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

The PACT Act and your VA benefits

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The PACT Act is a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. This law helps us provide generations of Veterans—and their survivors—with the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

This page will help answer your questions about what the PACT Act means for you or your loved ones. You can also call us at 800-698-2411 (TTY: 711).

And you can file a claim for PACT Act-related disability compensation or apply for VA health care now.

 

What’s the PACT Act and how will it affect my VA benefits and care?

The PACT Act is perhaps the largest health care and benefit expansion in VA history.

The full name of the law is The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

The PACT Act will bring these changes:

  • Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras
  • Adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures
  • Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation
  • Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care
  • Helps us improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures

If you’re a Veteran or survivor, you can file claims now to apply for PACT Act-related benefits.

What does it mean to have a presumptive condition for toxic exposure?

To get a VA disability rating, your disability must connect to your military service. For many health conditions, you need to prove that your service caused your condition.

But for some conditions, we automatically assume (or “presume”) that your service caused your condition. We call these “presumptive conditions.”

We consider a condition presumptive when it’s established by law or regulation.

If you have a presumptive condition, you don’t need to prove that your service caused the condition. You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.

Read more about the PACT Act on the VA’s website here.

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

One Rifle. One Book. Two Hundred Veterans.

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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.

Understanding the Exceptional Family Member Program

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Managing the care and services for a family member with special needs is more manageable with the right support. The goal of the Exceptional Family Member Program is to help your military family with special needs thrive in military life. EFMP is more than just one program or connection point. It’s the work of three components: identification and enrollment, assignment coordination and family support. The resources, tools and services that are available to support your journey are organized as part of the EFMP Resources, Options and Consultations or EFMP ROC.

If your spouse, child or other dependent family member is in need of ongoing medical or educational services, your first step is to enroll them in the Exceptional Family Member Program. Enrollment is mandatory but once enrolled, you will have access to the services, support and information you need to become your family’s best advocate.

Each branch of service has its own mission and history with EFMP. However, there has been a focus over the past several years on creating more standardization across services to make it easier for families to find what they need, when they need it. We can minimize misperceptions and increase satisfaction by helping families understand how the system works and what to expect.

What is EFMP?

The EFMP is a Department of Defense program implemented by all service branches. The EFMP has three components all working together.

  • Identification and Enrollment is the point of entry into the EFMP. Enrollment in the EFMP is mandatory for active-duty military members who meet enrollment criteria. When a family member is identified with special medical or educational needs, those needs are documented through enrollment. Members of the National Guard or reserve may enroll according to service-specific guidance.
  • Assignment Coordination ensures the family’s special needs are considered during the assignment process. The EFMP makes every effort to help keep families together and support the service member’s career. The final decision for duty station selection will always be determined based on mission need.
  • Family Support enables the family to become its own best advocate by helping them identify and connect with resources, expert consultations, education and community support. EFMP Family Support provides in person support as well as virtual self-service support through online information and resources available on Military OneSource and through Military OneSource EFMP ROC specialty consultations.

Ways EFMP can help your service member’s family

Each installation has an EFMP Family Support office staffed with providers who can help your service member and their family in the following ways:

  • Find and tap into community resources, services and programs that will meet their needs.
  • Provide information and referrals and help your service member’s family develop a family services plan.
  • Offer training and other support to help your service member’s family be their own best advocate.
  • Provide a warm hand-off to EFMP Family Support at the next installation when your service member PCSs.

Tools and resources for families with special needs

EFMP and offers a number of tools and resources to support military families with special needs. Your service member and their family can tap into these to stay in the know and connect with the services they need.

  • EFMP resources, options and consultations provides enhanced support by phone or video. Special needs consultants can connect your service member and their family with experts in education, the military health care system and TRICARE, special needs financial planning, and more.
  • EFMP & Me is an online tool that allows your service member and their family to navigate services for military families with special needs, create customized checklists and stay organized.
  • The Exceptional Advocate is a quarterly e-newsletter that focuses on updates and information from the Exceptional Family Member Program.
  • The EFMP & Me podcast series covers all things EFMP and other topics of interest to military families with special needs, like caregiving, legal and long-term financial planning, PCSing with a family member with special needs and more.

Everything is easier when you have a network of support. EFMP can help your service member pull together the information, services and resources that will allow their family to thrive.

Source: MilitaryOneSource

Questions About Filing Your VA Disability Claims?

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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.

Coping with Chronic Pain as a Veteran

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Chronic pain, one of the most common medical problems, is any pain that persists after your body has healed, usually after three to six months.

Some types of chronic pain include headaches, low back, neck, and other muscle, joint or nerve pains. These problems may be caused by an injury or an ongoing medical problem like arthritis or diabetes. In many other cases, the exact cause of chronic pain is unknown.

How you respond when you hurt is essential for managing any type of chronic pain. Many efforts to reduce pain in the short term create increased pain, suffering, and disability in the long term. This includes taking more medicine, resting or avoiding activities.

There are multiple treatment options available to treat your chronic pain. No single treatment is suitable for everyone. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more about the possible treatment options and decide which ones are best for you.

Opioids and chronic pain

Opioids are natural or manufactured chemicals that can reduce pain. Healthcare providers prescribe them. Opioids work by changing the way your brain senses pain. Some common opioids are:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone

Healthcare providers used to think that opioids could safely reduce chronic pain when used for extended periods. New information has taught us that long-term opioid use may not be helpful or safe for treating chronic pain.

New knowledge leads to new practices

We have learned three key things through studying opioids and chronic pain. This new information has changed medical practice.

  • Opioids will only temporarily “take the edge” off pain no matter the dose. You will not be pain-free over the long term.
  • There are very significant risks that come with using these medicines. Higher doses carry greater risks with very little evidence of any additional benefit.
  • There is absolutely no safe dose of opioids. An overdose is possible even when you are using your opioids as prescribed.

Facts about opioids

Opioids have many effects in addition to reducing pain. They slow your mind and body and can cause shortness or loss of breath. Long-term opioid use can cause multiple other problems, including:

  • Increased pain
  • Accidental overdose or death
  • Opioid use disorder or addiction
  • Problems with sleep, mood, hormones and immune system

Treating pain without opioids

Many treatments can be helpful with chronic pain, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Non-opioid pain medicines
  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Nerve blocks or surgery
  • Acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic

The best long-term treatment for chronic pain requires you to be involved in your own care. Self-management includes taking care of yourself in ways other than taking medicines, having surgery, or using other medical treatments. Cognitive behavior therapy can help you learn to respond differently to your chronic pain and reduce its effects on your daily life.

You should work with your healthcare provider to develop an individual treatment plan based on realistic expectations and goals. For most people, long-term improvements will depend more on what you can do to help yourself in lieu of what medical providers can do for you. Appropriate goals focus on improving your overall quality of life instead of providing urgent and complete pain relief.

Source: Veterans Health Library

Retired Military Working Dogs Overcoming PTSD

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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.

Chicago fundraiser ‘Ruck March’ supports veterans in need

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Veterans at the Ruck March

By , Fox 32

With Memorial Day around the corner, one Chicago veterans group is preparing for their biggest fundraiser of the year.

The daily average of veterans who die by suicide has dropped, but the pandemic put a huge dent in services.

The big event later this month aims to show veterans they are not alone.

The Chicago Veterans Ruck March is 17 miles and raises money for veterans in need — 17 miles representing how many veterans die each day from suicide.

“The Ruck March is basically bringing awareness and it’s also giving soldiers a therapeutic value that they can wear their lost soldiers picture, they can do it in their honor,” said Carlos Vega, Veteran Outreach and Events Coordinator. “And also bring awareness that PTSD is an issue and it needs to be addressed.”

For eight years, the organization Chicago Veterans has hosted 300 community events in 45 Chicagoland communities.

“This is all about keeping us together as a team. One team, one fight. We’re all fighting one mission. We’re all battling ourselves,” said Army veteran Armando Vega, Organizer of Veterans in Recovery.

Vega has been sober for more than eight years. Through Chicago Veterans, he launched the Veterans in Recovery program. Money from the fundraiser helps keep the program going.

“It’s all about paying it forward, helping others and ain’t nothing better than helping another brother or sister veteran,” Vega said.

Click here to read the full article on Fox 32.

The Value and Influence of the Disability Population

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By John Register

When we reflect on the past year’s events — racial tensions, remote work, the great resignation, mental health challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic, we see marginalized communities, specifically disabled veterans, and their societal impact are significantly overlooked. The disability population, the largest of all marginalized populations, still finds itself on the outside of the diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation. The advancement of people with disabilities in the U.S. has come a long way and has a long way to go. Why does society not see the value of this dedicated and dependable pipeline of talent? Image; John Register earned the silver medal for the long jump in the 2000 Paralympic Games.

The Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF) states that 50,000 veterans might not have a place to call home any given night, and 3.8 million veterans have a service-connected disability. According to DVNF, roughly 200,000 men and women are transitioning out of the military each year, elevating a platform to show veterans are a critical and rich source of talent.

In a business environment, veterans have high levels of adapting, leveraging advanced technical skills, resiliency, operational and team-building skills, organizational strength for staying committed and cross-cultural experiences that the job force demands. The U.S. Department of Labor placed the November 2021 veteran unemployment rate at 3.9 percent. The challenge remains with more companies and their ability to create a veteran-friendly workplace.

Since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which was signed into law by George H. W. Bush, access to opportunities was open for people with disabilities. The hope was to finally engage people with disabilities into the greater society. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects people with disabilities from discrimination based on their disability. So, while the law allowed for curb cutouts, kneeling buses, and wider doors to bathrooms, we saw little happen in employment. Ted Kennedy Jr., co-chair of the disability equality index, calls employment the next great frontier for people with disabilities. I agree. Until we value people with disabilities, we won’t see a needed and significant shift in the unemployment rate of people with disabilities.

Disability increases the likelihood of disadvantage in social activities, income, housing and employment. But what are we missing? People with disabilities, 15 percent of the world population, have approximately $8 trillion in disposable income outlined in the Global Economics of Disability report. Stated in the 2018 Accenture Report, Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, if companies embrace disability inclusion, they will gain access to a new talent pool of more than 10.7 million people. The report also stated the disability community is a vast, untapped market as the GDP could get a boost of up to $25 billion if just one percent more of persons with disabilities joined the U.S. labor force.

We also know that the disability community has the leverage to be a multi-million-dollar industry for untapped sectors, especially tourism, according to Maahs Travels. Accessible travel is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry, with over 1.5 billion potential business and leisure travelers with exponential buying power.

Marginalized populations deserve equitable treatment as community members, especially in the veteran community. These statistics and facts are clear, and in moving forward, my hope, as a veteran who served six years in the U.S. Army — including in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and in active duty, with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete program, is that our nation recognizes the significant value in products and services that accommodate all people in society.

As public and private sectors, we must challenge ourselves to see the value and the influence of the disability population. It’s essential that we hire with a focus on diversity, directly market to diverse populations, design high-quality products, provide opportunities and services that are accessible, and find ways to incorporate inclusion strategies that create opportunities for us all.

Army veteran hikes across the nation to raise awareness of veteran suicides

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Alex Seling greated by dozens of people at the walking finish line

By Erika Ritchie, O.C. Register
The last thing that Alex Seling did after finishing a coast-to-coast hike that started in Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware and ended in Dana Point was to step into the Pacific Ocean.

On Monday, Jan. 31, Seling, who served as an Army medic in Iraq, was greeted by dozens of people at Doheny State Beach after walking the last part of his journey along the San Juan Creek trail.

Stepping into the Pacific, he finished a 4,000-plus mile trek dedicated to raising awareness of and addressing suicides among military veterans. As part of his efforts, he raised more than $6,500 for Warrior Expedition and Mission 22.

According to the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report compiled by the Department of Veteran Affairs, suicide among veterans appears to be increasing in America at a pace similar to the broader civilian population. In 2018, 6,435 veterans killed themselves, compared with 6,056 in 2005.

“It feels unbelievable,” Seling said after reaching the ocean waters. “It was absolutely the best moment of my life. It’s a little overwhelming and I’m not sure it’s really hit me yet, but I’m really happy and proud of the journey.”

It took Seling, originally from Georgia, 13 months to get to Dana Point. He began his hike along the American Discovery Trail on Dec. 21, 2020. He crossed the Appalachian Mountains and hiked through the Rocky Mountains. At Grand Junction, Colo., he headed to Moab National Park in Utah and then walked southwest toward Dana Point.

His favorite spots were in West Virginia, southern Ohio and Colorado, he said.

On Sunday, he walked along Ortega Highway, saying it was likely the most dangerous road he had traveled. “It was very narrow along the shoulder and I had to dart in and out.”

Seling said since getting out of the Army in 2010, he has continued to have a thirst for adventure. He joined the Army for just that reason.

Now, long-distance hiking fills that need.

“To me, it’s very therapeutic and has helped me grow as a person,” he said. “It helps me be much more confident and gives me time to reflect and process things I’ve dealt  with.”

Kiki Macdonald, of Dana Point, was among those there to greet Seling at Doheny. She first met him when he was previously hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and she was at a Mammoth campsite.

“Once I found this out (about his cause), I decided we would be friends forever,” Macdonald said. “I followed his journey the rest of the way as he made it to Canada.”

In 2019, when she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Seling met up with her. And, she paid the favor back to him for this hike. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, she met him along his route, bringing leftovers and making camps where he could rest and recharge.

“I was proud to help support him along the way,” she said. “I love that he went for it and followed through.”

Read the original article posted on the OC Register

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