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SPECIAL EDITION

VETERANS AFFAIRS FREE 2016 EDITION

GOT YOUR 6 Support marches on after service ends INSIDE

MAKING STRIDES Q&A with Secretary McDonald

LIVING HISTORY Teen’s project honors WWII ‘warriors’

THERAPY TOOLS Finding healing in music, sports, kinship

GI BILL HOW-TO Make the most of the program


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VETERANS AFFAIRS 2016

CONTENTS

110 ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES

ON THE COVER

FEATURES

THINKSTOCK

110

118

124

REFUELED Many veterans looking for the camaraderie and community they had in the military find it on the back of a motorcycle

COURSE OF ACTION Adaptive sports paired with an open mind give veterans with disabilities a way to pursue nearly any type of sport

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED Prosthetic advancements help veterans return to their normal lives — and then some

118

GINNY DIXON


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NEWS

11 16 19 20 24 26 28 33

Q&A The VA secretary on 2016’s events, accomplishments

88

THE SHRINKING BACKLOG In 2016, the number of claims continued to fall

" is is a product of

HOME IS HERE A look at where veterans are clustered across the U.S.

EDITORIAL

SAFE HAVENS Administration halfway to ending vet homelessness

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com CREATIVE DIRECTOR

VETERAN NEWS Fishing, museum exhibits and completed honor flights MS. VETERAN AMERICA Women behind the uniform shine in this contest FINAL FRONTIER Transgender veterans push for VA to update coverage BREAKING NEW GROUND Army gets ball rolling on oÿ cial museum

JOBS & EDUCATION

DAVE MARTIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

84 88 90 92 100

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38 48 58

GOT YOUR BACK Support structure of franchises gives a boost

76

AT YOUR SERVICE A new generation of veterans organizations READY, SET, ACTION Breaking down barriers in the entertainment industry

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

COURTESY OF VETERAN BEER CO.

146 152 158 160

COURTESY OF RISHI SHARMA

132 136 142

MEMORIAL DAYS Monuments around the U.S. honor veterans LIVING HISTORIES Teen works to interview World War II veterans PEARL HARBOR Fallen to be honored on 75th anniversary

EDITORS

Elizabeth Neus Hannah Prince Sara Schwartz Tracy L. Scott DESIGNERS

BRAIN TRUST Groups work to prevent military head injuries OVERCOMING PTSD Condition starts to get the attention it deserves

Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com

Miranda Pellicano Gina Toole Saunders Ashleigh Webb Lisa M. Zilka

STRUGGLING IN SILENCE Waiting for change, years after military sexual assault

COOL CAREERS Three veterans create amazing companies

NETWORKING

68

GULF WAR ILLNESS Veterans still su! ering, and the cause remains a mystery

136

GI BILL HOW! TO Navigate your continuing education with our guide

146

NEW REALITIES Those in VA care less likely to take their own lives

HISTORY

COURTESY OF EMILY NÚÑEZ CAVNESS

MANAGING EDITOR

PEOPLE

HEALTH

Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com

166 168 170 174

THAT’S THE SPIRIT Vet-run wineries, breweries and distilleries give back PUPPY LOVE Highly trained service animals help veterans cope TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE In complicated schemes, scammers target veterans FORWARD MARCH Gulf War veterans reflect on their service STARS & STRIPES Famous celebrities who served in the military BOOKS Unique journeys penned by and about those who served HITTING THE RIGHT NOTES Healing power found in playing guitar REUNION 50 years later, four Marines recreate a happy memory

Gregg Aamot, Matt Alderton, Brian Barth, Mary Helen Berg, Brian Bielanski, Hollie Deese, Dan Friedell, Adam Hadhazy, Rachel Kaufman, Cindy Kuzma, Ann C. Logue, Shaun McKinnon, Nancy Monson, Leslie Pepper, Adam Stone, Annette Thompson ADVERTISING VP, ADVERTISING

Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com ACCOUNT DIRECTOR

Justine Goodwin | (703) 854-5444 jgoodwin@usatoday.com FINANCE

BILLING COORDINATOR

Julie Marco

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Q&A

WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES

PUSHING FORWARD VA chief touts improved services, cites ‘irreversible momentum’

By Adam Stone

W

HEN ROBERT MCDONALD TOOK the helm of the Department of Veterans Affairs as secretary in 2014, it was under fire after media reports that dozens ofÊmilitary veterans had died while waiting for care at theÊVA’s Phoenix Êf acilities. That news drew national outrage at what many said were the VA’s systemic flaws. The former Procter & Gamble Co.

president and CEO has moved the needle. VA has reported that as of August 2016, 96.3 percent of appointments were completed within 30 days of the veteran’s preferred date, with nearly 90 percent of surveyed veterans saying they were satisfied or completely satisfied with the timeliness of their care. Criticism persists. Nearly three dozen whistleblowers this year decried conditions at VA’s Cincinnati facility, leading to dramatic leadership changes. In September, Congress subpoenaed VA over the con-

struction costs on a Colorado hospital now more than $1 billion over budget. Interviewed in October, McDonald remained sanguine, saying that much has been done to turn the VA around. He voiced confidence that the forward momentum would continue into the next administration, and he renewed his recent calls for Congress to help the VA serve veterans by changing some of the laws that today, he said, tie the department’s hands. CO N T I N U E D


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Q&A

ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

VA Secretary Robert McDonald answers questions from health care workers, veterans and the public during an open town hall meeting in early February at the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.

Q

“I am hoping that after the election is over and the politics die down, people will remember the veterans.”

DOUG KAPUSTIN

What has been the biggest challenge of the past year? MCDONALD: The biggest challenge in any organization is to change your culture. That is a multilayered activity. Did you get the leaders in place? Fourteen of the top 17 leaders are new over the last two years. Over 60 percent of the medical center directors are new. But the biggest challenge is, how do you drive that change down the line? That is where we developed this program called Leaders Developing Leaders, where we train the top leaders in the organization and we give them training kits to enable them to cascade that training throughout the organization. By the time we get to the lowest level of the organization, we want every individual with a project to improve their part of the operation. That is how we get there. How do you measure VA’s effectiveness? We measure the trust veterans have in the VA. We have gone from 47 percent to 59 percent. We measure ease of getting service; we measure the effectiveness of that service; we measure how you feel after that service. Those three complements lead to that trust measure. We measure wait times: 96 percent of our appointments are within 30 days, average wait times are five days for primary care, six days for specialty care, two-and-a-half to three days for mental health care. Those are all improvements.

Some say we should privatize veteran care. Why do you oppose this? VA is a three-legged stool and No. 1 is research. We spend $1.8 billion on research. We have invented a lot of things that the American public needs. We invented the first cardiac pacemaker; we invented the nicotine patch. You also have the second leg of the stool, which is training and education. We train 70 percent of the doctors in the country. But some argue you would get better service levels in a privatized system. That’s the third leg. Our service delivery is as good, if not better, and most of the studies suggest that. Where we have problems is where we have unevenness. So we are working with diffusion of best practices, where we bring everybody up to the best practice level. Generally when somebody talks to me about privatization, I ask a number of questions. Do you have a private financial interest in another medical system? The answer is oftentimes yes. Is this based on knowledge of veterans and what they need, or it this about political ideology? Oftentimes it is (political). Advocates say there are still more than 47,000 homeless veterans. Are you making headway? Homelessness among veterans is down 47 percent since the year 2010, and last CO N T I N U E D


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Q&A

JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

McDonald, left, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War March 29 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Homelessness among veterans is down 47 percent since the year 2010, and last year in 2015, we had one of the greatest declines in homelessness, 17 percent.” — Robert McDonald, VA secretary

year in 2015 we had one of the greatest declines in homelessness, 17 percent. How did we do that? Orlando is a great example. Orlando has eliminated chronic veteran homelessness. No. 1 is the community working together — the federal government working with state and county and local governments and for-profit and nonprofit all coming together. Some communities have that naturally. In other communities, we have to go into the community and create that. It is one of the reasons we are creating Community Veteran Engagement Boards around the country. These are community stakeholders coming together for veterans. Also, in a lot of communities, the HUD-VASH

MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES

President Obama and McDonald see off riders after signaling the start of the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House on April 14 in Washington, D.C. The four-day ride helped raise awareness of wounded service members and veterans who battle the physical and psychological damages of war.

(U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing) voucher amount is too low to pay for the rent for that location. In Los Angeles, we had to raise it twice. And there are some cities that are really struggling to get the landlords to rent to veterans with HUDVASH vouchers. What did you learn from the crisis in Cincinnati? You have to get the right leaders in place. We have done that now. You have got to make sure you are listening to the customer, and of course we were listening to veterans there. We took the allegations very seriously; we investigated those. It’s

a great example of accountability. We have terminated over 3,755 people since I have been secretary, so the idea that there is no accountability at the VA is obviously wrong. How are you preparing VA for the change in administration? The president has directed that the quality of our transition will be very important to us continuing to serve the American people well, so he is not going to compromise on the quality of that transition and neither are we. We are working very, very hard to create irreversible momentum. Just this week we had a meeting of the MyVA advisory committee, a committee of national experts who advise us on the transformation. We have already set up the next meeting of that group in January. If we are doing right things right, it should be irreversible. You’ve asked Congress to help improve care for veterans. How? We submitted 100 different legislative proposals with the president’s 2017 budget, 40 of which were new, many of which

were unarguably needed. For example, the appeals process. We have a backlog of 550,000-plus appeals. The law that governs that is 80 years old, and it is the law itself that leads to that high number. We got all the stakeholders together, put together a new law, and we said if this law was enacted we would guarantee that an appeal could be judged in a year at the most. That is an obvious positive outcome, but it has not been passed. There is something called the 80-hour work period law. It wasn’t meant for VA, but that law prohibits us from having 12-hour shifts in our hospitals. More emergency rooms in the private sector run 12-hour shifts. We have talked about taking our medical center directors to something called Title 38, which would allow us to pay them competitively with the medical community outside. I honestly believe we will get these things passed before Jan. 20. I am hoping that after the election is over and the politics die down, people will remember the veterans. We owe it to them to get these things passed.


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NEWS CLAIMS PENDING BY REGION

!A S OF OCT. 22"

THE SHRINKING BACKLOG

Total 379,735

Pacific 69,804

Midwest 59,377

North Atlantic 84,183

VA works to get claims ‘closer to zero’

W

hile the backlog of disability claims filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs has decreased by nearly 45 percent in the last three years — from a high of 610,000 in 2013 to just about 380,000 in October — getting it down further has proved to be a difficult task. New systems and longer hours helped, but the numbers have remained relatively flat in 2016. “This is still a continuous improvement process for us,” acting VA Undersecretary for Benefits Thomas Murphy told Military Times this summer. “We are not satisfied with the number now, and we won’t be satisfied until we are much closer to zero.”

Continental 75,270

Outside U.S. 3,567

WHO FILES THE CLAIMS Total inventory

PENDING CLAIMS IN 2016 AND 2015*

6%

World War II, Korean War and other era claims

11%

253,522

Vietnam War

188,643

Gulf War (1990s conflict)

Post-9/11 (Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts)

Peacetime (the end of the Vietnam War to the Gulf War)

Find out how to get your claim processed faster at: ▶ benefits.va.gov/FDC Applying for any kind of VA benefit for the first time? Visit: ▶ www.ebenefits. va.gov

24%

33.2%

20%

19.7%

71,240

72,623

40.9%

74,374

127,916

29%

77,483

75,395

30%

■ 2015 pending claims ■ 2015 claims over 125 days ■ 2016 pending claims ■ 2016 claims over 125 days % of claims over 125 days

48.8%

20.8%

Southeast 87,534

18.8%

22.7%

STATES WITH THE MOST PENDING CLAIMS

!A S OF OCT. 22" Texas

40,011

California

37,800

Florida

28,493

Georgia

20,764

519,530

362,412

461,677

341,929

385,337

371,153

368,771

378,468

North Carolina

2015

2016

2015

2016

2015

2016

2015

2016

JAN 3

JAN 2

APR 4

APR 2

JUL 4

JUL 2

OCT 3

OCT 1

*Data relects first report in each quarter

20,026

Virginia

14,163

Pennsylvania

11,103

Tennessee

11,026

South Carolina 10,602 Ohio

10,260 Source: Department of Veterans Affairs


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NEWS

VETERANS IN THE U.S. POPULATION BY STATE: FISCAL YEAR 2016

WA

ME ND

MT

VT NH

MN WI

OR

NY

SD

ID

MI

WY IA NV

MD DE

OH

IN

IL UT

CA

WV MO

KS

NJ

PA

NE

CO

MA CT RI

DC

VA

KY NC TN

OK AZ

NM

SC

AR MS

TX

PUERTO RICO

GA

AL

29,000-100,000

LA

100,001-200,000

FL

200,001-350,000 350,001-550,000

AK

550,001-950,000

HI

950,001-1,800,000

GUAM

NUMBER OF VETERANS There are an estimated 21.4 million veterans as of Sept. 30, more than half older than 60, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Looking ahead three decades and assuming there are no future conflicts, the department estimates the number of veterans will steadily decline to 14.5 million by 2043. The veteran population vastly outnumbers those in active duty. According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, which keeps personnel statistics for the Department of Defense, there were 1.3 million currently serving in the U.S. armed forces as of Aug. 31, making up 0.4 percent of the total U.S. population. Adding veteran and current military populations together, 7 percent of all Americans have served or serve. When it comes to female service members, about 207,670 currently serve and 2.1 million are veterans, meaning 1.3 percent of all female Americans have served or serve, compared with 12.9 percent of all U.S. men.

BRANCH OF SERVICE, IN MILLIONS

21.4

MILLION VETERANS

Veteran population tends to track with state population: The larger the state, the more veterans it tends to have. Veterans also include about 193,175 people in what is known as the “non-defense” category — members of the Coast Guard, Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

9.8

4.3

3.5

2.6

1.1

ARMY

NAVY

AIR FORCE

MARINES

RESERVE

STATES WITH THE MOST VETS California Texas Florida Pennsylvania New York

1.8 million 1.7 million 1.5 million 894,681 834,526

Ohio Virginia North Carolina Georgia Illinois

830,085 784,771 772,421 751,763 690,040

Numbers may not add up due to rounding. Sources: Department of Veterans Affairs; Department of Defense; Census Bureau


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NEWS

CLOSER

TO HOME Despite vow to end veteran homelessness, Obama administration halfway there

By Gregg Zoroya

the missed goal but described veteran homelessness as a “tragedy, LTHOUGH A PROMISE TO travesty,” and added his administraend veteran homelesstion “will not stop” until all veterans ness by 2015 was not have homes. met, the The administration Obama said veteran homelessadministration ness has decreased 47 announced in August percent since 2010. On NO VETERAN it is nearly halfway to any given night, 40,000 SHOULD BE that goal. veterans are homeless, HOMELESS Cabinet officials including 13,000 who celebrated how far live on the streets, Those who are they have come in according to figures homeless or at finding homes for released Aug. 1 based risk of becoming veterans. “The effort on estimates and head homeless can call or has been an unqualicounts of homeless visit their local VA fied success over the veterans across the medical center or last few years,” said country. The number community resource Julian Castro, secretary of those without any and referral center. of Housing and shelter has fallen 56 Family members and Urban Development, percent since 2010, veterans can also call which works with said HUD and the VA. 877-424-3838 to the Department of Rep. Jeff Miller, access VA services. Veterans Affairs on the R-Fla., chairman of the project. House Committee on To learn more about White House Veterans’ Affairs, said spokesman Eric Schultz the limited results how the VA is working acknowledged that do not match the to end homelessness President Obama did increasing cost of the visit: not meet his goal, but homeless program, ▶ va.gov/homeless that he “knew it was which has reached ambitious.” Schultz $1.5 billion annually. said Obama remains “The fact that VA proud of the progress made. increases in spending on homeless Obama, speaking at the Disabled initiatives are far outpacing reducAmerican Veterans convention in Atlanta in August, did not mention CO N T I N U E D

A

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A homeless veteran asks for assistance while standing along Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, Calif., in 2012. On any given night, 40,000 veterans are homeless, including 13,000 who live on the streets.


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NEWS

THE RIGHT DIRECTION Many issues can lead to a veteran becoming homeless, including poverty, substandard housing and a lack of support from peers and groups. These and other factors can put about 1.4 million veterans at risk for living without a permanent home. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that veterans who served in Vietnam and the post-Vietnam era are at the greatest risk. After Michelle Obama in 2014 launched the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness to help meet the national goal, more than 880 mayors, governors and local officials joined. To date, 29 communities and two states — Virginia and Connecticut — have met the criteria set by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, including finding all homeless vets and locating permanent housing for a homeless vet within 90 days.

MARTIN H. SIMON-POOL/GETTY IMAGES

President Obama and his family serve Thanksgiving meals to homeless and at-risk veterans Nov. 25, 2015, at Friendship Place Community Center in Washington, D.C. The nation’s homeless vets are predominantly male, with 41 percent between the ages of 31 and 50. tions in veteran homelessness calls into ness there by 30 percent over the past question the efficacy of VA’s efforts,” year. Miller said. “I don’t know when we’ll get to Eric Shinseki, Obama’s first secrezero,” McDonald said. “We’ll keep tary of the Department of working as hard as we Veterans Affairs, said in 2009 can. But I’ve spent a lot of that he and the president time talking to veterans were “personally committed on the streets. I’ve spent a to ending homelessness lot of time in shelters with among veterans within the veterans. Any one life we save of homeless is a worthy goal. Any one life next five years.” Shinseki resigned in 2014 amid a VA we get into a home, eliminate veterans scandal over the delayed their substance abuse, I are African- consider it a success.” delivery of health care to veterans. He said legislation before American or His replacement, Robert Congress would allow for Hispanic McDonald, said that a key construction of shelters on reason for falling short of the the VA’s 390-acre campus in goal was because of problems Los Angeles. in Los Angeles, which he said has the Castro described the success at largest veteran homeless population in cutting veteran homelessness nearly the country. California has more than in half as “amazing and ... actually an 9,600 homeless veterans, more than example of how Washington should any other state. Numbers released in work. It is going to be a glorious day August also showed that the VA had when we can celebrate the end, the some of its greatest progress in Los effective end, of veteran homelessAngeles, reducing veteran homelessness.”

SHRINKING NUMBERS ▶ There were 47,725 homeless vets as of January 2016, a decline of 17.3 percent from 2015. ▶ 41 percent of homeless veterans are between ages 31 and 50; only 23 percent of all veterans fall into that age group.

45%

▶ Nearly half of all homeless veterans served during Vietnam; about 8.8 percent of Iraq/ Afghanistan vets are homeless. ▶ About 9 percent of homeless veterans are female, but female vets are four times as likely to become homeless as civilians. ▶ More than 50 percent of homeless vets have a disability, and about two-thirds have issues with substance abuse.

BENJAMIN ZACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Eugene Morris of Ogden, Utah, struggled with drug addiction and homelessness before finding assistance with the Ogden Homeless Veterans Fellowship.

Sources: Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Veterans Affairs; United States Interagency Council on Homelessness; National Coalition for Homeless Veterans; Veterans Inc.


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NEWS

VETS

NAVY VETERAN WANTS ORISKANY MODEL AT NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM

IN THE NEWS

From fishing to honor flights, these stories prove the lives of former service members from around the U.S. are anything but ordinary CONGRESSMAN TOUTS MOBILE VETERANS SERVICES CENTER Veterans in and around the Coachella Valley in Southern California now have a new resource in their neighborhood, bringing mental health services and other resources directly to them. In September, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) unveiled a Mobile Vet Center outside the Palm Springs American Legion Post 519. The former emergency room doctor lamented that Congress, unlike the ER, can move slowly. However, he said, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. “We don’t have to wait for an act of Congress to serve our veterans right here at home,” Ruiz said. He added that the center — a white RV decorated with the seals of each military branch and the Department of Veterans Affairs — would travel around the area, providing services to veterans. Mental health services for veterans and their families will be available, and the mobile

OMAR ORNELAS/THE (PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.) DESERT SUN

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) left, meets veteran Jason Ward, during the presentation of a Mobile Vet Center. The mobile centers are driven to far-flung rural areas to provide veterans with health services. center has videoconferencing capabilities to immediately connect people with psychiatrists at the VA hospital in Loma Linda. The staff will also be able to connect homeless veterans with needed services and computers for veterans to research their benefits. Eighty Mobile Vet Centers have been deployed nationwide, including in Baltimore, Nashville and Jackson, Miss.

Ruiz has championed veterans and social justice issues since his career in politics began. “Our fight is not finished,” he said. “And I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to ensure all veterans in our community have access to the resources, services they have earned serving our nation.” — Corinne S Kennedy, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Veteran Steven Weeks is raising money to have a scale model of the USS Oriskany, a Ticonderoga-class aircraft carrier, commissioned to be displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla.

world’s largest artificial reef,” Former Navy pilot Steven said Weeks, who planned to Weeks couldn’t believe it when launch his fundraising campaign he visited the National Naval in late October after he and Aviation Museum three years ago. other Oriskany veterans met in There was no model of the famed Lafayette, La., for their annual aircraft carrier he flew 100 combat reunion. missions from during the Vietnam Weeks also hopes to get donaWar on display in the museum’s tions from area lobby. divers who have “There were explored the models of other A new campaign ship during the ships, but my aims to bring decade after it ship wasn’t was intentionally there,” said a model of the sunk in about Weeks, who flew Mighty O carrier 220 feet of A-7 Corsairs water 22 miles off the USS to the National off PenOriskany from Naval Aviation sacola Beach. 1971 to 1973. Hill Goodspeed, So the retired Museum. historian for the mechanical engimuseum located neer, currently at Naval Air Station Pensacola, residing in Pensacola, Fla., started said there are multiple models a campaign to bring a model of of Essex-class aircraft carriers the carrier known as the Mighty like the Oriskany on exhibit, but a O to the museum. He recently model of the Oriskany is missing. got approval from the museum to “Having a model of this historic begin fundraising for the $30,000 ship will help tell the story of the scale model and hopes to see it in naval aviation experience in the facility by June. Vietnam,” Goodspeed said. “The Oriskany has such a — Melissa Nelson Gabriel, colorful history, and she was Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal sunk here in Pensacola as the


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NEWS VETS FISH, FORM BONDS AT FREEDOM WATERS EVENT More than 20 military veterans looked as though they were professional fishermen this summer, with bait and tackle in hand, ready to catch fish and enjoy the camaraderie among those who served in the armed forces. Vets of all ages and from all military branches met inside the clubhouse at the Naples Boat Club in Florida before enthusiastically climbing into eight fishing boats, which set out to Naples Bay as the sun’s rays appeared over rooftops. The late August fishing event was part of a veterans program run by the Freedom Waters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that hosts boating events year-round for people with disabilities and veterans.

LUKE FRANKE/NAPLES (FLA.) DAILY NEWS

Boat captain Todd Rhea, left, and veteran Thomas League prepare to fish Aug. 21 in Naples, Fla., as part of the the Freedom Waters Foundation, a nonprofit that aids vets through water-related activities.

VETERANS COMPLETE HONOR FLIGHT

MARK LAMBIE/EL PASO (TEXAS) TIMES

World War II veteran Owen G. Bennett greets members of the 1st Armored Division Band at the El Paso International Airport upon returning in October from Washington, D.C. Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico sent 26 veterans on a weekend trip to visit the nation’s monuments and memorials.

When Jay Shelly of Bonita Springs walked into the clubhouse, minutes before reporting to one of the boats, he proudly donned a Vietnam War baseball cap and showed off his furry pal, Sarg, a 3-year-old terrier mix service dog. While Shelly couldn’t take him on the boat because of the summer heat, he didn’t need Sarg as much after seeing his vet friends. “When he’s with the vets, he doesn’t have to have his dog,” said his wife, Becky. She also tagged along to see her husband off before he ventured out on his fishing adventure. Since serving in Vietnam, Jay Shelly, 68, has suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder and said his dog helps keep him calm. So do his fellow vets. “It’s good to get together with people you can talk to, instead of counseling. This is all for fun,” he said. — Ashley Collins, Naples (Fla.) Daily News

VET CENTER STARTS TEXTBOOKS FOR TROOPS PROGRAM University of Southern Mississippi senior Ashley Thames, a member of the Air Force Reserve and a nursing student, said a program started this summer called Textbooks for Troops will help her save money on the nursing textbooks she needs to complete her education. “It will be very helpful,” she said. “We spend a lot of money on tuition. This will be a burden lifter.” The program is underway as part of the university’s continuing mission to make higher education affordable for military veterans. Administered through the school’s Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families, the program allows student-veterans and other center personnel to borrow textbooks for free. “We’re constantly trying to make changes to meet the needs of our clientele,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, center director. “We’re always looking for ways to defer the financial burden they incur.” Hammond said the center made

HATTIESBURG (MISS.) AMERICAN

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond says the Textbooks for Troops is a way to help veterans afford materials for classes.

an initial purchase of about 60 to 70 of the most popular textbooks. “We met with the folks at the university who manage the textbook program,” he said. “We wanted to procure the textbooks that were most commonly used and stay within the core course requirements.” Thames said the university’s Textbook for Troops program sends a positive message to veteran students. “It means they care about me and my career and my future,” she said. “They understand the transition from military (to university).” — Ellen Ciurczak, Hattiesburg, (Miss.) American


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NEWS Twenty-five contestants pose at the Ms. Veteran America competition on Oct. 9.

BEST BOOTS

FORWARD Veterans pageant showcases the women behind the uniform

By Sara Schwartz

I

N OCTOBER, 25 WOMEN donned black satin dresses and combat boots and strutted across the stage at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, D.C., for the fifth annual Ms. Veteran America competition. There’s no swimsuit category. Age doesn’t matter. Instead the four areas of competition are interview, talent, military history and advocacy. The event highlights the resilience and courage of inspiring female veterans by showcasing “The Woman Beyond the Uniform,” the official

tag line. The competition has been held for five years and proceeds go toward housing for homeless women veterans, who are currently the fastest growing homeless population in America. “Ms. Veteran America is a movement uniting female veterans as one voice, as one force, to advocate and fight for our sisters in arms that need support the most,” said former Air Force Capt. Molly Mae Potter, the winner of this year’s competition. The 2017 audition dates and locations will be announced in January. For audition requirements and more information, go to msveteranamerica.org.

North Carolina native Capt. Molly Mae Potter was crowned Ms. Veteran America. PHOTOS BY LEIGH VOGEL/GETTY IMAGES


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NEWS

FINAL FRONTIER Transgender veterans push for Veterans Affairs to provide complete treatments

By Mary Helen Berg

to gender transition” will be provided. In September, the military informed AVY VETERAN LT. PAULA Neira Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who was still chokes up when she talks convicted in 2013 of giving classified about the terrorist attacks on the documents to WikiLeaks, that she would World Trade Center. She mourns be allowed to pursue sex-reassignment the national tragedy — but also surgery. A Rand Corp. study commissioned grieves for a personal heartbreak. When by the Pentagon estimated this summer she heard the call of duty on 9/11, she that there could be between 1,320 and was eager to re-enlist, but she knew that 6,630 transgender individuals among the despite her skills and experience, the 1.3 million active service members. military wouldn’t want her. Now, transgender veterans are waiting That’s because after graduating from for Veterans Health Administration the U.S. Naval Academy and serving the policy to catch up with the Department Navy for six years as a man, Neira began of Defense, and they have filed a legal petitaking cross-sex hormones in tion to nudge the issue along. 1990, and in 1995, underwent The VA is “an outlier among surgery to become a woman. health care providers in its A 2013 VA STUDY “I was an expert trauma failure to provide full coverage REVEALED THAT nurse, a combat-tested ofof the treatment necessary TRANSGENDER ficer, served in mine warfare for patients with gender VETS ARE combat during Desert Storm dysphoria,” according to the and passed the bar exam,” petition filed in May by the said Neira, now 53 and a Lambda Legal Law Center and nurse educator for the Johns the Transgender Law Center Hopkins Department of Emeron behalf of the Transgender MORE LIKELY TO TAKE THEIR LIFE gency Medicine and co-chair American Veterans AssociaTHAN OTHER of the hospital’s Transgender tion and individuals Gio Silva PATIENTS USING Medicine Executive Task Force. and DeeDee Fulcher. Gender THE VETERANS “My country didn’t want me dysphoria is the medical HEALTH for any of that solely because term for people who identify ADMINISTRATION. of my gender identity. So, with a gender that is different you can imagine all of the from their assigned gender at emotions that everybody else birth. The complaint calls for was feeling that day, and then add in being the department to amend or repeal the rejected by your country.” rule that excludes coverage for transitionTimes have changed. The Pentagon lifted related surgery for patients with the its ban on transgender soldiers in June, condition. guaranteeing that they can serve openly. The VHA offers many health services reThe change in policy also assures that, as lated to transition for transgender veterans long as it doesn’t interfere with deploy— including cross-sex hormone treatment, ment and is based on doctor recommendaspeech modulation therapy, transgendertions, “all medically necessary care related only support groups, preoperative and

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COURTESY OF JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE

Veteran Paula Neira says that not being allowed to serve in the military after her transition made her feel rejected. “My country didn’t want me ... because of my gender identity.” postoperative evaluations and treatment for complications of sex-reassignment surgery — but unlike the DOD, doesn’t cover the surgery. The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and other groups recognize sex reassignment surgery as medically necessary. Medicare and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management no longer exclude coverage for sex-reassignment surgery. Even insurance companies such as Aetna now cover sex-reassignment surgery if a patient has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and meets other medical requirements. “It’s medically necessary surgery (that) we’re being denied,” said Evan Young, a retired Army major and president of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), the organizational plaintiff in the petition. “We served our country honorably. And we are entitled to health care

— and that means not discriminating about what you can get and can’t get. Having this is the one last step that we need.” Fulcher, a Marine Corps veteran, 54, the plaintiff in the petition, celebrated the change in DOD policy for active-duty transgender soldiers, but says the country’s estimated 134,000 transgender veterans deserve the same rights and health coverage. Fulcher proudly served the Marines as David Fulcher for nearly 13 years. In 2013, more than a decade after leaving the military as a platoon sergeant, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. With the support of VHA doctors and counselors, Fulcher took cross-sex hormones, also known as hormone replacement therapy, to begin the transition from male to female. Now, she wants to “finish CO N T I N U E D


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COURTESY OF DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Jillian Shipherd, co-director of the VA’s LGBT Program, says the VHA is working to improve services for transgender veterans.

ANNE SILVESTRI

Gene Silvestri is the vice president of the nonprofit TAVA and works to help transgender veterans receive care and benefits.

the deal” with gender-altering surgery. But to a women’s clinic for pelvic exams are on her salary as a medical administrative “awkward, excruciating and unfair” — a clerk for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans humiliating nightmare for someone who Health Care System in New Orleans, identifies as a man, he said. she can’t afford the estimated $20,000 “For me, (a hysterectomy) is the next out-of-pocket cost of the surgery. healthy step in my transition,” Silvestri said. She feels increasingly alienated from the Shortly after Lambda Legal filed its petibody she was born with, she said, mentiontion, the VA requested a rule change that ing transgender friends who committed would remove the restriction on gender suicide when they couldn’t align their alteration surgery, raising hopes among physical appearances with their gender transgender veterans. identities. Indeed, a 2013 VA study revealed But 30 congressional Republicans, in a that transgender vets are 20 times more letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, likely to commit suicide demanded in June that than other patients using the VA withdraw its the VHA. request and ensure “Our mission is “I’ve had great care at that the “department’s the VA but they won’t limited resources are that any transgenlet me finish. That’s focused first on veterans the problem,” Fulcher der veteran could with service-connected said. “Right now, I’m in disabilities.” be served in any between.” Members of the ConTransgender veterans gressional LGBT Equality VA facility and praise the VHA for makCaucus countered with receive good ing great strides since a a letter asking McDonald 2011 directive mandated to “move quickly to quality care.” “respectful delivery of ensure access to medi— Jillian Shipherd, health care,” said Gene cally necessary surgical co-director of the Silvestri, 39, an Army care for transgender VA’s LGBT Program veteran and vice presiveterans.” dent of TAVA, a nonprofit Since then, Lambda’s that helps transgender request seems stalled, veterans receive care and benefits. said Dru Levasseur, national director of “I see a lot of staff being more inclusive,” the Transgender Rights Project for Lambda said Silvestri, who visits the VA Northern Legal. California Healthcare System three to four “We’re waiting on (the VA’s) move,” times a week to treat fibromyalgia, PTSD Levasseur said. “Meanwhile, we are hearing and other health issues. “It’s not a big lots of calls from veterans who are suffering deal anymore to be transgender (as a VHA every day with health issues and are asking patient).” us what’s happening next. I think it’s been But Silvestri would like to see the VA extremely frustrating for veterans to see cover a different type of surgery to ease some of the progress that’s happening for his dysphoria — a hysterectomy. Visits active service members and they’re still

COURTESY OF DEEDEE FULCHER

RHYS HARPER

DeeDee Fulcher helped to file a legal petition in May asking the VA to allow coverage for transition-related surgery.

TAVA president Evan Young believes transgender veterans are entitled to medically necessary surgery through the VA.

waiting in the wings for what’s happening to them.” If the VA doesn’t drop the restriction, Lambda will file a lawsuit in federal court, according to Levasseur. The VA would not comment directly on its embattled policy, except to say that it is under review. “Increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area has improved significantly and is now widely accepted as medically necessary treatment,” VA spokeswoman Ndidi Mojay said in a statement. “VA has been and will continue to explore a regulatory change that would allow VA to perform gender alteration surgery and a change in the medical benefits package.” Meanwhile, the VHA is working to improve services already available to transgender veterans, said Jillian Shipherd, the co-director of the VA’s LGBT Program. For example: ▶ Two VA clinics in Cleveland and Tucson, Ariz., devote services a half day each month for patients to see experts in transgender care rather than a general practitioner who has no experience with transgender patients; ▶ As of June 2016, every VA medical facility has an LGBT veteran care coordinator to advocate for transgender vets; ▶ Nearly 5,000 VA employees have trained to address the medical and cultural needs of transgender vets; ▶ Fifty-five interdisciplinary medical teams (physicians, social workers, psychologists and other specialists) trained in transgender health care serve patients at each of the 23 regional Veterans Integrated Service Networks; ▶ And for the first time, when veterans complete intake forms at the VA, they will have the option to disclose both their as-

signed sex at birth and their self-identified gender, a change that will help the VA better serve the transgender population, Shipherd said. “Our mission is that any transgender veteran could be served in any VA facility and receive good quality care,” Shipherd said, adding that veterans shouldn’t need to travel to Cleveland or to Tucson to get the care they need. “That should be happening at every facility, and that’s what we’re trying to support as a program.” That’s a good goal, Young said. But TAVA fields a dozen requests a week from transgender veterans across the country who say their local VA caregivers are uninformed about basic transition-related needs like hormones, mental health care or postoperative needs, he said. When his own penile implant failed in May, Young’s VA insurance provider referred him to another doctor, but it ended up being a urologist who had never treated a transgender person. Now, while Young searches for a doctor with appropriate experience, he feels the constant sharp poke of a pointy plastic rod that has dislodged near his pubic bone. Neira said that rights for transgender soldiers and veterans have come a long way since she transitioned 25 years ago, but as the debate continues over whether the VA should cover sex-reassignment surgery, the message is clear. “The fact that this medical coverage (at the VA) doesn’t exist when we know that it’s medically necessary demonstrates the actual prejudice and discrimination against transgender folks,” she said. “It is not a level playing field, it’s not complete acceptance. It’s something that needs to be get addressed in order to move us forward.”


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NEWS

FOR MORE INFORMATION Those interested in supporting the museum’s construction can donate at armyhistory.org or by calling 800506-2672. For more information, visit thenmusa.org

1

MONUMENTAL MILESTONE

RENDERINGS COURTESY OF EAI

Future Army museum will honor all soldiers who have served 1 | The oldest U.S. military branch is well on its way to having its own dedicated museum. The Army Historical Foundation marked a historic milestone when it broke ground in September at Fort Belvoir, Va., for the National Museum of the U.S. Army. “We’ve waited 241 years for this moment,” said Eric Fanning, secretary of the U.S. Army, at the groundbreaking. 2 | The museum, which will sit on an 80-acre site about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C., is scheduled to be completed in 2019 and will have free admission. The foundation

said the main building will cover 185,000 square feet and will feature items from the Army’s 15,000-piece art collection, including artifacts, documents and images dating from 1775 to the present — many of them never seen by the American public. A series of galleries will depict how soldiers lived during war and peace. It’s expected to attract between 500,000 and 700,000 visitors annually. 3 | Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, delivered remarks at the groundbreaking. “This museum is going to remind all of us of what it means to be a soldier

and what it means to serve,” he said. “Most importantly, it will be a tribute to the 30 million people who have served.” Fundraising, construction and design were led by the foundation, and the project is expected to cost $200 million. 4 | “A great Army deserves a great museum, and truly, this museum is going to be a very special landmark and an American treasure that you can take pride in helping to create,” said retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the chairman of the campaign for the National Museum of the U.S. Army, in light blue suit. — Sara Schwartz

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4 COURTESY OF THE ARMY HISTORICAL FOUNDATION


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LESSONS LEARNED Achieve success in college by making the GI Bill work for you

By Ann C. Logue

A

RMY VETERAN TALAAT MCNEELY found a way to maximize his benefits after leaving the service in 2010; he used the GI Bill to pay for not one, but three college degrees. While on active duty, McNeely — who joined the Army in 1998 — took online classes through DeVry University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in business. When he left the service, he received a master’s degree in special education from Chicago State University, which he attended in person, and a master’s in educational leadership online from the American College of Education. And he found ways to stretch those

benefits even further. While He is proud of his success; at Chicago State, he found a he and his wife author the FOR MORE residence that cost less than blog His and Her Money INFORMATION the monthly housing allow(hisandhermoney.com), Find details on ance provided under the GI where they share financial educational benefits Bill. He saved the difference advice. He wants veterans to for veterans and a to help cover costs when his understand that while the GI benefits calculator GI Bill benefits ran out. Bill is beneficial, there is a at benefits.va.gov/ McNeely, 35, who now shelf life. gibill works as a high school “I have come into contact administrator for the Catalyst with too many veterans Charter Network in Chicago, who kept putting off using is planning to work on a doctorate at their benefits, and as a result, they let the Governors State University. To pay for expiration date pass by for their benefits this, he will take advantage of the Illinois to be used,” he said. Veteran Grant. Illinois is one of several It takes a little savvy to stretch the GI states that provides supplemental funding Bill as far as McNeely did, but it’s not for veterans who are state residents attending in-state institutions. CO N T I N U E D

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JOBS & EDUCATION Grads at Ohio State University listen to President Obama giving the commencement address in 2013. The Columbus, Ohio, school is ranked No. 1 on College Factual’s best colleges for veterans.

THE ITT TECH DEBACLE ITT Technical Institute shut down its network of popular for-profit colleges around the United States in September after the U.S. Department of Education banned it from accepting federal financial aid money. The DOE said it was concerned that ITT misled students about job prospects in their fields of study, accepted underqualified students and was not in compliance with accreditation standards. Among those affected: about 6,000 veterans, according to Student Veterans of America. Those with regular student loans can either try to transfer their credits to another institution or walk away from their loans, but not both. Students who attended on the GI Bill, however, also lost their housing allowance to help pay bills; they are allowed to continue their education at another school. “Whatever you choose to do, do not give up on your education. Higher education remains the clearest path to economic opportunity and security,” Department of Education Secretary John B. King Jr. wrote in a statement released in September to ITT Tech students. “Restarting or continuing your education at a high-quality, reputable institution may feel like a setback today, but odds are it will pay off in the long run.” ITT Tech has a list of campuses that will accept its transfer credits at itt-tech.info/about/ education-options. There are others that may be willing to accept these credits as well; call the admissions office of a school that interests you for more information. THINKSTOCK

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES; TALAAT MCNEELY

impossible. Originally POST 9/11 GI BILL This applies to those established after World who have had at least 90 War II, the GI Bill days of active duty after has helped millions Sept. 10, 2001, or were of people receive an honorably discharged education after their with a service-related time in the armed forces. disability after 30 days This complicated but of service. Veterans important benefit has receive benefits based on changed over the years, their length of service; and there are features the benefits max out at that not all veterans may Talaat McNeely 36 months of service. know about. Tuition is paid directly to What helped McNeely the school; the veteran first was careful planwill also receive a housing allowance and a ning. He recommends that veterans set up stipend for books and supplies. The benefit an appointment with a VA representative will generally cover costs of in-state tuition at their university of choice to help them at a public school, but may not cover all take full advantage of the GI Bill benefits. costs at a private college. It also covers “Knowledge is power when it comes to trade school, licensing programs and maximizing your benefits to the fullest entrance exams. extent,” he said. If you left the military before Sept. 10, The second was receiving educational 2001, then you may be covered by the credit for military occupational speMontgomery GI Bill, which has different cialty training taken while on active duty, benefits and requirements. something some universities offer. A little mixing and matching — college credit TOP!UP PR OGRAM for job experience, using the Top-Up This is used to cover the difference program, taking advantage of state between the cost of a college course and programs — and one can get an affordable the amount of tuition assistance paid by education. the military. However, using this benefit If you are thinking of starting or reduces your GI Bill eligibility; if you continuing your education, begin by receive Top-up benefits for a month of finding out what VA programs apply to full-time classwork, that cuts your GI Bill you. Here are the basics:

eligibility by one month. Top-up benefits work well for service members who want to finish a degree while on active duty rather than after leaving the service; they also work for those who want to start college while on active duty and finish after leaving the service, using the balance of their GI Bill benefits.

YELLOW RIBBON PROGRAM

Veterans attending more costly private schools, or public schools where they don’t qualify for in-state tuition, can benefit from this program. Participating schools may pay a portion of the difference between what the GI Bill covers and the actual cost; the VA will match that amount. The final amount may not cover the entire difference. Many states offer educational benefits for veterans who attend campuses in their borders. For example, qualified wartime veterans in Connecticut receive full tuition waivers at state universities, and Colorado offers in-state tuition rates at state universities to veterans looking to move there after they complete their service. The American Legion maintains a listing of all the state benefits at legion. org/education/statebenefits. Retired Army Lt. Col. Chad Storlie, a former Green Beret, has dedicated his post-military life to helping new and CO N T I N U E D


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JOBS & EDUCATION Ohio State University

BEST COLLEGES FOR VETERANS College Factual, which provides data for the annual USA TODAY College Guide, ranks the 10 best schools for veterans based on 24 factors including affordability, veteran population, resources for veterans and veteran satisfaction.

1

OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY Columbus, Ohio

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TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

College Station, Texas

returning college students get a more concise and direct understanding of how college helps their future career prospects. He is particularly interested in making sure vets take the right educational path.Ê “Higher education is a great choice for a great career, but none of those future promises come true if you choose the wrong school,” said Storlie, who has authored two books on how military skills translate to the private sector. “The wrong school choice will burden a student with college debt and then they will be at a disadvantage because of their college degree.” Storlie founded The College Pick (thecollegepick.com), which provides information on campuses based on cost and educational outcomes for a small fee, because he felt that veterans and activeduty students in higher education were not being targeted by the best schools. “It was what military-affiliated students could pay a school, not what the school could do for their career and financial future that made them a marketing target,” he said. “A lot of institutions promise access, but they don’t have the outcomes. It’s really your alumni base that drives hiring.” Large public universities often provide veterans with programs and counselors who understand the GI Bill and similar state programs, Storlie said. They also tend to have chapters of Student Veterans of America, a network of more than 1,300 schools and 500,000 student veterans that provide veterans with resources to help them succeed in higher education. These

programs can help veterans use the GI “When you pair a good college with Bill wisely while building a local network a value-based tuition and a large underto complement their military network, graduate population, you get a wide variety enhancing career success. of learning options (such as classes, majors, Ohio State University tops the Best Colresources, alumni base and tutoring help) lege for Veterans list, compiled by College with a very reasonable tuition that leads to Factual, a website that helps students make a high graduation rate and a good career better decisions about where to go to coloutcome,” he said. lege. The university also has three veterans The Yellow Ribbon program offers access groups on campus, one to private universities, of which is Vets4Vets, a which are less commonly chapter of the Student attended by veterans. Veterans of America.Ê “These schools all wring “Knowledge is “We support them their hands and say, through a lot of pro‘We’d love to have more, power when gramming and use their but they just don’t it comes to leadership as advisers to apply,’” Wick Sloane, our office,” said Michael a community college maximizing your Carrell, a retired Air teacher and graduate of benefits to the Force colonel and the Williams College and Yale university’s assistant vice University, told The New fullest extent.” provost and director. York Times in September. — Talaat McNeely, veteran Carrell said it was an “That’s what offends with three college degrees honor to be on College me. These schools have Factual’s list. “It speaks incredibly sophisticated to the whole university’s recruitment teams. They commitment to serve recruit quarterbacks. this group — faculty, staff, students, They fill the physics lab. They visit high including fellow veterans serving in many schools. How many visits did they make for positions.” veterans?” The big public schools may also have Storlie noted that interested veterans more flexible and distance-learning options should go ahead and apply. “The Ivy League than people realize, Storlie added, citing has a lot of merit for veterans,” he said. Texas Tech University and the University They may not have as much expertise with of Florida as examples of universities that veterans’ issues, but they offer great educahave a very high enrollment of post-9/11 tions and strong networks. “Never say no military veterans. to yourself. Let someone else do it.”

3

BELLEVUE UNIVERSITY Bellevue, Neb.

4

GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY Fairfax, Va.

5

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA Gainesville, Fla.

6

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND College Park, Md.

7

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY Tempe, Ariz.

8

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN Ann Arbor, Mich.

9

NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY Raleigh, N.C.

10

FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY Tallahassee, Fla.

For the full list, visit collegefactual. com/rankings/veterans THINKSTOCK


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GOOD JOBS

3 veterans who found the key to transitioning from active service into amazing careers

By Annette Thompson

M

ILITARY MEN AND WOMEN are smart. They soak up skills and implement successful careers after their active days are past. A few transition easily into police, fire, rescue and security jobs, while others seek vocations farther afield. “Most service members go back home,” said Mike Schindler, a Navy veteran and author of Operation Military Family and U.S. Veterans in the Workforce. “They’ve got some sort of network, helping to leverage contacts that create pathways to employment and get them connected to the next mission. Most vets don’t want to simply go get a job — they need to discover what to do, find out where they can add value.” And many veterans want to feel the same connection to the military that their years of service provided. That may include giving back to the military community, or creating a position based on their military expertise.

THE SWEET TASTE OF BRAZIL WITH HARPER MACAW

Now Harper Macaw — the couple’s chocolate company — is After leaving the service, “I didn’t know settled into an old newspaper what I wanted to do,” said Marine veteran warehouse in northeast D.C. They Colin Hartman. “I looked at management directly source cacao from Brazil consulting, and just like when (I was) in without using brokers. “You don’t college, I was disillusioned. So I started see a lot of Brazilian chocolate thinking about Brazil.” — except in France,” During an MBA program at Hartman said. He Wharton, Hartman spent a explains that cacao, like summer as an intern studying grapes and olives, has a For more emerging markets for Nike. At terroir, a flavor specific to information, the same time, Sarah Hartman, its soil. “We want to be his Brazilian then-girlfriend different,” he said. visit and now wife, worked for a Today, the couple use harpermacaw.org chocolatier in San Francisco Harper Macaw to contribute where she delved deep into to Brazilian reforestation. “Five the world of chocolate making. percent of our sales go back Sarah shared her fascination with cacao to the rain forest nonprofits. We have an production with Hartman, and the couple environmental conservation business,” set off for Brazil to study sustainability Hartman noted. It’s a sweet way to make and the conservation of rain forests. “We a living. became fascinated with the chocolate supply chain,” he said. CO N T I N U E D

PHOTOS BY CLARISSA VILLONDO

Sarah and Colin Hartman started Harper Macaw, a chocolate company based in Washington, D.C. Top left, Colin inspects a sack of beans at a Brazilian cacao farm.


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CREATING YOUR OWN CAREER PATH

ON THE MOVE WITH OSCAR MIKE

could afford it. Everyone said that,” he emphasized. Noah Currier spent four years in the Those conversations were the Marines, including the 2003 invasion inspiration for Oscar Mike.“We wanted of Iraq. Three days after returning to to start a nonprofit, but it spun off two Camp Pendleton in California, his life entities: Oscar Mike Apparel and Oscar changed. “I fell asleep at the wheel and Mike Foundation,” he said. The apparel broke my neck,” he said. The veteran company exists as a for-profit to cover Marine corporal from Poplar Grove, Ill., the overhead of the foundation. “The was forced to face his post-service as a company only exists to support our quadriplegic. Shortly after nonprofit endeavors,” he said. emerging from rehab, Noah’s He chose the name Oscar fiancée passed away in a Mike as it means “on the separate accident. He fell into move.” “We used it on the For more a dark place. radios in Iraq,” Currier noted. information, “A friend made me go to an “We want to keep veterans and visit adaptive sporting event — the America on the move.” oscarmike.org National Veteran Wheelchair Currier chose apparel Games,” Currier said. “It because he could start in his opened up a new world. I garage with a couple hundred became more active. There dollars. He had gone back to was still a way to get adrenaline and wind Camp Pendleton’s MCX to buy a Marine in my face even though paralyzed from Corps shirt, and couldn’t find one made the neck down.” in the U.S. “The shirt I wanted was made Currier talked with a group of 50 in Pakistan,” he said. “I couldn’t believe injured vets there about returning home that was on the shelves on a military base. with special needs. “Collectively, we If it can be made here, it should be made brainstormed how to help our peers,” here,” he said. Currier said. “I asked if I was going to All of Oscar Mike’s T-shirts and see the guys at the next (sporting) apparel are sourced and assembled in event. They said it all depends if they the U.S. “We use U.S. companies to help

PHOTOS BY AARON MATTHEWS

Oscar Mike founder Noah Currier started his American-made apparel brand to support the company’s nonprofit foundation.

them out so they don’t lose to overseas manufacturers,” Currier said. “We put tax dollars back into our system.” And those profits support injured vets through the Oscar Mike Foundation. They provide funding for plane tickets, hotels and caregivers for adaptive sporting events. “Because we are small, we don’t have a big budget. Our goal is to grow the foundation,” he said. “I have the greatest job on planet Earth.” CO N T I N U E D

According to author and Navy veteran Mike Schindler, when veterans transition out of active service, they typically follow one of three tracks: standard employment, apprenticeship or entrepreneurship. Only 8 percent choose the latter, but it often ends up being a satisfying one, he noted. “Your family might think you’re crazy, if you come from a history of blue-collar and secure jobs,” he said. “I don’t think there are secure jobs today. I’d rather be the captain of the ship than a diner in the car — not knowing if they are going to hit something. “I spent seven years getting my experience,” Schindler said. He tells his story of going through 14 different jobs after the Navy paid for his college education. His mom became concerned, asking whether he was getting fired. He’d respond that he had no interest in the work and that he had to find something he could do for the rest of his life. “I used each job to learn what I didn’t want to do. I ended every job on great terms. I didn’t think they were a good fit,” he said. When he found the proper fit, he knew it and started developing his plan. — Annette Thompson


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JOBS & EDUCATION After listening to a speech in college on social entrepreneurship, Emily Núñez Cavness had the idea to work with her sister Betsy Núñez to launch Sword & Plough, a startup that upcycles military surplus items into luxury handbags and backpacks.

FASHIONING THE FUTURE WITH SWORD & PLOUGH

One soon-to-be-veteran has already established her post-military career. Emily Núñez Cavness is currently a captain in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), but she plans to retire from the Army this year. Then she’ll take over the leadership of Sword & Plough, a company she co-founded with her sister, Betsy Núñez, while enrolled in college. Sword & Plough manufactures and

For more information, visit swordandplough.com

sells purses, backpacks, totes and messenger bags repurposed from military surplus. “We work with veteran-owned and operated manufacturers across the country and donate 10 percent of our profits to organizations that support veterans,” Núñez Cavness said. (Sword & Plough also offers a 20 percent discount to all U.S. active duty military personnel, veterans and Gold Star Spouses.) Since it launched on Kickstarter in 2013, it has supported 45 jobs for vets. They have also repurposed more than 38,000 pounds of military surplus. It’s not surprising that this energetic woman is so far ahead on her retirement plans. She grew up in a career military family. Her father, a retired colonel, taught at West Point, while an uncle not only served in the Marines, but piloted space missions for NASA. “I was inspired to serve as a result of seeing their impactful careers,” Núñez Cavness said. As a student at Vermont’s Middlebury College, where she participated in Army ROTC at the

University of Vermont, she had her “aha moment” at a talk about social entrepreneurship. “I asked myself, what in my life is sometimes discarded that could be harnessed and turned into something beautiful with a powerful mission?” She looked around the room and every person there had a bag. The business has been successful, growing in interesting ways. Sword & Plough now sells handcrafted jewelry repurposed from .50 caliber shell casings created by a veteran machine gunner in Afghanistan. “Leading a business, just like being a military leader, is about setting direction and motivating a group of people to accomplish a purposeful mission,” Núñez Cavness said. “Veterans already have so many of (the) leadership and management skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs. The most important step is to start.”

COURTESY OF EMILY NÚÑEZ CAVNESS

FIND SUCCESS Mike Schindler and Emily Núñez Cavness offer these tips for reaching your goals: uBe confident about your idea uBegin brainstorming uWork the numbers uDetermine how much income is required to achieve your goals uDetermine how your business idea adds value uFind a mentor, someone who has done it and is willing to help you


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GOT YOUR

Juice It Up! has nearly 100 locations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas.

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Veterans find success in the support structure of franchises COURTESY OF JUICE IT UP!

By Rachel Kaufman

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FTER LEAVING THE ARMED forces, many veterans turn their thoughts toward entrepreneurship. But starting a business from scratch can be tough, which is why the established support system that a franchise provides is appealing. Franchises are business structures in which an individual pays a fee to a brandname company (such as McDonald’s or H&R Block) for the right to use that name. Franchises often come with training and operating handbooks that teach new franchise owners everything they need to know. For these reasons, they are the preferred path to business ownership for many veterans. “Veterans are often … very well regarded by franchisors,” said Jan Gilbert, principal at Gray Plant Mooty, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm with one of the largest franchise-related practices in the country. Gilbert represents franchisors — big names like Sbarro, Krispy Kreme and Jiffy Lube — and also works with franchisees. Veterans, Gilbert added, are “diligent, (and) they tend to find a way to get the job done; they don’t give up as easily.” Vets also “tend to have leadership skills,” said Jim Hop, associate professor and chair of the franchising management program at Northwood University, a business school in Michigan. “If you combine leadership skills with an operating plan, (that) kind of fits right into their niche, if you will.” Both experts agree that there are

trade-offs to starting a franchise rather than striking out on your own. Buying a franchise can have higher up-front costs, but name-brand recognition means you could be profitable sooner. A franchise comes with an established operating manual, with instructions on how to run a business, but with that manual comes a loss of control. Gilbert cites an example: “If you own a franchise restaurant, and the (franchisor) said, ‘We want you to put in a salad bar and it’s going to cost you $20,000,’ you kind of have to do it (whether you want to or not).” “You may have to bite the bullet and not get as much benefit from the salad bar as the guy who is two miles away struggling to stay in business. It’s a collective.” That collective nature also allows franchises to benefit from the power of many: “If I have Jan Gilbert’s Restaurant, I’ll never have a Super Bowl commercial,” Gilbert said. But of course McDonald’s, with its more than 30,000 restaurants, can afford national advertising. And there’s still room for creativity: Subway’s $5 foot-long promotion, Hop said, was invented by a franchisee in Florida. McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish was invented by a franchise owner in Ohio in 1962 (it went big after the owner made a bet with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc about which sandwich would sell better: the fish or Kroc’s concoction, a slice of grilled pineapple and cheese on a bun). Here we look at the experiences of three veterans who have had very different experiences but are all finding varying success as small-business owners: CO N T I N U E D

WILLIE SMITH JR. | Juice It Up!

Company started franchising: 1998 Number of franchises: 85 Veteran-owned units: 4 (with 3 agreements in development) Standard startup cost: $25,000 Total investment: $249,550 to $343,726 Veteran incentive: $15,000 off franchise fee, and a refund on the franchise fee for a second unit if built within a year of the first Website: juiceitup.com

Willie Smith spent 27 years in the Marine Corps, traveling the world working in logistics, recruiting and finance. Then he was sent to Afghanistan. “We went out there when everything started, laid the foundation, built the supply from the ground up.” As soon as he got back to the U.S., the Corps asked him to redeploy and he opted to retire. “I didn’t want to leave my family again for another year.” Smith knew he wanted to open a franchise that had community involvement, was related to health and was in his price range. His franchise broker suggested a pita shop, and he jumped at the opportunity. Upon closer inspection, though, the brand had little name recognition and was on shaky financial footing. “(One of my) mentors said, ‘These guys have been running this business — there’s five of them and one of you, what are you going to do that’s better than them?’ I’m a Marine — I think I can

do anything — but she was right.” He was able to get out of that contract and find a Juice It Up! franchise in Temecula, Calif., whose owner was looking to get out. Juice It Up! sells fresh juice and smoothies and has a partner program where franchisees sell smoothies at schools and donate portions of proceeds back to those schools. “I loved that,” Smith said. Now he has 15 employees, and credits much of his success to experience gained in the Marine Corps. “In recruiting, we did a lot of talks in high schools and community relations, and it really taught me how to sell, how to communicate with people,” Smith said. “The Marine Corps taught me the finance part. How to deal with money, how to deal with contracts. I think both of those put together gave me an edge once I started a business.” That may be true: Smith is opening his second location in December.


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JOBS & EDUCATION

COURTESY OF MELISSA ANDERSON; COURTESY OF BOTTLE & BOTTEGA

MELISSA ANDERSON | Bottle & Bottega Company started franchising: 2011 Number of franchises: 20 Veteran-owned units: 5 Standard startup cost: $96,800 to $158,250 Total investment: $96,800 to $158,250 Veteran incentive: 10 percent off franchise fee Website: bottleand bottega.com

Melissa Anderson spent nine years in the Air Force in health services management before she became pregnant. She and her husband, who was also active duty, faced a dilemma. What if they both got deployed? “It was a tough decision,” she said of retiring from the force. After finishing her degree, she had brief stints as a teacher and a job at a medical school, but in the back of her mind, she was always thinking about entrepreneurship. When her husband left the military a few years later, for the first time in their adult lives they got to choose where they wanted to live. And why not mix in another life change at the same time? Anderson decided it was time to pursue her dream. She discovered Bottle & Bottega, a wine-andpaint franchise, and visited the headquarters

in Chicago. “Once I walked in there it was like angels singing. You just kind of know.” Before even selling their home in Virginia, she had signed an agreement to open a store in Jacksonville. “It was a super scary time, (but) I think there’s no reward without the risk.” Anderson operates the store by herself, which is tough, but rewarding: “There’s nobody in my studio scrubbing toilets. I’m washing dishes. I still have to do all that stuff but now I know it’s going to be worth it.” The reason a franchise appealed to her: “There’s all these initial processes, kind of documents to show you, ‘Here’s what you need to get started.’ That gave me a great jump start.” CO N T I N U E D

With the success of the local Bottle & Bottega in Chicago, the company started expanding in 2011 through national franchising.


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JOBS & EDUCATION LESSONS FROM THE FRANCHISEES

WESLEY KELLEY | You’ve Got Maids

Company started franchising: 2010 Number of franchises: 49 Veteran-owned units: 14 Standard start-up cost: $40,000 to $80,000 Total investment: $40,000 to $104,000 Veteran incentive: $2,500 discount for all qualified veterans Website: youvegotmaids.com After three years in the U.S. Army as a fire support specialist — essentially a scout for artillery — Wesley Kelley decided he wanted to be the first person in his family to attend college. He studied marketing and entrepreneurship at the University of Houston. “I’ve always wanted to run a business,” he said. Two years ago, a conversation with his grandfather changed his mind. “He said, ‘You know, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.’” Kelley realized that a franchise would provide structure, and a service-based business would provide repeat customers. He ultimately bought a You’ve Got Maids operation in Katy, Texas, two years ago. Today, he has seven employees and is about

to hire two more; Kelley handles office work and estimates for new customers while his employees perform cleaning duties. His Army experience was invaluable, he said. “I was able to have the experience of working in a team and even going out as a team leader. Now I have teams that are like the teams I was on in the Army. They have tasks and goals, and basically like real missions. They have three houses (to clean) that day, they have to have a plan.” He also learned how to treat customers from his experiences in the military: “If you treat them with respect and kindness, then you receive kindness and respect in return.” He said he had a sergeant who, “if you looked left when you were supposed to look right, you were doing 20 push-ups. And so everybody hated him.” Kelley said from that, he learned to always treat each customer with respect.

WILLIE SMITH JR.

Juice It Up! Lesson learned: Get your team together. Smith used a franchise broker to help him find his business, and sought mentorship from SCORE, a nonprofit that pairs retired business owners with entrepreneurs. Employees are the most important asset. “When I first started, I treated this thing like the Marine Corps, like I can make good people. I can make a Marine. That doesn’t work in civilian life. You have to find good people, and then you can mold them.”

MELISSA ANDERSON

COURTESY OF WESLEY KELLEY

A military background gave Wesley Kelley lessons in planning that transferred to his You’ve Got Maids franchise in Texas.

Bottle & Bottega Lesson learned: Take ownership of your success. “One of the best things I ever did was when we moved here, I joined the chamber of commerce and started showing up. A lot about the military is taking action and continuously moving forward for improvement. That’s something I live every day.”

WESLEY KELLEY

GETTY IMAGES; YOU’VE GOT MAIDS; THINKSTOCK

You’ve Got Maids Lesson learned: You don’t have to go on your own. “You’ve been in the Army, you can do anything on your own. But having the help and support can be a good thing.”


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NETWORKING Marine veteran and Team Rubicon member Andrew Kanczel removes flooring of a WWII veteran’s Baton Rouge, La., home after extreme flooding.

KIRK JACKSON/TEAM RUBICON

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS Veterans find meaning, camaraderie in new generation of organizations By Gregg Aamot

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EE FREEMAN’S FUTURE WAS uncertain when he left the Air Force in 2004 after 15 years of service. His duties had taken him to bases in several U.S. cities, as well as to Okinawa, Japan — adventures that broadened his perspective but did little to prepare him for civilian life.

“The Air Force was all I really knew,” said Freeman, a former criminal investigator in the military who reached the rank of major. “When I got out, I lacked a sense of direction or a sense of purpose, really an understanding of where I fit in.” Browsing Facebook one night in 2012, he learned about an emerging group for military veterans called The Mission Continues, which united veterans together

and sent them into their communities to help with projects that included painting classrooms, fixing playgrounds and feeding the homeless. The Mission Continues is among a new generation of veterans organizations — many of them nonprofits focused on service projects — that coexist alongside CO N T I N U E D


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NETWORKING traditional veterans groups such as the more well-known American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), which have long served as social outlets and advocacy networks for veterans. Freeman applied for and won a fellowship from the organization, which provided him a six-month stipend while he worked on a graduate degree in psychology, and then agreed to develop The Mission Continues’ first service platoon in Minneapolis. About 25 veterans took part in the platoon’s first project — a one-day barnstorming rehab of an emergency homeless shelter in Minneapolis. “We cleaned it up, painted the shelter, basically just made it a better place to work and live for the staff and the men who stay there,” he said.

A GENERATIONAL SHIFT

JEUNAI BOCHE/TEAM RUBICON

Team Rubicon member Nicholas Moeller saws a split tree after storms in Duluth, Minn., in August. The group deploys veterans to areas after natural disasters.

COURTESY OF THE MISSION CONTINUES

Veteran Anthony Fedele, left, works on a project with a young girl at Central High School in Detroit in June during a service project organized by The Mission Continues.

Rubicon covers transportation, meals and lodging. Team Rubicon president Ken Harbaugh said military veterans, with their experience performing under stress, leading teams of different people and making decisions amid chaos, are “uniquely suited” for aid missions. Indeed, the organization’s name, which means, essentially, to commit to a task after crossing a boundary, evokes the strength and commitment the organization is looking for in its volunteers. “We realized that veterans are good at this,” Harbaugh said, “and we also realized that this kind of thing was really good for veterans.” While largely comprised of veterans, some of these groups also make use of volunteers who have not served in the military; as much as 20 percent of The Mission Continues and Team Rubicon volunteers are non-veterans.

Several of these newer organizations emerged in the past decade or so to help BUILDING ON BEDROCK For decades, American Legion and VFW veterans, many of whom served in Iraq and clubs have served as gathering places Afghanistan, reintegrate into civilian life. where veterans Êcan Êshare similar experi“When they take off that uniform, their ences and, in some cases, similar scars.Ê connections to a very defined mission, Both can trace their roots back a century their sense of purpose and team, their or so; the Legion formed sense of identity is often in 1919 in the wake of severed,” said Spencer World War I, while the Kympton, president of VFW was founded after The Mission Continues, Today, veterans the Spanish-American which is based in New have access to a War in 1898.ÊÊ York. “Add a disability to Such groups remain that — visible or invisnew generation of “bedrocks in American ible — and it starts to get communities,” said Mark very hard.” groups — many of Erwin, the Department The organization them focused on of Veterans Affairs liaison works on existing projto veterans organizations. ects that are incomplete service projects — He also noted the crucial or underfunded, raising that coexist alongadvocacy function that money and also tapping such established groups corporate sponsors for side traditional have long played in additional funding and veterans groups. helping veterans secure manpower. In June, a health benefits, make team of 70 veterans use of the GI Bill or went to Detroit to repair transition into civilian playgrounds and spruce life. (The VA’s most recent directory of up classrooms in a deployment dubbed veterans service organizations can be found Operation Motown Muster. at va.gov/vso.) About 18,000 veterans have participated Yet many of the emerging groups — in The Mission Continues, which plans fast-paced, social media-driven, often with to have 63 service platoons operating in a dash of excitement — provide younger 45 American communities by the end of veterans with an outlet that matches their the year. There is no entry fee and the passions and skills, he said. Other groups organization covers any costs related to its include Team RWB (Red, White and Blue), service missions. which focuses on re-integrating veterans Another emerging group, Team Rubicon, to civilian life through fitness and healthy deploys veterans to areas that need living, and Operation Reinvent, which helps help after natural disasters. With 40,000 women navigate life after the military. members, the nonprofit has responded Erwin captured the dynamic this way: to 150 emergencies around the world “Some of these young veterans — they since its inception in 2010 — including the might meet with Team Red, White and burgeoning refugee crisis in Greece and Blue for yoga classes in the afternoon and flooding in southern Minnesota. Volunteers provide their own gear, such as work boots and clothing, while Team CO N T I N U E D


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NETWORKING LET’S GET TOGETHER Here’s a brief look at five veterans organizations — some devoted to service projects and others to member support. TEAM RWB ! RED, WHITE AND BLUE" This organization connects veterans to their communities through physical and social activities. In September, 62 teams of runners organized by Team RWB carried an American flag 4,000 miles — from Redmond, Wash., to Tampa, where the group is based. The group has 85,000 members in 180 chapters. ▶ teamrwb.org VETFRIENDS This organization helps veterans connect with friends from their units or ships, share stories and find jobs. The site, an online veteran registry with 1.2 million members, also provides access to military photos and newsletters from all branches of the military. ▶ vetfriends.com

PATRICK MCNEIL/TEAM RUBICON

Team Rubicon member Jodi Moyer hauls sawed sections of a downed tree in Duluth, Minn., after severe storms swept through the state in August. Team Rubicon president Ken Harbaugh said the backgrounds of veterans make them “uniquely suited” for aid missions. then have a beer later that night at the Legion “We realized that hall.” A group called Grace veterans are good After Fire, which is based at this, and we in Houston, caters to the specific needs of female also realized that veterans. this kind of thing Roberta Castaneda, an outreach coordinator was really good for based in San Antonio, said about 200 women veterans.” in that city alone have — Ken Harbaugh, taken part in Grace After Team Rubicon president Fire activities over the past year. While service is part of its mission, the group also emphasizes forums where women can redefine their roles and consider how to apply their military skills to civilian life. Castaneda herself found such peer support to be “a pivotal piece” to her reintegration after a decade in the Army. “There is something to be said about

bringing our sisters back around the table to discuss gender-specific topics,” she said.

MEANINGFUL SERVICE

Freeman’s service platoon fixed up the Minneapolis homeless shelter on a September day in 2014. To get ready, a handful of veterans and volunteers from Target, a corporate partner, performed advance legwork — cutting wood, delivering paint, arranging for lunch. On the day of the event, the veterans and a few employees from St. Stephen’s Human Services, which runs the shelter, painted the building, being careful to preserve existing murals, cleaned the kitchen and rearranged the storage area. Finally, more than a decade after leaving the Air Force, Freeman had found meaningful connections and an outlet for his passion to serve. “For a good number of years, to be honest, it was a struggle,” he said. “As long as I have been involved with The Mission Continues, I haven’t had that struggle anymore.”

OPERATION REINVENT This group provides women with support as they transition from the military to civilian life. About 500 women have participated in the group’s two-day workshops (held at four military bases), which help women with such things as setting goals, creating résumés and improving interview skills. The New York-based group is open to female veterans from all branches of the service. ▶ operationreinvent.org WARRIOR#SCHOLAR PROJECT This group puts veterans through one- or two-week academic “boot camps” at colleges and universities across the country to help them prepare for college life. The sessions include writing workshops and help with time management and study skills. This year’s sites included Yale, Harvard, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago. ▶ warrior-scholar.org FOURBLOCK This organization is designed to help veterans find long-term vocations. Its Career Readiness Program was created in partnership with Columbia University and top companies across the country. Nearly 500 veterans have completed the program. ▶ fourblock.org


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NETWORKING Veterans in Film & Television works to connect veterans to job opportunities in the industry.

COURTESY OF VETERANS IN FILM & TELEVISION

FROM BARRACKS TO FILM SETS

Veteran groups work to break down barriers between their community and the entertainment industry By Adam Hadhazy

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IKE MANY VETERANS, WHEN Sarah Serrano left the Marine Corps seven years ago, she was heavily recruited by police departments, private security companies and the U.S. Border Patrol. But the Los Angeles native had different civilian career goals in mind.

“I wanted to break into the entertainment industry,” she said. However, she found it difficult to get her foot in the door and encountered skepticism from potential employers because of her military background. “People don’t typically think of veterans in a creative field,” she said. Today, Serrano is helping to buck that trend. She is executive manager of Veterans in Film & Television (VFT), a nonprofit

group that connects veterans to job opportunities on the big and small screens, and provides networking, mentorship and training assistance. “We saw a need that wasn’t being fulfilled,” said Mike Dowling, an actor, author and consultant who co-founded VFT along with fellow vet Kyle HausmannCO N T I N U E D


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NETWORKING

PHOTOS COURTESY OF VETERANS IN FILM & TELEVISION

Some of the members of the Veterans in Film & Television group pose with plaques that show the length of their military service during filming of a PSA for Easter Seals. Stokes in 2012. “We realized we wanted to find other vets that worked in the industry, and we knew they were out there, but there was just no mechanism for them to connect with each other.” Originally a Facebook meetup group, VFT has since expanded to more than 2,900 members, many of whom have landed gigs as actors, writers, film set crew and consultants. VFT’s service is free for veterans to join, update their profiles and access a searchable database of other members. One example is Allen Daniel, who plays a key role as Major Mac in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, an Ang Lee-directed film that premiered at the New York Film Festival in October and will be theatrically released Nov. 11. Other VFT members have appeared in Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film American Sniper and served as crew on producer, writer and director Judd Apatow’s sets. VFT is just one of several groups that in recent years has started to bridge a

Sarah Serrano divide between the military and creative communities. The Veteran Artist Program, for instance, has brought together national veteran and arts organizations to produce live music and theatrical events, documentaries, a feature film, gallery exhibits and more. Arts in the Armed Forces, meanwhile, presents live theater performances at military facilities worldwide. A common goal of these organizations is to address negative perceptions that

people in the military Yet these tropes lack the interest or the persist. A chief reason: capacity to succeed in It is widely cited that “In the military, media industry careers. less than half a percent you’re part of a Part of that problem, of the United States according to Nick population nowadays unit, and every role Palmisciano, who serves in the military, is equally valuable served as an Army compared with an infantry officer for six estimated 12 percent and important. ... years, is the stereotypiback in World War II. That carries over cal portrayals of service “So the average members on screen. person doesn’t know when working on “You either have anybody who’s been a film set or at a the total white knight, in the military,” said saluting in slow motion Palmisciano. company.” with the sun in the As a result, the gen— Mike Dowling, co-founder of background with eral public’s unrealistic Veterans in Film & Television a flag waving, and notions of ex-soldiers they’re perfect,” said are hard to shake. Palmisciano. “Or you “There’s a skewed have the John Rambo idea of who a veteran type, broken by the war, addicted to drugs is,” agreed VFT’s Serrano. and who can’t handle anything. To humanize vets, Palmisciano’s military “In my experience,” he goes on, “I’ve CO N T I N U E D never really met either of those people.”


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NETWORKING The horror/action film, Range 15, was a collaboration between the veteran-run military-themed apparel companies, Ranger Up and Article 15 Clothing, and stars many of its staff members.

COURTESY OF RANGE 15

clothing and gear company, Ranger Up, teamed up with a rival, Article 15 Clothing, to produce the independent zombie apocalypse film Range 15, reflecting both companies’ names. The filmmakers reached out to famous actors including William Shatner, Sean Astin and Danny Trejo, who all appeared in the horror-comedy flick. A crowdsourcing effort for Range 15 on Indiegogo, which began in May 2015, ultimately raised more than $1 million. Palmisciano, who starred in and co-

wrote the movie, said he and his fellow creators intentionally presented its fictional veteran characters as ordinary, flawed and ultimately relatable people. “Vets have to be made human,” he said, “or it hurts everybody.” Despite the indie film’s success, having earned more than $2 million in limited theater release and online downloads, Palmisciano said Hollywood executives have not shown any support for the project. “We were talked down to the whole time,” he said.

VFT’s co-founder, Dowling, similarly conveyed that within the industry, his status as a veteran has received a “mixed bag of reactions.” On the other hand, Dowling has also seen many encouraging signs. “Hollywood still has a way to go,” he said, “but it’s made great strides in supporting the vet community.” He noted that VFT has forged relationships with studios such as Sony Pictures, Lionsgate and DreamWorks Animation, all of which have expressed keen interest in hiring vets. Some studios have even recently formed their own veteran employee resource groups, such as Comcast NBCUniversal’s VetNet. Dowling, who resigned from VFT last year to focus on his own career, thinks many veterans have developed skill sets through their service that the entertainment industry will increasingly come to recognize and appreciate. “Vets are very much team-oriented,” said Dowling. “In the military, you’re part of a unit, and every role is equally valuable and important.” The same goes for film sets, he said. Furthermore, individuals in the armed forces quickly learn to take initiative as they make rank and take on leadership roles. “You find ways to adapt and overcome, so if there’s a problem, you find a solution,” said Dowling. “I feel like a lot of that carries over when working on a film set or at a company.” Serrano, for her part, cites the drive many veterans possess in accomplishing their tasks while in service, which can propel them in their civilian endeavors as well. “Vets are just relentless,” she said. For all the positive experiences military service can instill, though, veterans are quick to point out that fundamentally, they are regular people. While some vets will be either lucky or good enough to crack the highly competitive film, television and broader media industry, some will not — just like anybody else. “At the end of the day, Hollywood can be a very ugly business,” said Dowling. “You can’t take it personally.” “We’re a cross-section of society that’s no different than the civilian population; we just chose to serve,” Palmisciano said. “I think that’s so important for everyone to realize.”

THEATER OF WAR Adam Driver wanted to be an actor. But after getting turned down to admission into the elite Juilliard performing arts school, Driver ended up back home in Indiana, doing odd jobs. Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Out of a sense of patriotism and frustration, Driver joined the Marine Corps. Shortly before deploying to Iraq, while stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, Driver dislocated his sternum in a mountain-biking accident. Discharged from the military, Driver again auditioned for Juilliard. This time, he got in. While there, Driver gained a deep appreciation for theater and its use of language to express emotions, and he yearned to bring this experience to his friends and former comrades still in the military. So, in 2008, Driver founded Arts in the Armed Forces (AITAF). The group puts on no-frills theater performances — no sets or costumes — so the audience can focus instead on the language delivered by professional actors from modern, accessible plays. Performances have taken place at military facilities as far afield as Kuwait and South Korea. — Adam Hadhazy

Adam Driver

COURTESY ARTS IN THE ARMED FORCES


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HEALTH

VA study finds 20 veterans die by suicide each day By Nancy Monson

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UICIDE AMONG VETERANS HAS been and remains a daunting issue for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the suicide rate has risen among both veterans and those in the general population in recent years. Yet the latest research offers a clearer picture. The department had in previous years estimated that the suicide toll for veterans was about 22 people per day, a number still widely cited. But that data was based on information from roughly 20 states and did not include military records from the Department of Defense. In 2014, the VA released more comprehensive data updated, which found that about 20 veterans a day die by suicide.

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RECOGNIZING THE RISK “Family members are often the first to notice changes in the mood or behavior of their loved one and can be an integral part in helping to prevent suicide, but they need to be informed and offered resources before crisis emerges,” said Carla Stumpf-Patton, manager of suicide survivor services for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). Although some people decide to commit suicide without giving any warning, the Department of Veterans Affairs highlights the following changes in behavior as red flags or warning signs: ▶ Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, mood swings. ▶ Intense anger and irritability. ▶ Engaging in risky behaviors without thinking of the potential consequences. ▶ Increasing alcohol or drug use. ▶ Withdrawing from family and friends. ▶ Talking about ending their life. COURTESY OF RANDALL WILLMON

After returning home, Army veteran Randall Willmon became a mentor through the Military Peer Veteran Network. Images from top left: Willmon during deployment in Iraq; Willmon, right, and his gunner, Sgt. Greg McKee; Willmon, left, and members of his squad in Iraq; Willmon, holding his mental health first aid certificate, with Verlene Dickson, director of the Veterans Resource Center in Amarillo, Texas.

“The VA’s findings confirm that for those receiving it, treatment works, and those in VA care are much less likely to die by suicide,” said Kim Ruocco, chief external officer for suicide prevention and postvention at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a group that provides grief counseling and other support to people with a loved one who died during military service.

MILITARY RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDE

The reasons behind suicide among veterans differ somewhat from those in the general population. Those in the military are exposed to death every day

and may be desensitized to it; and many have recognized that they may die young, noted Ruocco, whose husband, Marine Maj. John Ruocco, died by suicide in 2005. They are also more prone to using means with a high likelihood of being lethal, such as guns. And when they lose their sense of belonging to a unit or feel like they are a burden to comrades, families and friends, their risk for suicide is very high, Ruocco added. Surprisingly, research suggests that deployment does not raise the risk for suicide, but being in the military for less than four years and being discharged less than honorably does. “Ironically, someone who is driving a truck on a U.S. base in Germany has the

same risk of mental illness and suicide as someone deployed to Afghanistan,” noted Bryan Gibb, director of public education for the National Council for Behavioral Health, a trade association that represents community behavioral health programs across the United States. He speculates that non-deployed service people may feel useless if they’re not in a combat situation. And those who have deployed may experience traumatic brain injuries plus physical and psychological traumas that increase their risk of mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which in turn are linked to a higher risk for CO N T I N U E D

▶ Feelings of hopelessness and loss of purpose (“no reason to live”), which may not be noticeable by outsiders. “It is critical that people understand that when left unaddressed — as with any other medical concerns — mental health issues can quickly evolve into life-threatening emergencies that can potentially result in a death by suicide,” said Stumpf-Patton. “It is equally important to promote the concept of hope — hope that there is help available for both the service member/veteran and family members, that treatment works and that suicide can be prevented.” — Nancy Monson

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WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES

suicide. There is also something inherent in military life itself, with the constant relocation and loss of support networks it entails, that increases the risk for suicide, he added. Although effective treatments, such as counseling and medication, exist to address the underlying issues behind suicidal thoughts and feelings, there are barriers to receiving mental health care on institutional, cultural and individual levels. “Vets may be resistant to going to the VA because they don’t want to be labeled sick, and they may not go until they are in crisis — meaning they get a DUI, lose their job or their spouse leaves them,” Ruocco said. “At that point, it may be difficult to get treatment immediately.” Ruocco’s colleague, Carla Stumpf-Patton, manager of suicide survivor services at TAPS and the surviving spouse of Marine Sgt. Richard Stumpf Jr., added, “sometimes service members reject help due to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness in the moment.” However, since the death of StumpfPatton’s husband in 1994, much has changed in the military and in mainstream culture, she added. “Awareness of suicide is much better than when Rich died and care has improved,” she said. “At the time of his death, suicide wasn’t talked about at all. It was swept under the carpet as a dirty secret.” Today, the military leadership has recognized the severity of the issue and

created a help-seeking culture, she said, while the VA has made improvements in the quality of care being delivered. And, of course, social media has become an important tool for spreading the suicide prevention message.

SUICIDE STATISTICS More than 7,400 veterans took their lives in 2014, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in America, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA PROGRAMS AND CHALLENGES

Although the VA is working hard to improve access to care, the agency continues to be plagued by issues. USA TODAY reported in June that more than a third of veterans who call the Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255, press 1) may not have access to the most highly trained suicide-prevention professionals because of staffers’ poor work habits and slacking on the job; instead, their calls are rolled over to backup respondents with less training. Other reports suggest that it is still difficult to get timely appointments at some VA medical centers and that there are routine violations of veterans’ privacy and medical records. In the face of such criticism, Dr. Harold Kudler, the VA’s chief consultant for mental health services, defended the agency’s efforts. “We are not perfect,” he said. “Care varies from one center to the next and we all hear these stories, but there are 1,000 sites of care within the VA and many millions of visits yearly. We have a comprehensive system for responding to vets’ needs. Ninety-six percent of all VA appointments are completed within 30 days and the average wait time for an

In 2014, 20 veterans a day died from suicide APPROXIMATELY

66%

of suicide deaths among veterans were caused by firearms

14 of those 20 veterans did not use VA services; 6 did

The risk for suicide is 21% HIGHER for veterans compared with the general U.S. population The risk for suicide is

The risk for suicide is

for female veterans compared with U.S. civilian females

for male veterans compared with U.S. civilian males

2.4x HIGHER

18% HIGHER

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs


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HEALTH appointment is two days. Those in crisis can be seen immediately, and the Veterans Crisis Line can be accessed from anywhere in the world.” “Suicide prevention is one of our top priorities at the VA,” reported Caitlin Thompson, executive director of suicide prevention for the VA. “We are doing a better job of engaging vets and families, and we get lots of calls that we are saving lives, but we know we need to do more, and we can’t do it alone.”

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Community partnerships are essential to the effort, to relieve some of the burden on the VA, and to draw in veterans who are not eligible for VA care. The National Council for Behavioral Health exemplifies this type of partnership, with its Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program that helps professionals and laypeople recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, provide comfort and refer people in crisis to professionals for treatment before they attempt suicide. The program, which teaches skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use, also has a specialized curriculum related to veterans and those affected by military life. “The MHFA program is given all over the country and in all states, in public settings and within institutions,” Gibb said. “The course can help people with PTSD and other mental health issues, as well as those who want to help others.” Randall Willmon, 44, a retired Army veteran who did four tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, fits the bill on both fronts. He experienced PTSD for years after he returned from combat, felt angry and “These measures isolated and was hesitant are positive steps, to seek help. ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES But spurred by the Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who helped pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in Febbut they are only suicides of vets he knew, ruary 2015 and the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act in June, says gaps in support are “devastating for our veterans.” a down payment. he began to rejoin the world. As he recovered, So much more is he became a mentor to CONGRESSIONAL necessary.” other ex-military men Prevention Act in June, requiring that SUICIDE and women through female-specific mental health and suicide SUPPORT — Sen . Richard Blumenthal RESOURCES the Military Peer prevention programs be tracked and On the congres(D-Conn.), member of Veterans Crisis Line Veteran Network and evaluated for effectiveness. sional side, Sen. Richard the Senate Committee on 800-273-8255 (press 1) was encouraged to take “These measures are positive steps, but Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Veterans’ Affairs ▶ veteranscrisisline.net the MHFA course. they are only a down payment,” he said. the ranking member of “I love the idea of “So much more is necessary.” The task of the Senate Committee Tragedy Assistance Program doing mental health first reducing the suicide rate among military on Veterans’ Affairs, said for Survivors (TAPS) aid, and the way the course gave me the veterans requires an “all hands on deck that the VA “has taken some very strong 800-959-TAPS (8277) tools to help people avert crisis and be effort — the VA plus community partners,” steps toward building a 21st-century ▶ TAPS.org caring,” he said. “It helped me identify Blumenthal said. “Vet service organizasupport system, but gaps remain — and things I was doing right and doing wrong tions, local service organizations and all they are devastating for our veterans.” Vets4Warriors in talking to other military people, and of us have a profoundly significant obligaBlumenthal has been instrumental in 855-838-8255 finding resources I could recommend to tion to reach out and lend a hand to all passing two key pieces of recent legisla▶ vets4warriors.com them.” It also helped him heal some of his vets, and particularly those with tion: the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for National Council for own psychological traumas of war. “Being PTSD or traumatic brain injury, the American Veterans Act in February 2015, Behavioral Health a peer helped me to better myself as I invisible wounds of war that may lead to which enhanced VA suicide prevention ▶ thenationalcouncil.org tried to help others,” he said. suicide.” efforts; and the Female Veteran Suicide


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HEALTH By Gregg Zoroya

T

REAL ILLNESS, REAL MYSTERY Gulf War veterans are still suffering, but the cause will probably never be clear

Marines patrol the scorched landscape outside Kuwait City in March 1991, near one of the hundreds of oil wells set ablaze by retreating Iraqi forces. The fires filled the air with toxins. JOHN GAPS III/ASSOCIATED PRESS

HE MEDICAL CONDITION IS so intertwined with the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991 that it takes its name from the conflict: Gulf War illness. Yet after a quarter of a century and a half-billion dollars in federal research — after as many as 230,000 Gulf War veterans have complained of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain and thoughtprocessing problems — no cause or effective treatment has been found. “At this point in time, it would be very difficult to find a cause,” said Herman Gibb, an Arlington, Va.-based epidemiologist who has studied Gulf War syndrome. “It doesn’t mean you can’t be treated, and it doesn’t mean we can’t do research to improve the treatment.” It remains one of the great mysteries of modern warfare. For those who served, the war was fought in an alien world of sand and intense heat that offered up a constellation of potential toxins. Retreating Iraqi forces set fire to hundreds of oil wells, polluting the skies and poisoning the ground in regions that soldiers trekked through. Nerve agents were released when weapons depots were destroyed. Troops were vaccinated against anthrax and botulinum, exposed to depleted uranium used in U.S. ammunition and took pills to guard against the effects of chemical weapons, though no such weapons were used against allied forces. “There were exposures to a whole lot of different chemicals,” said Deborah Cory-Slechta, a neurotoxicologist and professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester Medical School in Rochester, N.Y. “All of these kind of converged in a way that has never happened in any other war.” But very little of it was well documented by the military. That remains one of the single biggest problems facing researchers: how to determine what each soldier, Marine or airman was exposed to in order to figure out what might be causing any subsequent health problems. Almost nothing was written down about how many anti-nerve-agent pills each person took or even what vaccinations they

received. is real and not a figment of the “We don’t know what the mind. “Gulf War illness is not a psychosomatic illness,” the National exposures were, and they weren’t Academies report said. documented,” said Gibb, who James Bunker was an Army first served on a panel of scientists that lieutenant in the field artillery who recently conducted a comprehenwas deployed to the Persian Gulf sive review of Gulf War illness in late December 1990. He was research. Cory-Slechta was chair of evacuated the following May after the panel assembled by the National suffering convulsions, vomiting, Academies of Science, Engineering, headaches, nerve pain and numband Medicine. ness in his left arm and right leg. He The group’s findings, published in was diagnosed with Gulf War illness February, concluded that the failure and eventually received a medical to document troop exposures discharge from the Army. to chemical toxins and other Bunker, who is now executive substances is a primary reason no director of the National Gulf War cause for Gulf War illness will likely Resource Center, a clearinghouse for ever be found. Moreover, by now veterans of information about the too much time has passed. illness, said those who served in the “The time that has elapsed since war simply want the war — 25 years improved treat— brings with it ment methods. the potential to “That’s what impact veterans’ “There were we’ve been asking recall,” the exposures to a for many years,” panel’s report said. Bunker said. “Just “Advancing age whole lot of difmake us better.” can provoke health ferent chemicals. Even if scientists problems. … In are unable to find any population, All of these kind a cause for the it can be difficult of converged in illness, Gulf War to distinguish veterans remain aging-related a way that has entitled to disabileffects from those never happened ity benefits for its caused by a war chronic symptoms. many years ago.” in any other war.” More than There has — Deborah Cory-Slechta, 205,000 of them been progress in neurotoxicologist have received understanding and professor medical care long-term consethrough the quences for Gulf Department of War veterans — Veterans Affairs for service-conand much of it is good news. Fears nected health problems, according have persisted since that war that to agency figures. Nearly 280,000 these veterans would be more prone veterans are receiving some level of to any number of ailments, including disability income from the federal cancer, respiratory illnesses, skin government for service-related conditions, fertility problems or even health issues from the Gulf War, the having children with birth defects. VA said. But researchers have found that the Bunker said troops in the war rate of such conditions among Gulf zone were exposed to up to 30 War vets is no higher than among toxins and agrees that a true cause those who did not deploy to the war. may never be identified. But he Scientists warn, however, that for fears that emphasis on finding diseases that can take many years to better treatments for the illness develop, such as cancer, there may may not garner the attention it still be more to learn. deserves. The gravest discovery has been “This is the 25th anniversary of “limited, suggestive” evidence that the war. How much of it do you see Gulf War deployment is tied to in the news?” Bunker said. “It was a increased odds of developing fatal great victory, and everybody should amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or be proud of what we did. … These ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. veterans deserve better for that Even without a cause identified, victory than what we got.” scientists feel certain the illness


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HEALTH “For years I had to keep it inside, which was only destructive. Once I started opening up, I started feeling better about myself.” — Heath Phillips, military sexual trauma survivor

offensive remarks about a person’s body or threatening and unwanted sexual advances. While some commands are helpful in investigating claims of MST, others have much room for improvement, said Ruth Moore, a Navy veteran and an MST survivor who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression for many years, eventually opening her own nonprofit to help MST survivors. Because so many have not gotten the help they need during active duty after they leave, many veterans feel isolated.

A WIDESPREAD PROBLEM

GETTY IMAGES

STRUGGLING IN SILENCE

Years after sexual assault, many veterans feel alone By Leslie Pepper

M

ONISHA RIOS WAS AN Army private stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., in 1997 when a male airman, whom she considered a friend, began to make lewd comments. “He said, ‘Women really like it rough,’ ” she recalled. As his vulgar talk continued, she became more and more uncomfortable. When she asked him to stop, he bit her arm so hard it left a purple bruise. This had not been the first time, nor was it the last, that Rios would experience what she considered sexual harassment in the military. Within a year of enlisting, she

decided the best thing for her would be to leave active service. Within a few months, Rios visited the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., for treatment for a back injury she’d sustained during her service. While there, she was asked a series of questions about sexual assault. “But they were focused on penetrative rape,” she said. Because that wasn’t Rios’ experience, she answered no to all the questions. So while the VA tended to her physical needs, emotionally, Rios remained untreated. She spent many years in what she calls “emotional hell.” Flashbacks, insomnia, night terrors and depression filled her

daily life. Twelve years later, Rios read a pamphlet at the VA that described the behavior she had faced as sexual assault. Finally, she realized, she had been the victim of military sexual trauma. Rios’ experience is far from uncommon. Military sexual trauma, or MST, is what the military defines as any unwanted sexual activity involving a service member during active duty. The victim may have been forced into sexual activities either by pressure or force. Or they may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (because they were intoxicated, for example). Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening or

Since 2000, the VA has conducted MST screenings for all veterans using VA health care. Among recent veterans who responded to the National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans, about one in four women and one in 100 men acknowledged they’d experienced MST. Unfortunately, reaching out for help after one becomes a victim of MST is not always easy. Those who have been exposed to MST typically have immense trust issues. And rightly so. “The unique thing about MST is it’s almost always perpetrated by fellow soldiers,” said Nicole Johnson, an assistant professor in counseling psychology at Lehigh University who has conducted extensive research on gender-based violence. “Someone who they depend on for safety and support commits this heinous act upon them.” She explained that because of this, survivors struggle with feelings that this was their fault and they’re terrified they’ll be victimized again if they bring it up. Asking for help is more than just difficult, Johnson said, it can feel almost impossible. After Rios realized she was sexually assaulted, she contacted the VA hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., as she was moving to the area. Unfortunately, the MST coordinator did not call her back for an entire year. By that time, however, she had worked as a trauma-informed clinical social worker, so she started doing her own treatments at home as much as she could. This, she said, was the biggest help of all. Although the military has come a long


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HEALTH way in conceding that MST is a problem, the stigma remains. “There’s still a push to keep it hush-hush,” Johnson said. Rates of MST are higher among women, but because there are so many men in the military, there is actually a significant number of male victims. Heath Phillips is one of those men. He said he was assaulted repeatedly while in the Navy in 1988 and 1989, being subjected to rape, beatings and hazing by other male sailors. The extreme abuse led him to go AWOL, which resulted in his being sent to the brig. “My command gave me an offer to six months confinement aboard the ship, but I refused, because I had no way to protect myself from the last three attackers ... and the command failing to protect me,” Phillips said. Seeing no other way to avoid the torture onboard, when given the choice by his executive officer to leave the military with an other-than-honorable discharge, he took it. His attempts to get help for the PTSD that followed his assaults were almost as painful as the assaults themselves. The shame, stigmatization and negative reactions from others made Phillips feel attacked all over again. “There is still a stigmatization and shame behind the male side of MST, especially when there are so many male survivors and a massive gap still in services for males,” Phillips said. “We just generally get overlooked.”Ê

GETTING HELP The Department of Veterans Affairs has programs across the country that offer specialized sexual trauma treatment. To accommodate veterans who don’t feel comfortable in mixedgender treatment settings, some facilities have separate programs for men and women. However, it’s not always easy to find these programs. Every VA health care system has a designated military sexual trauma coordinator who should act as a contact person for all MST-related issues. This person oversees the screening and treatment referral process and is charged with helping veterans find and access VA services and programs. If you’re an MST survivor, call your local VA and ask for the MST coordinator.

Within a year of enlisting in the Air Force, Monisha Rios left following an incident with a male airman that she now refers to as sexual assault. Today, she’s an advocate for those who have experienced military sexual trauma.

COURTESY OF MONISHA RIOS

HELP IS CRUCIAL

Those who experience MST are at much greater risk for other mental health issues — two to three times greater, according the study Establishing a New Military Sexual Trauma Treatment Program: Issues and Recommendations for Design and Implementation published in Psychological Services in November 2015. The emotional issues run the gamut from depression to anxiety to PTSD. And it’s more than just mental health issues. Other studies have found that women with a history of MST report high rates of physical health issues as well. These include obesity, weight loss and hypothyroidism, according to the study The Veterans Health Administration and Military Sexual Trauma, published in December 2007 in American Journal of Public Health. Sleep issues and chronic pain also plague female MST victims. Unfortunately, because many survivors are unable to face their problems head-on, they typically turn to destructive coping mechanisms. According to the paper “Rape in America: A Report to the Nation” prepared by the National Victim Center and the Medical University of South Carolina, published in 1992, compared with non-victims, rape survivors were

Heath Phillips says he was sexually assaulted multiple times in the Navy, causing him to experience PTSD and prompting him to leave the military with an other-thanhonorable discharge. COURTESY OF HEATH PHILLIPS

more than three times more likely to use marijuana, six times more likely to use cocaine, and 10 times more likely to use other major drugs. Getting help early can dramatically improve a survivor’s outlook on life, said Johnson.

WHAT CAN HELP

It’s important for survivors of MST to understand they’re not at fault, and that they have support. “One of the biggest obstacles survivors face is they think nobody is going to believe them,” said

Johnson. It’s also important to know that no matter when the assault happened, whether three months ago or 30 years ago, there is effective treatment. The most empirically supported treatment is exposure therapy, said Johnson. Survivors of MST may have lost the ability to process emotion because their minds and bodies are trying to forget the experience. To overcome this, survivors need to work with a qualified therapist to help them imagine the experience, allow the brain to work through the event,

OTHER RESOURCES: INTERNITY, a nonprofit organization created by Ruth Moore based in Maine, is dedicated to helping sexual assault survivors. Reach them by calling 207-619-1413. INTERNITY has 24/7 coverage and returns phone calls within 24 hours when possible. Other organizations include: Women’s Veterans Interactive (womenveteransinteractive.org) and Service Women’s Action Network (servicewomen.org). Or contact your local rape crisis center for referrals to groups or providers who have expertise working with sexual violence survivors. Veterans can learn more about the VA’s MST-related services at mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp There are also video clips of veterans who have experienced MST at maketheconnection.net/ conditions/military-sexual-trauma. — Leslie Pepper

and cope with the event and the painful emotions that come with it. Eventually, many survivors realize that the trauma is over and the memories can’t hurt them. For Phillips, sharing his story has been his greatest therapy. “For years I had to keep it inside, which was only destructive,” he said. “Once I started opening up, I started feeling better about myself. Every time I share my story, it’s like I peel away a layer and go back to the man I was before this happened to me.”


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HEALTH Soldiers protect their faces as a helicopter airlifts their wounded comrades after a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle in 2011 in Afghanistan.

BRAIN TRUST Medical groups work to understand, prevent military head injuries By Brian Barth

W

HEN ROBERT MCDONALD TOOK the podium at a major brain research symposium hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs in April, the VA secretary had a surprising announcement to make. The Brain Trust had been organized to spawn new ideas for combating the illness and disability that stems from traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The controversy around the dangers of head trauma in professional sports — especially football, where more and more former players have been posthumously diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease known as CTE — has grabbed the nation’s attention. CO N T I N U E D

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


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TBI & TROOPS An estimated 20 percent of troops returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced one or more traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Most commonly experienced symptoms

83

74

74

PERCENT

PERCENT

PERCENT

Memory problems

Fatigue

Trouble focusing

Source: Onemind.org GETTY IMAGES

PETER PARKS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

U.S. Army flight crew chief Sgt. Cory Rodgers tends to a wounded soldier in Afghanistan in 2011. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is strongly correlated with head trauma, and medical experts in the military community fear that vets are prone to the tragic disease. The reason for the VA’s involvement in the Brain Trust event, however, was the more recent realization among researchers that combat-related head trauma, one of the most common injuries reported by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, can also lead to CTE. As McDonald listened to the athletes, veterans and families tell their stories, and to the tribulations of the scientists working to unravel the mysterious pathology of CTE, he realized that he wanted to make a personal and symbolic gesture to the crowd gathered that day. “I made a decision,” he said. “I decided to join the hundreds of veterans and athletes who have already donated their brain to the VA Brain Bank so that I may, in a small way, contribute to the vital research happening to better understand brain trauma.” The announcement was unexpected, and for the veterans in the audience, deeply moving. CTE researchers face a major challenge: The disease can only be diagnosed by dissecting the brain after death, so there

is a tremendous need served brains are studied for more donations from for a variety of diseases, “It’s like going people who fit the profile including Lou Gehrig’s of those most at risk for disease (ALS), Gulf War back in time to the CTE, whether or not they illness and post-traumatic 1930s when you display the symptoms stress disorder. before they die. McDonald played have head trauma. CTE — short for chronic football throughout ... The brain is the traumatic encephalopachildhood, rugby as a thy — is a degenerative young adult, boxed at the least understood condition characterized U.S. Military Academy in organ in the body.” by memory loss, West Point, N.Y., and had personality changes, his share of hard hits as — Peter Chiarelli, retired problems with impulse an Army paratrooper. general and CEO of One Mind control, depression and “It’s hard to get ultimately dementia. It’s people to donate their strongly correlated with brains,” he noted. “But repeated — and even mild — head trauma until we get to the point where we can experienced by football players and other scan someone’s brain and understand athletes. exactly the problem, we have to develop Many medical experts in the military an inventory of brains that will help us community fear that an entire generation of understand what went wrong. My job as a veterans is also prone to this tragic disease. leader is to help create those connections, The VA, which has long been active in brain so the thought was to bring people together research, houses one of the world’s largest who wouldn’t normally come together, to “brain banks,” where thousands of preshare information and create more scale

and more emphasis on this.” It’s all in the name of creating a culture of brain donation among athletes and veterans, which is quickly happening, at least among athletes. Olympic swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar and former Oakland Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano also announced at the event that they would donate their brains for CTE research, following hundreds of other professional athletes who have done the same in recent years — Dale Earnhardt Jr., who sat out the end of the 2016 NASCAR season while recovering from another concussion, is the latest high-profile figure to take the leap. McDonald hopes to inspire more veterans to do the same. An estimated 20 percent of troops returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced one or more traumatic brain injuries. Roughly 350,000 cases have been diagnosed among all active service members since 2000, leading many observers to describe it as the signature injury of the post-9/11 military. The injury can happen anywhere: It’s been sustained by soldiers caught by roadside bombs in combat zones and by service members merely playing recreational sports at home. Retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who served as vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2012, investigated the underlying factors behind the prevalence of suicide and PTSD among veterans during his tenure. He was appalled to learn how poorly understood combat-related brain injuries are — and how little progress there has been in diagnosing and treating them. “It’s like going back in time to the 1930s CO N T I N U E D


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HEALTH BANKING ON BRAINS

GETTING THE FULL PICTURE

ONE MIND

After an event in 2012, a veteran shakes the hand of retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the CEO of One Mind, a nonprofit that works to develop brain illness treatments.

when you have head trauma,” he said. “That’s how much we know about it today. The brain is the least understood organ in the body.” After Chiarelli retired from the military in 2012, he became chief executive officer of One Mind, a Seattle-based nonprofit that works to accelerate diagnostic methods and treatments of all types of brain illness. He’s quickly discovered two potential obstacles to advances in brain research. For starters, Chiarelli believes there is a false separation between the types of brain dysfunction. The psychological disturbances triggered by CTE, for example, are widely understood as resulting from an injury, but PTSD carries the stigma of being a mental illness, which only worsens the problem for those who have it. But Chiarelli cites increasing evidence that PTSD and CTE — at least in men and women who suffered TBIs because of blast injuries — may actually be two sides of the same coin. “We’re starting to see that many of these diseases that we put stovepipes around and categorized as ALS or dementia or Alzheimer’s or TBI share more in common with one another than they have differences,” he said. “We named them and put them in stovepipes before we understood the biology.” The second obstacle: Brain researchers tend to stay in their own silos as well, and are not always sharing the most cuttingedge research with others working on closely related issues, noted Chiarelli. One Mind works to connect those dots in brain research by bringing together disparate groups at such events as the Brain Trust. That gathering brought together the nation’s top brain researchers and stakeholder groups, including the VA and the Department of Defense, the NFL and the NCAA, in addition to health care companies ranging from pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson to NeuroKinetics Inc., a

Researchers work to build a brain bank to study illnesses By Brian Barth

Dr. Ann McKee, director of the CTE Center at Boston University and the chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System has examined hundreds of brains in her 24-year career as a VA research scientist. The VA brain banks hold tissue for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders (which includes Parkinson’s and many other neurodegenerations), traumatic brain injuries and normal aging. Several thousand specimens have

BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

been collected and studied. More recently, the VA has established a PTSD brain bank, which contains approximately 100 specimens, and a TBI brain bank (the world’s largest) where 225 of the 380 brains collected and tested thus far have been diagnosed with CTE.

neurophysiology diagnostics firm. The organization also provides funding to fill the gaps between grant-funded studies being carried out by the nation’s health care institutions. Those gaps can contain basic but often neglected things, such as a more formalized and centralized database where all brain researchers can access each other’s findings, a project they call the One Mind Portal. One Mind has also launched an initiative called Gemini, which includes a long-term study at 11 research universities of 3,000 TBI patients, the largest undertaken to date. Chiarelli is most enthused about the

The VA is also looking for donors who have not suffered brain injuries or illnesses, for comparison purposes. While one team performs an exhaustive clinical analysis of the brain at the lab, another team carries out an in-depth interview process with the donor’s family and

organization’s recent work to market a “biomarker” to diagnose TBI in the field, a crucial step that will help inform commanders in deciding when a soldier needs to be rotated off-duty as a precautionary measure or sent for further evaluation. “With this biomarker, you will be able to outfit a medic with a simple device, not unlike what a diabetic uses to measure their blood-sugar levels,” said Chiarelli. “With a single drop of blood on the battlefield, you’ll be able to tell whether or not the individual has had head trauma or a concussion.” FDA researchers are currently attempting to uncover biomarkers and to develop tests

NOW ACCEPTING BRAINS: Veterans who live in the U.S. can find out more information about becoming brain donors at research.va.gov/programs/ specimen_biobanking.cfm . The VA’s brain banks are specifically looking for donors with Gulf War illness, ALS or PTSD, as well as donors who do not have brain disorders; veterans with other brain disorders may be eligible donors as well.

doctors to understand the donor’s entire life history, the symptoms he or she displayed and the details of the head traumas he or she experienced. The two teams do not communicate during this process, so as not to influence each other’s conclusions. But they eventually meet to compare notes and attempt to draw connections between the physical condition of the brain and any circumstances that may have led to its degeneration. It is a highly emotional experience for families, and the center employees take great care to be sensitive. “We try to keep the family very involved ... because this is really a service that we do for the family,” McKee said. “We know that they don’t donate brains lightly. In many ways, the brain of an individual is their identity. We are very cognizant of that, and we try to treat it with great respect. We want to be able to offer some comfort and closure to the family.”

that can be run inexpensively in the field. Researchers also need to find a way to diagnose CTE in living patients, as well as gain a more precise understanding of the pathology. The ultimate goal of TBI research, as it relates to CTE, is to develop a medical intervention that can prevent this degenerative disease from progressing in its earliest stages, since obvious signs that something is wrong often don’t show up for years after the injury. In the meantime, the VA will convene a second Brain Trust event this spring in hopes of nurturing more fruitful cross-pollination among researchers. McDonald said they were expecting around 20 proposals at the first Brain Trust, and got about 50; some 30 proposals were awarded funding. “Innovation doesn’t happen in straight lines — it’s often S-curved — but we are discovering new things every day, so to the degree that we can keep these connections going, we can accelerate that knowledge and that innovation.”


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OVERCOMING

PTSD A treatable condition starts to get the attention it deserves

By Nancy Monson

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IETNAM WAR VETER! AN TED Pannell, now 75 and a resident of Palm Desert, Calif., has lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for nearly 50 years. “I am still taking medication for PTSD, and from time to time, I still have nightmares,” he said in an interview. He is haunted most by an encounter with a Viet Cong sniper in 1967. Deep in the rain-soaked jungle, the two exchanged fire, and Pannell hit the sniper in the arm, while the enemy shattered Pannell’s rifle with a bullet. The sniper then walked toward Pannell as he lay vulnerable. Bizarrely, they exchanged compliments

about their shooting prowess, and though the Viet Cong soldier could have killed him in an instant, he walked on. But Pannell couldn’t let it go. Propelled by his military training, the Army sergeant reached for the .45-caliber pistol hidden in his pant leg and fatally shot the man. “To this day, I see that face sometimes,” Pannell told The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun in 2014. “I have these nightmares where I am chasing someone with a weapon and no ammo, or ammo and no weapon. And either they are chasing me or I am chasing them. Because that is what war is.” PTSD has been a mental health issue for veterans of every war, but it began to be CO N T I N U E D

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HEALTH recognized in earnest among Vietnam War vets, as Pannell can attest. While he experienced symptoms soon after returning home in 1967, he suffered largely in ignorance and silence, and did not receive a diagnosis until 1998. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged that many veterans are at high risk for the disorder, and it is taking steps to identify and destigmatize the condition.

COMMON SYMPTOMS

According to the VA’s National Center for PTSD, symptoms of the condition include: uHaving flashbacks and nightmares about a traumatic event. uAvoiding situations and people that remind you of the traumatic event. uExperiencing an increasing amount of negative, sad and/or numb thoughts and feelings. uBeing hypervigilant for signs of danger, which makes you jittery and on edge. Typically, once veterans return home, symptoms emerge and can be so jarring that they interfere with everyday life. The symptoms are unlikely to go away on their own, and have a tendency to get worse over time without treatment. In addition, PTSD symptoms are often accompanied by other mental health problems such as anxiety,

COURTESY OF TED PANNELL

Decades after returning from Vietnam, veteran Ted Pannell is still haunted by experiences there. “I still have nightmares.” depression, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as suicidal thoughts and attempts. It can also trigger work and relationship problems and lead to homelessness.

TREATMENT IS EFFECTIVE

“It used to be thought that PTSD was a chronic condition that you had to live

with,” said Paula Schnurr, executive director of the VA’s National Center for PTSD. “But today, we know that 70 percent of people who seek help will respond to treatment — and these numbers keep getting better and better compared to the 1980s and 1990s.” The first step is overcoming the stigma of mental health problems and persuading vets to seek treatment. The VA has developed innovative educational multimedia and interactive tools such as About Face, Make the Connection and PTSD Coach (see the Getting Help resource box, page 106) to encourage veterans to ask for help. “There are 22 million living veterans in the United States, and we know that (only) 6 million of them use the VA (for all services) in any given year,” said Dr. Harold Kudler, chief consultant for mental health services at the VA. The VA proactively surveys veterans every year about PTSD symptoms in an effort to get them diagnosed and treated before they have significant family, social and employment issues. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of VA users with a diagnosis of PTSD, said Schnurr. CO N T I N U E D

BY THE NUMBERS

70

PERCENT OF PEOPLE WHO SEEK HELP WILL RESPOND TO TREATMENT Paula Schnurr, executive director of the VA’s National Center for PTSD

OUT OF

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MILLION LIVING VETERANS, 6 MILLION USE THE VA IN ANY GIVEN YEAR Dr. Harold Kudler, the VA’s chief consultant for mental health services

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PERCENT OF VA PATIENTS FEEL THEY ARE GETTING TIMELY TREATMENT President Obama, during a town hall in September NATIONAL ARCHIVES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

D.R. Howe treats the wounds of Pvt. 1st Class D.A. Crum during Operation Hue City in Vietnam in 1968. Many veterans return from combat experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, nightmares and being hypervigilant for signs to danger.


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HEALTH Talk therapy has been proved to relieve symptoms, whether it happens one-onone with a therapist or in a group setting with other veterans; both help veterans process the trauma. Other methods include prolonged exposure therapy, where people talk about their trauma over and over again to lessen their fear of the memories; and cognitive processing therapy, where a therapist helps the patient identify negative thoughts related to their trauma, such as feelings of guilt, and transform them to be less upsetting. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs; these include Zoloft and Paxil, the only two with FDA approval to treat PTSD) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs, such as Effexor), which are often used to treat depression and anxiety, can be added to the mix to rejigger brain chemicals. These medications can be used alone, but are more effective when paired with talk therapy, noted Schnurr. In addition, practicing stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga has been shown to lessen PTSD-related anxiety. While there have been no controlled studies conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD, some veterans have found that the drug helps to reduce anxiety, insomnia and nightmares, and improve the ability to cope with stress; research with larger numbers of subjects is needed to confirm the risks and benefits of using cannabis on a regular basis to manage symptoms, however. “We know that some treatments are more effective than others, and if people get an effective treatment, that helps to break the cycle,” said Schnurr, adding that they may then be able to seek social support from family and friends.

CLOSING THE ACCESS GAP

Despite stepping up its efforts to reach and serve more veterans, the VA faces a Herculean task: to give care to a diverse range of veterans in the United States while managing a vast bureaucracy of hospitals, clinicians, researchers, administrators and other personnel. As in years past, timely and appropriate mental health care remains an issue at many VA sites. “The VA needs to do more for veterans for PTSD, but you have to have a certain amount of sympathy for (the VA),” said Laurel Hourani, a senior research epidemiologist at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., who has studied the disorder in veterans. “There was no way they could foresee how many veterans would require services. They are overwhelmed.” That’s where peer-to-peer, community, nonprofit and other programs are invaluable. Among them is the Headstrong Proj-

ect, which offers free PTSD diagnosis and treatment to veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in the New York City area, San Diego/Riverside County and Houston. “Our goal is to make treatment as frictionless as possible, with zero paperwork for the vet. If someone has the courage to get help, PTSD is a very treatable illness,” said Zach Iscol, the executive director. Another group seeking to close the access and treatment gap is the National Council for Behavioral Health, a trade association that represents 2,800 community behavioral health programs. These programs provide safety-net mental health services for 10 million people, including veterans who are not eligible for VA care, don’t wish to seek VA care or can’t get timely appointments at the VA.

CAN PTSD BE PREVENTED?

In addition to looking at the best ways to detect and treat PTSD, researchers and clinicians associated with the VA are also searching for strategies to prevent the syndrome in the first place. If troops CO N T I N U E D

QUIZ

MEL EVANS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Retired Marine Mike Whiter smokes marijuana in March at his home in Philadelphia. Many veterans find that smoking the drug alleviates PTSD-induced nightmares and anxiety.

DO YOU HAVE PTSD?

The National Center for PTSD has developed a simple screening tool to detect post-traumatic stress disorder in people who have been through traumatic events, including military combat; a serious accident, fire, earthquake or flood; physical

or sexual assault; witnessed a homicide or serious accident; or had a loved one die as a result of suicide or homicide. If you have ever experienced this type of event, take the following short quiz.

In the past month, have you:

uHad nightmares about the event(s) or thought about the event(s) when you didn’t want to? uTried hard not to think about the event(s) or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of the event(s)? uBeen constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled? uFelt numb or detached from people, activities or your surroundings? uFelt guilty or unable to stop blaming yourself or others for the event(s) or any problems the event(s) may have caused?

If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you may have PTSD. Talk to a mental health provider at the VA or elsewhere or go to the PTSD Coach Online at ptsd.va.gov.

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HEALTH

GETTING HELP

PTSD RESOURCES VETERANS CRISIS LINE 800-273-8255, press 1

MAKE THE CONNECTION www.maketheconnection.net

uCall this number if you are in crisis and need immediate assistance.

uThis website connects veterans to stories of others from the same branch of service, gender and war.

ABOUTFACE ptsd.va.gov/apps/AboutFace

CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Obama pauses during a CNN town hall meeting Sept. 28 in Fort Lee, Va., with members of the military. While there, he said 80 percent of VA patients now feel they are getting timely treatment. “I want that to be 100 percent, and that requires more work.”

are educated about the symptoms that because emotional and mental symptoms might develop after exposure to combat, are related to physical stimuli, calming the researchers say, they might become more body will also calm the mind. resilient in the face of stress, recognize their Hourani noted that when compared with reactions to traumatic events as typical and control groups who did not receive the be less troubled by them. training, “the relaxation “Psycho-education,” as training was successful it is called, might prompt to the extent that it “The VA needs military personnel to reduced their heart rate, seek early treatment. but follow-up showed it to do more for Hourani and her only worked for people veterans for colleagues have been who didn’t have any conducting studies to mental health symptoms PTSD. ... There find ways to increase to start with.” Hourani is was no way they resilience among soldiers, continuing her research, reservists and National although the military could foresee Guardsmen by teaching population is very how many them to reduce their mobile, which presents heart rate — a measure of a challenge to following veterans would stress — after a traumatic up with them to see if an require services. exposure. “If we could intervention has worked find a way to prevent or not. They are overPTSD during their preA handful of deployment training, that other studies of U.S. whelmed.” would be more effective and British military — Laurel Hourani, senior than treating soldiers personnel have looked at research epidemiologist after they come back stress-reducing intervenat RTI International with PTSD,” she said. It tions and psychological would also be less costly. debriefings presented In one pre-deployment during combat service. study, the RTI group exposed 351 Marines Although these activities haven’t been who had been educated about combat and rigorously evaluated, they have, at least stress control to simulated multimedia anecdotally, been shown to be wellbattle videos and then had them perform received by service members and helpful deep breathing relaxation exercises to offset in enhancing coping skills. the trauma. The Marines were also taught And although there is no data to support strategies to minimize their identificait, the emergence of social media as a way tion with victims. The thinking behind to stay connected to family members and pre-deployment PTSD prevention is that friends back home may also help to ease

uThis video series features the stories of veterans with PTSD who sought help and turned their lives around for the better. HEADSTRONG PROJECT getheadstrong.org

uThis private program offers free mental health services to Afghanistan and Iraq veterans in the New York City, San Diego and Houston areas, and soon hopes to expand services to Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities. PTSD COACH ONLINE AND APP ptsd.va.gov/apps/ ptsdcoachonline/default.htm

uIn the app store on your phone, search for “PTSD Coach.” This website and mobile app is a suite of 17 tools for veterans with PTSD, particularly those who want to self-manage their symptoms rather than seek formal treatment. It’s arranged by emotions that you can work on.

the stress of military deployment. “We know that social support is a strong protective factor for PTSD,” Hourani said. “If the contact back home is positive and not stressful, it may help.” Conversely, a soldier’s war stories may be difficult for family members to process, which may increase the service member’s stress and leave him or her feeling badly for burdening relatives, added Schnurr. “I’ve heard both sides of that story,” she reported. Undoubtedly, however, the support and encouragement of family members, friends and other veterans can

MILLION VETERANS PROGRAM research.va.gov/MVP vhacomvpnewsletter@va.gov 866-441-6075

uPeople can sign up to be part of this voluntary medical research study to look at how genes affect mental and physical health. NATIONAL CENTER FOR PTSD ptsd.va.gov ncptsd@va.gov 802-296-6300

uLeading the way in PTSD treatment, the VA center has separate sections for the public and professionals. NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR BEHAVIORAL HEALTH thenationalcouncil.org

uThis trade association represents community behavioral health programs that offer mental health services to vets who are not eligible for VA care, don’t wish to seek VA care or can’t get timely appointments.

be helpful in getting veterans with PTSD to seek treatment. President Obama, when recently asked about the issues facing the VA during a CNN town hall in September, reported that 80 percent of VA patients now feel they are getting timely treatment. “I want that to be 100 percent, and that requires more work,” he said. Kudler echoed that sentiment: “More vets are coming to us and getting mental health care than ever before, but the majority of vets are not coming to the VA, and our mission is to help them all.”


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A new surge is fueling membership in veteran and military motorcycle groups By Brian Bielanski and Sara Schwartz

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ET YOUR LAWN CHAIR down on the curb of just about any Memorial Day parade and you are likely to see dozens to hundreds of veterans roll by on motorcycles, revving their engines and clad in blue jeans, leather and military patches. Many are veterans who ride together as a club to honor their fellow brothers and sisters. Fueled by a camaraderie they experienced in the military, many veterans returning from the battlefield find themselves on the back of a bike. “The guys in the club have similar experiences, so

it’s not like I’m going to speak with somebody who really hasn’t walked a mile in our shoes,” said Frank Roman, a member of the Veterans Motorcycle Club. The active-duty Army medic joined the club in 2006 because he was looking for the brotherhood that exists among the members. The club’s Hope Mills, N.C., chapter is one of 19 throughout the U.S. and overseas. Its members dedicate themselves to the memory of veterans killed or missing in action and prisoners of war. Other veterans’ motorcycle clubs exist across the nation, and their members come from all branches of CO N T I N U E D


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They’re with people who get them. They’re with people who have a common understanding of what they’ve been through, the way they look at the United States, the way they look at their role, their patriotism, their sense of loyalty and dedication.”

FINDING A SENSE OF PURPOSE

COURTESY OF VETERANS BIKER MC; COURTESY OF COMBAT VETERANS MOTORCYCLE ASSOCIATION

Motorcycle groups create a sense of purpose and provide a way to give back to other veterans. Clockwise: A member of the Veteran Bikers MC; members of the VBMC; a jarhead emblem on the motorcycle of a VBMC member; members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

service. Vietnam-era riders make up most of the older members, but there are plenty of recent veterans and some current active-duty bikers. Most ride American-made Harley Davidson, Victory and Indian motorcycles. While the clubs have decades of history, their current rise in popularity is due in part to the large numbers of new veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another key reason more vets are joining these clubs is a widespread stance against violence, drugs and criminal activity. “Sometimes our family and our friends and our neighbors don’t understand us, why we’re like the way we are, why we talk the way we talk and why we do the things that we do,” said Lamont Reed, the

sergeant-at-arms for Chapter 33-3 of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (CVMA) near Los Angeles. “So when you’re around a group that understands and knows, it just gives you a sense of ‘Ah, OK, I feel a lot better now.’ ” It’s not surprising that veterans find such a close connection among motorcycle groups, according to Kim Ruocco, chief external relations officer for suicide prevention and postvention for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides support for military members and their families coping with grief and trauma. “Motorcycle groups create a new sense of belonging,” she noted. “Especially if they’re military-oriented.

After World War II, those who served came home looking for ways to replace the brotherhood they had found among their units. Many had learned to ride motorcycles while on active duty and they gravitated to the open road once again. While the motorcycle may be why vets originally join, most stay because the groups provide a familiar sense of purpose and provide ways to give back. Many raise money to donate to veteran care facilities and veteran charities, and many groups, including the CVMA, visit veterans hospitals. “Our mission is veterans helping veterans,” Reed said. He recalled a trip to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Los Angeles, when about 20 bikers pulled into the parking lot. He said the guys enjoy spending time at the VA hospitals to “bring joy to some of the veterans. “A lot of guys came out in their wheelchairs and their walkers,” he said. “I think it’s almost an adrenalin rush for them. It’s almost like that therapy when you bring a dog into a hospital. It’s something else that takes their mind off of the issues that they’re dealing with.” Another ride brought the group to the United States Veterans Initiative at March Air Reserve Base in Moreno Valley, Calif., where an old barracks and a chow hall have been converted into housing for homeless vets and their families. “When we pulled up on our motorcycles, just the roar, the rumble, you know the smell of the exhaust — I mean the guys would come out and they would start reminiscing. It kind of lightens them up, livens them up.” The association meets at least once a month, typically on the fourth Saturday, to meet and then ride. There are members in nearly all 50 states and some who live abroad. MemberCO N T I N U E D


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WORLD WAR II VETERAN Dr. E. Bruce Heilman takes a break Aug. 31, 2013, on his motorcycle after riding in a parade through downtown Milwaukee to celebrate Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary. Heilman, who fought in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, rode his 2007 Electra Glide Ultra Classic from Virginia for the celebration. Heilman has averaged more than 6,000 miles per year since buying the bike when he was 82. This May, the Richmondbased veteran completed a nearly 7,000-mile journey across the country to bring attention to the 75th anniversary of World War II. SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

ship consists of full members (those “There’s that thrill of who have served in combat) and riding, but it’s also that supporter members same brotherhood and (those with non-combat service sisterhood they were who want to help lacking after getting veterans). Reed said out of the military.” members try to — Aaron ���Moon Dogg” Edison, help where they’re former Air Force aircraft mechanic needed — whether and founder and president of by bringing Veteran Bikers MC someone to doctor’s appointments or helping disabled veterans move out of their home. “We just like to let them know we haven’t forgotten about them.” Aaron “Moon Dogg” Edison is a former Air Force aircraft mechanic and founder and president of Veteran Bikers MC, a club based in Grafton, W.Va., that has members in 27 states. “We ride a lot. We are all about motorcycles,” he said. The majority of the members are

current or former military, though Edison added that his club has “patriot members” who have no military service records but do support the group’s core values: God, Constitution, country and veterans. “If you’re old enough to have a driver’s license and ride a motorcycle, you’re old enough to belong to our club. There’s no age limit on the other end, either.” His group also spends a lot of time working with veterans. Edison, who is a volunteer at a VA hospital in West Virginia, said the group has raised funds for the local Wounded Warrior Project and to help a member pay for his daughter’s reconstructive foot surgery. His dedication to veterans goes deep. “I come from a family of many, many veterans. My grandfathers served, my father and stepfather both served, my brothers served, many of my uncles and cousins served as well,” he said.

FIGHTING STIGMAS

Motorcycle clubs sometimes get a bad rap because many Americans still

associate them with criminal activity. Groups such as the Hells Angels, Bandidos and the Outlaws have been labeled as “outlaw motorcycle gangs” by the FBI and the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada. Edison said he works hard to fight the perception that all club members are criminals, noting that members can be hard-core bikers without being outlaws. “If you put the MC (logo), the motorcycle club cube on your back, (some people) just associate you with being (part of) an outlaw motorcycle club,” Edison said. “It’s something you’re up against almost immediately with the community, and that’s the other thing we really steer ourselves away from. We don’t want that image and we’ve done everything we can to try and change that image.” That’s why Edison refuses to allow his club to partner with outlaw clubs, adding that following a strict code and the club’s four values help keep his club from gaining the outlaw image. The Rolling Thunder club has rules of conduct that CO N T I N U E D


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FIND YOUR TRIBE Veteran motorcycle groups attract a broad crosssection of former and active-duty soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, bonded by a love for the open road and the United States, and fueled by the desire to help their fellow veterans. Each club has its own standards for admission but in many cases they require military service, non-criminal backgrounds and monthly dues. To find an organization in your area, visit militarybikers.org. Here’s a small sampling:

Veteran Bikers MC founder Aaron “Moon Dogg” Edison comes from a long line of vets: “My grandfathers served, my father and stepfather both served, my brothers served, many of my uncles and cousins served.” COURTESY OF AARON “MOON DOGG” EDISON

require members to be professional and courteous at all times. “We try to promote the fact that we are an independent club and that we are non-outlaw,” Edison said.

TRANSITIONING INTO CIVILIAN LIFE

Many veterans find re-entering civilian life difficult. They miss the bonding, structure and adrenaline from their time in the service. “When you get out, you’re missing that connection and they kind of gravitate toward motorcycles. There’s that thrill of riding, but it’s also that same brotherhood and sisterhood they were lacking after getting out of the military,” Edison said. “They look for the same thing on the civilian end of things, and there aren’t too many institutions out here that fulfill that need.” After 20 years as an Army medic,

Roman will retire soon and club members are helping as he prepares to re-enter the civilian workforce. “It’s a wealth of knowledge,” the VMS’ Roman said of the advice and support he receives. Reed, who is a staffing manager at Amazon, added that many of the guys in the CVMA have civilian jobs and help one another find opportunities. “It turns into a network,” he said. “Someone knows someone who can actually give someone a hand when they need it.” He added that some in the group have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or have gone through the VA disability claim process, so the group helps to educate members about available resources. “So when we say vets helping vets, we help ourselves as well.” Edison echoed that sentiment. “They call it finding your home again.”

The Band of Brothers USMC Motorcycle Riding Club The Band of Brothers’ members are either current or former members of the U.S. Marine Corps dedicated to veterans and the sport of motorcycle riding. They support veterans organizations and work to raise POW/ MIA awareness. ▶ bandofbrothersusmc. org Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association The CVMA is a group comprised of veterans and active-duty members from all branches of the military, and from nearly all 50 states and overseas. ▶ combatvet.org Combat Veterans International With chapters throughout the Northwest, the CVI specifically bills itself as “a non-confrontational/ non-territorial motorcycle organization, showing respect for all human kind.” ▶ combatveterans.com

Leathernecks MC A Marines-only motorcycle club made up of active-duty and veterans. ▶ leathernecksmc.org Rolling Thunder An advocacy group that seeks to create awareness of POWs and MIA service members. ▶ rollingthunder1.com Veteran Bikers MC Open to active-duty and veterans of all branches and does not require its members to ride American-made motorcycles. ▶ veteranbikersmc.com Veterans Motorcycle Club A national motorcycle club with members all over the U.S. and overseas. All members are veterans and all own and operate Americanmade motorcycles. ▶ theveteransmc.com Veterans of Vietnam MC Its Vietnam War-era veteran members work to support all U.S. military veterans. ▶ vovma.org


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ACTIVE RECOVERY DANIEL RILEY

THINKSTOCK; VAL REYNOLDS; CLIFF ENDSLEY

Disabled veterans find competition, community and hope through adaptive sports By Cindy Kuzma

Operation Rebound provides grants to veterans with physical injuries, such as Daniel Riley, so they can pursue adaptive sports.

T

HE FIRST TIME NICO Marcolongo invited Daniel Riley surfing, Riley hesitated. For one thing, Riley had grown up in the mountains of Colorado — “not exactly a surfing mecca,” he said. “I thought, surfing — I’ve never done that. Also, I have no legs.” The veteran Marine major, who’s now 30, stepped on a roadside bomb in

Afghanistan in 2010. The 25 surgeries he endured after his injury included two above-knee amputations. When he met Marcolongo — a fellow Marine veteran and senior manager of a Challenged Athletes Foundation program called Operation Rebound — he was still recovering at Naval Medical Center San Diego and hadn’t yet been fitted with prosthetics. In fact, Riley had to wait until his surgical sites healed before he could even consider attending Operation Rebound’s


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weekly surf clinic. When his wounds closed and his mind opened, Riley headed to nearby Del Mar Beach one Thursday morning. Riley’s wheelchair stayed on the beach while he, with the help of trained instructors, climbed onto a surfboard. Five minutes and one wave in, he found himself hooked. Three and a half hours later, Marcolongo practically had to force him out of the water. In addition to the surf clinic, which is free and sometimes officially prescribed as part of rehab, Operation Rebound offers grants to veterans with permanent physical injuries, giving them the opportunity

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to pursue nearly any type of sport that interests them, Marcolongo said. With the organization’s support, Riley has also skied, completed mud runs and cycled, among other pursuits. “There’s hardly a sport I haven’t tried,” said Riley, who notes the only team he joined in high school was the debate team. “I’m 1,000 times more an athlete without legs than I ever was with legs. Now, my life revolves around it.” Because of new equipment customdesigned for athletes with physical challenges and instructors and therapists trained in teaching them how to use it, disabled veterans such as Riley can now

participate in an ever-expanding array of adaptive sports, said Kirk Bauer, executive director of a nonprofit that uses sports to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Bauer leads by example; after losing his leg during an ambush in Vietnam in 1969, he’s become an expert skier, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and several 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, and each year completes the 26-mile Bataan Memorial Death March and a 100-mile bike ride through the mountains of New Hampshire. Chairs made of lightweight, sturdy CO N T I N U E D

WILL REYNOLDS

Will Reynolds lost his left leg to a roadside bomb in Baghdad. Today he skis, cycles and runs marathons in just over four hours, a mark he aims to surpass.

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“There’s hardly a sport I haven’t tried. ... I’m 1,000 times more an athlete without legs than I ever was with legs. Now, my life revolves around it.”

TWILA ADAMS

— Daniel Riley, Marine veteran

While Twila Adams, an Army vet, has competed in bowling, table tennis, billiards and trap shooting, her primary sports today are curling and tennis.

GINNY DIXON

material such as carbon fiber propel athletes down racing tracks and across basketball, lacrosse and rugby fields and courts. Battery-operated propellers and finlike foot attachments allow amputees or paraplegics to move through water while scuba diving. Framed devices, which essentially look like chairs on skis, allow athletes to swoop down the slopes or glide over the water on skis. For those who use prosthetics, new model legs come with features like locking knees, a slim profile and waterproof durability to withstand the rigors of extreme sports. These options mean nearly anyone, including those with triple or quadruple amputations, spinal cord injuries and severe traumatic brain injuries can find a way to take part, Bauer noted. Disabled Sports USA

offers about 50 sports through a national network of chapters. And those already performing at a high level can experiment with new opportunities and options. “I’ve now learned how to ski four different ways, and I’ve ridden my bike three different ways,” said Will Reynolds, a retired U.S. Army captain and participant in the programs. “There always seems to be room for education and growth.” Unlike Riley, Reynolds, 36, had an athletic history. He competed in gymnastics at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. After graduation, he ran and cycled while serving in posts that included Korea, Fort Benning, Ga., and Iraq. In Baghdad, he stepped on a roadside bomb and eventually lost his left leg above the knee. That hasn’t stopped him from skiing, cycling and running marathons in

just over four hours, a mark he aims to surpass. In his proudest athletic achievement to date, Reynolds served as captain of the U.S. Team at the 2016 Invictus Games, an international sporting event for wounded service members held in Orlando, Fla., in May. Reynolds now spends anywhere from six to 12 hours per week training — time he said pays off both in and out of competition. It’s even brought him closer to his four children: “I can run alongside my kids while they learn to ride their bikes, ski with them, pull them in the bike trailer.” That type of togetherness eases the transition back into civilian life for everyone involved with an injured veteran, Bauer pointed out. “Families are often in shock, too,” he said. “Sports is a way for them to realize that they can share an activity with

their wounded warrior and it helps to heal the whole family.” Sports can make the physical rehabilitation more swift and enjoyable, Bauer said. But disabled veterans who discover them later on can still reap benefits. Take Army veteran Twila Adams, 57, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. She served from 1980 to 1991, including the Gulf War, and broke her neck in a car accident in 1994, becoming paraplegic, but it wasn’t until 2002 that a recreational therapist told her about wheelchair sports. She attended her first National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Cleveland that year, competing in bowling, table tennis, billiards and trap shooting. Each year, nearly 600 veterans participate in the games, a partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said Ernie Butler, PVA’s director of sports and recreation. Today, Adams’ primary sports are curling and tennis. To get on the tennis court, she had to build strength and withstand chronic hand pain, learning to propel and steer a chair instead of using her typical motorized scooter. “Today I’m competing and I’m winning some matches and I’m pushing my chair,” she said. “It’s not easy, and therein is the challenge.” It’s worth the effort, she said. “It’s helped me open up the blinds, step outside and see what’s going on — so that I could still feel part of the community, of the society.” David Williams, 36, a former Navy Seabee, is also paraplegic and uses a wheelchair — that is, when he’s skiing, a sport he discovered 13 years after his 2002 injury. Last year, he logged 120 days on the slopes. “You’re not rolling on the ground. You’re heading down a mountain at 55 to 60 miles an hour,” he said. “There’s no feeling like it — you’re flying.” CO N T I N U E D


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GOING FOR GOLD

DAVID WILLIAMS

The United States sent 35 veterans and active-duty service members to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this fall. Eight of the veterans brought home a total of 17 medals.

William Groulx, a Navy veteran who injured his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident, won a gold and two silver medals in cycling events. 1

Kari Miller, an Army veteran injured in a car accident, was part of the gold medal-winning women’s sitting volleyball team. 2

Shawn Morelli, an Army veteran who has nerve damage, brain trauma and partial blindness from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, won two gold medals in cycling. 3

Former Navy Seabee David Williams said when he’s skiing, “There’s no feeling like it — you’re flying.”

Oscar “Oz” Sanchez, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps Special Forces unit, sustained a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident and won silver and bronze in cycling. 4

SHARPSHOOTER IMAGING

The organization Veterans Adaptive Sports (VAS) paid for Williams’ first trip in 2015 from his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. to a ski clinic in Snowmass, Colo. This 20162017 winter, as he embarks on his first season as a competitive skier, VAS provided funding for coaching and certification. VAS was co-founded by retired rehabilitation therapist Doug Tuttle, who saw that sports filled a vital need among his patients. “I could show somebody in the clinic how to get by in life, how to walk again,” he said. “But we weren’t teaching how to engage with other people, set goals, get back involved — how to live.” Research has begun to provide evidence of what Tuttle observed in his patients. Adaptive sports and recreational activities reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, said Neil Lundberg, an associate professor and recreational therapist who studies the topic at Brigham Young University. The activities also bring forth health benefits, such as a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. But perhaps most critical, Lundberg noted, are the deep social connections they nurture. “When you engage in an experience together, it creates an affiliation with one another and you become part

of a group,” he said. “For veterans, it’s critical that they form together into a social support group where they can strengthen each other.” Williams said his fellow competitive skiers have provided the type of camaraderie that ensures he’ll never return to less healthy pursuits, such as drinking. Reynolds credits his career success to the connections he’s made and the discipline instilled by sports. Since his retirement, he’s earned two master’s degrees and now works as a health care consultant. As for Riley, he’s now pursuing a degree in media studies at Colorado Mountain College and hopes for a career in the outdoor industry. More than anything, he said, sports enable him to focus on what he can accomplish instead of dwelling on his limitations. “Walking around getting groceries, dayto-day life, it’s still very easy to feel and acknowledge the fact you’re disabled,” he said. “When I’m surfing or skiing or biking, I have different equipment than everybody else around me, but it’s an equal playing field. It’s a liberating feeling to know that despite some changes, your life’s not over, and you still have an opportunity to do all the things you want.”

Scot Severn, who was on duty with the Army Reserves when he was struck by lightning and left quadriplegic, won silver in the shot put. 5

Andre Shelby, a U.S. Navy veteran injured in a motorcycle accident, won gold in archery in his Paralympic debut. 6

Bradley Snyder, who was blinded by a roadside bomb while serving in the Navy in Afghanistan, won three gold medals and one silver in swimming events. 7

Melissa Stockwell, an Army veteran and the first female American soldier to lose a limb in active combat, won bronze in the triathlon. 8

MAURO PIMENTEL/ASSOCIATED PRESS; VICTORIA WILL/ASSOCIATED PRESS; HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES


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Marine veteran Charlie Linville and Tim Medvetz attempted to ascend Mount Everest in 2014 and 2015, but failed both times. They succeeded in May.

ACTIVE DUTY

New technology and attitudes toward prosthetics help veterans climb high, run far and return to the action By Cindy Kuzma

C

HARLIE LINVILLE REMEMBERS THE moment he first contemplated his journey from the hospital bed to the top of the world. The retired Marine staff sergeant survived

a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan in 2011. He’d endured one surgery after another to try to save his wounded leg. He hated the pain, dreaded the prospect of a lifetime of debilitation and medication. But most of all, he hated what he calls the “pity eyes” — the look others gave him that told him, “No, you can’t.”

COURTESY OF THE HEROES PROJECT

Meanwhile, he observed a friend — a double above-the-knee amputee — train to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. “I watched his progression and everything it did for him physically, mentally,” Linville said. “I wanted some of that.” In the summer of 2013, Linville decided to have his right foot amputated. “The injury that was the bane of my existence for a year and a half was gone,” he said. In its place, he saw a path forward: “Let the residual limb recover, get a prosthetic limb, learn how to walk, and then the world’s your oyster. Figure out how to live in it and do the things that you want to do.” And what he wanted to do was climb. The day before surgery, he had a Skype call with Tim Medvetz, a former Hells Angels biker and founder of The Heroes Project, an organization that works to improve the care of veterans and active-duty service members. Through The Heroes Project, Medvetz had helped six injured war veterans summit six mountains. He was looking for someone to tackle Mount Everest, a 29,029-foot summit. Linville, it turned out, was his man. (Medvetz himself had summited Everest in 2007, six years after a motorcycle crash that nearly left him an amputee.)


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CHARLIE LINVILLE Linville learned to navigate life with a prosthesis beginning just below his knee — trying, in his words, “not to walk around like a newborn baby giraffe” — and also worked to fine-tune the devices he’d need for the journey. “It’s not like the prosthetic companies say, ‘Oh, here’s a high-altitude mountaineering foot that we’ve designed,’” he said. “The market base is so small.” So he tried various configurations of prosthetics on smaller mountains. He knew he needed something durable, lightweight, and insulated so his residual limb wouldn’t develop frostbite. The two legs he ended up taking up Everest were made of “Let the residual materials like carbon fiber and titanium and were limb recover, get surprisingly simple — the a prosthetic limb, more working parts they had, the more likely they’d learn how to walk, be to break or malfunction, he said. and then the At the same time, world’s your oyshe also trained to pick his way up icy peaks ter. Figure out how with an ax and escape to live in it and do from a crevasse. Four years later, after two the things that you attempts thwarted by want to do.” natural disasters, Linville triumphantly reached — Charlie Linville the summit May 19 with Medvetz, becoming what is believed to be the first combat amputee to conquer the mountain. (On May 24, another combat amputee, Chad Jukes, summited Everest.) “I did this for me,” Linville said. “But to see what my own struggles and then also perseverance and dedication to accomplishing something did for other people — man, it means the world to me.”

LIVING WITH LIMB LOSS

Linville is among an increasing number of U.S. veterans literally reshaped by war. Since 2001, more than 1,600 soldiers have undergone major limb amputations as a result of injuries sustained in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Life without one or more limbs poses its share of challenges, said Jason Highsmith, deputy chief of research & surveillance for the joint U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Defense Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence in Tampa. However, advances in prosthetic technology, in addition to the amazing capacity of the human body and mind to adapt, have allowed veterans such as Linville to return to their normal lives — and then some. CO N T I N U E D

Charlie Linville is believed to be the first combat amputee to conquer Mount Everest.

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ERIC MCELVENNY

Despite losing his right leg below the knee, Eric McElvenny competes with ablebodied athletes.

COURTESY OF THE CHALLENGED ATHLETES FOUNDATION

THE EMERGING TRIATHLETE

Take Eric McElvenny, 33. He’d played rugby while earning his degree in mechanical engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. But he never gave endurance sports much thought before losing his right leg below the knee after stepping on a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in December 2011. At first, he couldn’t believe what happened. Later on in the hospital, his mind still reeling, he opened an email from his commanding officer asking when he would run his first marathon. “I thought, I’m going to one-up that — I’m going to do an Ironman,” McElvenny said. At the time, “I didn’t even really know what the Ironman was,” he said. (For the record, it’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, then a full 26.2-mile marathon.) While waiting to be fitted for his prosthesis in February at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, McElvenny worked on his swimming. He got his first running leg — a C-shaped carbon fiber blade that propels him forward with every step — in May. That August, he completed his first sprint-distance triathlon (half-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike ride and 5K run). In the next year, with support from

a program called Operation Rebound through the Challenged Athletes Foundation, McElvenny completed a marathon and three triathlons. He grew more serious about the sport and worked with his prosthetist Peter Harsch, also a triathlete and the co-founder and president of Peter Harsch Prosthetics in San Diego, to design a leg for cycling — one that places his foot at the optimal angle to pedal. Then, he was selected to join a team, Built With Chocolate Milk, to compete at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October 2013. Like Linville, McElvenny faced a few surprising obstacles. His intense training left him leaner, and the blisters that formed on his stump became infected. During runs, sweat collects in the liner of his blade, and he has to stop and wipe it out with a towel. And then there are the transitions. Unlike athletes who only swap shoes and clothes between sports, McElvenny has to change legs during the race, adding a layer of complexity. But 22 months after his injury, he crossed the finish line in Kona, an experience he can only describe as “amazing.” Three years and four Ironman races later, he doesn’t even sign up in the physically

“Historically, service members have driven prosthetic technology at least since World War II.” — Martin McDowell, licensed orthotist-prosthetist at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center

challenged category — he competes with able-bodied athletes. “I don’t look at myself as someone with a disability or a handicap,” he said. “If you beat me, that means you probably worked harder than me. If I beat you, I worked harder than you.”

THE STILL! FIGHTING PILOT

While McElvenny sought out new adventures, Air Force Capt. Christy Wise, 29, had one goal after losing her leg to a hit-and-run boat driver in April 2015: to resume the life she loved. And that included water sports, ultimate Frisbee and flying C-130 jets on rescue missions. Even in the ambulance ride to the hospital, Wise plotted her return. A friend from pilot training who’d lost his leg in a boating accident had returned to active duty. So, she reasoned, there was no reason

she couldn’t do the same. Of course, there were obstacles. For one, the Air Force’s Basic Military Training Physical Fitness Test, which she’d have to pass. She could have asked for modifications to the 1.5-mile running test, but feared doing so would jeopardize her chances of regaining her wings. So she practiced running, getting out of the aircraft, going down the stairs, engaging the parking brake — challenging, in part, because it requires her to place even pressure on both toes. That’s much more difficult to gauge without the same sensory feedback from her prosthetic foot. By February 2016, she’d scored an “excellent” on her fitness test and prepared videos to demonstrate her capabilities to two approval boards. In July, she was CO N T I N U E D


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CHRISTY WISE

Air Force Capt. Christy Wise checks the wing of an HC-130J Combat King II in July. She’s the sixth Air Force pilot to return to the cockpit after becoming an amputee and the first female amputee to do so.

PHOTOS BY RYAN CALLAGHAN/U.S. AIR FORCE

cleared to fly again, and has since returned to the skies. To keep the mood light and her array of prosthetics organized, she gives them each names: The running blade is Bolt, after Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. She flies with Xena, an Ottobock Genium X3 leg with a microprocessor specially designed to help wounded warriors return to active duty. And she swims and scuba dives with Ariel, an Ottobock Aqua-Knee that’s light and water-resistant. One day, she hopes for prosthetics that will allow her to stop and start, jump and cut, so she can return to sports like softball and Frisbee. But in the meantime, though some things take longer and tire her faster, she feels she’s achieved her goal: “getting back to all of it.” “Your body is capable of way more than

you think,” she said. “You can lose a limb and still be really highly functioning and the rest of your body will compensate. That’s awesome.”

THE NEXT FRONTIER

Scientists aim to continue improving both the technology of prosthetic limbs themselves and the ways in which they are integrated into veterans’ bodies and lives. Much of this progress is backed by the Department of Defense, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Public-private partnerships, such as the collaboration between Ottobock and DARPA that produced the Genium X3 leg Wise uses to fly, also accelerate the process. “Historically, service members have CO N T I N U E D

Wise, left, talks with her co-pilots in July before her first flight.


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driven prosthetic technology at least since World War II,” said Martin McDowell, a licensed orthotist-prosthetist at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center. The first flexible running foot was developed by a veteran who wanted to resume his sport, he pointed out. “These products come out because of the needs of, typically, the younger veterans. Then veterans of all ages, and people with limb loss of all ages, benefit.” The ability to stop, turn and move for short bouts would not only help athletes like Wise return to sports, but also improve everyday experiences like moving around the house. So researchers continue to break down normal gait patterns and attempt to re-create them with artificial parts, VA prosthetics researcher Highsmith said. Upper limbs pose an even greater challenge. “The human arm is one of the most complex and amazing instruments in the galaxy,” said Todd Kuiken, director of the Center for Bionic Medicine at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “It has a hundred thousand sensors, incredible control and incredible efficiency.” Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration two years ago, the DARPAfunded DEKA Arm System uses electrodes to pick up some of the body’s own signals and convert them into fine motor actions such as turning a key in a lock. Kuiken’s work on a technique called targeted muscle reinnervation, using surgeries to reposition nerves along muscles, has gone a step further. Now, more than two dozen veterans can control prosthetic arms with the power of their minds. Others have used similar techniques to begin restoring sensation, so amputees can touch, grab and feel the way a human arm would.

EVERYDAY HEROES

The types of extreme feats veterans like Linville, McElvenny and Wise achieve further fuel progress by calling attention to the war’s wounded and motivating others to achieve their dreams, Highsmith said. For many with limb loss, those ambitions have more to do with parenting, working and earning a living than conquering death-defying mountains or day-long endurance races. “Not every veteran wants to get out there and run a marathon — and that’s OK,” he said. Linville agrees and hopes his perseverance persuades every wounded veteran, regardless of desire to climb a literal mountain, to reach life’s highest peak. He’ll continue his ambitious expeditions, including skydiving in 50 states in 50 days and climbing a few more mountains. But he also has his sights set on a happy family, a successful corporate career and financial stability. “Life,” Linville said, “is my next great adventure.”

USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

Stephen Handley

David Birrell

Michael Stokes

A NEW VIEW OF WOUNDED WARRIORS By Cindy Kuzma In one striking image, Mary Dague, a retired Army sergeant and breast cancer survivor who lost both her arms dismantling a bomb in Iraq in 2007, poses as Venus de Milo. She’s nude from the waist up, fabric draped around her midsection. Other pictures show bare male veterans, their sculpted chests nearly as rock-hard as their prosthetic limbs. These compelling photographs are the work of Los Angeles-based photographer Michael Stokes. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, Stokes self-published Always Loyal, a coffee-table book of sensual, intimate portraits of wounded veterans. His second, Invictus, comes out Nov. 15 at michaelstokes.net. (Many of the veterans in Invictus are in another book of his, Adonis Blue,

which releases the same day.) “You walk into a museum where the Greeks and Romans carved statues out of heroes. Over time they’ve become broken, and we view them as works of art,” Stokes said. “In some ways, they’re more beautiful if they’re broken, because that’s part of their history. That’s one way I viewed them and one of the themes I’ve used.” Stokes had primarily worked with fitness models and said he felt nervous on his first shoot with a veteran, unsure of how resilient his subject would be in the face of potential criticism. But reaction to the images has been largely positive, and veterans often come pre-equipped with resilience. In fact, Stokes added, it’s a misconception that his work restores his subjects’ self-image: “Maybe the photos can elevate them further,

but they come to me with a pretty high level of confidence.” What he can do is increase their exposure — he has more than 1 million followers on social media — and launch new chapters in their careers. Take veteran Marine Cpl. Chris Van Etten, who lost both legs in an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2012. After appearing in Stokes’ photographs, he’s gone on to star in ads for the underwear company Jockey. Stokes has had to do battle with Facebook when users flag his images as objectionable. But, he said, that’s a minority view: “I get messages from people all over the world saying how grateful they are that these images are out there, because it makes them feel less self-conscious about their own amputations, their own disfigurements.”

COURTESY OF MICHAEL STOKES PHOTOGRAPHY


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HISTORY

MEMORIAL DAY

Honor our armed services at these United States memorials and monuments

J. DAVID AKE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

DENNY GAINER/USA TODAY

USS Constitution Museum

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

National World War II Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial

Launched in 1797, the threemasted frigate known as Old Ironsides, which saw battle during the First Barbary War (location of “the shores of Tripoli” referenced in the Marines’ Hymn) from 1803-1805 and the War of 1812, is the world’s oldest commissioned naval ship still afloat. Today, the historic vessel is currently in dry dock in Charlestown Navy Yard while it undergoes restoration, but tourists can still visit. ▶ ussconstitutionmuseum.org

Initially controversial in part because of its simple, modern design, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is now one of the most popular war memorials in the nation. The names of more than 58,000 fallen soldiers, engraved on polished black marble set into the grounds of the National Mall, invite onlookers to witness the human cost of the Vietnam War. Providing a more traditional visual element are the nearby Three Servicemen statue and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. ▶ nps.gov/vive

Set on 7.4 acres on the National Mall, facing the Lincoln Memorial across the reflecting pool, the National World War II Memorial is on the grandest of scales. Two triumphal arches representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters form the eastern and western edges of the memorial, while 56 granite columns representing the 48 pre-1945 states, plus the District of Columbia and seven U.S. territories, radiate from the sides of each arch. An enormous central pool and spouting fountains throughout the memorial instill a sense of triumph. ▶ nps.gov/wwii

A daytime visit to the Korean War Veterans Memorial allows close inspection of the 19 stainless-steel statues, which represent the four services and an ethnic cross-section of America. However, this memorial is best experienced at night, when floodlights illuminate the intense, detailed statues, and darkness creates a contemplative atmosphere. The memorial honors the more than 36,000 service personnel who died on the Korean Peninsula during the three-year war. ▶ koreanwarvetsmemorial.org

The iconic image of six Marines raising a flag over Iwo Jima, Japan, following victory in a 1945 battle is preserved in a larger-than-life bronze statue less than a mile from Arlington National Cemetery. Often referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Marine Corps memorial is dedicated to “the Marine dead of all wars and their comrades of other services who fell fighting beside them.” ▶ nps.gov/gwmp

Charlestown, Mass.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

Arlington, Va.


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HISTORY

LAURIE DEXTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

USS Arizona Memorial

National Memorial Arch

Arlington National Cemetery

Anthem Veterans Memorial

The brilliant white building that sits in Pearl Harbor is part of the sprawling World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which honors the memory of the Pacific war at sites in Hawaii, Alaska and California. The USS Arizona Memorial was built atop the sunken wreckage of one of the four ships sunk by Japanese bombers during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor; it remains the resting place of 1,107 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines who died on the ship that day. (For more on Pearl Harbor, see page 142.) ▶ nps.gov/valr

Located within Valley Forge National Historical Park, this memorial arch commemorates the arrival of Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army into Valley Forge, where they camped during the harsh winter of 1777-78. Approximately 2,500 men died from exposure or disease during that winter, but the site is also where the Continental Army eventually regrouped and reorganized to continue its campaign for independence against the British. ▶ nps.gov/vafo

No war memorial is as poignant as Arlington National Cemetery, which serves as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices of war. The 152-year-old cemetery, located across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, contains more than 400,000 graves of service members and veterans from every conflict from the Civil War through the modern era. Soldiers of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” keep 24-hour watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the white marble landmark located near the center of the cemetery. ▶ arlingtoncemetery.mil

One of the more unusual memorials for veterans is located in Anthem, 30 miles north of Phoenix. Every year on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at exactly 11:11 a.m. the sun aligns through elliptical holes in five marble pillars (which represent each branch of the military) and illuminates a mosaic of the Great Seal of the United States inlaid into the bricks on the ground. ▶ onlineatanthem.com/ anthem-veterans-memorial

Honolulu

King of Prussia, Pa.

Arlington, Va.

Anthem, Ariz.

COURTESY OF ANTHEM VETERANS MEMORIAL

National World War I Museum and Memorial Kansas City, Mo.

Dedicated in 1926, just eight years after the end of World War I, the towering Liberty Memorial was one of the earliest monuments to commemorate the Americans who gave their lives in The Great War. At the foot of the 217-foot obelisk-like tower is the National World War I Museum, which opened in 2006 after a major renovation of the original memorial; it houses more than 75,000 artifacts from World War I. ▶ theworldwar.org — Melanie Renzulli


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Currently under construction, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum is set to open in 2018.

RENDERINGS COURTESY NATIONAL VETERANS MEMORIAL & MUSEUM

CONNECTING ALL VETERANS Ohio is set to become home to the country’s first official national veterans memorial. The National Veterans Memorial & Museum (nationalvmm.org), expected to open by summer 2018, will be based in Columbus and aims to bridge the military-civilian gap and connect all veterans. Currently under construction, the breathtaking circular building and grounds are part of an extensive downtown restructuring. The 7-acre riverfront location will be part of the new Scioto Greenways, which created 33 acres of new parkland and 1.5 miles of multiple-use trails to connect the city’s Scioto Mile network of parks. “It is time for America to remember and to honor its veterans, regardless of branch of service or era of conflict or peace,” the website reads. “It is time to give a voice to every man and woman who has served, every mother and father who has lost a son or daughter, and every child who has lost a parent. It is time for the National Veterans Memorial & Museum.” — Sara Schwartz

FOUR PILLARS Exhibits at the National Veterans Memorial & Museum will be based on four central pillars — Honor, Connect, Inspire and Educate — and will aim to explore the broader narrative of military service.


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HISTORY Marine Corps veteran Tom Teela said he became “pretty good friends” with Rishi Sharma after being interviewed.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF RISHI SHARMA

A HEROES’ HISTORIAN By Matt Alderton

Rishi Sharma, 18, wants to capture as many World War II stories as he can — while veterans are still alive to tell them

R

ISHI SHARMA IS NOT a typical teenage boy. Instead of social media, supermodels and sports cars, the real estate in his young mind belongs almost exclusively to history — specifically, to World War II. Instead of comic books about fictional heroes like Superman, he grew up reading history books about real ones like Gen. George S. Patton. Instead of cartoons, he voraciously watched documentaries about Hiroshima and the Holocaust. And his favorite film isn’t Deadpool or Mad Max: Fury Road; it’s Saving Private Ryan. It’s not just the war that captivates Sharma, it’s the Americans who more than CO N T I N U E D

Rishi Sharma, right, poses with Arnold Seretan, who fought in the Battle of Saipan in July 1944. “Hell broke loose. Gunfire was coming from everywhere,” he said.


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HISTORY 70 years ago helped Allied forces win it. “I’ve always been fascinated by World War II and the guys who fought in it. In my heart of hearts, I believe that they are my kindred spirits,” said Sharma, 18, of Agoura Hills, Calif. “These are guys who’ve spent their entire lives giving and doing things for other people without taking a single day for themselves. These are guys who grew up during the Great Depression and at 7 or 8 years old started working to provide for their families. These are guys who lived in the Dust Bowl and breathed in dust for days. And when Pearl Harbor happened, these are guys who were willing to give up their lives and go off and fight. … They’re really the only people I like talking to and spending time with.” Unfortunately, the men Sharma loves so much won’t be around forever. Although approximately 16 million Americans served during the war, only 620,000 of them are still alive today, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which estimates that World War II veterans are dying at a rate of approximately 372 per day. And when these veterans pass away, they take their memories with them. To collect them, Sharma in April 2015 created Heroes of the Second World War, a nonprofit organization through which he plans to interview a new WWII combat veteran every day. His goal: to capture on video as many firsthand accounts of the war as possible. “World War II veterans have gone through so much. They gave all of us the lives we have today, but now they’re being forgotten,” said Sharma, who graduated from high school in June and has decided to forgo college to focus full time on interviewing veterans. “I think it’s important that we all learn from them.” Sharma hatched his idea as a sophomore in high school, after reading Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose. In it, Ambrose recounts the story of 20-year-old Lyle Bouck, an Army lieutenant whose 18-man unit held off a German battalion of more than 500 men for nearly an entire day during the Battle of the Bulge. Enamored with the story, Sharma found Bouck’s phone number and ended up having an hour-long conversation with the former soldier about the famous battle in which he fought.

Eli Baker flew in Canadian bombers and was shot down, captured and spent time in a German POW camp. home to his parents and girlfriend. Many are inspiring, like the one told by a Medal of Honor recipient who threw himself on top of a live grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. Others are tragic, like the veteran who witnessed his best friend’s decapitation mere feet from him on the battlefield. And a few are downright gruesome, like the account Army veteran Bill Keyes gave of his last day of combat as an infantryman in the 91st Division, fighting on the Italian front. “(Germans) were giving up by the dozens and I figured they’d given up,” recalled Keyes, 92, a Silver Star recipient who lives in Lebanon, Ore. “Well, this machine-gunner didn’t know about that giving up stuff, and he let me have a burst right in the middle. It knocked my belt buckle off my ammunition belt and “It was amazing. I’d put these it crashed to the ground with my warriors up on a pedestal, and that’s bayonet, my canteen and two grewhen I realized I could actually go nades I’d made by hand. I jumped out and meet them and talk with back and he let me have another them,” said Sharma, who subseburst that took away my whole front quently learned about the Library of end. My intestines fell out in the Congress’ Veterans History Project dirt, along with some other stuff. (see page 140) and decided to I put it all back in the hole and … create his own version as he turned his back of it dedicated to on me I got my right World War II combat foot under my rifle GET INVOLVED veterans. barrel and lifted it up To learn more To date, Sharma high enough to shoot about Heroes of has conducted more him right between the the Second World than 150 interviews shoulders.” War, or to lend with veterans. Armed Marine Corps veteran with a camera, tripod Tom Teela of La Pine, your support, visit and microphone, Ore., saw his share of heroesofthesecond he conducts most bloodshed, too. Fightworldwar.org or of them in veterans’ ing on the Pacific front gofundme.com/ homes, which he in the battles of Tarawa, ww2heroes. drives to in the family Tinian and Saipan, car that he borrows where an explosion from his parents. wounded him in the Each interview lasts several hours, face and hand, he survived several during which time he takes his suicidal “banzai” counterattacks by subjects — whom he respectfully Japanese fighters and was among calls “sir” — through an exhaustive the occupying forces in Nagasaki questionnaire encompassing not after the United States dropped its only their wartime service, but also second atomic bomb there in 1945. their childhood, homecoming and Although he recalls the physical postwar life. destruction, what he remembers Some of the stories are sweet, most about Nagasaki is the genteel like the memory one veteran shared CO N T I N U E D about the “very happy day” he came

Steve Politis lost 13 men (of his 14-man unit) in less than a minute during the invasion of Sicily.

Arnold Seretan says he’s now a pacifist. “I don’t understand how anyone who was in war can justify war.”

Sam Lee Anderson borrowed a lighter from a buddy right before a sniper shot his friend between the eyes.

Robert Swanson served on the submarine USS Parche, which after an attack with depth charges, stayed underwater for more than 30 hours.


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HISTORY Cesar Morales was a rifleman in the Philippines and received a Bronze Star for using grenades and a few “wellplaced shots” to take out a Japanese machine gun nest that had pinned down his entire unit.

Japanese people: “They were very interview veterans across the polite,” said Teela, 91. country, beyond the West Coast As grisly as the stories get, reach of his parents’ car. Sharma doesn’t flinch. Rather, he “Many World War II veterans thoughtfully digests them — thorns never talk about the war. That and all. Because he doesn’t sell or weighs them down like an anchor. distribute his footage, he receives When they’re able to start talking neither prestige nor profit. Instead, about it, it’s like a weight has been his compensation is the gratitude lifted,” Sharma said. he receives from the veterans he As treasured as they are by interviews, who receive a DVD veterans and their families, Sharma recording of their interview, the said his interviews are a means rights to which to another end: are theirs Someday, he exclusively to hopes to start a use as they wish. “Become Friends “I’m proud to say Some veterans With a WWII my best friends give Sharma Vet” initiative permission to that will forge are 93 to 99 years donate their intergenerational old. They’re my interview to the friendships National WWII between World heroes.” Museum in New War II veterans — Rishi Sharma, Orleans. Some, and young creator of Heroes like Keyes and Americans of the Second World War Teela, intend it who pledge to to be a keepsake “adopt” them. bequeathed “What’s better to children than watching and grandchildren when they’re a DVD 20 years after someone is gone. For others, it’s a means for dead is actually interacting with catharsis. them while they’re still alive,” “A lot of times, the families of Sharma noted. “Oftentimes, these guys who have passed watch the guys are dumped in a senior home, DVDs, and that’s really beautiful. or are widowed, or both. … To What’s even better, though, is have a random stranger come into when a guy starts talking to his their life to spend time with them, kids and wife about the war for express interest in them and let the first time after the interview, them know how important their while he’s still alive,” said Sharma, sacrifices were does wonders for who is supporting his efforts their health and well-being.” with a crowd-funding campaign The benefits to the young that has raised more than $3,000 person can be equally salient. to date; his present fundraising “Most of my peers can’t tell you goal is $18,500, which along when World War II was, let alone with corporate sponsorships he’s the reasons it was fought. Yet, they currently seeking will help him can name all the Kardashians and

STORIES TO TELL

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PROJECT COLLECTS VETERANS’ STORIES

what they were wearing,” Sharma continued. “Having one of these joyful, inspiring, wonderful guys to talk to and interact with would change their lives forever. It’s certainly changed mine.” Indeed, Sharma said his relationships with World War II veterans have humbled him in ways that will affect him for the rest of his life. “I’m not religious, but I feel blessed,” he remarked. “I’ve never been hungry. I’ve never lived in a foxhole in the cold with frostbite on my feet. I’ve never seen my best friend killed in front of me. These guys have, and that’s given me a sense for how lucky I am and how short my life is.” Sharma is teaching veterans a thing or two, as well. Namely, that not all young people are as frivolous as some people imagine. “I can’t believe that boy is so intelligent. He’s sharp,” Keyes said of Sharma, referencing his encyclopedic knowledge of World War II people, places and events. “I think it’s wonderful what he’s doing. He is awesome, that boy.” Added Teela, “He was extremely polite, and he had no ulterior motives behind what he was doing. He stayed the better part of a day when he did the interview, and we became pretty good friends in that short time.” The feeling is mutual. “When I’m in a room with one of these guys, it’s as if they were talking to someone they served with. They talk to me as if I were a buddy,” Sharma concluded. “That’s what I really love, because they are my buddies. I’m proud to say my best friends are 93 to 99 years old. They’re my heroes.”

The United States is home to approximately 19.3 million veterans with 19.3 million different stories to tell, too many for any one person to capture. Fortunately, Rishi Sharma’s Heroes of the Second World War project is just one of many oral history efforts collecting stories from veterans across the country. Others include Texas Tech University’s Vietnam Center and Archive Oral History Project, the U.S. Naval Institute’s Oral History Program, the Women’s Memorial Foundation Oral History Program, Rutgers University’s Rutgers Oral History Archives and the Air Force Historical Research Agency’s Oral History Catalogue, among others. The granddaddy of them all is the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. The creation of Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), the Veterans History Project was conceived at a backyard barbecue during which Kind decided to film his father, a Korean War veteran, and uncle, a World War II veteran, exchanging war stories so he could later share them with his two sons. Inspired, he authored legislation establishing a federal office to collect, preserve and make accessible for future generations the personal accounts of American war veterans. The bill was signed into law in 2000. “That was our birth certificate,” explained Karen Lloyd, acting director of the Veterans History Project, whose office has archived more than 100,000 interviews with veterans. “We want to make sure that every voice is heard. And when veterans die without having had a chance to tell their story, that’s a loss to us, the American people.” Because it lacks the staff and resources to conduct interviews itself, the Veterans History Project relies on partners, including the Daughters of IMAGES COURTESY OF LIBRARY OF CONGRESS the American Revolution, the American Red Cross and the Boy and Girl Scouts, the latter two require youth to interview veterans in order to become senior-level scouts. The Veterans History Project provides a field kit and training video; volunteers conduct the interviews. Along with an audio or video interview, a veteran’s “collection” can include photos, letters and journals. For more information about the Veterans History Project, visit its website at loc.gov/vets. — Matt Alderton


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ARIZONA LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS; NAVY PHOTOGRAPH/NATIONAL ARCHIVES; ARIZONA LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS; GETTY IMAGES

DATE OF INFAMY 75 years after the attack at Pearl Harbor, a solemn anniversary


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5 1 | Officers and crew of the USS Arizona, taken in 1919 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona exhibit on display at the University of Arizona Library Special Collections through Dec. 23. 2 | Aerial view of the Naval Operating Base, Pearl Harbor, on Oct. 30, 1941. 3 | The USS Arizona in 1927. The ship was commissioned Oct. 17, 1916. 4 | A damaged B-17C bomber sits on the tarmac near Hangar Number 5 at Hickam Field on Dec. 7, 1941, after the attack. 5 | The jumbled mass of wreckage in front of the battleship USS Pennsylvania constitutes the remains of the destroyers USS Downes and USS Cassin, bombed during the raid on Pearl Harbor. 6 | USS Arizona survivor Lou Conter salutes the Arizona Remembrance Wall during a memorial service marking the 74th anniversary of the attack. Today, he is one of five living survivors from the USS Arizona.

Memorials and other activities will stretch from Dec. 1 through the week at Pearl Harbor and in Honolulu, culminating with a remembrance on the morning of Dec. 7 and a series of solemn events through the day. One of the most meaningful ceremonies will take place aboard the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits atop the sunken battleship. The vessel sustained the worst losses in the attack: 1,177 members of her crew — all but 335 of the sailors and Marines assigned to the Arizona — died. A bomb exploded near the ship’s main ammunition stores, breaking the Arizona in half before the vessel sunk into the harbor. Since 1982, when retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Stanley Teslow’s ashes were the first to be lowered into the battleship Arizona, crew members who survived could have their remains interred within the ship’s wreckage. In all, 37 sailors and two Marines now rest in the barbette of gun turret four. On Dec. 7, divers will take the remains of two Arizona crewmen into the ship: John Anderson, a boatswain’s mate 2nd class at the time of the attack, died Nov. 14, 2015, at the age of 98; and Clarendon Hetrick, a seaman 1st class in 1941, died April 18 at the age of 92. The interment ceremony could finally reunite two brothers torn apart in the attack. Anderson’s twin brother, Delbert “Jake” Anderson, was also onboard the Arizona and died in the attack. John Anderson tried to find his brother as the ship burned and sank, but never saw him again. Jake Anderson’s remains were never recovered. A third Arizona crewman, Raymond Haerry, died Sept. 27 at the age of 94. His remains will be interred in the ship next year. Five members from the USS Arizona’s last crew remain, and all plan to attend the 75th anniversary events on Dec. 7.

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By Shaun McKinnon

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N THE MORNING OF Dec. 7, 1941, onboard eight American battleships moored in Pearl Harbor off the Hawaiian island of Oahu, sailors and Marines were going about their Sunday routines: eating breakfast, setting up for church services, shaving and dressing for a day ashore, cleaning decks and galleys. There were rumors of war, whispers of an impending attack by the Japanese brewing somewhere in the Pacific, but nothing more than talk until the first

enemy bomber screamed over the harbor a few minutes before 8 a.m. The world was about to change. More than 2,400 people died in the attack. Nearly as many were injured. Bombers sunk four battleships and destroyed 188 U.S. aircraft. The offensive drew the United States into World War II, a global conflict that would alter the course of history. Seventy-five years later, on Dec. 7, U.S. military and government officials will pause to commemorate what thenPresident Franklin Roosevelt somberly described as a “date which will live in infamy.”

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PATRIOTIC SPIRITS

Veteran-run breweries, distilleries and wineries give back

PURPLE HEART WINES

Founded by winemaker Ray Coursen, Purple Heart Wines in St. Helena, Calif., works with neighboring vineyard C. Mondavi & Family to produce a wine that benefits the Purple Heart Foundation, which provides financial support and a variety of services to veterans.

By Dan Friedell

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AY COURSEN NEVER PLANNED to become a career soldier. In 1968, he was drafted into the Army infantry and deployed to Vietnam in 1969 as a machine gunner. He served 19 months, and when he returned to the U.S., he was not sure what to do next. After bouncing around between college classes in Las Vegas and travels through Europe and Africa, he wound up earning a degree in agriculture with a specialty in stone fruits from the University of Massachusetts. He thought he might open an

orchard, but along the way, while waiting tables at Boston restaurants in the 1970s, he discovered a love for wine. In 1978, he and his wife set off for California to launch a career in wine-making. After more than 30 years in the wine business, Coursen, 68, is the winemaker behind Purple Heart Wines. He was approached by the neighboring C. Mondavi & Family (patriarch Peter Mondavi Sr. was a veteran of World War II and brother of Robert Mondavi) to collaborate on a wine brand where a portion of the proceeds CO N T I N U E D


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PHOTOS BY ADAM KUEHL

Service Brewing Company in Savannah, Ga., was founded by Kevin Ryan, a veteran whose interest in beer grew after his then-girlfriend, now-fiancée, Meredith Sutton bought him a home-brewing kit.

would benefit the Purple Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life. He worked to craft a blended, merlot-based red wine that would pair well with meat and cheese. (In June 2016, consulting winemaker and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran David Grega was added to the project.) A bottle of Purple Heart wine sells for about $20, and checks off a number of boxes for the consumer. It’s a good value,

tastes good and a purchase results in a donation to a good cause. It’s a noble effort that comes toward the end of a fulfilling career in the wine business. “I think all of us who served wish we could have done more,” Coursen said from his office in Napa Valley. “You lost friends; you had friends who were wounded for life. It’s natural when you have a little bit of time, to reflect on this and give back. I wanted to give back, and not to the Army,

but to the men and women who were wounded.” There’s a similar motivation for Kevin Ryan, whose Service Brewing Company, a veteran-owned and operated craftÊbrewery in Savannah, Ga., regularly donates to charities that support members of the military and first responders. In the two years since its launch, Service Brewing Company has donated more than $24,000 to organizations including Stop Soldier Suicide and the 200 Club, which supports the families of deceased first-responders. Ryan is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and is thankful for the support he received while serving from people back in the U.S. he did not know. “It’s been our belief from the beginning that we need to take care of those who take care of us,” Ryan, 42, said. “When I was deployed, we would get packages in the mail every day from people that had no idea who we were or where we were. They just knew they wanted to do something for us. That’s the way they could support us. And we took that (sentiment) and put it into the brewery.” One dollar from every brewery tour goes toward these charities. The tours sell well, too; visitors get a chance to sample beers and take home a souvenir six-pack. The brewery makes five year-round beers — including a balanced pale ale made with caramel malt called Ground Pounder and a citrusy IPA known as Compass Rose — along with other seasonal and experimental brews. Travis McVey, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Presidential Honor Guard from 1989 to 1992, came up with the idea for Heroes vodka while sitting in a Veterans of Foreign Wars bar and toasting the memory of a friend who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. “What can I do to serve again?” he wondered. “I knew I was a little bit too old to go back into the Marines. I was sitting there seeing these liquor commercials. They were basically paying lip service to veterans like they cared about us. But it was only on Veterans Day or you had to submit a receipt or a bottle cap before they would give back. I’m thinking, ‘That’s not really the way to do it.’ If we’re going to honor our brave men and women who served the country, it should be something we do all the time.” McVey, 46, is a whisky fan, but realized the aging time required meant his first donation would be many years away. So he chose vodka, which quickly goes from grain to finished product. Over the next two years, he spent time making a business plan, looking for a distiller and distributor and many nights sampling the product of competitors. (He wanted to make sure his product left drinkers with as mild a hangover as possible, after all.) He CO N T I N U E D


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COURTESY OF HEROES VODKA; MARTY WAYNE PHOTOGRAPHY

Heroes vodka was founded in 2009 by Travis McVey, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who wanted a way to honor his fellow service members. First bottled on Veterans Day in 2011, a portion of every sale goes toward local chapters of AMVETS.

settled on a taste profile for his corn-based vodka and designed his red, white and blue bottles. He partnered with Buffalo Trace (a Kentucky distiller well-known for its bourbon) and a distributor that understood McVey’s mission. Heroes vodka was first bottled Nov. 11, 2011 — Veterans Day. It is now available in 15 states and sells for about $15 per bottle. A percentage of every sale goes toward local chapters of the AMVETS National Service Foundation in each of those states to develop community assistance programs for U.S. veterans, active-duty military and their families. McVey said his goal is to donate about

25 percent of his profits each year. In 2015, that reached $14,000. Heroes has given more than $34,000 since its inception. If the brand were to one day become a top-selling vodka, McVey estimates that it could translate to $10 million. “I could really make a difference with that,” he said. While these small businesses have found some early success, there is still plenty of work to be done. McVey would like his vodka to be in more states. Ryan is finding it difficult to distribute his beer to a larger consumer base. Most tap handles in bars are spoken for these days. According to the Brewers Association,


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about 6.3 million barrels of craft beer were produced in 2005. By 2015, that number rose to about 25 million. “The craft beer market is getting tougher every day,” Ryan said. “When people were recognizing how good Brooklyn (Brewery) or Dogfish (Head Brewery) was, they could throw it out to another state and there wasn’t a whole lot of local competition to fight with. For me, I’ve got to be a lot more thoughtful and a lot more deliberate.” McVey said he is optimistic that new distribution deals will make Heroes, based in Nashville more widely available. If you are attending the Army vs. Navy football game Dec. 10 in Baltimore, and want to try Service Brewing Company beer, you’re in luck. For the second consecutive year, Ryan is donating 100 cases of beer to Tailgate for Troops. They will be sold to raise money to build modified homes for injured veterans. Ryan started making beer when his then-girlfriend, now fiancee Meredith Sutton bought him a home-brewing kit. His hobby turned to something more when his amateur beers became so popular among

friends that he would be tapped to provide beer for parties. His Chocolate-Covered Strawberry IPA was such a hit that people suggested he make beer for a living. But it was a challenge going from a 5-gallon home-brewing system that would produce about 10 bottles to a 15-gallon system that could meet the demands of a party. Success has come fast, however. Two years later, he and his head brewer make about 60,000 gallons per month. (Sutton, who was one of 23 investors, is now the brewery’s co-founder and creative marketing director.) The beer he’s most proud of is their second anniversary SBC2 beer, a Pale American-Belgo-style ale — made with wild yeast found in the beehives behind the brewery. “It’s phenomenal,” Ryan said. If you’re ever in Savannah, check out the brewery. You won’t likely find the Chocolate-Covered Strawberry IPA that turned him from a home brewer to a pro, but there might be an equally interesting experimental beer on tap. In the past, Ryan has tested a Vidalia onion IPA and a rye ale with whisky-infused chipotle peppers.

McVey still gets a kick out of going to a bar and ordering his go-to drink, a vodka with club soda and a lime, made with his own Heroes vodka. The first time he did that was on Nashville’s famed Broadway, at a place called the Whiskey Bent Saloon. “I felt like a little kid on Christmas,” he said. “It has a long wooden bar, the kind of place Johnny Cash might have gone in. When you look up there and see your bottle, it’s kind of a surreal feeling.” All three mentioned that when they partake in a beer, a glass of wine or a sip of liquor, they take a moment to remember the sacrifices other people made for them. Coursen can’t think of a better time to try a bottle of Purple Heart Wine than during Thanksgiving. It’s not just a good fit with the meal, he said, but it’s a way to make a small contribution to the wellbeing of American veterans. “The wine will pair extremely well with turkey,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you sit down with your family, and you have your big meal, and you take a second, take another look at the packaging, and say, ‘Wow, this is important.’”

FLAVOR PLAYERS A tasting of some beers from veteran-owned or run breweries

VETERAN BEER CO.

14TH STAR BREWING CO.

FAIR WINDS BREWING CO.

CHICAGO

ST. ALBANS, VT.

LORTON, VA.

Owner Paul Jenkins retired from the Navy after 14 years and opened VBC in 2012 to employ out-of-work veterans.

Owned by CEO and head brewer Steve Gagner, a U.S. Army veteran who dreamed up the idea to open a brewery with his buddies while deployed in Afghanistan.

Founder Casey Jones served 12 years in the U.S. Coast Guard and makes it a point to hire veterans and offer them special events and discounts.

Co-founded by Thomas Wilder, a former Army National Guardsman and Neil McCanon, an Army and Army Reserves veteran.

Brews include: ✪ Maple Breakfast Stout (made with 100 percent pure Vermont maple syrup) ✪ Valor Ale ✪ Tribute Double IPA

Brews include: ✪ Quayside Kolsch, a German-style golden ale ✪ Howling Gale, a West-Coast style IPA ✪ Sessions in the Abyss, IPA with a pale malt base

Brews include: ✪ Pineapple Grenade, a Hefeweizen ✪ Night Vision, an American stout ✪ Jet Noise, a double IPA

Brews include: ✪ Hooyah! IPA, an American IPA ✪ Freedom Road, an American amber lager ✪ Blonde Bomber, an American blonde ale

YOUNG VETERANS BREWING CO. VIRGINIA BEACH

DRINKING BUDDIES

Craft breweries are exploding in popularity because of the hyper-local mindset that is happening all across America, said Todd Baldwin, president and founder of the Red Leg Brewing Company in Colorado Springs. “People want to drink, eat, socialize and support local — which is great for all of our communities.” Along with Dan Ackerman, Sherrill Stamey and Ian Schuster of the Schubros Brewery, Baldwin founded the Veterans Beer Alliance (VBA) in 2015 to represent and unite veteranowned and managed breweries, distributors, vendors and retailers. “We believe that if we can cooperate on the battlefield, then there is no reason why we can’t partner with each other in the business world as well,” Baldwin said. “It’s truly been one of the proudest moments of my professional career to help start an organization that allows for so much partnership while truly affecting the day to day operations of so many wonderful brewers across America and I’m happy to call them my brothers in arms and in beer.” Baldwin said that VBA works like a co-op, by helping breweries find new opportunities and profitable ventures and providing education and business support. Currently, members can share common experiences and challenges in the brewing industry and with business in general from a veteran’s perspective. “There has always been a strong camaraderie in the brewing industry, and I believe when you add our veteran status into the equation you get an even stronger connection,” Baldwin said. For more information, go to veteransbeeralliance.org. — Sara Schwartz PHOTOS COURTESY OF COMPANIES


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Before Bryan Foltz got Dell from K9s for Warriors, he said it felt like his life was on hold.

DOG DAYS

WOODY HUBAND

Highly trained service animals help veterans cope with life after military By Adam Stone

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IKE SO MANY WHO served, former Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kim Edwards brought the war home from Iraq. “I was having panic attacks, anxiety attacks. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was having flashbacks,” she said. The worst was leaving the house. “I couldn’t be in

big spaces. I couldn’t have people behind me. Eventually I just stopped going out altogether.” Spice made all the difference. The perky papillon trained to assist with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) helped Edwards feel safe in crowds. “She would focus on me; I would focus on her. CO N T I N U E D

COURTESY OF KIM EDWARDS

Kim Edwards found peace after receiving Spice, a spunky papillon, from 4 Paws for Ability, a group that trains service dogs.


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When panic attacks came, she would bark Edwards’ wait was shorter than most. and give me kisses, and that brought me It’s not uncommon for veterans to hold out of it,” Edwards said. “She gave me my in a queue for a year or more in hopes of life back.” eventually receiving a service dog. For Veterans get service dogs to assist with some, the wait is almost unbearable. a range of maladies. The Department of “I vegetated. I didn’t do anything. I felt Veterans Affairs recognizes the helpfulness like my life was on hold,” said former of dogs in guiding the blind and in assisting Army Spc. Bryan Foltz of Jacksonville, Fla. those with mobility challenges, as well He waited a year for K9s for Warriors to as dogs to support veterans with hearing get him a dog, and was hospitalized once loss and those prone to seizures. Many during that time for emotional difficulties. veterans seek out service dogs for another “My wife had one foot out the door and purpose, though: to give them strength one foot on a banana peel. My kids hated and emotional support in the face of me. All I would do is yell.” symptoms caused by PTSD and traumatic While there are dozens of groups brain injury. For these working to get dogs to veterans, the aid of a veterans, the waiting canine companion can be lists are long because a “The dog has to be a long time coming. high-performing service Edwards, of Springdog requires extensive invisible in public. field, Ohio, waited more training, consisting of They can’t bark. than eight months to get sometimes more than a Spice from the advocacy year of skills lessons by a They have to sit, group 4 Paws for Ability, professional trainer. But stay, down, heel. and every one of those mostly, advocates say, it days hurt, she said. comes down to money. And they need to “Sometimes I really “You can only put a ‘cover’ and ‘block.’” was going minute by limited number of dogs minute. I would get tired in a given class. There — Shari Duval, of fighting and just want is a limited number K9 for Warriors founder to give up. It was too of trainers, we have much pain,” she said. limited space — all those

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things take money,” said Karen Shirk, CEO and founder of 4 Paws for Ability, an organization based in Xenia, Ohio, with a $3 million annual budget. With a two-year waiting list, Shirk said the group places 100 dogs a year, with 10 percent of those going to veterans and the rest to children with various special needs. “If we could, we would hire twice as many trainers, then we could place 150 or more dogs a year, and that would bring down the wait. But of course we don’t have unlimited funding,” Shirk said. The group does private fundraising and also receives philanthropic support from groups like the Hatton Foundation and The Calipari Foundation.

THE RIGHT FIT

“Our goal is to get the animal into the veteran’s hands as quickly as possible,” said Robert Misseri, co-founder of Paws of War. Founded in 2013 and based in Nesconset, N.Y., this group of volunteers raises about $220,000 a year and has placed 30 dogs using a mix of paid trainers and professional trainers who volunteer their time. Funds come from individual gifts and small donations from veterans groups. Misseri said for Paws of War, training a CO N T I N U E D

SPEEDING UP THE PROCESS

The Department of Veterans Affairs will pay the veterinarian bills for a service dog given to a blind or deaf veteran, but doesn’t recognize the use of dogs for PTSD, according to the department. However, a longterm study is underway. In the meantime, the service dog enterprise is supported by philanthropy. Donations pay for training and groups generally give the dogs to veterans for free. Some go even further: Any veteran who gets a dog from K9s for Warriors comes to stay for free at the facility for three weeks to work with the dog. Some are looking to speed the process by leveraging community resources. Patriot PAWS in Rockwall, Texas, makes use of local prison inmates and college students who help to prepare the dogs under the direction of eight professional trainers. The dogs reside with inmates or the students during training, said Lori Stevens, founder and executive director of the group, which has placed more than 100 dogs in the past decade. A professional trainer, Stevens launched her organization at the request of veterans after visiting the VA hospital in Dallas. Kim Edwards said it’s worth having to wait for the right dog. “If it hadn’t been for Spice, I would be one of the 22,” she said, referring to a statistic on daily veteran suicides. Spice passed away at just 5 years old in June, but 4 Paws for Ability was able to expedite Edwards’ request for another papillon, this one named Leeloo. “She is sensitive and sweet,” Edwards said. “When I met her, it was instant love. She isn’t going to replace Spice, but I feel like she is the start of another chapter in my story.”

COURTESY OF PATRIOTS.COM

Veteran Xavier Negrete credits his service dog, Cash, with saving his life. He got Cash from Patriot PAWS in 2010.

COURTESY OF PATRIOT PAWS

Kim Edwards and her new service dog, a papillon named Leeloo.


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WHERE TO GET A DOG Numerous philanthropic groups across the nation train service dogs and make them available at no cost to veterans. Some start with puppies, others with shelter dogs. Most ask the veteran to participate to some extent in the training, though each has its own unique approach. Paws of War trains and places rescued dogs with veterans who suffer from the emotional effects of war, according to its website. ▶ pawsofwar.org To honor the many service members who are still suffering from the conflicts of war, 4 Paws for Ability helps to make service assistance dogs available to help them lead a more independent life. ▶ 4pawsforability.org

JENNIFER SEFTON

Service dog Kelly, a black lab rescued and trained by K9s For Warriors, walks at her warrior’s side during a day of training. Matching service dogs to veterans is an in-depth process, with dog trainers collaborating with veterans to strategically pair each warrior-dog team. dog is highly personalized. “If the veteran hasn’t been to the beach in five years and he wants to go, we want that trainer to go to the beach with that veteran. There are going to be particular needs and stresses to each situation,” he said. Both the dog and the owner need to learn, together, how to cope with challenging circumstances. As a result, demand is high for skilled trainers willing to devote considerable time to the effort. “That is our biggest struggle: finding competent trainers. If we had more trainers, I could place more dogs.” The search for trainers is complicated by the fact that there is no universally accepted standard for what constitutes a properly trained service dog. The advocacy group Assistance Dogs International has published a set of criteria, but it is ultimately up to each individual trainer to decide when a dog is ready. Finding dogs is easier. Some groups breed puppies to train into service, while others scoop up likely animals from among the 3.9 million dogs that enter shelters each year nationwide. But not every dog is fit for service, and most service dog groups say it’s not uncommon to spend five months and several thousand dollars in training, only to have 50 percent or more of their dogs flunk out. “These dogs have to function at a very

high level,” said Shari Most of that goes toward Duval, founder of K9s for the costs of running the “If it hadn’t been Warriors. Based in Ponte facility, which recently Vedra, Fla., this group expanded from 30 to for Spice, I would has placed more than 60 kennels. Vet bills be one of the 22 260 dogs since 2011 alone run $300,000 a on an annual budget of year. Even with all the (veteran suicides $3.5 million generated available resources, the per day). I didn’t by a mix of fundraising group’s waiting list is events, grants and about a year and a half want to live.” corporate support. long. —Kim Edwards, “The dog has to be The wait at America’s Air Force veteran invisible in public. They VetDogs in Smithtown, can’t bark. They have N.Y., can be up to 15 to sit, stay, down, heel. months, depending on And then they need to ‘cover’ and ‘block.’ the veteran’s specific needs. Want the dog Disabled combat veterans do not like to to retrieve medication? That alone takes be approached from the front or the back, two months of training. they don’t like having people in their “First you have to teach the dog to space, and so the dog becomes a natural retrieve. Then you have to teach the dog barrier to any person approaching,” she to hold it, then you have to teach them to said. bring it to you, then to give it to you,” said That kind of training takes time, more so Ken Kirsch, the group’s director of service if the dog is to display added skills. Some dog training and a former war dog handler dogs will wake a veteran from a nightfor the Army. “A lot of people think dogs mare, for example. A dog may be trained are Lassie. But you can’t just say ‘go get to bark when it is time to take medication, the telephone.’ ” to help with balance and stability, or to It takes time, and a trainer’s time costs provide physical reassurance at the onset money. “If there is going to be less of a of a panic attack. wait for dogs, organizations have to raise Duval has 50 employees on staff, money. Then they could hire instructors including eight trainers. It costs $24,000 and train more dogs. That’s how it gets for them to prepare a dog for service. better,” Kirsch said.

Patriot PAWS trains and provides service dogs at no cost to disabled veterans and others with mobile disabilities and PTSD. ▶ patriotpaws.org The mission of America’s VetDogs is to “help those who have served our country honorably live with dignity and independence.” ▶ vetdogs.org K9s For Warriors says it is “dedicated to providing service canines to our warriors suffering from post-traumatic stress disability, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma as a result of military service post 9/11” to help veterans return to civilian life . ▶ k9sforwarriors.org

OTHER ORGANIZATIONS: Hero Dogs Inc. ▶ hero-dogs.org/veterans Pets for Vets ▶ petsforvets.com Vets Adopt Pets ▶ vetsadoptpets.org/ vetservicedogs.html Top Dogg K-9 Foundation ▶ vdogs.org Paws and Stripes ▶ pawsandstripes.org Puppies Behind Bars ▶ puppiesbehindbars.com/ veterans-ptsd This Able Veteran ▶ thisableveteran.org


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Jack Holder, a WWII veteran who survived Pearl Harbor, lost $43,000 to scammers.

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE Scammers use speed and timing to steal money from veterans

By Robert Anglen

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ACK HOLDER SURVIVED THE attack on Pearl Harbor and aerial combat over Midway and the English Channel. The 94-year-old World War II veteran and retired Texas wildcatter walked away from those battles unscathed — and without losing his faith in humanity. That changed this year, he said. That’s when the phone rang in his Sun Lakes, Ariz., home and he found out he was a chosen winner in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. The caller told Holder he had won $4.7 million and a new Mercedes-Benz. All Holder had to do to claim his prize

CHERYL EVANS/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC

was supply some personal information and open a bank account where the winnings could be deposited. Within a week, thieves made off with $43,000 from Holder and his fiancée, Ruth Calabro, 78, nearly wiping out their combined savings. “I realize now how stupid I was,” Holder said. “I want this to serve as a warning. I want to warn people that this can happen ... and stop it from happening to anyone else.” The setup involved at least four different callers, three addresses in Brooklyn, Mt. Vernon, N.Y., and Hoboken, N.J., and two phone numbers in Gilbert, Ariz., and Nichols, N.Y. It was facilitated with cashier’s checks and cash via UPS.

The scam relied on speed and timing. In a report to the Chandler (Ariz.) Police Department and to the FBI, Holder ran it down. The first caller made contact about the second week of March. Although Holder said he was suspicious at first, he said he often responds to Publishers Clearing House ads. And like they say, somebody has to win. Separate callers instructed Holder on how to claim his winnings. “Casey” advised him to provide an account number where winnings could be deposited, then told him to open a new account for tax purposes. Holder has trouble believing he was conned so easily, adding that there were many red flags that should have made him stop. But in the moment, the euphoria


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CHERYL EVANS/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC

After Jack Holder and his fiancée Ruth Calabro were scammed, he said he wanted to warn people that this can happen and to stop it from happening to anyone else.

of anticipated winnings, the collected coolness of the callers and the sudden appearance of thousands of dollars in his account all worked against common sense. Holder said he opened a new account at Bank of America, and within a few days more than $17,000 was deposited. In order to avoid penalties and taxes, Holder was told to write separate cashier’s checks for $8,500 each and send them via UPS to New York. The next day, $26,000 was deposited into Holder’s new account. He was instructed to withdraw that in cash and send $13,000 to New Jersey and New York. Holder reasoned that even if this was some kind of scam, he wouldn’t be out any money. After all, the money wasn’t his, right? Wrong. It turned out the money Holder was withdrawing, the money he thought was being dumped into his new account from Publishers Clearing House, was actually being transferred from his own Bank of America savings account. And it was long gone. “I found out it was money from my own account,’ Holder said. Holder is not a doddering old man. He golfs regularly. He wrote a book published in May about his WWII experiences titled Fear, Adrenaline and Excitement, and he frequently lectures about the war and his life in the oil business. “I’m devastated, of course,” Holder said of the fraud.

SENIORS OFTEN TARGET OF SOPHISTICATED SCHEMES

Phoenix private investigator Doug Hopkins, who retired from the FBI after 28 years in 1998 and serves as a local chapter president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, said Holder’s story is not uncommon.

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He said every year sophisticated and intelligent people get swept up in clever schemes that start with unsolicited offers over the phone or through email, social media, door-to-door visits and mass mailings. Hopkins’ advice is simple and succinct: Don’t answer unsolicited offers. Hang up, hit delete or throw it away. “If it is unsolicited ... I can guarantee you that it is not legitimate,” Hopkins said, adding that senior citizens are particularly vulnerable because they often live alone and tend to be easy listeners. “They are more susceptible to the con because they are more trusting.” And there is little law enforcement can do to get the money back, he said. “Once they’ve got their hands on your money, it’s gone,” he said. Hopkins, who helped Holder file a complaint with the FBI, said what happened in his case shows just how clever and ruthless scam artists can be. “Jack’s income is from Social Security and his books. So a good part of his nest egg is gone.”

DON’T BE A TARGET

KEEPING SAFE FROM SCAMS

A NEST EGG REPLACED

There’s a good ending for Holder, however. A GoFundMe page created at the end of May for the Pearl Harbor survivor raised more than $48,000 over the Memorial Day weekend. “I’m at a loss for words,” Holder said. “How in the world will I ever repay people for their graciousness?” Holder never thought he’d recover the money he and his fiancée lost in the scam and said they were resigned to living off their Social Security incomes. “I’d never even heard of GoFundMe. I didn’t know they existed,” Holder said. “I’m in shock.” Holder’s story went viral after The Arizona Republic first detailed his misfortune. A reader created the GoFundMe account in Holder’s name as a way to thank him for his service and to restore his faith in people. Gilbert, Ariz., resident Shana Schwarz said she had never met Holder but was moved by his story. She said she couldn’t provide a lot of financial support, so she channeled her skills into setting up the page and promoting it through social media. “I’m out of work right now,” the 33-year-old mother of three said. “I only donated $25. But I knew I was good with fundraising and I am good with social media. So that’s what I did.” Toward the end of June, the GoFundMe campaign ended after raising $65,275, about $22,000 more than Holder and his fiancée lost in the scam. “I don’t have the words to express my gratitude,” Holder said. “If I can get the names of all of these people (who donated), I’m going to send out a personal thank-you to every one.”

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Many veterans received bad financial advice when they were in the service, which can cause them problems later, said Rob Smith, community outreach and financial education specialist for Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions in Watertown, N.Y. It’s not surprising that an 18-year-old with a paycheck living away from home for the first time doesn’t know how to ask the right questions when making purchases. Unscrupulous car dealers, electronics retailers and landlords take advantage of that, Smith noted. Amy Nofziger, regional director of the AARP Foundation in Denver, noted that charities are also ways scammers take money. Most of Nofziger’s work is with the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which educates people on how to identify and avoid scams. “You can put the word ‘veteran’ in front of a charity name and not give veterans any money,” Nofziger said. The money instead goes to the people who run the charity. Before you give money, ask that information be sent by mail so that you have time to read it and review it. Websites such as charitynavigator. org provide ratings of legitimate organizations. Here are a few of the many traps:

uDEPLOYMENT SCAMS: A classified ads site, such as Craigslist, has a listing for an inexpensive car sold by someone in the military who is about to deploy to Afghanistan. He needs the cash and fast, which is why he’s willing to sell it at such a bargain. His cousin can drive it to your town next week. All you have to do is send the money to an escrow service to ensure the delivery of the car. One problem — there is no car and the money you send goes directly into a scammer’s bank account. uPENSION POACHING: The Department of Veteran Affairs’ Enhanced Pension with Aid and Attendance is a wonderful benefit for veterans and families that need assistance for long-term care, but not every veteran qualifies. Some financial advisers get access to your financial information and use it to sell expensive insurance and investment services that you may not need and that may hurt your eligibility for other benefits. uID THEFT: Nofziger noted that many veterans have a regular income from a pension or disability benefit, which is attractive to a scammer. They will look for a way to get access to your bank account or divert your money. Keep close tabs on your personal information, and don’t click unknown links in emails. uNET DISABILITY EXCLUSION: Doug Nordman, who covers financial information for members of the military at the-military-guide.com, said some tax advisers will use the net disability exclusion — which applies to veterans who have been retired for a medical disability that deemed them unfit for duty — to get a veteran a large tax refund, but the vet isn’t eligible and ends up being audited. “I’d like to think that an accountant who does this is overly aggressive or ignorant rather than criminal, but I usually just hear the veteran’s side of the tale,” he said. “I’m trying to bring more attention to it so that a new generation of vets doesn’t get sucked in.” — Ann C. Logue


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At 23, Geoffrey Frankel was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm. Today, he works for a public relations firm in Chicago.

FORWARD M MARCH

By Matt Alderton

25 years later, veterans reflect on their service in the Gulf War

OST VETERANS OF THE 1991 Gulf War are humble to a fault. They say they had it better than the generation before them — the Vietnam vets whose service the country so often rebuffed — and had it easier than the generation that came after: the men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose war, they say, was much longer and infinitely more difficult than theirs. Their modesty hugs them like a wet towel on a hot day, keeping them both comfortable and cool. It’s as if they’ve forgotten

COURTESY OF GEOFFREY FRANKEL

the dirty smell of burning oil, the haunting thunder of heavy artillery and the terrifying glow of missile fire in the night. But, of course, they haven’t. They never will. Twenty-five years later, the memory of war is fresh. So is the legacy. Because while most of them would never rush to repeat it, many of those who fought in the Gulf War say the experience put them on paths they’re thankful they took. Here, meet three such people. Their stories reflect a generation of veterans whose lives were not merely touched by war, but forever shaped by it. CO N T I N U E D


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GEOFFREY FRANKEL

The Artist at War

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EOFFREY FRANKEL WASN’T THE sort you’d expect to enlist. An artist since the age of 3, he spent his youth engaged in peaceful pursuits like drawing, painting and sculpture. When he graduated from art school in 1989, however, he came to recognize that true artists had more than talent going for them; they also had life experiences that inspired them. His job waiting tables at a Jewish deli wasn’t exactly inspirational, so he decided to join the Army. “I wanted to see the world but didn’t have much money. I got it into my head that this was the only way I’d be able to do it,” recalled Frankel, who at age 23 enlisted as a combat medic. Frankel was stationed in Zirndorf, Germany, until he was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm. “I joined the Army because I wanted to see Europe. Going to war wasn’t part of my plan,” Frankel said. “I was pretty scared.” Frankel was a specialist attached to the 1st Armored Division and drove an ambulance during the ground campaign. Although he wasn’t on the front lines, he remembers vividly the dead bodies and destroyed vehicles left by those who were. “You saw a lot of stuff you don’t want to remember,” said Frankel, whose wartime journal and photographs were later published as a book, Desert Storm Diary: An American Soldier’s Personal Record of the Gulf War in Words and Pictures. Inspired in part by the advent of technology — the Gulf War was the first conflict in which the military leveraged GPS navigation, and the first war broadcast live on U.S. television — Frankel used the GI Bill to go back to school for filmmaking after the war. He subsequently started an advertising agency specializing in digital storytelling and branded content, commencing a 20-year career in advertising. Now 48, he’s senior vice president and group creative director at the Chicago-based public relations firm Edelman, where he leads veterans’ initiatives in areas such as mental health and employment. Reflecting on his career, Frankel attributes his success both to his service and his ability to transcend it.

JAMES FORNI/OCTANE RICH MEDIA

“Don’t be a veteran first; use the skills you have to be a valued asset to whatever industry or organization you want to join.” — Geoffrey Frankel

“Everyone who’s been in the military has had to figure out how to lead themselves out of a situation, and that ability to problem-solve is why I’ve been able to navigate a path to leadership,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t have my job because I’m a veteran. I have my job because I’m good at it. My advice to veterans is: Figure out what your brand is, and sell your value that way. Don’t be a veteran first; use the skills you have to be a valued asset to whatever industry or organization you want to join.” CO N T I N U E D


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COURTESY OF MARI MARILYN LYN GIBSON

COURTESY OF TROY LANE

TROY LANE

MARILYN GIBSON Passionate for Peace

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HEN SHE WAS A senior in high school, Marilyn Gibson got pregnant. Because she didn’t want to be a burden to her parents, she joined the Army for the salary and benefits that would help her care for her infant son. “That was in 1986,” said Gibson, 48, who spent the next four years at Fox Army Hospital in Redstone Arsenal, Ala., where she worked in hospital administration. When Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait in 1990, she knew the U.S. military would be going to war — but assumed it would do so without her. “I worked in a hospital and hadn’t touched a weapon in four years. I wasn’t ready to go to war.” Although she wasn’t ready, she was willing. When her unit received its orders in 1991, she took her son home to family in Buffalo, then deployed three days later to Saudi Arabia. “We got attached to the

82nd Airborne Division,” Gibson said. Her job during the war was to monitor, order and guard pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies at military bases that were far from the front lines — but still alarmingly close to battle. “It was scary because we were in artillery range,” she said. “I cried every day.” Gibson remembers the Scud missiles most of all. “One night, a Scud missile came in no less than a mile from us. It was bad. Everything shook,” she said. “I really thought we were going to die.” Gibson went on to get a degree in business management and accounting with the help of the GI Bill. Her military training helped her get a job as a medical clerk at the local Veterans Affairs hospital, after which she began her current career as a tax auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Now a mother of three, Gibson said her military service gave her a new appreciation for life. She’s using it to promote

peace as a member of the Western New York Peace Center and co-founder of Women Against Violence Everywhere (WAVE), a nonprofit providing mentoring, prison prevention services and entrepreneurship training to young women and girls. “I left one war only to witness another,” said Gibson, referring to youth violence and gang shootings in her hometown. “Some of the violence taking place with our young people is because they don’t have caring and loving adults in their lives. We created WAVE to give them what they’re missing.” Gibson can relate to the at-risk girls she mentors. Abandoned at birth, she was adopted at age 10 by her longtime foster parents and discovered she had 11 brothers and sisters when she obtained her birth certificate to enlist in the Army. “That’s one of the best things that came out of my being in the military,” she said. “Now I have a huge family with all these wonderful siblings.”

A Uniform Suits Him

B

Y THE TIME HE was 16, Troy Lane knew he wanted to be a police officer. There was just one problem: Police recruits in his home state of Kansas had to be at least 21 years old to become sworn officers. So when an Army recruiter guaranteed him the chance to train as a military policeman fresh out of high school, he jumped at the opportunity. “I joined the military to learn a trade,” said Lane, who began his Army career in 1988 as a military police officer assigned to the 89th Military Police Brigade at Fort Riley, Kan. “It never crossed my mind that we might actually go to war.” When he found out he was being deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990, it came as a shock. “The prospects were pretty grim. This was a huge military we were going to face, and we were told to expect a lot of casualties,” Lane recalled. “To say I was

“I joined the military to learn a trade. ... It never crossed my mind that we might actually go to war.” — Troy Lane

nervous would be an understatement.” During his deployment, Lane provided airbase and highway security in Saudi Arabia, followed by supply-route security in Kuwait, where his company eventually encountered waves of surrendering Iraqi soldiers as it approached Kuwait City. “We lived in the middle of the burning oil fields that Saddam’s troops left behind when they fled,” Lane said. “Some days it was sunny and light, although you could see the fires and smoke. Other days it was literally pitch black; by the end of the day, all your clothes and vehicles were covered in oil.” After Lane was

honorably discharged in late 1991, he immediately went into law enforcement and ultimately pursued a career in campus police departments at colleges and universities. Now chief of police at the University of Tennessee, he said his military service got him exactly where he wanted to be: in uniform. “I knew I wanted to be in law enforcement, and the military was a foot in the door toward that goal,” he said. “It’s not something I wish to repeat, but I wouldn’t trade the experience. I met some lifelong friends, discovered a bit about myself and learned a lot about leadership — good and bad — which has served me well in my career.”


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Army

AUDIE MURPHY

The most decorated combat soldier of World War II, Army 1st Lt. Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for singlehandedly stalling a Nazi advance in France, killing 50 Germans. Murphy went on to make more than 40 movies, playing himself in the autobiographical WWII movie To Hell and Back.

Air Corps

GENE RODDENBERRY

The Star Trek creator enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew 89 bomber missions during WWII, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross and the rank of captain.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

STARS AND STRIPES Famous veterans who served in the U.S. military

By Mary Helen Berg

O

N THE JOURNEY FROM soldier to silver screen, veterans have traveled from the battlefield to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, being awarded Medals of Honor and Oscars along the way. The military shares more with Hollywood than one might think. Both

professions require “doggedness, adaptability and teamwork” to succeed, said Loren Baybrook, editor ofÊFilm & History,Ê an academic interdisciplinary journal. In both fields, “star power means nothing inside the group,” Baybrook added. “The individual drops out, in service to the team and the product (the film/the op).” Here are a few of the famous faces that have served in the armed forces:

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Army

JAMES EARL JONES

The Tony Award-winning star of stage and screen, Jones famously voiced Star Wars villain Darth Vader. Less well known is that he was recruited and commissioned by the Army in 1953, attended Ranger School and earned the rank of first lieutenant. DIMITRIOS KAMBOURIS/GETTY IMAGES


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Air Force

Marines

ROB RIGGLE

Perhaps best known for stints on The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live, Marine Lt. Col. Riggle volunteered to serve in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He retired in 2013 after 23 years with the Corps.

Army

MORGAN FREEMAN

Oscar winner (Million Dollar Baby) Freeman enlisted in the Air Force in 1955 and served nearly four years as an automatic tracking radar repairman. JAMIE MCCARTHY/GETTY IMAGES

GENE WILDER

After the Army drafted him in 1956, Wilder (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles) worked as a paramedic at an Army hospital as Jerome Silberman, his given name. He was honorably discharged in 1958 and began his acting career.

RICHARD SHOTWELL/INVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS MJ KIM/GETTY IMAGES

Air Force

Army

JIMMY STEWART

“Everyman” actor and Oscar winner Jimmy Stewart (The Philadelphia Story) flew 20 combat missions during WWII, reaching the rank of colonel. Later, Stewart was promoted to brigadier general as a member of the Air Force Reserve. RENATO ROTOLO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Air Force

OLIVER STONE

The three-time Oscar winner (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Midnight Express) enlisted in the Army in 1967 and earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for service in Vietnam. BEN A. PRUCHNIE/GETTY IMAGES

SKYE P. MARSHALL

Marshall (Public Morals, Shameless) enlisted in the Air Force in 2000, according to her biography. She was a medic at Nellis Air Force Base until 9/11, when she temporarily served as a security forces specialist. She left the Air Force for Hollywood in 2003. IMEH AKPANUDOSEN/GETTY IMAGES


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SERVICE STORIES These books give a glimpse into the unique journeys of those who served By Hollie Deese Living With No Excuses: The Remarkable Rebirth of an American Soldier, by Noah Galloway So much more than a Dancing with the Stars standout, Galloway shares his life story, from his childhood in rural Alabama to losing his limbs during Operation Iraqi Freedom and his continued success when life was stacked against him. $27

Spent Shell Casings, by David Rose An unconventional and unforgiving look at the personal life of the author (a former Recon Marine) and modern warrior culture. The book is a military memoir that touches on multiple subjects, including drug abuse and mental illness. $13.95

In Their Own Words: Untold Stories of the First World War, by Anthony Richards An amazingly thorough collection of stories from World War I from the perspective of those who were there. The author is the head of documents and sound at the Imperial War Museums in London and uses soldiers’ letters, diary entries and memoirs from the archives. $22.50

Way of the Reaper: My Greatest Untold Missions and the Art of Being a Sniper, by Nicholas Irving New York Times bestselling author, veteran and star of Fox’s American Grit delivers a powerful book on the art of being a sniper. The son of two Cold War-era Army veterans gives a thrilling narrative of how a sniper operates, from reconnaissance to weaponry. $27.99

We Come to Our Senses, by Odie Lindsey A collection of stories that circle around those directly affected by combat, the book as a whole is an exploration of modern American veterans and their experiences of returning home. $25.95 Fighting Blind: A Green Beret’s Story of Extraordinary Courage, by Ivan Castro and Jim DeFelice After a mortar round struck sniper and Army Green Beret Ivan Castro, he lost his eyesight and battled back from his injuries at Walter Reed Medical Center. The veteran went on to become the first blind man to run in the Marine Corps Marathon and has run in 40 more. Available Nov.15; $26.99 Sex After Service: A Guide for Military Service Members, Veterans, and the People Who Love Them, by Drew A. Helmer Addressing the fact that military service members and veterans are especially susceptible to sexual dysfunction, this book illustrates some of the challenges many face. Interspersed with real-life stories, readers are guided through the many effects that combat can have on sexual health and function. $14.95 Dogs Who Serve: Incredible Stories of our Canine Military Heroes, by Lisa Rogak Dogs can be veterans, too. This book celebrates military dogs and the handlers who develop deep, personal bonds with the heroic animals. The photo-rich book showcases the animals at work and play, through retirement and adoption. $16.95

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain Read the book that inspired a new film of the same name hitting theaters this Veterans Day. Fountain’s 2012 novel follows Billy Lynn and fellow conflicted Iraq War soldiers made famous by a Fox News crew’s footage of their firefight against Iraqi insurgents. Fountain’s intense characters connect readers to war in a whole new way. $16.99 Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer (1956-1967), by Gary Slaughter A slice of the author’s life in the Navy during the height of the Cuban missile crisis, this book provides more than 60 different vignettes that paint a captivating picture of what that time was like. $15 Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach A study of the science into the challenges of being a soldier, including extreme heat, exhaustion, panic and loud noises. The author offers a new take at combat, even visiting a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for war. $26.95 I Will Hold: The Story of USMC Legend Clifton B. Cates, from Belleau Wood to Victory in the Great War, by James Carl Nelson The gripping true story of a son of a cotton farmer who became a Marine Corps legend and eventually led a regiment at Guadalcanal in 1942 and the 4th Marine Division at Tinian and Iwo Jima. $28 LISE GAGNE/GETTY IMAGES; COURTESY OF THE PUBLISHERS


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THE RIGHT ARRANGEMENT

Guitars help smooth veterans’ path toward healing By Troy Moon

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USIC SOOTHES THE SAVAGE beast, said Army veteran Mike Drummond. “And there is one in every

one of us.” Drummond, 66, knows the beast well. He and a handful of other veterans in the room are all battling mental beasts. They are men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorders and other mental — and sometimes physical — issues. But when they start playing their instruments, when their own fingers coax melody and sound from an acoustic guitar, the pain

retreats a bit. “It’s a great stress reliever and very therapeutic for me,” said Army veteran Mike Snuggs, 72. “It’s been great to combat stress and the PTSD.” Moments later, Snuggs is strumming through Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues with other veterans in the meeting room at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Joint Ambulatory Care Center in Pensacola, Fla. They are all enrolled in Guitar For Vets (G4V), a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that teaches guitar to veterans who are referred by doctors. Each week, about a dozen veterans come to the center for a few hours of guitar lessons led by local guitarist

“Even though it’s great therapy ... it’s about fellowship.” — Mike Snuggs, veteran

and volunteer instructor Douglas Morgan, 60, who is also a retired Army veteran. (The Department of Veterans Affairs allows the group to use its facility to meet, but is not a program sponsor.) “This isn’t a school or college, and Beethoven ain’t here,” Morgan joked. “But we sure have a great CO N T I N U E D

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Guitar teacher Douglas Morgan, left, teaches veteran Mike Dummond, how to read notes as part of the Veterans Administration outreach program Guitars for Vets.

TONY GIBERSON/PENSACOLA (FLA.) NEWS JOURNAL; GETTY IMAGES

HITTING ALL THE RIGHT NOTES To learn more about Guitars For Vets, including donation information, go to guitars4vets.org. guitars4vets.org rg.

time. Look around. You can see how much fun it is.” There are chapters of G4V in 60 cities in 27 states and Washington, D.C. The Pensacola chapter started in 2011. Once veterans are referred to the free program, he or she is given a loaner acoustic guitar to use in the sessions; the vets can take the guitars home for practice. If they stay with the program for 12 weeks, the national G4V program sends them a new guitar to keep, along with a strap, stand, capo, picks and accessories. “Isn’t it pretty?” asked Army vet Jackie Whalen, 60, who started in

the program a year ago. It’s pretty obvious from the smile on his face, he loves it. “I have always loved music and guitar players, and this gave me an opportunity to learn for free. I play a lot. It gives me something to do and keeps me from sitting in the house doing nothing.” Soon, Whalen is fingering the chords to accompany Snuggs on the Cash classic. But what he really wants to play is Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top and Blackberry Smoke. “I like Southern rock,” he said. Morgan teaches two classes each Wednesday, each with guitarists of different skill levels. Some

have been playing a few years. Some a few months. And Morgan has to instruct them all. “We’re like a one-room schoolhouse,” Morgan said. “I just go in circles.” Snuggs always wanted to play music, but didn’t have a chance growing up. “I wanted to play guitar after listening to the Grand Ole Opry as a kid,” he said. “But we didn’t have much money to buy groceries even, so we definitely couldn’t buy a guitar.” Morgan said the program is funded through donations to the national organization, which

purchases the guitars, and to the local chapter. He credited businesses and organizations such as Blues Angel Music and the Al Grey chapter of Disabled American Veterans that have donated equipment and gear. About 30 students have gone through the program since its inception. They’re welcome to keep coming as long as they want. “Even though it’s great therapy for stress and PTSD, it’s not just about that,” Snuggs said. “It’s about fellowship and spending time with people who have had similar life experiences. We can relate to each other.”


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PICTURE PERFECT For 4 Marines, reunion photo after 50 years means getting it right

By Jacob Carpenter

T

HEY WANTED THE PICTURE to be just right, to look as close as possible to the one they’d taken together 50 years ago, back when their memories hadn’t yet been clouded by the images of war. So on a Saturday morning in April, on the sun-drenched Atlantic shore of Cinnamon Beach on Florida’s northeast coast, four U.S. Marine veterans gathered around a yellow longboard turned upright, trying to recreate a moment from five decades earlier. Bob Falk, 71, wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt, leaned against a borrowed longboard’s left side, resting his spare hand on his hip. Dennis Puleo, 69, removed his shoes, revealing feet scarred by shrapnel, and pulled off his shirt, flanking the longboard on the right, flashing a wide smile. Tom Hanks (not that one), 69, stepped in front of the board and took in a long, deep breath, flexing his still-thick upper chest and sucking in his now-paunchy belly. Finally, Bob DeVenezia, 70, crouched down in front of Hanks, resting his elbows on his knobby knees, feeling Hanks’ hands placed on his shoulders. The picture couldn’t be an exact copy. They had gray hair and wrinkled skin and undefined stomachs now. But it didn’t matter. For the first time since they were young men at war, they were together. A week prior, DeVenezia sat at the table in his East Naples, Fla., condominium, trying to explain why it’d been 50 years since he’d been in the same room as three of his closest Marine Corps friends. He became quiet, searching for the right words. “We just broke up,” DeVenezia said. “Life is funny like that. I didn’t keep in touch with any of them. There was something about the Vietnam War and the negativity we kept hearing.” Back in 1966, the four U.S. Marines were stationed together in Camp Pendleton, outside San Diego. The Vietnam War was ramping up, and together, they were part of a weapons platoon — three machine gunners and one anti-tank man — getting ready to ship off to East Asia. During the week, they would prepare for the war an ocean away, making 20-mile marches through the nearby mountains, sleeping in freshly dug holes overnight.

PHOTOS BY LUKE FRANKE/NAPLES (FLA.) DAILY NEWS

The four Marines hadn’t been in the same place since they were shipped off to fight in the Vietnam War in 1966.

LUKE FRANKE/NAPLES (FLA.) DAILY NEWS

Friends Dennis Puleo, from left, Tom Hanks, Bob DeVenezia (crouching), and Bob Falk met in April on Florida’s Cinnamon Beach to recreate a photo they took 50 years prior. But on those blissful weekends, they were free men. One day, they went to the beach in Oceanside, a short jaunt from Camp Pendleton. Eventually, the quartet gathered for a group photo. They snagged a longboard from a surfer, stood it up and

gathered around it. Nobody can remember the precise date when the picture was taken. Sometime in May 1966. Probably early in the month. What they can agree on is that the snapshot captured a memorable time for the

young men, then ranging in age from 19 to 21. About five years ago, Falk stumbled across an online memorial that Hanks created for a fallen comrade they all knew. That started a chain of events that put the four back in touch. When Hanks was flipping through an old photo album, he spotted a picture of the four together on a beach as young Marines. It had been nearly 50 years since the photograph was taken. “It’s a really funny picture,” DeVenezia said, after taking the photo, “but one with a lot of heart behind it.”


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United in Thanks Freedom is our most valuable currency. Without it, nothing else matters. That’s why, for generations, our Service members have been unwilling to take chances with it, gamble with it, or trade it for anything. They have stood firm in the belief that freedom is worth fighting for, and if need be, it is worth dying for. Not just anyone can protect a nation’s greatest asset. Only the bravest need apply. Though many voices have been silenced, their legacy lives on in our liberty. To our Veterans, and those in uniform today, we extend our sincerest gratitude for the commitment you made to us all.

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VETERANS AFFAIRS