Page 1

New Bay Area group gives veterans a welcome home By Gary Peterson Contra Costa Times Posted: 08/25/2012 06:20:22 PM PDT Updated: 08/25/2012 06:20:23 PM PDT

ORINDA -- Last month, Michael Peacock, an Army veteran who saw combat in Iraq, felt a twinge in his right leg. Four days later it was so sore he could barely walk. He headed for the Martinez VA clinic, but en route the pain got so bad he couldn't even operate his truck. He placed a call to a friend, Marine veteran Ryan Berg, founder of the nonprofit Returning Veterans of America. "I grabbed my two co-founders (Mia Geurts and Jason Deitch), and hopped in the car," Berg said. "We pulled him out of his truck and he ended up needing emergency surgery. Now he's at the VA Martinez rehab center." That's a little more hands-on than most services RVA offers returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. But it seems an apt illustration of Berg's commitment to his fledgling organization, which he founded in 2010 by cashing in his GI Bill. "We needed to find a way to organize around the idea of, 'Look, I've come home. So have you. Let's get together and see what we can do,' " Berg said Saturday, from the RVA's welcome home event at the Orinda Library. "It's a very simple idea. We want to give it as much infrastructure as we can because we think the best way to serve the current generation (of veterans) is by those who are part of that population." Saturday's event, RVA's second of the month, featured VA claims processing assistance from veterans service representatives; recruiters from Google, the FBI and Diplomatic Security Corps; academic information from UC Berkeley; free memberships and passes

to Concord's UFC Gym and Diablo Rock Gym, and food and drinks donated by Whole Foods and Starbucks. The Contra Costa Library got involved through a state funding grant, which allows it to provide veterans services. One is filming veterans' stories for the National Library of Congress. "The second part is to produce these welcome-home events to address the information need," said Chris Brown, acting community library manager. "They need one-on-one trustworthy sources. We're bringing RVA in to be that information resource." The library setting lent a community feel to Saturday's event, which fit in with Berg's vision for his organization -- to create a community that provides the kind of purpose and camaraderie they experienced in the military. "It's hard," Berg said of trying to assimilate back into society from a highly structured environment in which life-and-death decisions are made on a daily basis. "I can see why people fall down. But I can also understand why people stay up and stay motivated." Peacock thought he was doing well when he was discharged from the Army. "It took a while to realize that fitting-in thing wasn't happening," he said. "Three years later it got the point where there were weeks at a time that I couldn't leave the house." RVA "found a counselor for me," he said. "They said, 'You want to be with this guy.' They picked me up, drove me for appointments several times. They basically just listened patiently to me going on and on, took me out to eat and made me feel like it was OK. I wasn't broke to a degree that couldn't be fixed." Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at

Returning Veterans of American offers support for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans and families at Find article online here:

Online PR News – 24-August-2012 –—Returning Veterans of America (RVA), founded by OIF and OEF combat veterans, announces the second in a series of Welcome Home events on Saturday, August 25th from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm at the Orinda Library on 26 Orinda Way, Orinda, CA. RVA’s all day Welcome Home event is designed for returning Bay Area veterans and their families to meet and network with their local brothers and sisters within a supportive grass roots peer-mentoring community. RVA, founded by veterans, is a newly formed Bay Area non-profit dedicated to addressing the real world needs and problems of returning OIF and OEF combat veterans in transition to civilian life. Veterans attending Welcome Home will be provided onsite face-to-face access to claims processing from County Veterans Service representatives and resume and employment feedback from Google, Wells Fargo, The FBI, the Berkeley Marine Officer Recruiters (Berkeley OSO) and the Diplomatic Security Corps. Those interested in information for academic opportunities will be able to speak with representatives, current students, and alumnus from UC Berkeley, Boalt Law School, and other Bay Area schools. In addition, free memberships to UFC Gym in Concord and free training passes from Diablo Rock Gym will be offered to all veteran attendees. Attending veterans and their families will enjoy complementary lunch, beverages and swag from Welcome Home sponsors Whole Foods, Starbucks and Diablo Rock Gym. “We want returning vets throughout the Bay Area to embrace the suck and say hello to a new kind of Welcome Home event and goodbye to bureaucracy, stacks of lame flyers and dead florescent lit rooms,” says Jason Deitch PhD, RVA’s Director of Community Development and Clinical Operations. “Our fellow brothers and sisters need to know they have a ‘boots on the ground’ team that will not only cover their back, but will take on real problems, and get them real help and answers, period,” adds Mr. Deitch. Welcome Home is supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. About Returning Veterans of America A “Boots on the Ground” 501c3 non-profit veterans advocacy group, Returning Veterans of America, is a grass roots peer mentoring community. RVA is dedicated to empowering returning veterans toward success through claims and benefits utilization counseling, academic and employment guidance, transition skills counseling and community service engagement. Founded by OIF and OEF veterans, RVA speaks the language and understands the experiences and challenges facing this generation of combat veterans and the huge resource and leadership potential they represent. RVA brings various and often narrowly focused service providers into cooperation to create viable and pragmatic

solutions to the complex needs of today's returning veterans. For more information see Article can be found online at:

Published August 15th, 2012

Veterans Offer Hope, Extend Hand of Friendship Laurie Snyder A different kind of American military campaign was launched recently on a hot, dry, August morning in Lamorinda. Many in attendance had seen prior action - some just recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. This time, though, the staging area was the Orinda Library. Returning Veterans of America (RVA), a non-profit organization cofounded in 2011 by current-era combat veterans, presented its first Welcome Home event on Saturday August 11 to thank men and women for their service to the nation and help them connect with resources proven to ease their transition from war to peace. "Orinda, Lafayette and their conjoining towns are the gateway to the largest population density of veterans in California," said Jason Deitch, Ph.D., RVA's Director of Community Development and Clinical

Operations, and former Army Ranger who founded the Cal Veterans Group at the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. Deitch "designs, seeks out and implements streamlined methods for accessing benefits for returning veterans of the U.S. Military," according to RVA's web site, and works "to provide positive peer mentorship." The support of residents in Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda is so important, said Deitch, because 10 percent of all males above the age of 18 in and around the Lamorinda area have performed military service. RVA, he said, is "trying to galvanize the cooperation" of the local businesses, healthcare providers and service agencies most likely to be in a position to guide veterans on their new journeys. Ryan Berg, Deitch's colleague and RVA's Executive Director and founder of Diablo Valley College's Student Veterans Group, saw action as an Infantry Marine stationed 20 kilometers south of Baghdad. Berg's RVA co-founder, Mia Geurts, entered the Army at the age of 18. After completing training as a medic, she was sent to Wiesbaden, Germany and then Iraq, and later decided to become an Army doctor, tackling the tough curricula of Cal's molecular and cellular biology program in preparation for medical school. All three know first-hand how overwhelming the return to civilian life can be; all three knew that they could be of service to others still in the process of transitioning. "We've made it; so you can you," is their message. Berg envisions RVA as an outreach arm for the many agencies the average veteran is expected to negotiate at the county and federal levels. "There are barriers in their official capacities," he said of Veterans Affairs personnel who often fail to connect effectively with those they are charged with assisting. Those barriers can make men and women reluctant to reach out once they've been let down. Attendees at RVA's first social and luncheon event, which was presented in partnership with the Contra Costa County Library and the U.S. Institute of Library and Museum Services, received real-time Veterans Affairs claims processing help, and were welcome to spend time swapping stories and hanging out in a video game-equipped lounge at the Orinda Library. They also worked with experienced vets one-on-one to get resume and job search advice, and explore new opportunities for personal growth in programs such as the woodworking group offered by Lafayette resident Tim Killian.

A former Bechtel contractor who toiled in Iraq's much publicized "green zone," Killian has an intimate understanding of the toll that working in high stress environments can take on the human spirit. His club, which includes Lafayette resident and U.S. Navy veteran David Lipscomb and several other volunteers, is partnering with RVA to teach vets the basics of woodworking. Killian hopes to teach vets the higher level of craftsmanship needed to create quality, handmade furniture for resale. Deitch spoke enthusiastically of Killian's program saying that, in the very peaceful and quiet setting afforded, veterans experience a transformation as they are "watching something being created, not destroyed." Find article online at:

Veteran establishes support for others returning from war By LOUISE RAFKIN |October 11, 2012 midnight |In VETERANS

After serving 10 years as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, Jason Deitch returned to the Bay Area and discovered firsthand the need for veteran support. He enrolled in community college, then in 2004 transferred to UC Berkeley, where he said students were clueless about his military experience. Being a veteran was not something he was comfortable sharing with acquaintances. The campus’ liberal reputation left him feeling alienated, and there was no official club or organized group for veterans. But slowly, Deitch met others on campus like himself. “ ‘Vet-dar’ – it’s like a kind of ‘gaydar,’ ” Deitch joked, on how he discovered other veterans also struggling with the abrupt return to civilian life. To raise awareness and provide support for other veterans on campus, Deitch founded the Cal Veterans Group. He set up a table in Sproul Plaza to attract others seeking support and information, and soon word of mouth spread; other veterans joined in. “Military life is very much dictated by face-to-face interactions,” Deitch said. “And trust is developed only through personal connections.” That early group, with Deitch at the helm, became a safe place for veterans shifting from military life to campus culture. “The rigors of boot camp introduces military norms to incoming soldiers, but there is nothing in place for veterans exiting service to readjust to civilian life,” he said. Not only do post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological after-effects of war afflict many veterans, he said, but the tenor of nearly all daily interactions is dramatically different than it is in the military. “Soldiers are strictly socialized, from how close to stand while talking to how relationships and friendships operate to what behaviors earn respect – the norms are hugely different from those in civilian life,” Deitch said. The group’s members found support in each other, but obtaining official campus backing was difficult. Deitch said initially, the administration wouldn’t provide veterans’ contact information. Eventually, after California’s Troops to College initiative began in 2006, the group gained footing with the administration. The Cal Veterans Group aimed to provide support to those on campus, but also wanted to build a bridge to the university for those considering applying. “We’d talk to vets applying for colleges to show how we could help them make it here,” said Deitch, who claims that many veterans who initially were uncertain about attending committed after getting a personal call from someone in the veterans group.

“A fellow soldier’s evaluation of a situation is trustworthy; it’s a key aspect of military culture,” Deitch said. The Cal Veterans Group inaugurated an annual spring Hail and Farewell Ball to send off graduates, as well as to welcome those hoping to matriculate the following fall. Deitch said the military is “rife with ritual,” and creating annual events, such as the formal dance, helped create stability for campus veterans. Deitch and the group also worked on gathering best practices and specific resources for veterans in need of health, welfare and social services. In addition, he said, many UC Berkeley students had stereotypes about veterans that needed to be challenged. The group participated in panels and academic discussions and offered educational panels for interested students. “We consistently reinforced each other to feel positive about our status as veterans,” Deitch said. Since 2006, Ron Williams has been the program director for re-entry student and veterans services at UC Berkeley, a position implemented after the Cal Veterans Group was up and running. Williams said that before Deitch started his group, there was no formal avenue for veterans to get the support they needed. There are now more than 300 veterans on campus. “Jason has a unique set of abilities,” Williams said. “He is a gifted scholar and deep thinker, and yet a truly warm and engaging person. Those qualities seeded the campus group – he has a remarkable skill set.” In 2010, Deitch earned a Ph.D. in sociology after writing his thesis on how returning combat veterans re-create social identity and recommit to social institutions. Upon leaving the university, he saw the resources and support developed by the campus group also were needed by those on the outside. So in late 2010, he joined two former veterans of the Cal Veterans Group at Returning Veterans of America, a “boots on the ground” advocacy nonprofit in Danville serving veterans in the East Bay. He is now the director of community development and clinical operations, implementing peer mentoring and support for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’re a pragmatic organization,” Deitch said. “If vets need help with paperwork, a referral or just a sympathetic ear, we provide it.” Deitch also is the assistant director of programs for East Bay Stand Down, an annual event supporting homeless veterans. This year’s four-day Stand Down, held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in mid-September, served more than 450 veterans. A tent

city provided temporary shelter for the veterans, who were given food, medical care, legal advice and hot showers, among other services. Despite Deitch’s tireless work, he says challenges remain – notably mental health issues and suicides among veterans. According to a report last year from the Center for a New American Security, an active member of the military takes his or her life every 36 hours. For returning service members, the rates are even higher: The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes. Deitch said not enough is being done to stem what he called an epidemic. Deitch said he’d like to host President Barack Obama for dinner at his Oakland home, which he shares with his fiancée. “I’d take his hand in mine, look him in the eyes and ask him how he’s going to keep veterans from dying here at home.” He said education and health services are of prime importance, along with the mentorship of other veterans who have successfully transitioned out of military service. He said it is difficult for returning veterans who have served in “pretty awful circumstances.” Still, as Deitch works to support Bay Area veterans, he’s optimistic. “Veterans are committed, engaged, motivated men and women who, with support, will continue to serve our country,” he said. “We are hard-charging go-getters with lots to offer.” “All of us who have gone to war are never going to be ‘finished’ with the experience of having gone to war,” Deitch said. “But that is not everything they are – or will be.” Article can be found online here:

insert transcription View video online at - at=0

Returning Veterans of America, Welcome Home Event ABC 7 News, Alan Wang A newly founded Bay Area veterans group held a Welcome Home in Orinda today. Returning Veterans of America presents itself as a different kind of group to help veterans. The group assists veterans by interpreting the skills and language used in the service into civilian life. “You need to get into school, you maybe need to see a therapist, you maybe need to learn how to translate your experiences into the language that can best represent your potential. What RVA does is we get you the person who can help you translate that language.� - Jason Deitch, Director of Community and Clinical Development Returning Veterans of America will hold another Welcome Home event at the Orinda library in two weeks.

3/27/2012 | Press Release

Key Assembly Committee Approves Gaines' Veterans Tuition Bill CONTACT: Jenna Nielsen (916) 774-4430 SACRAMENTO - Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, achieved a big victory in the Assembly Higher Education Committee with a unanimous vote to help California Veterans afford education at state universities and colleges. Assembly Bill 2250, jointly authored by Gaines with Assemblyman Chris Norby, RFullerton, will allow veterans who have received an honorable discharge from the military the ability to take advantage of in-state tuition costs at California's public universities. "Our military servicemen and women and their families have sacrificed greatly to protect our freedom. We should welcome those dedicated, hardworking individuals by making it easier for them to attend our state's public universities," Gaines said. "My bill gives our veterans the assurance of an affordable California education once their service is completed." An honorably discharged veteran that served a minimum of 36 months in the Armed Forces or State Military Reserve, and their spouses, would qualify for resident tuition at any California Community College, California State University or University of California. The Post 9-11 G.I. Bill veterans currently rely on does not cover out-of-state tuition, no matter the length of time they have served.

"Increasing veterans' access to higher education increases their access to our communities, which we feel greatly improves the transition from military to civilian life," Ryan Berg, Founder of Returning Veterans of America, said in a support letter of AB 2250. Assembly Bill 2250 now heads to the Assembly Veterans Committee for a vote on April 10. Assemblywoman Beth Gaines represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes portions of Placer, El Dorado, Sacramento and Alpine counties. This article can be found online at:

Assemblymember Skinner Names RVA co-founder, Mia Geurts, Veteran of the Year Tuesday, June 21 2011 Sacramento, Calif. - At a luncheon ceremony on June 22, 2011, at the State Capitol, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) will honor Mia Geurts as the 14th Assembly District's Veteran of the Year. The ceremony will recognize Ms. Geurts' military service as well as her humanitarian volunteer efforts.

Ms. Geurts, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, served as an Army Combat Medic in Iraq, earning a Combat Medical Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge as recognition of her achievement and medical work under fire. Since returning from active duty, she has remained involved in the medical field, volunteering at Livermore Veterans Hospital and as part of a UC Berkeley student organization, "Volunteers for Medical Outreach (VMO)." Ms. Geurts is also a member of the Cal Veterans Group. As a VMO participant, Ms. Geurts has traveled twice to Vietnam, providing basic medical care and preventative services in rural communities that lack access to health care. Through mobile clinics, Ms. Geurts was able to assist in reaching up to 1,000 people each day with general health and dental services, Hepatitis B vaccines, and sponsorship of corrective surgeries. Ms. Geurts was born in the East Bay and graduated from high school in Danville in 2002. She then served in the Army for four years before returning to the Bay Area as a student. Ms. Geurts attended Diablo Valley College before transferring to UC Berkeley, where she graduated in May with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology. Ms. Geurts has always had an interest in medicine. "When I graduated from high school," she said, "I wanted to do something challenging and rewarding. Combat Medic was a good fit; I loved that job." Ms. Geurts plans to go to medical school and then return to the Army as a doctor. She also remains committed to her volunteer efforts both locally and in Vietnam. Assemblymember Skinner stated, "Mia's commitment to serving others under difficult circumstances is commendable. I am honored to recognize such a remarkable young woman at the beginning of her career." The day's events will be coordinated by the Committee on Veterans Affairs. Neither state nor legislative funds are used to pay for the activities celebrating Assemblymember Skinner's Veteran of the Year. CONTACT: Mark Chekal-Bain, 510-286-1400 (o) 510-599-2246 (c) This article can be found at:

March 22, 2011 03:16 PM

Veterans vs. Veterans by Daniel Luzer It looks like America’s for-profit colleges have another support group, and another group of opponents: veterans. For-profit, online colleges have taken about $640 million of new money from the GI Bill. According to Paul Rieckhoff, a former first lieutenant in the Army National Guard and the founder of the Washington-based advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, that’s just fine. As he explained recently: Ultimately, good value is determined by the veterans. If the veterans are using it they’re seeing good value. They’re discriminating customers. I think just like the rest of millennial generation they’re going to go where they think they get good value. To some extent the market is going to drive it, if they see value there. In my mind that seems a little like saying that check-cashing companies must be doing a good job since poor people so overwhelmingly prefer them to real banks, but whatever. IAVA is the nation’s first and largest nonprofit devoted to veterans of the two wars. But one organization is never enough, right? Rieckhoff’s counterpart at a rival organization thinks he’s got things wrong. Ryan Berg, another veteran, complains that: Perhaps most fundamental to IAVA’s… failure in understanding what veterans need, is the idea mentioned at the end of Reickhoff’s statement, where he points to market forces as a legitimate guide for determining the quality of education veterans receive. It’s true that we often grant the market spontaneous agency in legitimizing the “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” perspective of economic activity. However, applying this perspective to veterans in higher education profoundly mistakes the value of our studies as a commodity for trade. The assumption peddled by Rieckhoff, a former Wall Street professional, is fracturing the veteran community and, without action, violently neglects the promise our experiences have made with the long-held tradition of service in America. Berg is the founder of Returning Veterans of America, a newer group of returning veterans. Berg thinks that for-profits are preying on veterans, not serving them. The bigger problem, however, might be that Rieckhoff’s glorious market isn’t a real market; it’s a synthetic one driven by federal money. This isn’t to say that for-profit colleges are entirely are without value. Part of the reason veterans flock to these schools is because online, for-profit colleges, almost alone among

institutions of higher learning, actually try to offer education conveniently; veterans can get a degree on their own time, and relatively quickly. Most colleges can’t offer that. But this is interesting, like with so much we’ve seen about for-profit colleges in the last few months, the lines are strangely drawn. Groups that support for-profit colleges and factions that oppose them have got Democrats and Republicans. And now it looks like they’ve both got veterans on their side. Incidentally, neither Rieckhoff nor Berg attended proprietary colleges. Rieckhoff went to Amherst. Berg is at Berkeley. Daniel Luzer is the web editor of the Washington Monthly. Follow him on Twitter at @Daniel_Luzer. Article can be found online at:

Opinion: Veterans in higher education call for responsible leadership By RYAN BERG on March 21, 2011 - 1:50pm

The past three months have taught us a lot about what it means to be a veteran advocate in the United States. With recent reports citing the near $640 million theft of the new GI Bill by for-profit, online colleges, and the response by those best positioned to help defend against it, the time has come to re-assess what we want from those who represent us. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Student Veterans of America are the

two most prominent organizations we could hold accountable for failures in adequately promoting quality higher education among returning veterans. It’s difficult to assume that every school shares the intent highlighted by a recent Government Accountability Office report on the for-profit industry. However, it is reasonable to suggest, that because of the enormous industry-wide spike in veteran enrollment, colleges’ motivations in recruiting returning and active-service members share the same kernel of inspiration displayed by those engaged in what seems like unethical business practices. Here’s what nobody wants you to know: for every veteran coaxed into registering for classes, the amount of corporate revenue increases through a government policy designed to preclude federal money from being awarded to risky, low-payoff degree programs. With GI education funds categorized as entitlements, there’s no end to the powerful marketing aimed at enticing veterans to enter these programs, nor to the reframing of departments who handle our recruitment with “veteran transition teams” -– both of which shape the appearance that corporate, online, customer-service based education is what’s right for us. This is the question veterans face today. Indeed, this is where we find ourselves when thinking about what to do about the problem. Paul Rieckhoff, a former first lieutenant in the Army National Guard and a graduate of the private liberal arts school Amherst College, is founder of the Washington-based advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. IAVA lobbies on behalf of the men and women coming home and, as stated on its Website, holds “our leaders accountable for issues affecting troops, returning veterans, and their families.” Commenting on mounting pressure from community-based nonprofits such as, Returning Veterans of America, Reickhoff said, “Good value is determined by the veterans.” Adding that, “If veterans are [attending] they’re seeing good value, and to some extent the market is going to drive [veterans to these colleges]”. Reickhoff’s statements should frighten most who understand the mindset of returning veterans and those currently serving. As an infantry Marine, who deployed twice to Iraq, I remember a speech my captain gave as we left the wire on a dangerous foot patrol. “Men, what we do is not smart,” he said. “We advance toward the sound of gunfire and encourage those out to harm us to try and do so.” He continued, “The decision to protect each other, keep future soldiers from harm, and defend America, is a moral one.” This moment still resonates with me, perhaps loudest when I think of the ways we guide, lead and care for returning veterans today. It’s true that the choice to place ourselves in these situations is far from being a rational or intelligent one, nor can it be understood as one automatically granting us the ability to make all future decisions responsibly, especially with regard to our education and its inherent value. The decision to serve is a moral one based on the understanding that we’re improving others’ chances to do things, such as pursue quality education, and live in a free, democratic, peaceful world. Of course, in the back of our minds, second to the

immediacy of the current mission, we hope that one day our service will be rewarded with opportunities we’ve helped to provide – including quality education, meaningful work and the opportunity to care and provide for our families. This doesn’t mean we don’t know how to make good decisions after military service. Rather, that in the process of coming home, looking toward the most effective and meaningful ways to use our benefits and continuing the tradition of enriching America, we are guided fairly and with trust. Trust that the knowledge we have to give the world is understood as part of the larger American tradition and held as critical as our nation looks to those who understand what it means to serve, lead, work hard, and make responsible decisions in times of crisis. Thinking and acting on this idea can provide veterans’ advocates with the knowledge they need to become responsible leaders who make the best decisions on behalf of veterans as they return home. Perhaps most fundamental to IAVA’s and SVA’s failures in understanding what veterans need, is the idea mentioned at the end of Reickhoff’s statement, where he points to market forces as a legitimate guide for determining the quality of education veterans receive. It’s true that we often grant the market spontaneous agency in legitimizing the “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” perspective of economic activity. However, applying this perspective to veterans in higher education profoundly mistakes the value of our studies as a commodity for trade. The assumption peddled by Rieckhoff, a former Wall Street professional, is fracturing the veteran community and, without action, violently neglects the promise our experiences have made with the long-held tradition of service in America. Let this be the call – and the warning – that we, as veterans, must take responsibility for the advocacy being done on our behalf: It is no more than recognition of the voice that should echo across the Senate hall and follow us into the crevices and the peaks of our veterans’ communities today. If you, like many, believe we deserve responsible advocacy, please register your support and help us recover and strengthen the care we provide to the whole of the veteran community. This article can be found online at:

How for-profit schools prey on returning veterans By RYAN BERG on January 11, 2011 - 7:32am

The NYT published an article recently giving us a taste of how for-profit schools are welcoming home military veterans. While most of the schools claim to be catering to returning veterans by offering accelerated online education programs and superior customer service, many lawmakers and veterans’ advocates suggest something quite different is happening. Here’s the gist: until recently, these programs were driven by federal funds and loans brought in by non-military students. However, because military veterans are entitled to the generous and well-deserved New GI Bill, these schools have turned to an aggressive and strategic campaign focused on capturing their benefits. According to federal law, no more than 90% of a school’s revenue can come from federal sources. GI Bill entitlements, rightly so, don't count as coming from federal sources. So, recruiting more veterans into these schools means that more non-military students can enroll, thereby increasing the amount of federal revenue (profit) with each new veteran enrollment. Quite an incentive. Nothing has fractured our community more than the power of these million dollar corporations, their high-pressure recruiters, and their appeal to convenience. This all happens as our strongest advocates, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Student Veterans of America (SVA) come to the defense of this industry that many see as exploiting us. While it’s true that some of these schools can benefit veterans, including those who are deployed, caring for their families, or otherwise unable to attend a college campus, it is a mistake to assume and act as if those are the majority.

Brian Hawthorne, board member of SVA, recently stated, “Vets are really not at college to get the traditional undergraduate experience. We are already professionals. College is a box checker, meaning we need a college degree to go into whatever we want to go into.” He then cautioned us in thinking that the entire industry was to blame. “I did not feel taken advantage of,” he said. “If there are those who feel that way, let’s investigate it as individual cases and not as an industry exploiting veterans.” Asking veterans if they felt taken advantage of is late, irresponsible and reflects the failure of those responsible for leading us. This is an industry that exploits veterans. Four out of the five top colleges that receive the highest amount of GI Bill funds are online for-profit schools, and the many others are highlighted by the jump in industry revenue from $108.2 million in 2008 to approximately $521 million in 2010 (the GI Bill going into effect Aug 1, 2009). Ashford, a for-profit school based in San Diego, owned by Bridgepoint, spent more on marketing and promotion than they did on the 53,700 students they’ve enrolled–99% of them being online students. Perhaps even more concerning was a recent telephone interview I had with Hawthorne, where he persisted in saying the medium we learn through, whether in a physical classroom or on a computer, remains irrelevant. Which reminded me of a time I had a genuine question to ask of a professor. A question that wouldn’t have come up had I not been in class, observing the movement of her hands, following the inflection, pause and transition of her speech. IAVA released a statement in response to the Times article from GI Bill expert, Patrick Campbell, where the industry is referred to as a “few bad apples [engaged in predatory recruitment tactics].” To sum up an entire industry’s manipulation, exploitation and degradation of a military veterans’ college education as a few bad apples is a fundamental failure in their obligation to care for and represent us. Helping to pass the GI Bill and its amendments does not say you support our education; in fact, IAVA’s past and continued silence in promoting higher education shows complete negligence. Further, it reads, “Recently, enrollment in traditional colleges and universities has been climbing steadily across the country. It’s not surprising that veteran enrollment in forprofit schools has also surged since the passage of the New GI Bill.” An unsurprising surge? Really, IAVA? A casual response to our education being highjacked, our benefits stolen, and our promise to America forgotten?

As a member of the veteran community and advocate on behalf of those who remain silent, yet no doubt affected, we hope that IAVA and SVA can begin to promote and speak of the education we should have. We hope they can begin to see our education not as a mark applied to a box, but a source of community, discovery, and transition. While our rush toward a quick and convenient education may appear as a sign of our own choice, rest assured, its endurance and our failure is theirs. This article can be found online at:

The community some have forgotten By RYAN BERG on December 6, 2010 - 3:21pm

Tom Brokaw wrote an op-ed in the New York Times recently urging current political candidates to pay more attention to the human and economic consequences of the wars. As a two-tour Marine veteran and senior at the University of California, Berkeley, I couldn’t agree more. However, Brokaw’s call for the wars to become present in campaign speech is only the tip of the iceberg. The consequences of nine years of U.S. military conflict deserves much more than a seasonal call for thought among our political representatives. It demands consistent thinking from us all, and more importantly, it calls for a deeper understanding of the current crisis within the veteran community. The human consequences of war do not end with the breath of the men who die in combat, or with the wounded. The war comes home with us and we remember things.

This can be seen on the faces of the 18 young veterans who commit suicide everyday, or it can be heard in the voices of the 10,000 men and woman who place calls to the VA’s suicide prevention hotline every month. When the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, General Shinseki, posed the question to himself, “Why do we know so much about suicides but still know so little about how to prevent them?”, he replied, “Simple question but we continue to be challenged.” The Secretary’s challenges are real and have everyone in its grasp, to include policy makers and the whole of American society. Researchers and healthcare professionals work to discover better programs and methods for dealing with returning veterans, only to observe suicide rates that remain consistently high. These challenges, when viewed from the institution partly responsible for such tragedy, can often conceal the most obvious solution. Effective approaches are substituted for those more susceptible to accounting and budgetary analysis, creating an environment that dismisses solutions outside of economic ones. The fact is returning veterans need community. And as immeasurable as that sounds, the results all of us seek lie here. Getting a veteran into a mental health appointment is nearly impossible without the encouragement of another vet. To us, we aren’t the ones that need help, and by seeing a professional, someone who has never known the inside of a combat boot, makes many of us nauseous. Current community-building efforts for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are in urgent need of funding, resources, and strong leadership. While the VFW and American Legion are iconic for building the older veteran communities, important leaders of the nation’s newest generation of veterans have lost sight of the essence of community. This is clear when we look at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nations first and largest non-profit organization for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Their efforts to build community begin and end with a lowly populated online network, also referred to as “Facebook for vets." And even more alarming, was the statement made by Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of IAVA, during his speech at The Second Annual Heroes Gala in New York City: “Community-of-Veterans.ORG is the veterans hall of the future." Many veterans today are deeply concerned with this statement and have come to question the technological infiltration that has proceeded to weaken the standard of communitybuilding set by the heroes who returned from WWII. We deserve more from the leaders who have set out on the mission to improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, we deserve help in building a lasting community.

In fact, the growing movement among veterans asking IAVA for permission and resources to allow local chapters in their cities and towns is a necessary request and certainly one worth fighting for. As Tom Brokaw calls on our political representatives to reconsider midterm election conversation this year, a defining passage in his book, The Greatest Generation, serves as an additional reminder to the candidates whose mission it is to build and lead the new veteran community – surely our individual and collective survival are worthy of listening: “WWII veterans did not abandon their service to their community and nation. It was encoded in them as a result of their personal experiences in WWII. In these times individual and collective survival depended on a selfless sense of commitment to a common cause.” If you’re a returning veteran interested in supporting the movement for local veterans chapters in your area, please visit This article can be found online at:

America’s Veterans: The Collateral Damage of War Marcia G. Yerman NYC writer, focusing on cultural issues. Co-founder of cultureID. Posted: November 11, 2010 04:29 PM

It is a given that before a person is equipped to be part of a military fighting machine, he or she must be trained -- physically and mentally. What is not explicit is that upon a return to civilian life, there is no preparation for reentry into the previous rhythm of life. Hopefully, with voices demanding to be heard, the public, lawmakers, and other agencies will listen to the urgent calls to action that must be heeded. The current situation for veterans is not new, just different. This Veterans Day, HBO is debuting a documentary entitled Wartorn: 1861-2010. Through interviews, personal letters and journals of soldiers, photos and archival footage, the 68-minute film traces post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) back to the Civil War. At that time, survivors were labeled as hysterical, melancholic, or insane. In fact, it is noted that "after the Civil War, over half of the patients in mental institutions were veterans." In World War I, the condition was referenced as "shell-shock." During World War II, the term "combat fatigue" was euphemistically employed. (Included in Wartorn is a scene with a group of World War II vets sharing their stories for the first time. One man explains, "I had no one to turn to. No one understood." Another reveals, "You're just not coming home the same guy you left.") We now have the terminology and psychological insights to recognize the problem. But are we doing any better? When interviewed, General Peter Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army who is working to stem the rising tide of suicides states, "You're fighting a culture that doesn't believe that injuries you can't see can be as serious as injuries you can see." In reality, Chiarellli points out, "these are hidden wounds as serious as losing an arm or a leg." He adds, "We've got to get them off the battlefield."

Suicides among veterans expanded by 26 percent from 2005 to 2007. That doesn't include the veteran deaths that were the result of high-risk behavior. More than 1,000 vets in California under the age of 35 died after returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan between 2005-2008. Author and journalist, Aaron Glantz, succinctly outlined this problem in his article, "After Service, Veterans Deaths Surge." He wrote that the "figure is three times higher than the number of California service members who were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts over the same period." He drilled down on the lack of response from the government when he appeared on the "War and Peace Report" hosted by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. What's actually being done in a nuts and bolts way to support veterans? I checked in with America Works of New York, which serves veterans by offering psychological and substance abuse counseling, health insurance guidance, interview and resume preparation, and ultimately job placement. America Works is a for-profit company that is 100 percent performance based. The staff saw an upsurge of veterans into their program approximately three years ago. In 2008, they applied to the federally funded entity "Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program," and were contracted to place 160 homeless vets in jobs within a year. They reached their goal and got a follow up three-year contract. The founders of America Works, Dr. Lee Bowes and Peter Cove, have taken their "work first" model, which originated in 1984, and tailored it to the needs of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan -- at least one in 10 of whom are unemployed. In the 18-24 demographic the stats drop to one in five unemployed, as many enlistees join the service directly from high school -- and are looking for a civilian job for the first time. The facts put out by America Works explain that nationwide approximately 154,000 veterans are homeless each night. Foreclosure rates in military towns have been on the upswing of four times the national average. In 2008, more than 1.3 million vets were living in poverty. Almost one million were unemployed. More than a third of incarcerated veterans have screened for PTSD. In the New York City homeless vet population, approximately 85 percent is comprised of those who served in Vietnam and Korea. Many vets move to New York, looking for services and employment they couldn't find at home. While I was at the offices of America Works, I had the opportunity to dialogue with Retired Navy SEAL Captain Pete Wikul, vice president of America Works of Washington, D.C. Wikul served more than 39 years in the U.S. Navy and was the "Bullfrog" -- a title given to the longest serving Navy SEAL on active duty. He shares the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize with all the Peacekeeping Forces who served in Lebanon from 1948-1988. Outspoken, with lots of personality, Wikul was emphatic about the need to heal suicidal vets. "That's what I want," he told me. His figures related that 17 to 34 vets commit suicide daily. "It is estimated by veteran suicide counselors that perhaps as many as three times as many veterans have taken their own lives than the number who died in the

Vietnam War." He said, "The first greatest sin of this country was slavery. The second is how it treats its military vets." For Wikul, the problem lies with the individual's separation from the service. He penned an op-ed with Bob Kerrey outlining the need to prepare vets for rejoining civilian life. Wikul had definitive opinions on the crisis. "The nation is responsible," he said. "I fault our political leaders." Referencing the lip service paid to the needs of veterans he emphasized, "I want to see the line item in the budget. It's the lawmakers that hold the purse strings." As a man used to accomplishing his mission, his frustration was palpable. "We need analysis, and then a cure for this social ill." Wikul recommends the America Works mantra of "work first and a rapid attachment to work" as a great leveler, and the way for an individual to maintain his/her self-esteem. Looking at the issues from another perspective is Ryan Berg, a 28-year-old, Californiabased vet, who spent seven years in the Marine Corps. He joined up because he chose not to be in an academic situation immediately after high school. He wanted to be a leader. He currently attends UC Berkeley on the GI Bill, where he is completing a four-year degree focusing on communications. Berg has become proactive in seeking to build a "community" of veterans that is modeled on the support structure that was forged during time of service. He described how during deployment, there was a "life saving mechanism borne out of the group experience." He believes that this core essence needs to be translated into a new language -- to help vets adapt back into civilian life. "The important thing to remember," he said, "is that there is a specific sensibility that needs to be connected between vets. We need support from those who are like us, people who have come out of the same experience. We're learning what this new mission we are on is. We need to feel as influential in civilian society as we did in the military. We need the care of each other in order to start the new mission. The mission of coming home is a task we aren't used to." For Berg, the most powerful prescription a veteran could receive is that of "community." He qualified it as follows: "It's when we have a group of people that hang out and speak to each other in a different way, because of our lives. Whatever stage we are at in our coming home process, life begins to matter more as we speak the same language to others who are like us." He continued, "It's kind of like a family. Thinking about what's next. It's about guys and girls talking to each other. It's the platoon mentality. It's everyone having each other's back. Getting a veteran into a mental health appointment is nearly impossible without the encouragement of another vet." The need to connect to others who understand a shared history was repeatedly articulated in Wartorn. The common denominator pointed to was the refrain "No one except a soldier can understand what a soldier has to endure." In 1946, William Wyler directed The Best Years of Our Lives, which won the Academy Award for that year's top picture. It told the story of three servicemen from the same small town trying to pick up the threads of their previous lives. Samuel Goldwyn decided

to produce the film after he read an article about the difficulties experienced by men returning from World War II. The topics of familial disconnect, estrangement, and unemployment are captured in the scene below when former Army Air Force Captain Derry, who is afflicted with nightmares, wanders through an aircraft boneyard. This article can be found online at:

“Remembering to Remember� By RYAN BERG CONTRIBUTING WRITER Thursday, November 11, 2010

Category: Opinion > Op-Eds

We have come a long way since 1954 when Armistice Day was officially renamed to Veterans Day. This change, of course, symbolized our country's dedication in honoring not only the men and women who served in WWI, but those who were currently serving in WWII, with the likelihood that there would be more veterans to come. And come they have. Today they return in the thousands after multiple tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. And even though they are much fewer in number, and causalities pale in comparison, there is something to be said of Veterans Day today, and the tradition of welcoming our troops home. It's true the warriors of America's past wars showed us what it meant to fight and die for our country. Yet they didn't show us how to deal with multiple deployments in the face of endless terrorism. They didn't show us how to dig our way out of not having a strong local community of veterans, and I won't mention the cowardness of our enemy who make falling asleep at night seem like playing a game of peek-a-boo with Osama Bin Laden.

My point is we're on edge. We're worried about those still fighting; we're trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we're seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it's a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? If it were, surely 18 of us wouldn't be killing ourselves every day, 10,000 of us wouldn't be calling for help every month, and certainly the Secretary of the VA's answer in preventing such tragedy wouldn't beg the question by insisting on the challenge of it all. Veterans Day, traditionally, has meant that we remember those who served, celebrate the lives of those who survived and teach our children how to live under the freedoms they have granted. Today, however, remembrance for them is not only tied to their valor on the battlefield, but chosen methods in their bedrooms. We're losing veterans at an alarming rate right here in our communities, and while we look to connect their deaths to combat with slogans like, "the war comes home" and the "invisible wounds of war," defenses against such attacks, namely being around other veterans, aren't around to help. We're distracted, nearly dumbfounded by just how close the wars have come to aggravate our peaceful society. We took the fight overseas and have assumed the sands and mountains are where it stays, neglecting strategies for the veterans' new mission in coming home. Today's Veterans Day calls on us, like the lonesome shoe salesman Alfred King did in 1953 as he urged the country to honor the tens of thousands of returning servicemen from America's current crisis in WWII. The current rate of suicides and the rising number of extreme cases of PTSD are today's equivalent of those thousands of vets, and the demand that we reconsider a better way to pay tribute to them is just as necessary. This doesn't mean giving us a new day or simply renaming it, rather: The mission of coming home demands that we be with other veterans, not in merely "coping" with ourselves and the world we live in, but in gaining new perspective. To learn the language of the new mission we're on, together. With it, we have a better opportunity to pierce through the crisis that has become the IED of coming home. The kind of improvisation that, if not handled thoughtfully, can be no less explosive than the kind that took our friends in combat. If you want to honor, pay tribute and celebrate veterans today, we must focus on helping them build local veteran communities, in addition to beefing up VA care and resources. We need this opportunity to make friendships with those who know us, seek advice from those who can help us and observe the leadership of those who came home before us.

My battalion commander would always say before heading out on patrol: "Nothing is what it is until it is proven to be what it is, it is only what it appears to be." While Veterans Day presently appears to be a day that we honor and remember our returning heroes, until suicides decrease and the resources are given to help us build lasting veteran communities across the United States, we're celebrating something else, other than a Veterans Day.

This article was published in the print edition of the Military Times in 2010.

RVA Press Packet 2012  

RVA Press Packet 2012

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you