Thanking Community-Based Veteran Service Providers in 2021

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group of hands shaking

By Kaitlin Cashwell, Director of Community Integration, America’s Warrior Partnership

The past year has been challenging for our nation’s veterans. We processed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, and the lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, through these trials and tribulations, communities maintained strong networks of support for veterans, their families, and caregivers.

Our team at America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP) is particularly thankful for the new partners and programs that rose to meet the challenges of 2021 and stand ready to help veterans start the New Year off on the right foot.

Connecting Veterans in Northwest Florida

The Panhandle region of Florida has a robust population of veterans embraced by local communities. Yet, many of these veterans live in isolated areas that lack easy access to support services. Across our ten years of serving veterans, we learned that most of the challenges facing veterans, from housing to employment, can be solved locally. That’s why we’re thankful for the Panhandle Warrior Partnership (PWP). The PWP leverages the America’s Warrior Partnership Community Integration model to connect with, educate, and advocate for veterans across the panhandle of Florida while collaborating with local leaders to find effective solutions to various problems. One of the PWP’s most important objectives is helping Panhandle warriors overcome the impacts of living in isolated areas by connecting with each other to enjoy recreational opportunities and family gatherings. You can connect with fellow veterans at www.facebook.com/groups/panhandle.

By Indiana Veterans, For Indiana Veterans

This past November, the Indy Warrior Partnership (IWP) was launched, which focuses on serving veterans in central Indiana. The IWP seeks to proactively connect with these veterans, educate them on the local services available to them, and then advocate on their behalf to improve resources within the community. Like the Panhandle Warrior Partnership in Florida, IWP has set up a Facebook page where Indiana veterans can learn about local resources and opportunities. You can learn more at www.facebook.com/groups/indywarrior.

Food Drives for Navajo Nation Veterans

Military veterans of the Navajo Nation in the U.S. Southwest live in some of the most isolated communities in the country. In such circumstances, it’s more effective to bring resources directly to veterans in need rather than educate them on accessing services that may be hours away. Diné Naazbaa’ Partnership (DNP) along with their community partners have supported several donation drives over the year to bring food boxes and other critical items to thousands of Navajo veterans and family members.

Getting Started with Accessing Resources in Your Community

As we look ahead to 2022, we hope every veteran seeking to improve their quality of life will start by researching the resources and services available in their community. Getting started can be as simple as visiting a local veteran organization to learn how they can help. Veterans can visit the AWP Network page to access the State Veteran Benefits Finder for more specific needs, a database initially developed by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). The database includes more than 1,800 benefit providers at the state level and is accessible at www.americaswarriorpartnership.org/the-network.

We look forward to helping every veteran achieve the quality of life they have earned through their service.

About the Author

Kaitlin Cashwell has over 10 years of experience in business administration, finance, and project management in both the nonprofit and for-profit industry.  She currently directs and oversees the Community Integration program, including AWP’s Network, research projects, community training/consulting, Corporate Veteran Initiative, and WarriorServe® client relations. Both of her grandfathers served in the military, and she has two brothers-in-law currently serving in the United States Navy. Kaitlin holds a Master of Business Administration at Augusta University’s Hull College of Business.

About America’s Warrior Partnership

America’s Warrior Partnership is committed to empowering communities to empower veterans.

We fill the gaps between veteran service organizations by helping nonprofits connect with veterans, their families, and caregivers. Our programs bolster nonprofit efficacy, improving their results, and empowering their initiatives. Preventing veteran suicide is the outcome of America’s Warrior Partnership’s work.

www.AmericasWarriorPartnership.org | @AWPartnership | #awpartnership

Veteran Suicide & Focusing on Suicide Prevention in the Military

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A marine sits with his hands in his faceon the ground contemplating veteran suicide

Since the beginning of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s tenure, he has been adamant about the importance of mental health in the military and prevention of veteran suicide. Secretary Austin has announced the establishment of a new program aimed at tackling one of the greatest issues surrounding mental health and military personnel: suicide prevention.

Secretary Austin’s newly established program, the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee (SPRIRC), will address and prevent suicide in the military pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022.

“We have the strongest military in the world because we have the strongest team in the world,” Secretary Austin stated upon establishing the program, “It is imperative that we take care of all our teammates and continue to reinforce that mental health and suicide prevention remain a key priority. One death by suicide is one too many. And suicide rates among our service members are still too high. So, clearly, we have more work to do.”

a military servicemember holds a pistol struggling with veteran suicideThe SPRIRC will be responsible for addressing and preventing suicide in the military, beginning with a comprehensive review of the Department’s efforts to address and prevent suicide. The SPRIRC will review relevant suicide prevention and response activities, immediate actions on addressing sexual assault and recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military to ensure SPRIRC recommendations are synchronized with current prevention activities and capabilities. The review will be conducted through visits to numerous military installations, focus groups, individuals and confidential surveys with servicemembers contemplating veteran suicide.

 

The SPRIRC recently started installation visits to prevent veteran suicide. The installations that will be utilized in this study will be:

  • Fort Campbell, Ky.
  • Camp Lejeune, N.C.
  • North Carolina National Guard
  • Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
  • Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska
  • Fort Wainwright, Alaska
  • Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
  • Camp Humphreys, South Korea

By December 20, 2022, the SPRIRC will send an initial report for review in advance of sending a report of findings and recommendations to Congress by February 18, 2023.

“As I have said many times, mental health is health — period,” Secretary Austin additionally stated, “I know that senior leaders throughout the Department share my sense of commitment to this notion and to making sure we do everything possible to heal all wounds, those you can see and those you can’t. We owe it to our people, their families and to honor the memory of those we have lost.”

To view Secretary Austin’s full memorandum on veteran suicide prevention and updates on the SPRIRC, visit the Department of Defense’s website at defense.gov.

Source: Department of Defense

Post Military Education – 5 Questions You Should Ask Before Going Back to School

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Series with a female as a solidier in an United States Army uniform. Numerous props convey a variety of concepts.

Post Military Education – Going back to school is one of life’s big choices. And like all major decisions, it might feel a little overwhelming — particularly if you’re just starting to navigate the civilian world again after military service.

Make it a little easier by breaking your decision down into smaller steps. If you’re on the fence about whether to continue your education, here are five questions you can ask yourself before taking the leap back into school.

 Happy military student in camouflage uniform and graduate cap standing on copy space background

What is my goal? (Or what do I want to be when I grow up?) 

This one tops our list for a reason. Once you have an answer to this critical question, you can start working backwards. Before you commit money and time to returning to school, think about what you hope to achieve by continuing your post military education and where you see your civilian career taking you. You don’t want to take courses without an endgame in mind because then you might end up with classes you don’t need.

If you’re not sure of your goal, consider the skills you mastered in the military and how they might translate to a civilian career. Evaluate your strengths using a test, like with the CareerScope Assessment at the Department of Veterans to identify potential job courses. See a career counselor or find someone in your field of interest to meet with or even shadow for a day. But you don’t have to do any of this alone. The VA also offers free career and educational counseling to those who are about to leave the military or who have recently transitioned.

 Veteran African Man Person Education. Army Soldier - Post Military Education

What should I study?

Once you’ve decided on a career path, it’s time to choose a program of study for your post military education. If you want to work at VA, you can pick from just about any program. As the largest integrated health care system in the nation, we employ hundreds of thousands of clinical and non-clinical staff across the country. We have job opportunities across the spectrum of careers, not just in health care.

 

Where should I go to school?

There are thousands of colleges in the U.S., ranging from two-year technical schools to four-year liberal arts schools. Narrow down your list by finding a school that offers the program you’re interested in and is located nearby if you plan to attend in person. You might also want to consider a school with an active veteran community and resources for former military for post military education.

 The soldier's military tokens are on dollar bills. Concept: cost - Post Military Education

Can I afford it?

We want to make sure the answer to this question is a definitive yes. As a veteran, you may be eligible to receive funding for some or all of your college, graduate school or post military education training program through the GI Bill — not to mention the generous scholarships, loan repayment and reimbursement and partner programs with colleges and universities that are available to VA employees. The VA National Education for Employees Program (VANEEP) scholarship even pays your salary and tuition while you pursue clinical licensure.

 

Do I have time? 

Juggling a career, family life and school can be a delicate balancing act. Be sure you’re at the right place in your life to devote the time you need to your studies. It might be helpful to make a list of the time challenges you foresee and the resources you can put in place to help you manage them. Building this support system now can save you headaches down the road. At VA, you’ll find a culture of continuous learning with flexible work schedules, possible telework options and generous leave to help you manage going back to school.

 

Source: VAntagePoint Blog

 

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.

Mindset: The Secret to Living

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When one discharges from the military, veterans are often left with the gigantic task of reintegration. To describe this journey as “daunting” doesn’t even cover half of it.

Not only do these veterans have to deal with an entirely new set of norms and procedures; they also often come with scars of war such as survivor’s guilt, missing limbs, tinnitus, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) just to name a few. Add on the feeling of a general lack of support from society; it is no wonder why many veterans go into complete isolation, or worse case, commit suicide.

I saw my first Special Forces (SF) person in basic training. I, along with the rest of my company, looked at them with reverence and awe. Like a sort of real-life Rambo. We all thought that there was nothing that these guys couldn’t do; they were the best of the best; they were elite. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that individuals in the SF community go through the exact same struggles that veterans do. I had the privilege to speak with 27-year Navy SEAL veteran Jason Tuschen, former CMC (Command Master Chief) and current CEO of Sylabs, Inc., about his struggles, lessons learned and mindset.

Paul Peng: Out of your 27-year career as a Navy SEAL, what was your most trying time?

Jason Tuschen: When Dave Tapper was killed in action (KIA) on August 20, 2003 in Eastern Afghanistan. Dave was one of my closet friends. We deployed together at SEAL Team 3 and worked closely at NSWDG. He was a husband and father of four kids. His youngest son and my son were born a month apart. Any death is a tragedy. But when it is someone close, it is gut wrenching. I will never forget carrying his casket at Little Creek, Va. while the bagpipes played “Amazing Grace,” standing at Arlington listening to Taps as he was lowered down; nor the brotherhood we shared. As I progressed up to the rank of CMC, I had to handle several tragedies. The last one that I had to be a part of before retirement was when Chuck Keating IV died. He was KIA in Northern Iraq May 3, 2016. Any death in the Teams is hard, but Chuck’s was especially so because of how much media attention it got. Myself and Capt. Gary Richard had to go to both his parents and his brother (also a SEAL) informing them that he was KIA. The whole process of getting the proverbial 2 a.m. phone call, hauling ass into work then telling the next of kin is the worst task a leader has to do. But it pales in comparison to what the family has to endure.

Peng: To you, what’s the difference between the mindset of a SOF (Special Operations Forces) member versus conventional forces?

Tuschen: Humble confidence. We train with a sense of urgency and to the worst-case scenario. You definitely learn humility by training that way. It is physically and mentally exhausting, but you know that when you deploy you are as well trained as you can be and feel prepared. However, there is always room for improvement. You continuously strive for virtuosity knowing that you will never attain it. That is “humble confidence.”

Teamwork. In SOF, we are very aware of our strengths and weaknesses. As a result, we are able to complement each other, covering for each other’s weaknesses. Making an unstoppable team.

Taking Ownership. Take ownership of your mistakes, that’s how you learn. In SOF, we spend a lot of time going over lessons learned so that we don’t make the same mistake twice.

Mental Toughness. It is the union of discipline and courage. Courage isn’t just running to the sound of gun fire, but doing what is right, regardless of apprehensions or fear. Discipline is doing what you know to be right regardless of any distractions or discomforts.

Peng: How was your transition to the private sector after serving 27 years as a SEAL?

Tuschen: I did not find it too difficult. I retired because I realized I needed to be uncomfortable again. I became comfortable with the problems I faced and my authorities. Heck, I had my own parking spot! I needed to feel like the “new guy” again. I loved every moment of the SEAL teams, but I am not defined entirely by being a SEAL, and I never let it define me.

Peng: Why do you think so many veterans, including the SOF community, have a tough time transitioning?

Tuschen: I think, particularly in the SOF community, it’s very easy to let your job and lifestyle become your identity. The longer you stay in, the more likely you will fall into the identity trap. Once you have achieved such heights, becoming the “new guy” again in a completely foreign environment, can be extremely daunting. The environment you move to next most likely will not share the values and morals that you have grown to respect and love. That can be extremely frustrating if you stay stuck in the past. You have two choices: go forward and be uncomfortable or stay stuck in the past. I call it the “Uncle Rico Syndrome.”

Peng: What advice can you give to transitioning SOF members and veterans that are struggling?

Tuschen: I would tell them to apply the same physical and mental energy that got you through selection or basic training and apply that to your new task at hand, starting as the “new guy.”

Nobody cares that you were in a combat zone, been through life-threatening events or were in Special Forces. Many civilians will think that you are a robot or the “angry veteran,” even though you and every other veteran knows it’s false. Instead, use your experiences to your advantage and GET AFTER IT! Be humble and confident. Be prepared to prove yourself all over again.

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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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.

Acing the Military Tuition Assistance Program

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If you’ve thought about going to college, but didn’t know if you could afford it, then the Military Tuition Assistance (TA) program may be just the benefit you need.

The program is available to active duty, National Guard and Reserve Component service members. While the decision to pursue a degree may be a difficult one personally, TA can lessen your financial concerns considerably, since it now pays up to 100 percent of tuition expenses for semester hours costing $250 or less.

Courses and degree programs may be academic or technical and can be taken from two- or four-year institutions on-installation, off-installation or by distance learning. An accrediting body recognized by the Department of Education must accredit the institution. Your service branch pays your tuition directly to the school. Service members need to first check with an education counselor for the specifics involving TA by visiting their local installation education office or by going online to a virtual education center. Tuition assistance may be used for the following programs:

  • Vocational/technical programs
  • Undergraduate programs
  • Graduate programs
  • Independent study
  • Distance-learning programs

Eligibility

All four service branches and the U.S. Coast Guard offer financial assistance for voluntary, off-duty education programs in support of service members’ personal and professional goals. The program is open to officers, warrant officers and enlisted active-duty service personnel. In addition, members of the National Guard and Reserve Components may be eligible for TA based on their service eligibility. To be eligible for TA, an enlisted service member must have enough time remaining in service to complete the course for which he or she has applied. After the completion of a course, an officer using TA must fulfill a service obligation that runs parallel with — not in addition to — any existing service obligation.

Coverage amounts and monetary limits

The Tuition Assistance Program may fund up to 100 percent of your college tuition and certain fees with the following limits

  • Not to exceed $250 per semester credit hour or $166 per quarter credit hour
  • Not to exceed $4,500 per fiscal year, Oct. 1 through Sept. 30

Tuition assistance versus the Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits

While the TA program is offered by the services, the Department of Veterans Affairs administers a variety of education benefit programs. Some of the VA programs, such as the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, can work well with the TA program, as it can supplement fees not covered by TA. In addition, the Post-9/11 GI Bill funds are available to you after you leave the military. If your service ended before Jan. 1, 2013, you have 15 years to use this benefit. If your service ended on or after Jan. 1, 2013, the benefit won’t expire. The TA program is a benefit that is available only while you’re in the service.

Tuition assistance benefits and restrictions

Tuition assistance will cover the following expenses:

  • Tuition
  • Course-specific fees such as laboratory fee or online course fee

NOTE: All fees must directly relate to the specific course enrollment of the service member.

Tuition assistance will not cover the following expenses:

  • Books and course materials
  • Flight training fees
  • Taking the same course twice
  • Continuing education units, or CEUs

Keep in mind that TA will not fund your college courses, and you will have to reimburse any funds already paid, if any of the following situations occur:

  • Leaving the service before the course ends
  • Quitting the course for reasons other than personal illness, military transfer or mission requirements
  • Failing the course

Application process

Each military branch has its own TA application form and procedures. To find out how to get started, visit your local installation education center or go online to a virtual education center

Prior to your course enrollment, you may be required to develop an education plan or complete TA orientation. Be sure to keep the following important information in mind when you apply:

  • Military tuition assistance may only be used to pursue degree programs at colleges and universities in the United States that are regionally or nationally accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S Department of Education. A quick way to check the accreditation of a school is by visiting the Department of Education.
  • Your service’s education center must approve your military tuition assistance before you enroll in a course.

Top-up program

The Top-up program allows funds from the Montgomery GI Bill — Active Duty or the Post-9/11 GI Bill — to be used for tuition and fees for high-cost courses that are not fully covered by TA funds.

  • Eligibility. To use Top-up, your service branch must approve you for TA. You also must be eligible for the post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill — Active Duty.
  • Application. First apply for TA in accordance with procedures of your service branch. After you have applied for TA, you will need to complete VA Form 22-1990 to apply for Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits. The form is available online from the VA. Make sure you specify “Top-up” on the application, and mail it to one of the education processing offices listed on the form.

Other supplemental funding possibilities

Aside from using the MGIB-AD or Post-9/11 GI Bill for items such as tuition and fees not covered by TA, there are other funding opportunities available to service members, including the following:

  • Federal and state financial aid. The federal government provides $150 billion per year in grants, work-study programs and federal loans to college students. The aid comes in several forms, including need-based programs such as Pell grants, subsidized Stafford Loans, Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants and federal work/study programs. You can also get low-interest loans through the federal government. Visit Federal Student Aid to find out more or complete an online application for FAFSA at no cost to you.

Source: MilitaryOneSource

Looking for a Service Dog?

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They say that dog is a man’s best friend, which could not be more accurate for veterans. Dogs provide the sense of responsibility and companionship that comes with pet ownership, but they can also act as a source of support both therapeutically and physically.

If you’re a veteran looking for a service dog to aid you in your day-today life, here’s what you need to know:

What Are the Benefits of Service Dogs?
There are approximately 500,000 service dogs on duty in the United States, with 19 percent explicitly trained to help owners with PTSD. Service dogs can be trained to perform numerous activities that are helpful to your specific needs, whether it be to provide mobility assistance, interrupt harmful behaviors, calm panic attacks, retrieve medication and more. Service dogs have also been proven to help veterans recognize and cope with their symptoms, gain sleep, reduce anxiety, strengthen relationships, balance emotions and assist in healthy transitions.

Does the VA Provide Service Dogs?
Until recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs did not provide service dogs. However, in August of 2021, a new piece of legislation known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program on dog training therapy based on the promising “train the trainer model.” The program will provide dogtraining mskills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses, regardless of whether or not they have mobility issues. However, regardless of how you receive your service dog, you will need to apply for VA Veterinary Health Benefits to get approved for ownership.

How Can a Veteran Apply for VA Veterinary Health Benefits?
■ Hearing, Guide, Mobility: The veteran should meet with their VA clinical care provider to begin the application process for this benefit. The specialist will complete an evaluation and make a clinical determination on the need for assistive devices, including a service dog. Once the assessment is completed and a service dog is determined to be the optimal tool for the veteran’s rehabilitation and treatment plan, the provider will work with the veteran to obtain the necessary information and documents to request the benefit. This includes coordination with the local VA Medical Center Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service.
■ Mental Health Mobility: The veteran should meet with a VA mental health provider to begin the application process for this benefit. The mental health provider and care team will evaluate and determine whether the mental health condition is the primary cause of the veteran’s substantial mobility limitations. The team will also assess whether a mobility service dog would be the veteran’s optimal intervention or treatment approach. If the team considers a service dog to be the optimal intervention, they will request the benefit on behalf of the veteran through coordination with the local VA Medical Center Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service.

Each veteran’s case is reviewed and evaluated by a prescribing clinician for the following:
■ Ability and means, including family or caregiver, to care for the dog currently and in the future
■ Goals that are to be accomplished through the use of the dog
■ Goals that are to be achieved through other assistive technology or therapy The veteran will be informed of an approval or disapproval of their service dog request by the VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aid Service. Veterans approved for service dogs are referred to Assistance Dogs International, or International Guide Dog Federation accredited agencies.

Where Can I Find My Service Dog?
For more information on where to find a service dog and connect with a community of other veterans with their own service dogs, the VA will usually coordinate with an organization such as the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International.

To access more information on the service dog process, please visit the International Guide Dog Federation at igdf.org.uk and Assistance Dogs International at assistancedogsinternational.org.

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs, Purina, tillis.senate.gov

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.

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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