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  • Amputees in High Heels

     

    Researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs have played roles in a number of scientific and medical breakthroughs that have had a profound impact on modern life: the liver transplant, the nicotine patch and artificial lungs, to name just three.

    And now, as they seek to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population of wounded and disabled Veterans from the current era of war, VA design experts say they're going beyond barebones medical needs and aiming to help Vets live more comfortably, with technology adapted to their lifestyle and interests. It's work that requires them to listen to Veterans more closely and involve them and their feedback in the development process to a greater extent than ever before.

    One example of this work can be seen at the Office of Research and Development of the Department of Veterans Affairs, where they've come up with a 3D-printed ankle and foot device for a prosthetic leg to give amputees adjustable heels.

    Thanks to this research, stilettos are no longer out of the question for Veteran amputees. Outside researchers at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere have developed similar devices, but Dr. Andrew Hansen of the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System said the VA's "Shape & Roll" prosthetic foot is unisex.

    "This study focused on high heels, but the results work just as well for cowboy boots," Hansen said in a VA release.

    The adjustable-heel prosthetic was an example of VA's commitment to research in areas that haven't been pursued by the private sector, said Dr. Rachel Ramoni, the VA's chief research and development officer.

    "Actually, there's a couple of things going on with 3D printing; you can print a foot for every type of shoe," Ramoni told Military.com.

    The foot-ankle prosthetic also demonstrates a willingness at the VA to take feedback from wounded and disabled Veterans themselves on what they need to accommodate the lifestyles they wish to return to or pursue, she said.

    Ramoni also cited current research into upper-arm prosthetics for women as an example of this work.

    "That's a small segment of the population; it's a small market," Ramoni said. "It's not an area where somebody would say 'Well, it's an obvious money making opportunity.' So it might not be good business, but it's the right thing to do."

    The other challenge with research on upper-arm prosthetics for women is that so little work has been done in the field previously, Ramoni said.

    "The sizing of the prosthetic is a big deal," she said, and "we don't know about women's upper arm satisfaction, because all of the surveys were designed for men."

    The work on adjustable heels and the upper-arm prosthetic research are among more than 2,000 projects involving 3,400 researchers now underway at the Office of Research and Development. ORD operates on a budget of about $722 million from the VA, supplemented by contributions from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and others, for a total of about $1.5 billion, Ramoni said.

    The money is being spent with a new emphasis on listening to Vets regarding where they want the research to go, Ramoni said.

    A Disabled Vet Tackles Design

    Dr. Rory Cooper was an Army sergeant in Germany in 1980 when he lost the use of his legs from spinal cord injuries in a bicycle accident.

    He now is a director and senior research career scientist for the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center and home of the VA Technology Transfer Assistance Program.

    Cooper is also a Paralyzed Veterans of America distinguished professor at the University of Pittsburgh. As such, he is an advocate for what leaders in his field call "participatory action engineering," or, more simply put, listening to the people you're trying to help.

    Cooper said his frustration with the ivory-tower approach to human engineering grew out of his own experience trying to get a better wheelchair.

    "I was trying to solve some of my own problems," he said of his approach to design research. He found that he and other Veterans often were in "isolation" from the researchers.

    Cooper said that surveys and talking to the Veterans themselves are "ways to initiate the design process, rather than having somebody sitting at their desk or surfing their computer, trying to understand what you want."

    Designers and researchers should "start by asking [the Veterans]... to prioritize," Cooper said.

    He said his current research was focused on robotics, artificial intelligence and what he called "adaptive reconditioning technology" to help Veterans participate in sports and recreation.

    One such example: a robotic bed. One of the little-known everyday problems for disabled Veterans, and their caregivers, is getting in and out bed, Cooper said.

    "If you don't have the use of your arms or legs, or you're weakened, that's a huge problem," he said.

    The bed is currently a work in progress, but Cooper said the initial thought was to have a "chair-into-bed kind of a docking system, and the chair kind of puts you into the bed while a conveyer pulls you into the bed."

    A Secret Weapon: Veterans

    The VA has a major advantage over the teaching hospitals and the private sector in conducting wide-ranging tests and surveys that require huge numbers of volunteers, said Ramoni, the VA's chief research officer.

    "Veterans are absolutely core to our program," she said. "Our program is able to make these discoveries because of the thousands of VA patients volunteering here," and "what we do is driven by their needs."

    Outside researchers, she said, often ask how they can learn from current VA practices and how VA scientists get so many people involved in the development process.

    "We say what we have is not something you can learn; that you have a population of Veterans who want to continue to serve their fellow Veterans and the entire nation by participating in these studies," Ramoni said. "It's just amazing to me how committed Veterans are to continuing to serve and continuing to make discoveries that will help everybody."

    The Next Big Breakthrough

    Ramoni noted that VA's ongoing Million Veteran Program (MVP) on genome research has now enrolled more than 670,000 Veteran volunteers, to make it by far the world's largest genome database.

    In the program, begun in 2011, participants donate blood, from which DNA is extracted. Then a baseline and periodic follow-up surveys track the Veterans' military careers, and their health and lifestyles.

    The research seeks to determine whether the genetic information in the database could hold keys to preventing and treating diseases.

    "We believe MVP will accelerate our understanding of disease detection, progression, prevention and treatment by combining this rich clinical, environmental and genomic data," former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said.

    The MVP research opened the possibility for determining whether genetic factors were contributors to PTSD and Gulf War illness, Ramoni said.

    Many Veterans shared the same experiences in the same places in combat, and others were in the same places in the Gulf War; some developed PTSD and Gulf War illness, others didn't, Ramoni said.

    "The question we all ask is, why is that? Are there genetic markers for PTSD susceptibility, or are there genetic markers for Gulf War illness? Genes might help reveal that," she said.

    Source

    #veterans #military #amputees #womenvets

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  • Ask A Vet

     

    Here is the first thing to know about Veterans: No single voice can represent them. Each service member is shaped not only by their race and gender, but also the branch of the military they chose, the rank they held, where and if they deployed, and so much more. The breadth and variety of our experiences in our big ol’ machine of war are immense, and it would be foolhardy to let some jackass who rolled around Iraq in a tank 15 years ago speak for everyone.

  • Ask A Vet 002

     

    Welcome to Ask A Veteran, a place for civilians (or anyone!) to ask questions about the military or Veterans issues.

    Alex asks: I teach social studies in a public high school in NYC. I did not serve. Many of my students see military service as their only chance to change their prospects for the future. They idealize the benefits the recruiters describe without, I fear, giving real thought to what comes with their signature. I’m looking for some questions to ask kids (and their parents/extended family, who are often supportive of enlistment) to get them to contextualize what they’re signing up for and to get them to be thoughtful about what military service would likely mean for them.

    First, allow me to applaud your dedication to your students. Anyone brave enough to face teenagers every day and still care about their future is someone who should walk tall in this forum. You live life in constant danger of being owned by those Juul-wielding savages and somehow are still invested in their betterment as people. I salute you.

    Now, on to the matter hand: If my read on your question is correct, you are trying to approach this matter with sensitivity and an open mind, but the underlying vibe I get is, “How can I convince these kids not to sign up for military service?” Of course, given the lack of interest and accountability in the Forever War from our government (and, by extension, the American populace), your concern is not unfounded. You’re also right to be skeptical of recruiters; they are under enormous pressure to meet their recruitment quotas, and that pressure manifests in selling dreams that often go unfulfilled.

    But consider, for a moment, the benefits of military service that your students find appealing. An enlistment bonus? It may be more money than that student has ever seen before — and possibly more than the family has ever seen before (which may explain the parental support for enlistment). Money for college? Frankly, going through college as an adult on the G.I. Bill seems to me like a better recipe for success than starting to accrue student loan debt at age 18.

    I am, admittedly, a tainted source on this matter. My father, an Air Force pilot, was the first person in my family to graduate from college thanks to the military. I went to an expensive university not because my family had money, but because I had four years of my life to give to the Marines. I grew up believing that the military was a way for bright people from humble roots to gain entry into the middle class, and because I am able to look back on the benefits it gave me — tenacity, courage, confidence, character — I am unable to discourage others from the path.

    Back to your students. We mustn’t forget the strongest siren song of all: The promise of adventure and world travel. This promise can deliver, or it can bite you in the ass. Or both. I often joke that the Marine Corps gave me a tour of the world’s deserts, but the specifics are more interesting than the punchline they serve. For three years, I lived a ten-minute drive from Joshua Tree National Park; the Mojave is mountainous and full of hardy plant life that erupts in color during the short spring when the hard rains release the smell of creosote. I spent the month after 9/11 in the Western Desert of Egypt — long flat stretches of brown sand punctuated by rock formations that were both easier and harder to navigate than the Mojave, depending on your map skills. In Kuwait, where we staged before the invasion of Iraq, the only feature was the horizon. Kuwait can go eat shit.

    And that still only scratches the surface of what I saw and learned in four years. I lived in Kentucky and developed a taste for bourbon thanks to the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox. I’ve been to Australia with the best friends I’ll ever have; we taught locals the dice game Ship, Captain, Crew. I’ve crossed the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans on Navy ships. I’ve flown in helicopters and driven tanks and landed on a beach in a hovercraft. I can hit a man-sized target from 500 yards with an M16 using only iron sights. What might a civilian life have offered me out of college? Safety, I suppose. But less of everything that was vibrant and meaningful, and nothing that made me who I am today.

    I do not mean to whitewash the danger. It is a deadly job even in peacetime. A good friend of mine, John Wilt, a lieutenant who was my classmate both in high school and at the Marines’ Basic Officer Course, was killed in an aircraft accident when he was at flight school. One of my Marines was airlifted from Twentynine Palms to the Naval Medical Center at Balboa after he got his head partially crushed during routine maintenance of an Abrams tank; he lived after surgeons cut open his skull to relieve the swelling from his brain.

    Combat is worse, of course. I have the benefit of hindsight about my experience because I didn’t get shot in the head like my buddy Brian McPhillips. I have the luxury of nostalgia because, unlike my friend Andy Stern, my life didn’t end with an IED exploding in my face. My lot in life is to go around repeating their names to people who can never know them. As my body gives way to middle age, their names are as familiar and well-worn as a rosary, but their pictures always stop me in my tracks. The youth of the dead is breathtaking, and I can barely believe that I stood shoulder to shoulder with them — that I was ever so young, and believed myself invincible.

    You said you were looking for questions to ask kids that would “get them to contextualize what they’re signing up for.” But I’m not sure that’s possible. How can you give young people wisdom without experience? They will be drawn to the military the way I was drawn to it — for the benefits, yes, but also to fill a hole inside them, a deep-seated craving to challenge and prove themselves. They will be drawn to service knowing, intellectually, that it is dangerous, but without really believing that the danger can touch them. Their peers will drive recklessly or do drugs or similarly dangerous things, and none of them will ever believe that harm can come to them. It is a feature of youth, not a bug.

    I do not wish to discourage your noble effort, but I don’t want you tilting at windmills, either. I will leave you, and your students, with the best reflection I have on my military service: It is a wonderful thing to have done, but it was often miserable to do. Or, more succinctly: It is a great thing to do with your life — if it doesn’t kill you.

    Source

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  • Vets Felony Charges

     

    Majority in Felony Veterans Treatment court appear for drug, alcohol offenses

  • Dominoes

     

    Recreational therapist Lauren Reynaga had never played dominoes before her internship and subsequent employment with VA North Texas.

  • Dr Barbara Temeck

     

    A career VA administrator and surgeon, Temeck was charged with three counts of improperly writing prescriptions for controlled substances for a friend who also is married to a former high-ranking VA official. Temeck testified that she had been long involved in the friend’s medical care and did nothing wrong. She also says Glassman pursued the case as part of larger VA retaliation against Temeck’s efforts to crack down on how the Cincinnati VA had been run.

  • Ind Unemploy

     

    As a VA claims processor, Veterans often ask me about Individual Unemployability (IU), also called Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). The following is a more formal version of what I tell them.

  • Keith Thompson

     

    Army Veteran Keith Thompson (pictured above) is no stranger to conquering life’s challenges.

    A 2006 motorcycle accident left the former firefighter in a 27-day coma and paralyzed from the waist down. Not one to be kept down, Thompson strives to be the best at everything he does and that paid dividends at this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) held in Orlando, Florida.

    Thompson was awarded the prestigious Spirit of the Games trophy, an award presented to “the Veteran that through their athletic achievement, leadership and support of their fellow Veterans exemplifies the values of the games.”

    To illustrate the award’s significance, Thompson was selected from the record-setting 611 athletes that participated in this year’s games and is the 32nd recipient since the award’s creation in 1987. The theme for this year’s games was “Conquer the Challenge,” and that’s exactly what Thompson did.

    “There are no limits,” said Thompson. “My wife told me I can do anything I want. I just have to do it from a chair.”

    Thompson defines the word competitor. He’s competed in various events over his NVWG career including archery, trap shooting, air rifle, air pistol, 9-ball, shot put, discus, javelin, boccia ball and softball.

    Played through multiple injuries

    While at this year’s games, Thompson attempted to catch a softball hit his way when he fell out of his chair and dislocated his shoulder. Also, in 2016, Thompson competed at the NVWG despite having a broken wrist and torn rotator cuff after being rear-ended by a distracted driver. He truly knows no limits.

    “We are all at the games to compete and leave our best on whatever field we play on,” Thompson said.

    Thompson was introduced to Carl Vinson VAMC when he accompanied a friend to the medical center to check on the status of his benefits. Tamara Jackson, administrative officer for acute care, suggested Thompson also apply for benefits and suggested the Sandersville, Ga. resident consider recreation therapy. It wasn’t long before recreational therapist Charlene James urged Thompson to try adaptive sports and in 2011, he attended his first NVWG.

    When he’s not practicing for the games, Thompson spends time with his wife of 17-years, Janice, and managing his medical transportation service, 3D Enterprises.

    Keith Thompson is no stranger to life’s challenges. However, he is an example all people can emulate when striving for something that seems unobtainable.

    Source

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  • Maine VA helps Vets

     

    Veterans at the 3rd Annual Community Reintegration Outing at the Dew Haven Maine Zoo and Rescue pictured above. It’s not often you get to tear yourself away from the trials and tribulations of life to just take a break and have fun. More so, it’s difficult to reach outside of ourselves and connect to others. Just ask Veteran Dan Martins, peer support specialist for VA Maine Healthcare System.

    “I was a hermit myself for two years after the Navy. I just wanted to be left alone. But it’s amazing what happens when you leave your four walls and get out there.”

    Dan Martins and Pete Cayouette started a community reintegration program three years ago. They are two of five peer support specialists whose mission is to help Veterans get back into the community.

    Community groups like Bread of Life Ministries and Volunteers of America have joined VA in this effort, providing resources, socialization and basic human necessities to Veterans who have lost their way.

    Veteran George: “I up and left New York because I had to leave the environment there. My buddies were all overdosing and I knew I just had to get away from the situation. This is my seventh day in Maine.”

    George and 31 other Veterans came out for the 3rd Annual Community Reintegration Outing at the Dew Haven Maine Zoo and Rescue to have fun, build camaraderie, network, make new friends, and to just spend some time outdoors.

    Dave Anderson, a member of the Waterville Elks lodge #905 since 2006, along with his team from the Elks’ Veterans Committee, cooked up some barbeque before the tour started.

    “I’m proud to be one of the supporters of the Veterans Committee and help Veterans who are down and out or with anything they need.”

    The Elks Lodge has been supporting Veterans since the First World War, from putting in the first field hospital to making sure a Veteran mother of six has furniture and appliances after being displaced.

    “Today we brought a bunch of Veterans out here from the Togus VA, the homeless shelter and Bread of Life Ministries, to develop more camaraderie between the Veterans. I’ve met most of them over the years. Some of them are in and out of homelessness and some have already found housing they stay with.

    “But once they develop a relationship with each other, through VA and through the Elks, we like to treat them to a barbecue, and this is the day for this year. We’ve been doing it a few years now and I think we will keep on doing it,” said Anderson.

    Source

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  • VA Sucker Punch BWN

     

    TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - Sucker-punched, blind-sided and betrayed.

    Vietnam War Navy Veterans claim the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, stabbed them in the back by promising to meet with them and instead, fired off a letter trying to kill a bill that grants them Agent Orange benefits.

    Wilkie sent a letter to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R)-Georgia claiming, "science does not support extending Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water Navy Veterans."

    "When I met with Secretary Wilkie at his confirmation hearing, he promised me a meeting on this subject," said John Wells, Executive Director of Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc.

    Instead of a face-to-face, John Wells accuses Robert Wilke of betrayal.

    Wilkie sent the letter to Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, which is now considering the legislation.

    The letter claims the bill will cost more than anticipated and create a bigger claims backlog.

    According to John Wells, Wilkie is distorting the facts.

    "He's come out with inaccurate and inflammatory material designed to convince Senate Chairman Johnny Isakson to not move this bill forward," Wells said.

    For years, the VA opposed extending benefits to Veterans who served on ships in the harbors, bays and territorial waters of Vietnam.

    In June, the house unanimously passed the bill granting them benefits long denied.

    Blue Water Navy Veterans contend Agent Orange seeped from rivers and streams into harbors, bays and territorial waters.

    Ships unknowingly pulled in contaminated water, desalinating it for drinking, bathing and cooking.

    As a result, Navy Veterans contend, Agent Orange-related illnesses are crippling and killing them, yet because they did not set foot on Vietnam soil, the VA will not presume those diseases are connected to herbicide exposure.

    "They're not worried about taking care of the Veteran or spouse," Wells explained.

    Wells charges, Secretary Wilkie is cutting out Veterans exposed to the deadly weed killer and cutting off support for their children born with impairments.

    "Look, if Secretary Wilkie wanted to meet with me and say, 'I'm sorry, I don't buy this,' that's fair," said Wells.

    "But the man promised to meet with me and he refused to meet with us. He broke his promise. That to me is a betrayal."

    According to Wells, despite widespread support in the senate, this bill is being stalled by one person, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who calls himself the "Veterans' Senator."

    Isakson's Georgia office telephone number is 770-661-0999.

    Source

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  • Burn Pits 008

     

    EXCLUSIVE – Army Gen. David Petraeus, who was instrumental in guiding U.S. troops during the Iraq War, says that America’s service members should be receiving assistance for the mounting medical issues that they fear have come as a result of being exposed to burn pits while stationed at military bases.

    Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. Central Command and Multi-National Force-Iraq, said it’s time for the service members exposed to the dangers of burn pits -- and who say they have been abandoned by the Veterans Affairs Department and Washington – to be provided with proper care.

    “It's a sacred obligation,” Petraeus, a retired four-star general, told Fox News during an exclusive interview at his Manhattan office. “And by and large, our country does an extraordinary amount for our Veterans and for those who are serving in uniform, and for their families.”

    “But comparing what our VA does to any other country's care of Veterans...this is the gold standard. Certainly, a gold standard that can always improve, without question. This is an issue, though, where we have a sacred obligation, and we need to meet that obligation.”

    The haphazard method of getting rid of trash, chemicals and even medical waste -- in open-air burn pits -- during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan generated numerous pollutants, including carbon monoxide and dioxin — the same chemical compound found in Agent Orange, the dangerous defoliant used during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.

    As early as Operation Desert Storm in 1991, burn pits were used on U.S. military bases in Iraq. At the height of the Iraq War in 2005, more than 300,000 troops were stationed there and potentially exposed to the smoke and fumes from burn pits. Estimates place the number of burn pits around that time at 63.

    Thousands of Veterans and former contractors returned from the Middle East and have developed cancer, respiratory problems and blood disorders from what they claim is their exposure to toxins from the flaming pits. More than 140,000 active-service members and retirees have put their names on a Burn Pit Registry created by the Veterans Administration.

    Petraeus offered an explanation when asked about why burn pits were used on military bases, conceding that the realities of war kept concerns about how to dispose of waste a low priority at that time.

    "At that time we weren't worried about burn pits. We were worried about just getting enough water for our troops in the really hot summer," he says. "We were looking forward to the time where we might get some real food, real rations, as opposed to MREs and so forth."

    The general explained how the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure and the troop surge in 2007 were the high priorities at that time, but that the potential danger of burn pits was undeniable.

    “They obviously fought us back. But over time, in that tour, in particular, you start noticing other issues,” Petraeus said. “So, yes, there is serious combat going on. But you’re noticing that there’s this massive burn pit that is up-wind of us. So it blows over this huge base, Camp Victory, where we had 25,000 or more soldiers based and stationed.”

    “We had a number of other locations, again, where we had these burn pits. And you start to notice it more and more. And I got more and more concerned during that time -- I mean, it'd been something I'd noticed previously,” he said. “But now I realize that we've got all these soldiers who are, on really bad days, inhaling whatever it is that's being burned in these pits.”

    Petraeus recalled during the sit-down that requests to install incinerators were made during the time of the surge and followed up when he moved to Central Command, but that it presented issues of its own.

    “Well, it was something that had to be done for a long period of time,” he said of burn-pit disposal. “But at a certain point, it set in that perhaps there’s a better way of doing it.”

    “Incinerators were actually brought in in some cases. And then there were even problems just getting incinerators to work. Unfortunately, sometimes it was easier still just to put it in a hole and burn it.”

    Petraeus points out that our troops during that time were at what he calls a “survival stage” and many options did not exist to dispose of the massive amounts of waste generated on our military operations.

    “You have to do something with that. And now it's way beyond just human waste,” he says. “It's also all of the byproducts of just daily life. And a lot of that gets dumped into a hole in the ground, and gasoline, or whatever it is -- poured on it, and someone -- torches it. And it's the way of disposing of what otherwise can no longer be buried.”

    The general conceded that this crude method had persisted for a long time and that as bases grew in certain areas, burn pits also grew significantly.

    “The results of those, this enormous plume of black smoke and so forth was very, very noticeable,” Petraeus recalled. “[W]hen the wind was blowing and the burn pit was in operation at a number of these different bases.”

    “Needless to say, you'd try to put it so the wind wouldn't blow it over there. But the winds vary. And they changed. And there was never any perfect method to that.”

    Since 2013, Petraeus has been with global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts [KKR], where he serves as chair of their KKR Global Institute. He has also thrown his support behind efforts made in Washington to bring reform to the complicated process many Veterans go through when they file a claim through the Veterans Administration.

    In July, Petraeus sent a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to consider backing the Burn Pits Accountability Act – a recent bill brought before Capitol Hill by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Brian Mast, R-Fla.

    “I know that you share the sense of obligation that virtually all Americans have to those who have stepped forward at a time of war,” he wrote in the open letter.

    While steps toward reform are underway, there still is cause for concern for our troops who are currently in Iraq.

    A recent report from Fox News shows that burn pits are still being used in at least one military base in Iraq.

    In a series of images obtained exclusively by Fox News, a burn pit near Camp Taji, Iraq, is seen spewing thick clouds of black smoke into the air on a near-daily basis. According to one soldier stationed at the base, the pits are set ablaze as many as five times a week. The images were taken on and around June 3.

    The pits, seen in the pictures originally provided, are situated in a part of Camp Taji known as an “amber zone” — an area adjacent to U.S. Military operations where Iraqi National Forces operate. The soldier told Fox News that while the unit’s part of the camp is not using burn pits for trash disposal, it’s not exactly clear where their trash ends up.

    When asked about his thoughts on the burning still going on so close to where U.S. troops are stationed, General Petraeus expressed trepidation when seeing photos of the pits being operated in Taji’s amber zone.

    “It's actually the Iraqis who are using those now. But that still is a concern for us. And it should be,” he says. “I think as time has gone by we have come to realize that this is a bigger issue than clearly it was in the earlier years of these two wars.”

    “And with that awareness, obviously we can certainly do a better job.”

    Source

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  • Donald Trump 008

     

    Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order titled, “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.” This Executive Order directs the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security to develop a plan to ensure that all new Veterans receive mental health care for at least one year following their separation from service.

  • Builds Bal and Strngth in Vets

     

    If you’re up in years and don’t get around so well anymore, take heart from a group of seniors at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

  • Sex Trauma Denied

     

    WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs improperly denied hundreds of military sexual trauma claims in recent years, leaving potentially thousands of Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder without benefits, a VA inspector general investigation found.

  • Spartan Pledge

     

    To fight the suicide epidemic, Veterans vow to serve and be there for one another

    It started with a conversation about Veteran suicide and what is causing the “22 a day” epidemic.

    It continued with a promise, which became the Spartan Pledge.

    The Spartan Pledge is a commitment among Veterans to not take their own lives but rather stand for their fellow soldiers in times of despair. It was created almost accidentally by an Iraq Veteran, Boone Cutler, when he spoke with another Veteran, his friend “Nacho,” about a mutual friend’s suicide.

    “I said to him, ‘Have you ever thought about it?’” Cutler remembered. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I think about it every day.’ And it blew me away. We’d never discussed that—and we were tight. We covered each other.”

    Off the cuff, Cutler and his buddy made a promise.

    “You really can’t think too far ahead when you’re in that state of mind, so I said, ‘Just call. Just call me first. Don’t punk out. Don’t go without saying goodbye,’” Cutler told his friend. “And then we made an agreement to at least call each other first.”

    Other Veterans helped that evolve into what Cutler started calling the Spartan Pledge, which he said around a thousand Veterans have made. It’s just two lines, meant to give Vets a pause before they hurt themselves:

    “I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”

    Veterans commit suicide at a 50-percent higher rate than those who did not serve in the military, according to a study published last year from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The 2015 DAV Veterans Pulse Survey found that 1 in 4 Veterans see suicide as one of the biggest challenges facing those who have served.

    “You don’t have to be suicidal to take the pledge,” said Steve “Luker” Danyluk, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who’s also taken up the cause. “It’s finding a mission: Help your buddy. It’s reconnecting, re-establishing those relationships that seem to vanish once you leave the military.”

    When Danyluk and retired New York City Fire Department firefighter Danny Prince started talking about 25 pounds of steel recovered from the World Trade Center and the aftermath of the tragedy on 9/11, their conversation became about how they could use that powerful symbolism to bring attention to the terrible epidemic of Veteran suicide as well.

    Prince, a Coast Guard Veteran, visited injured Veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last fall. With him, he carried the 25 pounds of scrap metal.

    “It’s remarkable, the pieces of steel that we have. They’re so important, and you don’t want to waste anything,” said Prince.

    Danyluk had an idea to turn the steel remnants into a symbol for Veterans and first responders everywhere that could potentially open up the conversation and save Veterans’ lives. What evolved was nothing short of powerful. They started moving on a plan to gather Veterans and first responders together and forge the steel into a “Spartan Sword.”

    “The pure, almost religious nature of the steel from the World Trade Center was transformed into something about healing,” said Danyluk.

    The 9/11 attacks motivated a lot of people to join the military, Danyluk said, so the symbolism of the sword is important. “It’s about transformation—taking this twisted steel that was part of our nation’s greatest tragedy and turning it into something beautiful: a weapon of healing rather than a weapon of destruction.”

    Danyluk helped organize the Spartan Alliance, a collaboration of nonprofit Veteran organizations, and joined forces with Prince to create Spartan Weekend.

    DAV got on board early, realizing the impact such an event could have for our nation’s ill and injured Veterans.

    “DAV proactively fights this epidemic by providing services that connect Veterans with care and address their quality of life, but this was a chance for us to become involved in a way where we could directly see an impact,” said DAV National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “It was a new idea—nothing like this had been done before—so we knew we were in for something truly special.”

    Hundreds of Veterans, their families and caregivers attended the Spartan Weekend, held in Washington, D. C., in May. They gathered to raise awareness about Veteran suicide, a struggle many of them have faced head on.

    “I know too many people who have chosen suicide over life, including my own supervisor,” Air Force Veteran Sarah Bonner said. “That’s why I came. I will do anything—absolutely anything—to make sure other Veterans don’t choose that option. This weekend reminds us that we are not alone. We have our Veteran family. I could’ve been one of the 22, but I wasn’t because of support. So now I’m here to show other Veterans I support them.”

    The weekend included a bike ride, a concert at the Hard Rock Cafe headlined by Kristy Lee Cook and other events designed to bond participating Veterans and family members. It culminated on Mother’s Day with a nondenominational service at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

    The Rev. Matt Pawlikowski, an Army chaplain from West Point, officiated a Mother’s Day service honoring Gold Star and Blue Star Mothers who have sons or daughters who are actively serving or have lost their lives in service.

    Margie Miller, from New York, came to the event eight months and seven days after her son, a 22-yearold Marine, fatally shot himself. She talked about how they spoke on the phone most days and how she had just heard all about his plans, seemingly happy as ever, to go boating with friends. Two days later, her husband told her, “There are three Marines in the living room.”

    “You took a solemn pledge to protect our country,” Miller told the audience of Veterans. “Take that same pledge, the Spartan Pledge, and protect yourself. Say, ‘I will reach out for help.’”

    The ceremony closed with dozens of Veterans taking an oath against suicide.

    Leading the pledge was Miller and DAV Past National Commander and Marine Vietnam Veteran Roberto “Bobby” Barrera.

    “Come over here,” Barrera said while reaching out to the sword with his prosthetic arm. “Gather around the sword with me; touch it. If you can’t touch the sword, grab ahold of someone who is touching it, so we can form an unbreakable connection. You are not alone. We are here. Your family, your Veteran family.”

    Everyone in attendance gathered around the sword and each other in an emotionally charged circle while they repeated the pledge.

    The evening before the pledge at the memorial, Barrera shared his personal story and told his fellow Veterans that, even recently, he himself had contemplated suicide after moving and experiencing a setback to his physical health. The fight against the epidemic is something that requires constant vigilance, he said. Nearly a half-century after being severely burned in combat, and after years of counseling and mentoring others, he was only recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    “I realized I needed help. I thought about what it would mean to my family and my fellow Veterans if I had made that choice. I thought of all the people who had supported me, and that’s what got me through a very dark period,” said Barrera. “It’s not just recent-era Veterans who contribute to these statistics. To solve this problem, we need to make a commitment as a community to be there for one another.”

    The event also featured DAV Past National Commander Dennis Joyner, a Vietnam Veteran and triple amputee, who is the president of Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation. “When the last bullet is fired, when the last man or woman steps off the plane or ship and comes home, for disabled Veterans, their struggles— those that are visible and the ones we can’t see—remain an everyday part of life,” said Joyner. “We as a community of Veterans and survivors must band together and ensure none of our own are left behind or forgotten.”

    Source

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  • Spartan Pledge 002

     

    Taking the 'Spartan Pledge' Against Suicide

    To fight epidemic, Veterans vow to serve and be there for one another

    It started with a conversation about Veteran suicide and what is causing the "22 a day" epidemic.

    It continued with a promise, which became the Spartan Pledge.

    The Spartan Pledge is a commitment among Veterans to not take their own lives but rather stand for their fellow soldiers in times of despair. It was created almost accidentally by an Iraq Veteran, Boone Cutler, when he spoke with another Veteran, his friend "Nacho," about a mutual friend's suicide.

    "I said to him, ‘Have you ever thought about it?'" Cutler said during an interview with NPR reporter Quil Lawrence. "And he said, ‘Yeah, I think about it every day.' And it blew me away. We'd never discussed that -- and we were tight. We covered each other."

    Off the cuff, Cutler and his buddy made a promise.

    "You really can't think too far ahead when you're in that state of mind, so I said, ‘Just call. Just call me first. Don't punk out. Don't go without saying goodbye,'" Cutler told his friend. "And then we made an agreement to at least call each other first."

    Other Veterans helped that evolve into what Cutler started calling the Spartan Pledge, which he said around a thousand Veterans have made. It's just two lines, meant to give Vets a pause before they hurt themselves:

    "I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family."

    Veterans commit suicide at a 50-percent higher rate than those who did not serve in the military, according to a study published last year from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A Veterans Pulse Survey released by the charity DAV (Disabled American Veterans) last Veterans Day found that 1 in 4 Veterans see suicide as one of the biggest challenges facing those who have served.

    "You don't have to be suicidal to take the pledge," said Steve "Luker" Danyluk, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who's also taken up the cause. "It's finding a mission: Help your buddy. It's reconnecting, re-establishing those relationships that seem to vanish once you leave the military."

    When Danyluk and retired New York City Fire Department firefighter Danny Prince started talking about 25 pounds of steel recovered from the World Trade Center and the aftermath of the tragedy on 9/11, their conversation became about how they could use that powerful symbolism to bring attention to the terrible epidemic of Veteran suicide as well.

    Prince, a Coast Guard Veteran, visited injured Veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last fall. With him, he carried the 25 pounds of scrap metal.

    "It's remarkable, the pieces of steel that we have. They're so important, and you don't want to waste anything," Prince said in an interview with NPR reporter Quil Lawrence.

    Danyluk had an idea to turn the steel remnants into a symbol for Veterans and first responders everywhere that could potentially open up the conversation and save Veterans' lives. What evolved was nothing short of powerful. They started moving on a plan to gather Veterans and first responders together and forge the steel into a "Spartan Sword."

    "The pure, almost religious nature of the steel from the World Trade Center was transformed into something about healing," said Danyluk.

    The 9/11 attacks motivated a lot of people to join the military, Danyluk said, so the symbolism of the sword is important. "It's about transformation -- taking this twisted steel that was part of our nation's greatest tragedy and turning it into something beautiful: a weapon of healing rather than a weapon of destruction." Danyluk helped organize the Spartan Alliance, a collaboration of nonprofit Veteran organizations, and joined forces with Prince to create Spartan Weekend. The charity DAV got on board early, realizing the impact such an event could have for our nation's ill and injured Veterans.

    "DAV proactively fights this epidemic by providing services that connect Veterans with care and address their quality of life, but this was a chance for us to become involved in a way where we could directly see an impact," said DAV National Adjutant Marc Burgess. "It was a new idea -- nothing like this had been done before -- so we knew we were in for something truly special."

    Hundreds of Veterans, their families and caregivers attended the Spartan Weekend, held in Washington, D. C., in May. They gathered to raise awareness about Veteran suicide, a struggle many of them have faced head on.

    "I know too many people who have chosen suicide over life, including my own supervisor," Air Force Veteran Sarah Bonner said. "That's why I came. I will do anything -- absolutely anything -- to make sure other Veterans don't choose that option. This weekend reminds us that we are not alone. We have our Veteran family. I could've been one of the 22, but I wasn't because of support. So now I'm here to show other Veterans I support them."

    The weekend included a bike ride, a concert at the Hard Rock Cafe headlined by Kristy Lee Cook and other events designed to bond participating Veterans and family members. It culminated on Mother's Day with a nondenominational service at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

    The Rev. Matt Pawlikowski, an Army chaplain from West Point, officiated a Mother's Day service honoring Gold Star and Blue Star Mothers who have sons or daughters who are actively serving or have lost their lives in service.

    Margie Miller, from New York, came to the event eight months and seven days after her son, a 22-year-old Marine, fatally shot himself. She talked about how they spoke on the phone most days and how she had just heard all about his plans, seemingly happy as ever, to go boating with friends. Two days later, her husband told her, "There are three Marines in the living room."

    "You took a solemn pledge to protect our country," Miller told the audience of Veterans. "Take that same pledge, the Spartan Pledge, and protect yourself. Say, ‘I will reach out for help.'"

    The ceremony closed with dozens of Veterans taking an oath against suicide.

    Leading the pledge was Miller and DAV Past National Commander and Marine Vietnam Veteran Roberto "Bobby" Barrera.

    "Come over here," Barrera said while reaching out to the sword with his prosthetic arm. "Gather around the sword with me; touch it. If you can't touch the sword, grab ahold of someone who is touching it, so we can form an unbreakable connection. You are not alone. We are here. Your family, your Veteran family." Everyone in attendance gathered around the sword and each other in an emotionally charged circle while they repeated the pledge.

    The evening before the pledge at the memorial, Barrera shared his personal story and told his fellow Veterans that, even recently, he himself had contemplated suicide after moving and experiencing a setback to his physical health. The fight against the epidemic is something that requires constant vigilance, he said. Nearly a half-century after being severely burned in combat, and after years of counseling and mentoring others, he was only recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    "I realized I needed help. I thought about what it would mean to my family and my fellow Veterans if I had made that choice. I thought of all the people who had supported me, and that's what got me through a very dark period," said Barrera. "It's not just recent-era Veterans who contribute to these statistics. To solve this problem, we need to make a commitment as a community to be there for one another."

    The event also featured DAV Past National Commander Dennis Joyner, a Vietnam Veteran and triple amputee, who is the president of Disabled Veterans' Life Memorial Foundation. "When the last bullet is fired, when the last man or woman steps off the plane or ship and comes home, for disabled Veterans, their struggles -- those that are visible and the ones we can't see -- remain an everyday part of life," said Joyner. "We as a community of Veterans and survivors must band together and ensure none of our own are left behind or forgotten."

    The Spartan Pledge has caught fire in the Veteran community and continues to be a binding promise among suffering Veterans. While there can be no study of how effective the Pledge is, many say just having that "battle buddy" aware of what's going on inside can be the difference between suicide and life.

    Cutler and a charity called The Gallant Few have made this mission to combat Veteran suicide with his creation of The Spartan Pledge. Warfighters promise not to take their own lives, and instead vow to find a new mission to help one another.

    The newest data from the Department of Veterans Affairs states that 20 Veterans commit suicide every single day. Don't be one of the 20. Contact the Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255 – or any medical professional if you're having thoughts of suicide.

    Source

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  • Donald Trump 001

     

    President Trump to issue executive order requesting mental health coverage for a 12 month period for all service members as they leave the military, administration officials say in briefing.

    • Marine Vets Malpractice

       

      He's left with a permanent disability and no way to recover damages. Instead, he's trying to change the law.

    • Grants 001

       

      Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that thousands of low-income Veteran families around the nation will continue to receive benefits under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program.

      These Veterans, who are permanently housed or transitioning to permanent housing, will continue to have access to crucial services with the funding of approximately $326 million in grants.

      SSVF funding, which supports outreach, case management and other flexible assistance rapidly to re-house Veterans who are homeless — or at risk of becoming homeless — will be awarded to 252 nonprofit organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A list of applicants that will be awarded grants is located at www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.

      “At VA, we’re dedicated to fulfilling President Lincoln’s promise of taking care of Veterans and their families, and the SSVF program has proven extremely effective in doing just that. It provides low-income Veterans and their families with the services and support they need to secure and maintain stable housing,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our hope is to see many more Veterans avoid or exit homelessness because of these important grants.”

      Grantees will continue to provide eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management and assistance obtaining VA and other benefits. These may include:

      • Health care
      • Fiduciary payee
      • Financial planning
      • Child care
      • Legal support
      • Transportation
      • Housing counseling, and
      • Other services

      SSVF grantees are expected to leverage supportive services grant funds to enhance the housing stability of low-income Veteran families that are occupying permanent housing. In doing so, grantees are required to establish relationships with local community resources.

      In fiscal year (FY) 2017, SSVF served more than 129,450 participants, including approximately 83,900 Veterans and 27,535 children. Because of these and other efforts, Veteran homelessness is down significantly since the launch of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in 2010.

      The applicants to which grants will be awarded competed under a Nov. 6, 2017, Notice of Fund Availability. Applications were due Jan. 12, 2018. The funding will support SSVF services in FY 2019, which starts Oct. 1, 2018, and ends Sept. 30, 2019.

      The SSVF program is authorized by 38 U.S.C. 2044. VA implements the program by regulations in 38 CFR Part 62. Visit www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp to learn more about the SSVF program.

      Source

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    • Opioids

       

      Today U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dr. David J. Shulkin announced that VA has begun publicly posting information on opioids dispensed from VA pharmacies, along with VA’s strategies to prescribe these pain medications appropriately and safely.

    • DVA Logo 005

       

      Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a major milestone, that 100 percent of its more than 1,000 medical facilities across the country now offer same-day services for urgent primary and mental health-care needs.

    • Emergency Medical Treatment

       

      Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it has, through a Federal Register notice, revised its regulations concerning payment or reimbursement for emergency treatment for non-service connected conditions at non-VA facilities.

    • Comment

       

      Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it is seeking public comments on how it can further strengthen and improve caregiver support through the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC).

    • VA Sued 002

       

      An Air Force Veteran died while waiting for care at a Veteran Affairs medical facility in Washington state, a new lawsuit claims.

    • Policies Procedures Handbooks

       

      The Department of Veterans Affairs announced last week that it is taking back rights it gave away under the previous administration to preclude collective bargaining on issues indirectly related to VA providers’ professional conduct or competence. Consequently, unions can no longer engage in collective bargaining when it comes to professional conduct and patient care by VA providers.

    • Bucket List

       

      The sky is the limit

      With help from VA Recreation Therapist Lili Sotolong, left, Veteran Kenneth Augustus was able to scratch skydiving from his bucket list.

    • DVA Logo 019

       

      Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a series of immediate actions to improve the timeliness of payments to community providers.

    • DVA Logo 005

       

      Supplemental Income for Wartime Veterans

      VA helps Veterans and their families cope with financial challenges by providing supplemental income through the Veterans Pension benefit. Veterans Pension is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income wartime Veterans.

      Eligibility

      Generally, a Veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a wartime period to qualify for a VA Pension. If you entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally you must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions), with at least one day during a wartime period.

      In addition to meeting minimum service requirements, the Veteran must be:

      • Age 65 or older, OR
      • Totally and permanently disabled, OR
      • A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
      • Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR
      • Receiving Supplemental Security Income

      Your yearly family income must be less than the amount set by Congress to qualify for the Veterans Pension benefit. Learn more about income and net worth limitation, and see an example of how VA calculates the VA Pension benefit.

      Additional Pension Allowances

      Veterans or surviving spouses who are eligible for VA pension and are housebound or require the aid and attendance of another person may be eligible for an additional monetary payment.

      How To Apply

      You can apply for Veterans Pension online or download and complete VA Form 21P-527EZ, “Application for Pension”. You can mail your application to the Pension Management Center (PMC) that serves your state. You may also visit your local regional benefit office and turn in your application for processing. You can locate your local regional benefit office using the VA Facility Locator

      To apply for increased pension based on A&A or Housebound payments, write to the PMC that serves your state and provide medical evidence, such as a doctor’s report, that validates the need for an increased benefit.

      Source

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    • Website Updates 002 

    • Going Back to School

       

      Welcome to The Bridge, a regular column from Andrea N. Goldstein on the experience and challenges of transitioning from the military to civilian life.

      I was drunk at a Korean karaoke bar in Bahrain when I decided I was going to leave the Navy. I made up my mind when between songs, I overheard someone who was about to take terminal leave say, “If you know you’re not going to stay in for twenty, leave sooner rather than later.”

      It wasn’t a knee-jerk decision. I planned my exit from the Navy well in advance (and publicly on Task & Purpose). I wanted to go to the graduate school of my choice full-time on the timeline that I dictated. Like many others, I also wavered about when I’d leave. After deployment, I dropped my papers to resign my active duty commission and started grad school applications. I left active duty two years ago, and in May, I graduated from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

      Conventional wisdom about being a Veteran in school focuses on benefits or jokes about being an older student. And most of it holds up, no matter the kind of program, whether you’re a first-time, first-generation college student, or getting a Ph.D. But here’s what nobody tells you:

      Trauma has an incubation period

      I didn’t realize how some of the worst days of my service had profoundly affected me until the second semester of my first year, when I started white-knuckling the desk in the back of the lecture hall in one of my classes. I didn’t serve in direct combat, and the kinds of missions I supported don’t make the news unless something goes horribly wrong. I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel the anxiety that lived in my bones. It took interviewing hundreds of women Veterans for my thesis, including a handful who had a similar military experience to me decades earlier, to realize that we were struggling with some of the same issues and that was okay.

      For many Veterans, the college or graduate school application process is the first time they have to tell their story, and that often brings up a lot of challenging memories. Know this, and use it to grow stronger.

      Take care of your health. Seriously.

      The military broke most of us somehow—and for many, it takes a while before we notice. Get enrolled at the local VA for healthcare before your semester starts. I was able to do well in school because VA Boston helped me get healthy. You can choose not to use the VA, but it’s always better to have and not need than to need and not have.

      Self-advocate: I was admittedly not great at this. All schools have a point of contact for disability accommodation, and your needs can look different. I hated asking for accommodations, but was always relieved they were in place when I needed them.

      Self-advocacy is exhausting and choosing expediency may be the best thing for your self-care, even if it impacts your grades. Chronic pain is a rude roommate who does not care when you have midterms. At times, getting an extension so I could get through a flare was a godsend. At other times, I took B’s on some papers in my last semester that I could have gotten A’s on because I decided being done was better for my health and self-care.

      Veterans in academia matter

      Veterans use their experience to forge new research agendas. Pat Tillman Scholar Gretchen Klingler, who learned Iraqi Arabic in the Air Force, is currently conducting research with Iraqi women through her studies in anthropology at Ohio State. Another Tillman Scholar, Texas A&M medical student Andrew D. Fisher, left the Army and started a group to promote Stop the Bleed, which brings lessons learned about bleeding control from the battlefield to local communities. For my master’s thesis, I interviewed women Veterans to understand why women Veterans are less likely to self-identify in their communities—and learned that there’s hardly any qualitative research on women Veterans.

      As Veterans, we often complain that the civilian world doesn’t know or care enough about us. If we are not part of the conversation, it will take place behind our backs or not at all. In academia, we can spearhead the research that informs the public and shapes policy.

      You need fellow Veterans more than you think

      Marginalized Veterans are often the first to self-select out of being part of the Veteran community. Why would we continue to try to be part of an organization that mistreated us? As a Veteran, I found my tribe. Particularly among Pat Tillman Scholars and fellow Veteran classmates at Fletcher, I members of the military community who, like me, felt out of place on active duty.

      That said, don’t just stay in the Veterans bubble—seek social experiences that make you uncomfortable. I met some my best friends in graduate school in an a capella group, and through a recurring happy hour the Veterans club had with former Peace Corps volunteers (we called it “War & Peace.”)

      Where you go to school really matters

      Going back to school directly after the military gave me the opportunity to reflect in a way that I would not have known I needed had I gone straight to work. My courses taught me a vocabulary that helped frame past experiences and gave me tools to accomplish more than I could have imagined. I had time to network, work a summer internship at a top company, and figure out what I didn’t want to do.

      Don’t rush. If you’re on unsure footing on your path, take the time to conduct research and spend some time in community college. Seek support from Service to School, Warrior-Scholar Project, and Posse Foundation Veterans Program. Aim high, and you may end up somewhere that changes the trajectory of your life.

      Source

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