures of all of the different World War II veterans while I still had them around. After hearing some of their stories and visiting them, I just realized some people hadn’t heard the particular stories of these men I was meeting.

USVM: How did you choose the veterans to feature in the book?

Biggio: I really wanted to write about the units that weren’t often covered in history; they were often overlooked, so I picked not well-known divisions and things like that because my grandfather had served with the 10th Armored Division. That was a division you don’t often hear about.

USVM: What’s up next for you?

Biggio: I think I am going to do volume two of my Rifle book. The book [took me in so many unexpected directions, including leading] me to bring a World War II veteran from the 17th Airborne Division back over to Germany. [In March of this year,] we unveiled a monument for the 17th Airborne Division in Germany because there was no memorial there.

For more information about Andrew Biggio, his book and the veterans whose stories were featured visit thewwiirifle.com.

Questions About Filing Your VA Disability Claims?

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man in military unifrom pinting at a image collage of disability icons

By Brett Buchanan

Life as an active-duty military service member can be extraordinarily intense, and many veterans will, at some point, experience some type of residual physical or mental difficulty after years of serving their country.

These service-connected conditions may develop into lifelong disabilities that can have considerable impact on a veteran’s daily activities. A response to this need is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation program, which provides monthly tax-free payments to eligible applicants.

There are, however, several potential obstacles that veterans can encounter when looking to file a disability claim. These obstacles can cause delays in claim approval, or even cause claims to be rejected outright. In fact, only about 32 percent of claims were approved by the VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals in 2021.

One unavoidable obstacle that veterans can expect to face is a wait time of at least several months while their benefits application is processed. On average, it takes the VA approximately 161 days to complete disability-related claims. The exact length of time could vary substantially based on several factors, including the type of claim filed, the number and complexity of your claimed medical conditions, and how long it takes for the VA to collect the required evidence for your claim(s).

The VA has historically experienced times of disability claims backlogs, and it varies as regulatory and policy changes are made to the VA disability program each year. Because it is hard to say with certainty how long the approval process will take, it is recommended that veterans that are experiencing service-connected disabilities submit a completed application and supporting documentation to the VA as soon as possible.

Once an initial claim is submitted, a large portion of the process will involve evidence gathering and review. The VA may ask for additional information from you, your healthcare providers or other governmental agencies. It is important to keep detailed records of your condition and the progression of your symptoms so that they can be demonstrably linked to your service. If you submit an application with outdated information regarding your doctors, the VA may not be able to verify your medical history and could end up delaying or declining your claim.

The VA disability claims process is lengthy and complex, and can prove to be both mentally and physically exhausting. There is very little margin for error if you hope to get an application approved. It may be wise to find an advocate, to help make sure you understand and meet all the requirements for VA benefits. Professionals who work in the area of VA disability benefits advocacy can assist with document gathering, provide expertise with assembling evidence and submit a claim or appeal on your behalf.

The Department of Veteran Affairs has a comprehensive checklist that can help applicants compile a fully developed claim:

Log on to the website

  • Go to eBenefits.va.gov and click “Apply for Benefits” to begin an application by answering some preliminary questions about your claim.

Provide information about federal/state records

  • Disclose any Social Security benefits you may be claiming, and identify/provide military and/or federal medical records.

Gather all applicable non-federal records

  • Request and provide copies of relevant private medical records from your medical practitioner, along with any applicable supporting statements or other documentation.

Choose the correct type of claim

  • Select the proper claim: Original Disability Claim, New Disability Claim, Reopened Disability Claim or Secondary Disability Claim. Submit all supporting documentation, including medical evidence of your injury or physical/mental disability and evidence connecting it to your military service.

Upload all documents

  • Ensure legibility of all documents, and properly upload them to the VA website. If you have an claims advocate, have them verify all documents to ensure compliance.

It is important to remember that even in the event that your benefits application is denied, that does not have to be the end of the road. If you meet the VA’s requirements, you have earned your benefits. Remaining patient and persistent is critical to the process of pursuing an appeal. Recognizing the resources and expert help available, like VA-accredited claims agents at Allsup, who can advocate for you and your benefits claim, can make a huge difference and help ensure that you ultimately get the benefits you deserve.

Brett Buchanan, a veteran of the U.S. Army, is a VA-accredited claims agent at Allsup and guides veterans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability appeals process.

Retired Military Working Dogs Overcoming PTSD

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military working dog posing in a grassy area

The men and women of the United States Armed Forces aren’t the only ones who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning from active duty — the dogs who serve so bravely alongside them often do as well.

Mission K9 Rescue, a working dog rescue in Houston, TX rehabilitates and re-homes retired military and contract working dogs. Since 2013, they’ve saved over 1,100 dogs and reunited over 540 dogs with former military handlers.

Often, retired military and contact working dogs have been in situations that have caused them severe anxiety and stress. Many retire with issues such as PTSD. These dogs need time with us to decompress and reintegrate into society, and Mission K9 Rescue works with these dogs to make them suitable for adoption.

Rehabilitating Retired Military Working Dogs Who Have PTSD

Causes — Retired working dogs frequently come to Mission K9 from high-intensity and potentially traumatizing circumstances. Many are trained for dangerous and high-risk tasks such as tracking, search and rescue, explosive detection, patrol, and attack, many of them undergoing explosions, air drops, and heavy-handedness by uncaring handlers. Because of this, many of these dogs exhibit PTSD. Of the dogs brought to Mission K9 Rescue, approximately 30% of military working dogs and 50% of contract working dogs exhibit PTSD. Contract working dogs are a higher percentage, as on top of the training and stressful scenarios, they are more likely to be handled poorly and often aggressively.

Removal From Kennels — After retirement, many military working dogs are stuck in kennels, whether overseas or stateside. The first step for rehabilitation of these dogs is to get them out of these kennels as soon as possible, one of the many reasons being that the kennel environment does not help their PTSD.

Symptoms — Dogs with PTSD may exhibit symptoms such as shaking, crying, and trying to hide. They can also be aggressive around people, including being resource aggressive. They may also not trust, occasionally mistrusting one sex over the other due to handler neglect or abuse. Various triggers from their service cause these behaviors.

Treatment Once Mission K9 Rescue determines a dog to have PTSD, they isolate them in their own play yard so they can get used to their new surroundings and begin to feel a bit more grounded and peaceful. Mission K9 Rescue will also make sure they’re not around any loud noises, which can trigger their condition. “We treat them all the same, giving equal amounts of love and care,” says co-founder, Bob Bryant. “If they cower or show aggression, we’ll take more time with them, working to gain their trust and love. Unfortunately, if dogs with PTSD have continued difficulties, we may have them prescribed Prozac or Trazodone, though we try to keep this at a minimum as there can be nasty side effects.” However, though Mission K9 Rescue can mitigate PTSD with time, love, and patience, “We unfortunately cannot cure it,” says Bob.

Adoption Despite not being able to fully cure PTSD, Mission K9 Rescue has seen many dogs initially exhibiting PTSD eventually decompress, become adoptable, and find happy homes with devoted caretakers. Behavioral changes that show less agitation, return of normal drive, and sociability are some of the signs we look for when evaluating a dog for adoption that initially presented with PTSD.

Awareness is the key for dogs with PTSD. It takes someone with patience, awareness, and compassion to take care of a dog that has any level of trauma. But as that dog begins to find peace in its new home and develops a sense of trust for its new owner, the richness of the bond can be incredibly special.

Paws of War Placing Emergency Feeding Stations for Ukraine Abandoned Pets

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woman bent down feeding several dogs

When Russia began to invade the Ukraine in February 2022, nobody knew how long the turmoil would last or how much destruction would be caused. Everywhere you look there are animals, once someone’s pet, roaming the streets desperate to find any morsel of food. Paws of War was one of the first organizations on the ground in Ukraine providing food and supplies to the people and their pets who stayed behind.

Paws of War are in Ukraine helping by setting up 100’s of feeding stations they quickly made, and they struggle to keep them stocked with food and water as so many animals are using them to survive. They are providing food and other supplies to animals and people around the country. While Paws of War specializes in helping animals, they have also been assisting people in Ukraine because it’s so desperately needed.

The group is still figuring out how much food and water feeding stations they need, how often they will need to be refilled, and how far apart to place them. For volunteers traveling over borders to help the animals, the trips can take six hours.

“It’s so important that we are in Ukraine talking to the people there, giving them the help they need to help themselves and the poor suffering animals left behind,” explains Robert Misseri, co-founder of Paws of War. “Some families have 20 dogs and 40 cats taken into their homes because they can’t bear to see them starving and suffering. It’s very sad. Most of these people are humble, with modest living conditions, but they are very pet friendly. They have opened their hearts and their homes to try and stop the suffering.”

While 4.7 million citizens have fled Ukraine, some have stayed behind and are doing what they can to help the animals that have been left. They are regular citizens who have essentially turned their home into an animal shelter. Daria, for example, had one cat before the invasion but now has at least 50 that she is trying to feed daily.

“Until Paws of War was able to bring me food, I would scavenge around empty houses and garbage looking for scraps of food, anything I could find,” says Daria. “Now I can give these poor cats a chance to survive, and God willing, I can get them to a safe home one day.”

The need for help is everywhere. Every street you look down has a pack of dogs foraging for food. Cristina Tutunaru is one of 20 to 30 Paws of War volunteers who have been working with Ukrainian and other rescue groups.

Paws of War relies on volunteers at the borders of Ukraine in Romania and Poland to purchase and deliver supplies, assist refugees’ animals and meet with heartbroken Ukrainians surrendering their beloved pets before they continue their uncertain journeys.

“We had a girl walk in with a goldfish bowl. People there are close to their animals. They were traveling for two days,” said Misseri.

Paws of War is seeking donations to help support its Ukraine mission of helping pets and people. To donate, visit the site:pawsofwar.networkforgood.com/projects/156471-help-save-the-refugees-pets-of-ukraine. To see a video of Paws of War in action in Ukraine, visit: youtube.com/watch?v=-vuU0BssMws.

Paws of War has been operating around the world since 2014 helping military save the animals they rescue while deployed overseas. They have helped veterans with numerous issues, including suicide, service and support dogs, companion cats and dogs, food insecurity, veterinary care, and animal rescue for deployed military. As the demand for Paws of War’s services grew, traditional fundraisers like galas and golf outings were sidelined, putting a crimp in the needed funding to keep these services going. Paws of War has a large loyal following of supporters and looks forward to working with new corporate sponsors to keep these life-saving programs running.

About Paws of War
Paws of War is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization that assists military members and their pets, rescues and trains dogs in being service dogs, and provides companion animals to veterans. To learn more about Paws of War and the programs provided or donate, visit its site at: pawsofwar.org.

Armed with a Legal Degree, a Veteran Continues His Mission

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soldier in uniform talking on phone and two other pictures of the same soldier with Army buddies

By Antoinette Balta, Esq., LLM

Andrew Alton enlisted in the United States Marine Corps upon graduating from high school. He served on an intelligence collections team after studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. During his time in the Marine Corps, Alton deployed twice: first, in support of humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and then to a combat deployment in the Sangin region of Afghanistan. Following an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps as a Sergeant in 2012, Alton returned to Southern California to continue his studies. Alton received his B.S. in Biology from Cal State Fullerton and then his Juris Doctor from the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

While in law school, Alton longed to continue his mission of service and sought out ways to give back. Alton’s search ultimately led to Veterans Legal Institute® (VLI), a nonprofit law firm that provides free and life-changing services to low-income and homeless veterans.

Alton interned at VLI throughout his law school career and was exposed to several different areas of law including housing, complex veteran benefits appeals and discharge upgrades for survivors of military sexual trauma and other disenfranchised Veterans.

Armed with a law school degree and significant legal training, Alton was offered a variety of employment options. Alton applied to his alma mater, and was awarded a post-graduate fellowship that would allow him to work for one year at VLI. Alton’s fellowship at VLI helped numerous veterans in need of legal services in Southern California. Indeed, Alton helped over 100 veterans and their families remove barriers to housing, healthcare, education and employment.

Upon completing his fellowship, Alton was so intertwined with the veteran community and provided so much value to VLI that he was offered a full-time attorney position. Alton enjoys the different challenges and legal obstacles that he encounters daily. Here is a small sampling of the type of cases that Alton resolves in a typical month. While cases vary in terms of size and scope, Alton treats each case with the same passion and urgency, recognizing that any veteran in crisis deserves a zealous advocate.

A veteran’s landlord served a legal 60-day eviction notice to an 81-year-old Air Force veteran during COVID, who had been a tenant for 12 years. Although VLI determined that the eviction notice was lawful, this veteran desperately needed more time to find new housing and relocate his belongings — the isolation and lack of resources during the pandemic was going to render the veteran homeless. Alton was able to negotiate with the landlord to obtain an extra six weeks for the veteran to locate new housing and, most importantly, celebrate the holidays in his old home.

As a direct result of Alton’s advocacy, this veteran can alleviate his fears of homelessness, and have the time necessary to locate a new home.

In a separate case, an elderly Army veteran lived for months in deplorable conditions. The landlord did nothing to fix the conditions, despite evidence of a severe roach infestation. Worse yet, the landlord ignored the veteran’s repeated requests for extermination services. Recognizing the unsafe living conditions, Alton negotiated with the landlord for the veteran to move into a new, upgraded apartment, free from infestation, along with two months of waived rent. This resulted in a $3,740 surplus for the veteran who lives on a fixed income.

Recognizing that many veterans who fought to defend American justice cannot afford to access it, Alton committed himself to serving the greater good, and advocate for those who need a hand up. Each day presents a new opportunity for Alton to brainstorm with his team of over 15 colleagues at VLI to determine how to best uplift the veteran community.

Drew Carey: A Grateful Marine

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By Brady Rhoades

The Price is Right host and Hollywood icon Drew Carey is, in many ways, an unlikely Marine.

The congenial, bespectacled, self-described “peacenik” comedian served his country as a sergeant and field radio operator with the 25th Marine Regiment and calls the experience a pivot-point in his life.

“Military life and experiences gave me incredible experiences in leadership — especially in small groups, and under pressure,” Carey, 63, said in an interview with U.S. Veterans Magazine. “The military is not about yelling at someone to do things, as people wholly unfamiliar with the military would believe. There’s a tremendous amount of trust that other people will do their jobs and that you’ll do yours. So, there’s social pressure. And a lot of subservience to the mission and the greater good of the group. So, you learn to swallow that and perform because there are always stakes, great and small. And you never want to be the one who can’t rise to the occasion. You’re reminded of this dynamic constantly in the Marines. It’s just there. No one has to yell at you about it.”

Rewind to 1980. Carey, who hails from Cleveland, was jobless, broke and crashing at his brother’s California home when he joined the military.

It turned out to be a watershed move.

“I went from not being able to afford to eat or clothe myself to getting three meals a day. I had an instant family,” Carey said.

The lessons his new family — the Marine Corps — taught Carey ring true to him to this day. They explain, in part, why he’s committed to the ideal of service.

One of his most famous philanthropic efforts took place in 2014 when he promised $10,000 to help find the perpetrators of a fake “ice bucket challenge” involving an autistic 14-year-old Ohio boy who had been told he was going to be doused in ice but instead was showered in urine, tobacco and cigarette butts.

“Horrendous,” Carey tweeted at the time.

Drew Carey seated in helicopter wearing fatigues and posing with another Marine
Drew Carey and others meet with and perform for military members during comedy tour for USO.

Drew Carey and others meet with and perform for military members during comedy tour for USO.

Carey, who checked out a joke book from a local library after his stint in the Marines, is a big supporter of libraries. Over the years, he has donated millions to the Ohio Library Foundation and Cleveland Public Library.

And he advocates for active military personnel and veterans — performing in USO tours, competing in the Marine Corps Marathon, and raising money in various ways.

On a lighter note, Carey continues to advocate for the Cleveland Browns, who sported a disappointing 8-9 record this season. After Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked nine times in a 26-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 3, the funny man tweeted this:

Maybe the #Browns offensive line just doesn’t like Baker Mayfield?

Ever think of that?

Or it’s some kind of insurance scam.

I dunno.

When Carey completed his military service in 1986, he turned to standup comedy at the Cleveland Comedy Club and other venues.

In 1988, he competed on Star Search. In 1991, he landed a spot on HBO’s Young Comedians Special and appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He went on to co-star in the Disney TV series The Good Life and worked as a staff writer on The Gaby Hoffmann Show.

Actors Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Pauley Perrette, and Jai Rodriguez pose outside smiling
(L-R) Actors Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Pauley Perrette, and Jai Rodriguez attend the 29th Annual AIDS Walk. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)

By the mid-1990s, Carey was a household name, starring in The Drew Carey Show, which ran from 1995-2004, and the improv/sketch show Whose Line Is It Anyway? on which he was host and producer from 1998-2007.

The success of that show led to the creation of Drew Carey’s Improv All Stars, a talented troupe that performed across the country.

Carey was cast in movie roles and penned a best-selling memoir titled, Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined.

In 2007, he was named the host of The Price Is Right, succeeding longtime host Bob Barker. This year marks the show’s 50th anniversary.

As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Carey is more-than-passingly involved in music.

“I play rock n roll every Friday night on Sirius channel 21,” Carey said. “Little Steven’s Underground Garage. It’s called the Friday Night Freakout, and it airs from 8 to 11 p.m. EST. Also streams on the Sirius app. It’s my passion project.”

Most people know all about Carey’s TV career — and now they know

Drew Carey speaks at a podium at the Veterans Inaugural Ball
Actor Drew Carey attends the Veterans Inaugural Ball.(Kris Connor/Getty Images)

about his love of rock and roll — but what do they know of pre-famous Drew Carey? Probably not much.

That goes back to the unlikely part, although Carey said he’s not that unlikely.

“I know it sounds paradoxical, but despite being such a supporter of our troops and the military, I’m a real peacenik. I’m half hippy, to be honest. But I know I’m not the only one.”

He’s also not the only Buddhist who’s served his country.

“I discovered Buddhism and meditation late in life,” he said. “You do it because it’s the least conflicted and happiest way to live. And because it’s just the right thing to do. It took me a while, but I no longer consider anyone else above or below me. I used to think I did. But I didn’t. I would be intimidated by or jealous of different types of people in power or with different social standings. And I would feel sorry for people who didn’t have as much in one way or another. Now none of that matters to me as far as how I treat them. We all have our path. I try to treat everyone with the same dignity and respect.”

And, of course, he will always be an Ohio-style diehard when it comes to veterans, a feeling that took root in his teens.

Drew Carey as a young  Marine headshot
Drew Carey during his time in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I graduated high school in 1975, the year we got the last helicopter out,” he said. “I delivered the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a paperboy. They broke the Mai Lai Massacre story. I remember folding all those papers with those awful pictures on the front page. And I remember how badly soldiers were treated when they got home, both by civilians and our institutions. I believe it’s important for us to always recognize the sacrifices it takes to serve in our military, and how necessary they are… We need to recognize and applaud people in our military who do their jobs well, and with honor. Period.”

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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. REBOOT WORKSHOP – VIRTUAL
    September 12, 2022 @ 8:00 am - January 20, 2023 @ 5:00 pm
  5. Americas Warrior Partnership 9th Annual Symposium
    October 4, 2022 - October 6, 2022