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SPECIAL EDITION

VETERANS AFFAIRS FREE 2017 EDITION

VIGILANCE & VALOR INSIDE

NEW SECRETARY Sit-down with Dr. David Shulkin The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

HIGHER EDUCATION Forever 9/11 GI Bill boosts financial aid

PTSD REMEDIES MDMA, marijuana research progresses


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VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017

CONTENTS

114

MASTER SGT. JEREMY LOCK/U.S. AIR FORCE

ON THE COVER

FEATURES

106

114

122

VISIONS OF WARRIORS New documentary highlights creative photography program that gives veterans a new lens on life

BROTHERHOOD OF THE BOMB The EOD Warrior Foundation works to provide resources for technicians

SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED Three foundations that go the extra mile to support veterans and their families

122 OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

JULIA ROBINSON/GARY SINISE FOUNDATION


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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS

30

SPECIAL SECTION: THE VIETNAM WAR DOCUMENTARY

This is a product of

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

THE VETERANS PROJECT

11

SIT-DOWN WITH SHULKIN New VA chief vows to meet issues head-on

16

MEDALS OF HONOR Two medics receive nation’s highest military decoration

19

THE SHRINKING BACKLOG The number of disability claims continues to fall

20

HEROIC STRUGGLES Book offers searing account of war in Afghanistan

22

HOME LAND VA mortgage loans now available to Morongo Tribe

26 30

MILITARY MATTERS Veterans can now shop online at the Exchange MODEL CITIZENS Female combat amputees are changing perceptions

JOBS & EDUCATION

36 44

COMBAT TO CLASSROOM Forever GI Bill gives many an additional financial boost VETERAN TALENT Strategies for entering the civilian workforce

52

STEP FORWARD Franchise ownership works for these four veterans

62

DIGITAL DEFENDERS Many veterans find cyber careers a natural choice

70

DELICIOUS DEVELOPMENTS These four found lucrative jobs in the food industry

76

BATTLEFIELD TO FARM FIELD Agricultural work provides solace, substance

Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com CREATIVE DIRECTOR

Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

84

HISTORY LESSONS Why do the ghosts of Vietnam continue to haunt?

88

TIMELINE A chronology of America’s involvement in the war

90

DOCUMENTING DESTRUCTION Ken Burns, Lynn Novick explore war decades later

HEALTH & HEALING

131 134

94 100

SOUNDTRACK AMID WARTIME Music mirrored the deep, conflicting emotions of the era VIETNAM’S EVOLUTION As the country races toward the future, it still has yet to truly deal with its past

CONNECTIONS

146

STORYTELLERS Groups harness the power of sharing with others

146 VETERANS BREAKFAST CLUB

EDITORS

Amy Sinatra Ayres Tracy Scott Forson Patricia Kime Debbie Williams ISSUE DESIGNER

Gina Toole Saunders DESIGNERS

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Brian Barth, Scott Berman, Carmen Gentile, Adam Hadhazy, Gina Harkins, Cindy Kuzma, Ken Perrotte, Kristen A. Schmitt, Adam Stone, Annette Thompson

NEXT-GEN LIMBS Veterans on forefront of testing new prostheses CLOSER CONNECTIONS VA telehealth initiatives expand medical access

ISSUE EDITOR

Sara Schwartz

Amira Martin Miranda Pellicano Lisa M. Zilka

HIGH HOPES Use of MDMA, marijuana may help alleviate PTSD

138

MANAGING EDITOR

Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com

ADVERTISING VP, ADVERTISING

174 LANCE CPL. MEGAN SINDELAR

152

HUNTING TO HEAL Veterans find camaraderie in the great outdoors

158

MEANINGFUL MESSAGES Dying Army veteran looks to inspire others

162

MAKING STRIDES Report looks at successes, challenges for minorities

168

PRESERVING HISTORY National WWI museum honors those who fought

174

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

Justine Madden | (703) 854-5444 jmadden@usatoday.com FINANCE BILLING COORDINATOR

Julie Marco ISSN#0734-7456 A USA TODAY Network publication, Gannett Co. Inc USA TODAY, its logo and associated graphics are the trademarks of Gannett Co. Inc. or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Copyright 2017, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Editorial and publication headquarters are at 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22108, and at (703) 854-3400. For accuracy questions, call or send an e-mail to accuracy@usatoday.com.

PRINTED IN THE USA BATTLE BUDDIES Veteran reflects on a special friendship with his dog, Fito

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Qualifying vets will receive full scholarship to the school's "Bridge to Tandon" program, created specifically for those with non-engineering or non-technical backgrounds. This program provides the knowledge and tools needed for admission into master 's programs at the School of Engineering - including the in-demand fields of Bioinformatics, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Cybersecurity - no matter what your undergraduate major. For more information on the program , which has already graduated

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

11

NEWS

LOOKING AHEAD New VA chief vows to find ‘root-cause’ issues and address them head-on

By Patricia Kime

D

R. DAVID SHULKIN KNEW what he was getting into when he accepted the post of Veterans Affairs secretary. Before his appointment in January, the internal medicine specialist and former president of Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey spent 18 months as the VA’s undersecretary for health in the Obama administration, a period during which the department struggled to address prolonged wait times for medical care, misconduct among senior medical center officials and poor handling of crisis calls to its suicide hotline. Shulkin, working hand in hand with then-Secretary Robert McDonald, pressed to address these problems and more, pushing for major reforms and accountability. His nomination to the Cabinet post in January after a search that included more than a dozen candidates came as somewhat of a surprise. “I was an Obama appointee … I had never thought about the secretary job,” he said in an interview with USA TODAY in late September. “When the president asked me to consider this, that was an easy answer because I wanted to continue to serve, do more and actually see the changes that were the reason I came to Washington. … The country in general has grown tired of hearing about problems at the VA and wants a government organization that actually works for veterans. Veterans deserve that.”

KEITH LANE

CO N T I N U E D


12

USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS FAST FACTS

DR. DAVID SHULKIN „ He was born at Fort Sheridan, Ill., where his father served as an Army psychiatrist. Both his grandfathers were veterans; his father’s dad was chief pharmacist at the VA hospital in Madison, Wis. „ He received his undergraduate degree from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and his residency and fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center in Pennsylvania. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin has held numerous physician leadership roles, and prior to his confirmation, he served as VA’s undersecretary for health for 18 months, leading the nation’s largest integrated health care system with more than 1,700 sites of care.

Q

Your predecessors had some signature issues — Shinseki vowed to eliminate veterans’ homelessness; McDonald pushed for across-the-board reform — what do you see as the biggest task you want to accomplish? SHULKIN: I don’t have a signature thing because I think it simplifies the issues and doesn’t recognize many of the problems we face in VA and have been dealing with for decades. What I am trying to do is to surface the root-cause issues, (find out) why the same issues keep coming up again and again and address them head-on. I would characterize what I’m trying to do is to surface the tough decisions, make a decision on them and not kick (them) down the road. You’ve been secretary for eight months. What do you consider to be your successes to date? We are not declaring or celebrating our successes because there is so much more work to do … but we have had five major pieces of legislation passed with bipartisan support, and I’m very proud that Congress and the president are aligned on the fact that we need to make these types of

What is your vision reforms to fix the VA. for the public and We have had an “We have to be private health care expansion of benefits system at VA? with the Forever GI nimble enough to I don’t see Choice Bill, fixed broken know that when as a program. We are processes like our treating and running it appeals modernization, we send someone as a (separate) program … we have had two bills into harm’s way, it and that has created a that have extended and number of problems expanded the (Choice is a commitment for veterans: They’ve program) for veterans to had to learn new sets of access care in their comnot only at that rules, eligibilities (and munities when that care moment but for funding), so it functions was not available in the as a separate part of VA. VA system, and we’ve the service memIt should be integrated had a major change in ber for the rest of so that care for a vetour accountability. The eran provides the best (VA Accountability and their life.” of what the VA can offer Whistleblower Protec— David Shulkin but also provides the tion Act) helps us begin best of what the private the culture change sector offers. I am that needs to happen looking for a seamless within the VA. And then system where veterans can access both we’ve done much more beyond legislation VA and the private sector. Say a veteran … like providing mental health care for has a heart condition; you make the best other-than-honorably discharged veterans, decision for them, and that could be that expanding use of telehealth services, management of preventive cardiovascular announcing the disposal of 1,100 vacant or care is what’s best done in VA under underutilized buildings and announcing a new electronic medical record — the one the Department of Defense uses. CO N T I N U E D

„ Shulkin is married to Merle Bari, a dermatologist, whom he met while doing his residency. They have two adult children — Jennifer and Daniel. „ He recently edited and published a book on best practices at the Veterans Affairs medical centers, Best Care Anywhere, along with three other VA executives. „ He has led several major health care systems, serving as president of Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, N.J., and president and CEO of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. „ Throughout his career, he has provided care at four VA medical centers, in Philadelphia, West Haven, Conn., Pittsburgh and New York City.


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS A rare holdover from the Obama administration, Shulkin received overwhelming bipartisan support to head the VA, as shown on his unanimous vote, below right. Below left, a is snapshot of his challenge coins.

VA has been chipping away at the first-time claims backlog, which now numbers 74,300 — down from a spike in March of roughly 100,000. But appeals claims are rising and now top 470,000. What is going on? On the disability claims, we are seeing a decline in claims that are 125 days or older, and of course our goal is to get that down significantly. Our appeals claims are continuing to rise as a result of a law that made it very difficult to process them quickly, so the legislation that just passed (in August) is going to take 18 months to implement before veterans will actually start seeing a quicker decision on the appeals side.

PHOTOS BY KEITH LANE

primary care and a specific intervention might best be done in the community. What this means to the veteran is they get the best of what is available, regardless of where it’s located. You are the first non-veteran to run the VA. Do you see any advantages or disadvantages to this? I recognize what I think I’m good at and what I’m not, and I try to change the way I manage accordingly. At heart, I’m a physician, and I come at this with a passion of helping people, and I still stay connected. Yesterday, I was in Manhattan where I see patients, and as I was taking care of veterans, issues came up

with the electronic health records that I hadn’t thought of. I also come from a background of health care management, and what I know best is how the private sector manages and I’m trying to bring that to help VA become a stronger organization. But I also know I’m not a veteran. It is very difficult — if not impossible — for people who aren’t veterans to put themselves in the shoes of people who have actually raised their hand, left their families and gone and served. I need to make sure I rely upon the advice and counsel of veterans. I feel I have a strong working relationship with veterans service organizations, and I rely upon many of the

team here who are veterans, and I ask a lot of questions. You have opened a new branch of the Veterans Crisis Line in Atlanta and plan to open one in Topeka, Kan. Is VA having an impact on veteran suicide? I wish I knew. Our national data analysis, last data, is through 2014. We have to go by essentially our anecdotal numbers and the reports we get. We know the number of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line and the number of visits to our medical centers for behavioral health are going up. I think that’s a good thing. Whether it is translating into fewer than 20 deaths a day, I don’t know.

How are you preparing for the influx of patients as the Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans age? We saw this lesson with the Vietnam veterans, where the wait-time crisis was actually more due to the aging of the Vietnam veteran than the influx of new veterans from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Preparing for the next 20 to 30 years, it’s going to be not only important to do well, but take into account what we didn’t do that well with the Vietnam veterans. We have developed some pretty sophisticated models that look at and take into account the types of issues we are seeing and age and what may happen with care — in home, in rehab or acute care — and we are trying to project those needs. If our current projections stay, the veteran population will actually decrease, not increase, but the complexity of their issues continues to increase. We are seeing newer veterans with more severe and complex issues … so, we do have projections that show increased demands based on complexity. The one thing these projects never take into account is new conflicts. We have to be nimble enough to know that when we send someone into harm’s way, it is a commitment not only at that moment but for the service member for the rest of their life.


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS

James McCloughan PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

‘HE JUST KEPT ON GOING’

Medal of Honor recipient saved 10 soldiers

Gary Michael Rose JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE

UNTOLD VALOR Vietnam medic receives Medal of Honor for secretive ‘Operation Tailwind’ mission

By Gregory Korte and Tom Vanden Brook

P

RESIDENT DONALD TRUMP PRESENTED the Medal of Honor on Oct. 23 to an Army medic who treated more than 60 wounded soldiers behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War. Capt. Gary Michael Rose spent four days in the jungles of Laos tending to the injured, even after he was wounded by shrapnel that pierced his foot. It was a sensitive mission, code-named

“Operation Tailwind,” shrouded in secrecy until 1998, when a nowdiscredited CNN report accused Rose’s unit of wrongdoing. Since then, a Pentagon investigation exonerated them, and the Medal of Honor provides further vindication of Rose’s valor in the 1970 mission. “For many years, the story of Mike’s heroism had gone untold,” Trump said. “But today, we gather to tell the world of his valor and proudly present him with our nation’s highest military honor.”

The medal, Trump said, “will enshrine him into the history of our nation.” Now 69 and retired in Alabama, Rose said he considers the honor “a collective medal.” “I want to accept this in honor of all the men and women who fought in that era,” he said. He said the service of that generation continues to this day: “All of the Vietnam veterans I know of continue to serve this country in all kinds of capacities.”

Capt. Gary Michael Rose was the second Medal of Honor recipient this year. On July 31, President Donald Trump awarded former Army medic James McCloughan, 71, of South Haven, Mich., the Medal of Honor for bravery displayed on a battlefield in Vietnam 48 years ago when he repeatedly risked his own life to save others. “We honor you; we salute you and with God as your witness, we thank you for all that you have done for us,” Trump said. As a medic at the Battle of Nui Yon Hill in May 1969, McCloughan is credited with saving 10 members of his platoon, rushing back again and again onto the battlefield to rescue other soldiers despite his own injuries from a battle that lasted two days. Five of those he saved attended the ceremony. McCloughan was drafted into the Army at the age of 22 and was a private first class when the events occurred. He later returned to Michigan to become a teacher and coach. At the ceremony, he looked emotional after Trump clasped the award around his neck, saying, “Thank you,” to the president. “It was as if the strength and the pride of our whole nation were beating inside Jim’s heart,” Trump said as he described McCloughan’s repeated attempts to rescue the wounded. “He just kept on going.” — Todd Spangler


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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NEWS CLAIMS PENDING BY REGION (AS OF OCT. 21)

CHIPPING AWAY VA works to make the claims process faster

Total 325,294

Pacific 61,003

he Department of Veterans Affairs has seen a marked decrease in the number of disability claims it is handling and has doubled down on reducing processing times: Since 2013, the number of active claims has been slashed nearly in half, from a high of 610,000 in 2013 to roughly 325,000 in late October. But the number of backlogged claims — those older than 125 days — saw an uptick at the start of 2017, prompting the department to institute mandatory overtime for claims processors for the fourth straight year. VA Secretary David Shulkin told USA TODAY in September that the department has succeeded in reducing the disability claims backlog and plans to tackle a rise in appeals claims next. “Our goal is to get (those numbers) down significantly, and the appeals legislation that just passed will take 18 months to implement before veterans will see a quicker decision on those,” he said.

Midwest 51,319

T

North Atlantic 72,626

Continental 64,515

Southeast 72,119

Outside U.S. 3,712

STATES WITH THE MOST PENDING CLAIMS (AS OF OCT. 21)

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs

Texas

34,642

California

PENDING CLAIMS IN 2015, 2016 & 2017*

31,796

253,522

Florida 16,541

North Carolina

16,441

Virginia Pennsylvania Tennessee

19.7%

71,240

24.5%

72,623

20%

18.8%

22.7%

New York

12,283 9,794 9,161 9,096 8,865

74,331

33.2%

90,318

25.9%

Georgia

Ohio 74,374

24.6%

20.8%

97,382

40.9%

77,483

95,837

75,395

48.8%

127,916

188,643

■ 2015 pending claims ■ 2015 claims over 125 days ■ 2016 pending claims ■ 2016 claims over 125 days ■ 2017 pending claims ■ 2017 claims over 125 days % of claims over 125 days

22,770

WHO FILES THE CLAIMS

22.5%

Total inventory

Vietnam War

519,530

362,412

389,824

461,677

341,929

375,646

385,337

371,153

368,858

368,771

378,468

330,820

28%

2015

2016

2017

2015

2016

2017

2015

2016

2017

2015

2016

2017

JANUARY

APRIL

JULY

OCTOBER *Date reflects beginning of each quarter

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: ▶ ebenefits.va.gov

Gulf War (1990s conflict)

30%

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

11% 4% 3% 1%

Post-9/11 (Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts)

World War II* Korean War* Other era claims*

24% *Percentages are rounded up


20

USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS

R BOOK

Sgt. Ryan Pitts, left, and Sgt. Israel Garcia were part of Chosen Company, a motley crew of mostly very young men, or “lost boys,” as the author dubs them.

EVIEW

HEROIC STRUGGLES

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY DA CAPO PRESS

‘Chosen Few’ is a searing account of war in Afghanistan

By David Holahan

I

N 2008, SEVEN YEARS after America invaded Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, it was a largely forgotten war. George W. Bush’s administration had diverted its attention — and much of the nation’s military resources — to Iraq, where a second war was not going well. But in remote sections of Afghanistan, aptly named the “Graveyard of Empires,” American soldiers still were being tasked with holding forbidding chunks of real estate, battling insurgents and winning the hearts and minds of local residents. The Chosen Few: A Company of Paratroopers and Its Heroic Struggle to Survive in the Mountains of Afghanistan chronicles such a Godforsaken place and the sacrifices made there by some 150 Army soldiers from “Chosen Company.” It is a remarkable story, whose telling raises myriad questions without resorting to polemics. It is unlikely that those who read it will ever utter the phrase, “Thank you for your service,” quite the same way again.

prepared to flinch. The Chosen Few is a Chosen Company, circa gripping, exhaustively 2008, was a motley crew reported account of modern of mostly young men, or warfare: The GIs versus the “lost boys,” as the author jihadis. Author Gregg Zoroya dubs them. Many hailed — a seasoned USA TODAY from broken homes and war correspondent, and now troubled pasts, and the a member of its editorial Army provided not only a board — cuts through the challenge and an escape fog of war by drawing hatch, but also a surrogate on numerous sources, family. among them hundreds of Ryan Pitts, who never interviews with participants knew his father, joined and their families, official the Army at age 18. Four postmortems and videos The Chosen Few, $27 at years later — riddled with of the action taken by both chosenfewbook.com shrapnel and unable to walk soldiers and insurgents. or fully use one hand — Pitts Zoroya delivers the gathered what weapons he could, crawled adrenaline of combat right to the reader’s to a defensive position and fought on, fully easy chair. His prose is direct and clear and expecting to die, either from loss of blood never upstages the action. He also brings or enemy bullets. the warriors to life, chronicling their trials Pitts was the last man alive in Topside, and triumphs before, during and after a makeshift observation post high above three searing firefights. Some are wounded an unfinished base in the remote village of and fight on. Some die horrific deaths. Wanat. Its residents had fled, leaving their Astounding bravery is commonplace. Be

houses as cover for the insurgents to use. They had neglected to tell the Americans of the impending attack. The local police, though they feigned innocence later, took part in the assault. It is unlikely that the hearts and minds of these people were winnable from the get-go. The inevitable question is why the Americans were in the remote Waygal Valley in the first place. Previous attacks had led them to abandon two nearby posts, and, like them, Wanat was vulnerable, flanked by mountains that provided ideal cover for attackers. The Army abandoned the base three days after the deadly assault. Zoroya doesn’t take sides. He lets the facts and comments of others fall where they may. Pitts was not among those who blamed higher-ups, whether in his company, in Kabul or in Washington. He didn’t see himself as a victim. In a remarkable statement, reflecting a sentiment shared by many of his brothers in Chosen Company, he said, “It’s crazy to say, but I had some of the best times in my life with those guys in Afghanistan.”


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS

A view of the San Gorgonio Mountains from the Morongo Indian Reservation in California.

NATIVE LAND

PROVIDED BY MORONGO BAND OF MISSION INDIANS

VA home mortgages now available to Morongo tribe members who are veterans By Rosalie Murphy

T

HE MORONGO BAND OF Mission Indians has entered an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide home loans to tribal veterans, helping them buy, refinance or renovate homes on reservation land.

The federally recognized tribe includes the Cahuilla and Serrano groups, and the Morongo Indian Reservation sits between the San Gorgonio and San Jacinto mountains in California, spanning more than 35,000 acres. Buying homes on Native American land, which is held in trust by the federal government, is difficult nationwide. Most

banks will not provide loans for on-reservation homes because they can’t hold the property as collateral, the way they would if the property was not on a reservation. “Historically, securing a home loan has always been an extremely difficult process for Native Americans, and it’s exponentially CO N T I N U E D


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS

PROVIDED BY THE MORONGO BAND OF MISSION INDIANS; GETTY IMAGES

Jeffrey London, director of the VA’s Loan Guaranty Service, and Morongo Tribal chairman Robert Martin sign documents in August allowing VA Native American Direct Loans to be offered on Morongo land. At right, Morongo Tribal Council Member Brian Lugo, left, poses with London, Martin and Morongo Tribal Council Member John Muncy.

“This agreement will help ensure that our tribal veterans who have honorably served in the U.S. military will be able to purchase, construct or improve a home for their families, and that the terms of that loan will be fair.” — Robert Martin, Morongo Tribal chairman

tially harder if the property is located on reservation land,” Morongo Tribal chairman Robert Martin said in a statement released in August. “This agreement will help ensure that our tribal veterans who have honorably served in the U.S. military will be able to purchase, construct or improve a home for their families, and that the terms of that loan will be fair.” According to the VA, only three other California tribes currently allow VA loans on their lands: The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, whose reservation is near Lake Mead; the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation near the Oregon border; and the Hoopa Valley Tribe east of Eureka. The VA said it has made more than 1,000 loans to Native American veterans on tribal lands since 1992, when the program began — an average of about 50 loans per year. The National American Indian Housing Council estimates the average amount of those loans was about $120,000. Tony Walters, executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council,

said many private banks don’t know how to lend to homebuyers in Indian Country. Some Native American-owned community financial institutions make loans, and some federal programs exist to guarantee mortgages, but those haven’t reached many of the 550-plus Native American communities. “If you’ve got two customers coming in the door and one’s a standard mortgage and one’s a complicated land tenure that you’re not familiar with ... the first impulse is to avoid tribal communities for most lending,” Walters said. He added that because the VA program is small and tribes must sign memorandums of understanding with the VA, only a fraction of native people have access to it. According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, 94 tribes or Pacific Island Territories had inked such agreements with the VA by the end of fiscal year 2016. About 1,000 loans had been made. As of 2011, the most recent data available, 90 percent of loans were in Hawaii and

American Samoa. Loan applicants must be veterans who are tribal members or married to tribal members. Loans can only be used to finance homes on trust or allotted land, and the applicant must live in the home — no investment properties qualify. Veterans can qualify for loans without down payments or private mortgage insurance, but they must have a “satisfactory” credit score and proof of reliable income, according to the Morongo Tribe. “The VA Native American Direct Loan is an excellent option when a mortgage lender is unwilling or unable to make a loan on trust land,” said Jeffrey London, director of the VA’s Loan Guaranty Service in Washington, D.C., in a statement. The program’s potential impact on the Morongo reservation is relatively small: “Although we know anecdotally that scores of tribal members have served in the military over the years, the tribe does not specifically track that figure. However, about a half-dozen tribal veterans have already expressed interest,” said a tribe spokesperson. Currently, a handful of tribal veterans are in the loan process. Homeownership can help build community wealth, Walters said. “Overall there’s a housing shortage ... because there’s not enough capital in the communities,” he said. “The amount of poverty we see in some communities makes it hard to get access to capital ... programs like these are helpful to counteract that.”

HOW TO APPLY To learn more about the Native American Veteran Direct Loan program, visit benefits.va.gov/ homeloans/nadl.asp. To contact the Morongo Realty Department, visit morongonation. org/content/realtydepartment


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NEWS

MILITARY MATTERS

NATI HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Army & Air Force Exchange Service hopes allowing veterans to shop online will add customers

By Josh Funk

H

EY VETERANS, YOU CAN soon shop tax-free. Starting this Veterans Day, all honorably discharged veterans will be eligible to shop tax-free online at the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) with the same discounts they enjoyed on base while in the military. It’s the latest way the organization is trying to keep its customers as the armed forces shrink and airmen and soldiers abandon brick-and-mortar stores.

Currently those on active duty, retirees, dependents, National Guard members, Medal of Honor recipients and 100 percent disabled veterans can shop at the physical stores as well as online. Veterans can sign up for the discount at vetverify.org. Adding millions of potential new customers will give extra ammunition to stores on U.S. Army and Air Force bases worldwide as they compete with Amazon and other retailers for veterans’ online shopping dollars. Since hiring its first civilian CEO five years ago, AAFES has upgraded

the brands at base stores to include items such as Disney toys, Michael Kors fashions and other big names. Like private stores, it has also imposed tighter cost controls, reduced the number of employees and improved the customer experience on its website at shopmyexchange.com. “The intent is to really beat Amazon at their game because we have locations literally on the installations,” said CEO Tom Shull. “We’re leaning toward not just ship-from-store but pick-up-fromCO N T I N U E D

To compete with online giants like Amazon, the military will allow veterans to shop online at the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

NEWS

PROOF OF SERVICE

New hard copy Veterans ID Card to be available

NATI HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tom Shull, CEO of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, says allowing veterans to shop online will add about $200 million in annual sales within three years. Profits go to supporting quality-of-life programs on bases for military personnel. store and eventually deliver-from-store.” AAFES, also known as the exchange, is adding shipping centers within its stores to allow it to send products directly from those locations more cheaply and quickly, hoping to expand by the end of the year. Within the next three years, the goal is to deliver a product on base within two hours of when it is ordered, Shull said. That’s possible partly because the exchanges are already on base, cleared by security. Exchanges deliver most orders currently within two days. Shull said shipping from stores will make a big difference in regions around bases, which are often in more rural areas. Expanding online shopping to all honorably discharged veterans is expected to add about $200 million annually within three years to the $8.3 billion in sales the exchanges generated last year. Adding those shoppers, what Shull called “the foundation of our growth,” is critical to help offset the 13 percent decline in the number of active-duty Army and Air Force soldiers since 2011, when AAFES generated $10.3 billion revenue. “It’s a modest benefit, but it can save

you thousands of dollars a year,” said Shull, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who served in the Army for a decade before starting a retail career at chains including Macy’s. Veteran Marine Forrest Cornelius was among the first to sign up at the verification website when it launched in June, and he got a chance to start shopping early to test it out. The 51-yearold was impressed by the site and a deal he found on Ray-Ban sunglasses. “The biggest thing is price. They’re always going to be a little bit cheaper,” said Cornelius, who lives in Dallas. But competing on price in today’s retail environment is increasingly difficult, said Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough. Just look at how much trouble Walmart has competing with Amazon, he said, because Walmart has the fixed costs associated with its stores. Under Shull’s leadership, exchange stores have traded their industrial feel and reliance on off-brand merchandise for a more modern look featuring well-known labels. Two-thirds of the main exchange at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska resembles any department store, with

prominent displays of name-brand makeup, Nike fitness gear and Carter’s clothes for kids. The rest is filled with the kind of electronics, appliances, housewares and toys found at Walmart or Sears, with major brands in every section. The exchanges don’t pay rent for their military base locations, and the government transports some of their supplies and goods to far-flung locations, but otherwise they operate mostly like an independent retailer. Roughly two-thirds of the employees are family members of soldiers or airmen. AAFES, which is part of the Department of Defense, reported earnings of $384 million last year. That’s a sharp contrast from five years ago, when Shull arrived to projections of $180 million in losses. Of last year’s profit, $225 million was returned to the DOD to help pay for quality-of-life programs on bases, like child development centers, gyms and recreational programs. Besides the main stores, AAFES also operates more than 70 movie theaters and brings in franchise restaurants and other vendors for the shopping malls it operates.

Also starting in November, all honorably discharged veterans will be able to obtain a hard-copy photo identification card from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Identification Card Act of 2015 requires the VA to make available the ID cards that will contain the veteran’s name, photo and a non-Social Security identification number. Veterans can apply for the card via the VA’s ebenefits site (ebenefits.va.gov). Veterans are not required to get the cards. Congress passed the ID law to help veterans prove their service without showing a copy of their DD-214. The ID cards are different from the Veteran Health Identification card or a DOD Uniformed Services or retiree ID card. “Goods, services and promotional activities are often offered by public and private institutions to veterans who demonstrate proof of service in the military, but it is impractical for a veteran to always carry Department of Defense form DD-214 discharge papers to demonstrate such proof,” the law states. — Sara Schwartz

GETTY IMAGES


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NEWS

MODEL CITIZENS

Marine veteran, mountain climber and amputee athlete Kirstie Ennis said she plans to climb the world’s seven summits.

Female amputees are changing perceptions of combat veterans By Melissa Nelson Gabriel

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RETIRED MARINE CORPS sergeant who lost her leg in combat in Afghanistan and posed nude for the cover of ESPN Magazine’s 2017 Body Issue is receiving praise from other female

veterans. “People are talking about it, and that opens the door for us to talk about other issues involving female veterans; that’s a good thing,” said Nancy Bullock-Prevot, a retired Navy chief who heads a foundation in Pensacola, Fla., that helps homeless female veterans. Neely Lohmann, a senior deputy editor of ESPN Magazine and producer of the Body Issue, said Kirstie Ennis, who was born and raised in Florida, was a logical choice for the magazine’s cover. “Our theme this year is Every Body Has a Story, and I can’t imagine a more powerful and inspiring story than Kirstie’s,” Lohmann said. “Her courage and strength through unthinkable physical challenges make her a perfect athlete to feature on the cover of the Body Issue.” In the cover photo, Ennis poses nude while climbing a rock formation, her tattooed back and prosthetic leg prominently displayed. The Body Issue is a tribute to athletes’ physiques and physical strength. Every one featured in the magazine posed without clothing. Ennis’ photo graces the cover of some versions of the magazine, while other covers feature athletes, including tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. Bullock-Prevot said Ennis is changing the way the public sees female veterans. “We are so used to seeing male veterans who are amputees being featured (in the media),” she said. “I think the photo is getting so much

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GREGG PACHKOWSKI/PENSACOLA NEWS JOURNAL

Veteran Mary Dague, who lost her arms in an explosion in Iraq, starred in the apocalypse film Range 15, fighting off zombies using knives duct-taped to the remaining parts of her arms. are changing America’s notions of what it attention because people are not used to means to be a veteran and an amputee. seeing female veterans in that way.” Manning, a retired Navy captain, has Ennis lost her leg in 2012 while serving worked with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, as an aerial door gunner in a CH-53 D-Ill., an Iraq War Army veteran who lost Sea Stallion helicopter that crashed in her legs and partial use of her right arm Helmand province in Afghanistan after it when her helicopter was hit by a rocketwas targeted by enemy forces. Six fellow propelled grenade in Iraq. Marines died in the crash. She was just 21. “Tammy Duckworth has Her severe injuries changed Congress in all manrequired more than 40 ner of ways,” said Manning, surgeries and included the who has lobbied Congress on amputation of her left leg a variety of issues on behalf above the knee in 2015. After of female veterans. “It is hard the long recovery, Ennis, a for a guy to say that women longtime athlete, returned to cannot hack it in the military sports, including mountain while sitting across from climbing and snowboarding. Tammy Duckworth. Her mere In March, she climbed Mount presence in Congress has Kilimanjaro, becoming the changed the equation.” first female above-the-knee Also changing the percepamputee to summit the tion of female veterans and mountain. In July, she became amputees is Mary Dague, a the first female U.S. veteran Amputee athlete woman who lost her arms in above-the-knee amputee to Kirstie Ennis poses an explosion while serving summit Carstensz Pyramid on the cover of ESPN’s as an explosive ordnance in Indonesia. She told ESPN 2017 Body Issue. disposal technician in Iraq in Magazine that she hopes to 2007. eventually climb all of the Dague, who lives in Niceville, Fla., is seven summits — the highest mountains on featured in Not a War Story, a documentary each of the seven continents. about the making of Range 15, a 2016 Lory Manning, director of governmental zombie apocalypse movie where she fights relations for the Washington, D.C.-based zombies with knives duct-taped to the Service Women’s Action Network, said remaining parts of her arms. She and her Ennis is among many female veterans who

“These women are doing what they enjoy. The mere fact that they’re out there doing things, living their lives, is physically and emotionally empowering.” — Lory Manning, director of Service Women’s Action Network

fellow veterans take on zombies played by well-known actors, including William Shatner, Danny Trejo and Sean Astin.“I like to break stereotypes, to do unexpected things,” Dague said. Manning applauded Duckworth, Ennis and Dague for their individual contributions to changing the way female veterans and amputees are perceived. “These women are doing what they enjoy,” she said. “The mere fact that they’re out there doing things, living their lives, is physically and emotionally empowering.” And she added that Ennis’ ESPN cover is especially moving. “I find it interesting that back before women were allowed in war zones, people argued that it would be too much for the public to handle seeing a woman who was an amputee as a result of combat,” she said. Ennis wrote on her Instagram account that she cried when she first saw her ESPN Magazine cover photo. “This one’s for every man, woman or

child facing some sort of adversity,” she wrote. “You control your circumstances, they don’t control you. Find your passion, and let it consume you.” To those who have known Ennis for years, her attitude and success come as no surprise. Paula Drinkard, Ennis’ guidance counselor at Milton High School in Florida said Ennis graduated a year early to join the Marines at age 17. “She was very motivated and knew what she wanted from the beginning.” Drinkard said that she and many others in the community were heartbroken when they learned of Ennis’ injuries in Afghanistan. “But I knew she would fight back. I am very proud of her,” she said. Ennis told the Pensacola News Journal in 2015 that her accomplishments are not hers alone: “It’s not just about me,” she said. “It’s my story, but I represent the hundreds and thousands that have service-connected disabilities.”


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JOBS & EDUCATION

Bill Putnam, below, used the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend American University in Washington, D.C.

FROM COMBAT TO CLASSROOM More veterans are heading back to school with the help of the GI Bill

By Carmen Gentile

V

ETERAN BILL PUTNAM, 43, amassed his skill set on several continents while serving in the Army and Army National Guard and later working as a civilian in war zones. As a soldier, he deployed to Kosovo twice, from 1999 to 2000 and again from

2001 to 2002; worked in media operations at the Pentagon; and served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. Following his military service, he returned to the battlefield as a conflict and documentary photographer, covering the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Despite his accomplishments, Putnam had one goal he still hoped to achieve: a college education. Putnam’s reason for returning to the classroom at the age

of 40 was similar to many who pursue higher education after completing military service: “I realized I was limiting myself economically without a degree,” he said. But it wasn’t easy. Putnam said returning to the classroom after so many years in combat was a surreal experience at first. “I’m looking around and realizing that CO N T I N U E D

JEFF WATT/AMERICAN UNIVERSITY; PROVIDED BY BILL PUTNAM


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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 2. Texas A&M University College Station, Texas 3. University of Maryland College Park, Md.

University of Maryland JOHN T. CONSOLI/UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

covers tuition and fees many of my classmates up to an amount set by are young enough to be law each academic year my children,” he said. “Veteran applicants known as the “national “I’ve been to war a lot. At often have overmaximum.” In 2017, that first, that made me feel amount was $22,805.34. like an outsider, but over come significant To help afford AU, time I stopped feeling adversity ... we which costs more to that way.” attend than the national Putnam used the hope to signifimaximum allowable Post-9/11 GI Bill to earn cantly increase the amount, Putnam was a bachelor’s degree able to take advantage in broadcast journalopportunities for of the Yellow Ribbon ism from American individuals who Program, a GI Bill University’s School of enhancement that helps Communication this have served.” pay costs that aren’t year. The Post-9/11 GI — Michael Kotlikoff, covered by the Post-9/11 Bill, passed in 2010, is Cornell Provost GI Bill at out-of-state a benefit for those who colleges, private schools served at least 90 agor graduate schools. For gregate active-duty days Putnam, 90 percent of after Sept. 10, 2001, or his tuition was covered by the Post-9/11 were honorably discharged after serving 30 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program. (He continuous days. Veterans can use the bill didn’t receive a full ride because he was to pay for schooling or on-the-job training four months shy of the 36 months of active programs. It covers tuition and fees for duty after Sept. 10, 2001, needed to qualify public colleges, and for private schools, it

for full tuition coverage.) But as comprehensive as the Post-9/11 GI Bill has been, the federal government recently made significant changes to the benefit to further help service men and women attain an education, especially those who have served since Sept. 11, 2001. In August, President Donald Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, the largest expansion of college assistance for military veterans in more than a decade. The law, also known as the Forever GI Bill, immediately removed a 15-year time limit on the use of GI Bill benefits. The measure also increased financial assistance for thousands serving in the National Guard and Reserve, building on a 2008 law that guaranteed veterans a full scholarship to any in-state public university, or a similar cash amount to attend private colleges. However, the new program only applies to those who left active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013. Those who left before that CO N T I N U E D

4. University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Mich. 5. University of Utah Salt Lake City, Utah 6. University of Florida Gainesville, Fla. 7. Bellevue University Bellevue, Neb. 8. University of Southern California Los Angeles, Calif. 9. University of Maryland University College Adelphi, Md. 10. George Mason University Fairfax, Va. For the full list, visit collegefactual. com/rankings/veterans

OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY


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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

JOBS & EDUCATION date are still subject to the 15-year limitation on use of the benefit. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who joined Trump for the signing, said the new law also provides benefits to Purple Heart recipients whose injuries forced them to leave the service. Benefits can also now be transferred to eligible dependents of service members killed in the line of duty. Under the new law, veterans will get additional payments for completing science, technology, engineering and math courses, part of a broad effort to better prepare veterans for life in a fast-changing job market. The law also restores benefits if a college closes in the middle of the semester, a protection provided in response to the shuttering of for-profit college giants ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian College, which greatly affected veterans. “This is expanding our ability to support our veterans in getting education,” Shulkin told reporters after the signing ceremony. The expanded educational benefits will be paid for by bringing living stipend payments under the GI Bill down to a similar level as that received by an activeduty member, whose payments were reduced FOR MORE in 2014 by 1 INFORMATION percent a year Find details on for five years. educational Total government programs for spending on the veterans and a GI Bill is expected benefits calculato be more than tor at benefits. $100 billion over va.gov/gibill 10 years. Meanwhile, some states are offering additional economic perks for veterans seeking affordable higher education. In New York, Cornell University is offering financial incentives in hopes of attracting more veterans to its hallowed classrooms. The Ivy League school, which also participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, announced it hopes to enroll 100 veterans in its undergraduate programs in the next three years. Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff said that admitting more veterans is a win-win for the school and the student body. “Veteran applicants often have overcome significant adversity and excel at the university ... we hope to significantly increase the opportunities for individuals who have served in uniform,” he said. Despite the changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, some contend the program is not without flaws. Derek Zotto, a veteran of two deployments in Afghanistan who received the Purple Heart for his battlefield injuries, wasn’t able to access the new benefit because he was hurt in 2011 — before the expansion became available

Veterans have financial aid options they may be qualified for beyond military service-provided tuition assistance.

NELL KING

to Purple Heart recipients. “I don’t think the Army does enough to let you know about all the options available,” Zotto said. After his last deployment in 2013, Zotto enrolled in law school at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. This past spring, he received his law degree and was recently hired by a D.C. law firm. He said he received about $16,000 a year in Post 9/11 GI Bill aid for tuition, although he is still $120,000 in debt after three years of postgraduate school and wonders whether he could have had more of his education paid. “It was helpful, (but) it would have been nice to have been fully covered.” Darlene Superville contributed to this story.

INCREASED ENROLLMENT Survey finds more veterans are attending college using the Post-9/11 GI Bill There’s been a significant increase in veteran enrollment in higher education since the creation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, according to a report published in August by Liang Zhang, a professor of higher education at New York University. Using survey data from 2005 to 2015,

Zhang found that the bill, compared with the earlier GI Bill, “increased overall college enrollment by about 3 percentage points on average;” had a “consistent and positive impact” on veterans ages 20 to 60; and gave veterans of all levels of education “consistent and positive enrollment

effects” — with the largest estimates observed among those with master’s degrees. The study, “Veterans Going to College,” published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, came out before Congress passed the Forever GI Bill.


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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JOBS & EDUCATION

It’s important for veterans to translate their military work experience into civilian terms. ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES

HIRING OUR F HEROES

By Adam Stone

Veterans seek strategies for entering civilian workforce

ORMER AIR DEFENSE ARTILLERY officer Jeff Zanelotti knew his Army skills would not be a perfect fit when he applied for a print operations manager position with Broadridge Financial Solutions, a financial planning company. “Coming out of the military, one of my biggest concerns was that anything I did would be an area where I had zero experience,” said Zanelotti, who retired in 2016 as a lieutenant colonel after a 20-year military career. “Whatever I did, I would be starting on the ground floor as a man in his early 40s.” His experience is a common one. Veterans are proven leaders. They can

organize and execute. They manage troops and supplies. At the same time, they may lack the specific skills needed on the civilian side. Not every hiring manager can look at an artillery officer and see a print operations manager. Veterans need to be thoughtful and strategic as they seek to swap the uniform for civvies.

TRANSLATING SKILLS

Unemployment numbers among veterans paint a picture of a population that sometimes struggles to find its place in the workforce. In 2011, in the depths of the recession, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. armed CO N T I N U E D


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JOBS & EDUCATION

“If you don’t know what you want to do, take the time to go back to school and figure it out. ... (I had) two years when I could just focus on growing myself. ” — Lucas Hanson CISCO SYSTEMS INC.

JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

Marcus Williams, a recruiter for Military Sealift Command, talks with veterans seeking jobs during the Recruit Military Career Fair at AT&T Park in San Francisco. forces at any time since September 2001 was 12.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Things have somewhat improved: Last year, the number dropped to 5.1 percent. But employers still see veterans struggle to find their place among the ranks of civilian workers. “They use military terminology that is not easily translated into civilian terminology, so the person doing the hiring doesn’t get a real appreciation for what they have done. All those acronyms, the military verbiage and terminology — it can present a challenge,” said Ross Brown, head of military and veterans affairs at JPMorgan Chase & Co. In addition to hiring veterans, Brown also directs a JPMorgan Chase project known as the Veteran Jobs Mission. Founded in 2011, the initiative initially brought together nearly a dozen employers dedicated to hiring 100,000 veterans by 2020. Since then, more than 230 private-sector companies have signed on and collectively hired more than 400,000 veterans, according to the coalition. “These companies have realized that when you hire a veteran, you not only get an individual of tremendous character, but you get someone who understands teamwork, who knows that the individual is subordinate to the good of the mission,” Brown said. “Veterans are used to working in teams; they are focused on accomplishing the mission.” AT&T is also thinking along those lines. In 2013, the company committed to hiring 10,000 vets. It has since hired 14,000 and plans to hire 10,000 more by 2020. “It comes down to versatility,” said John

“The first thing I was looking for was a company that understood both the challenges and the skill sets I bring to the table as a veteran.”

Palmer, a senior vice president in human resources at AT&T. “Few veterans have ever served in just one capacity: They are asked to do multiple things; they train to do multiple things. That means we can hire veterans across all parts of our business. They are technical; they are great at sales and great at operations, and that is because of the broad of breadth of experience they have gotten in the military.” Even with employers like these eager to seal the deal, veterans still may stumble en route to employment.

GETTING PERSONAL

When Zanelotti began his job search, he took the conventional approach, peppering job boards with resumes in response to ads that sounded promising. But he had no real “in” — no connection to any of the companies or to the prospective hiring managers. “At that point, you are literally just another piece of paper in a pile. They don’t know you from anyone,” he said. A 1996 graduate of U.S. Military Academy, he had never had to look for a job throughout his adult life, and it took some trial and error to find his way. Eventually, he gave up on the job boards and opted for a more personal approach. “After a while, I got wise and started reaching out to other veterans and mentors I had known, people who had been through this process. Once I started reaching out to people, I was able to streamline the process, to start applying to companies that looked like they were right for me,” he said. It was those former military comrades CO N T I N U E D

— Vincent Wright

JPMORGAN CHASE & CO

“After a while, I got wise and started reaching out to other veterans and mentors I had known, people who had been through this process.” — Jeff Zanelotti BROADRIDGE FINANCIAL SOLUTIONS


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JOBS & EDUCATION

CIVILIAN RANKS

Advice for veterans looking to land their dream job In early 2017, retired Army Lt. Col. Frank Stanley stepped into a newly created role as head of veteran recruiting for commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield. He’s watched veterans nail the job search and then make missteps. Here’s how he advises ex-military job hunters looking to join the civilian ranks. What should be a veteran’s first step in the job search? Get clarity. One of the things I ask veterans is: What would motivate you to wake up in the morning and go to work? Do you want to manage a portfolio of properties? Does it excite you to manage personnel? Do you want to be in charge of money? I don’t want to just give you a job, I want to give you a career — something that will keep you motivated and excited. How can veterans convey the depth of their experience? Tell stories. Many veterans have dealt with real-life situations and made lifeand-death decisions at a moment’s notice. You need to explain that. The resume might say you had a platoon of 30 people. But what does that do for a civilian employer? You need to show them what it means. It means you were a manager and a leader. You managed a budget; you managed people; you managed logistics. So you come prepared to tell those stories, to tell them how you managed operations, how you were able to facilitate a group of people. What’s the biggest job-search mistake veterans make? Too often, a veteran takes the first job that is offered. They are looking for security; they want that paycheck, but in reality they also need to look at the environment of the company. They need to look at the opportunities for upward mobility. If they take the first job offered to them, they may be wasting their talents and capabilities.

JPMORGAN CHASE & CO

JPMorgan Chase’s military and veterans recruiting team members Patrick Groome and Brian Interdonato at a career event in Phoenix. where you have coordinated who helped him single out The Veteran Jobs multiple projects or multiple Broadridge Financial Solutions teams,” Palmer said. “You as the kind of place he’d want Mission has tips need to articulate examples of to work. and resources how you have accomplished Finding the right company for veterans, the goal and completed the was a priority for former including a page mission. Those everyday Army Sgt. Vincent Wright. He on companies that activities for military personleft the service in 2015 and are actively hiring nel may be quite uncommon signed on as a business operaveterans. in the business world, and so tions manager with JPMorgan „ veteranjobs you really need to spell those Chase, where he makes sure mission.com out.” 15,000 bank machines are This idea of telling stories always up and running. resonates with many hiring “The first thing I was managers. The military resume can be looking for was a company that understood alternately bland or obscure, and those both the challenges and the skill sets I who make hiring decisions said it helps bring to the table as a veteran,” he said. “I them when veterans can lay out in might not know anything about debits and practical terms what exactly it is they did credits per se, but Chase totally understood while in uniform. that. They were willing to teach me that “I like vignettes,” said Steven Davis, while leveraging the things I am really good global head of talent acquisition at Broadat, things like managing operations.” ridge Financial Solutions. “A story helps me Once a veteran finds the right company, as a hiring manager to visualize what you he or she still needs to tell the story, to were doing. I can see you in the moment, share the events and anecdotes that make in action, and that helps me to understand a resume come to life. what you did.” “You need to be able to talk about It helps, too, if the veteran can then specific leadership situations, the places

connect that story back to its privatesector equivalent: Show how managing a military supply chain or a regimental budget aligns with similar activities on the civilian side. “While specific skills or tasks don’t necessarily translate, there are a lot of things that are very relevant to the corporate world, and vets need to draw those parallels,” Davis said. Former Army Capt. Lucas Hanson didn’t feel ready to tell that story when he first left the armed forces. He took a job but decided he wasn’t really sure what his post-military career should look like. Hanson decided to go for an MBA, using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Two years later, feeling far more focused, he landed his present position as a planning and strategic operations manager with Cisco Systems Inc. It’s a career route he recommends for those who are still feeling their way. “If you don’t know what you want to do, take the time to go back to school and figure it out,” he said. “For the past six or eight years, I had been focused on other people, and this was two years when I could just focus on growing myself. That’s a big opportunity that the military gives you.”


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JOBS & EDUCATION

STEP FORWARD

Veterans build successful franchise businesses By Scott Berman

W

HEN MILITARY VETERANS WHO own franchise businesses speak to other veterans contemplating franchising, something tends to happen: The latter tend to “lean in” and listen closely. There is keen interest. That interest works the other way, too: franchise companies have long sought veterans as potential owners. That’s because veterans have “proven to be successful,” said Radim Dragomaca, director of VetFran (vetfran. com), an initiative of the International Franchise Association (IFA). VetFran is a

network of franchise company members offering financial discounts, mentorship and training for veterans. “It’s not just about patriotism and doing the right thing,” Dragomaca said. “It’s also about a recognition, supported by data, that veterans make really good franchisees.” According to a 2014 report conducted for IFA, 97 percent of franchisers surveyed “indicated that veterans are a good fit as franchisees.” Typically, buyers, or franchisees, of franchise stores pay a fee — it may be $20,000 to $50,000 or more, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration — in addition to startup costs. They’re guided through the process with

programs provided by the franchise company, also called the franchiser. Franchisers can offer incentives, including waiving the franchise fee and providing equipment. Nationwide, 6,500 veterans became franchise owners in the past six years, and they are among the 238,000 veterans and spouses who are owners or employees in the franchise industry, according to VetFran. Dragomaca says 14 percent of all franchise business owners are military veterans. VetFran has a directory of more than 600 franchiser companies and Dragomaca stressed that veterans should research companies of interest and their

incentives. He added that leadership skills, motivation and an “entrepreneurial spark” will help vets succeed. Veterans considering buying a franchise should “know the competition, your product and your community well,” said Chanel Bankston-Carter of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. “Those things are very important. But nothing is more important than determination,” she said. “Those first couple of years can be brutal for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for business best practices.” Here are four veterans who have found success in franchising:

JERALD COUNCIL


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JOBS & EDUCATION

PAPA JOHN’S; DANIEL AND MARRYANN RAMIREZ

DANIEL AND MARRYANN RAMIREZ | Papa John’s Flight engineer Daniel Ramirez and his wife, Marryann, an aviation resource manager, both retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2011 and bought their first Papa John’s franchise that same year. Daniel soon realized that being on a flight team dovetailed with owning a Papa John’s. In both cases, assembling the right team and interacting well with each team member are crucial. It’s also imperative to “use everyone around you to make an educated decision.” Franchising had long been on Daniel’s mind. When he was 16 and working at McDonald’s, he met the owner, who took the time to explain what a franchise owner is — and his red Ferrari made an impression, too, Ramirez added. Decades later, Ramirez started researching franchising and was drawn to Papa John’s “commitment to providing the consumer a better product.” He went through the online application process and had a phone interview but was turned down. The sticking point: his lack of experience in the restaurant ownership field. It took a face-to-face interview, and plenty of perseverance, to get approved.

The Ramirezes opened their first store in 2011 in Delaware. The following year, they opened their second store in the state. Today, they have eight stores, with the most recent three all opening in August 2017 — seven of those are in Delaware, and one is in Maryland. In 2016, the Ramirezes won the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Veteran-Owned Business award for Delaware. Ramirez urges veterans looking into buying a franchise business to research reputable companies and to maintain a solid work ethic. He shares another insight: “Surround yourself with good people. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Use your team.” He now employees 100 people at his shops, including five employees who are either veterans, active reservists or those in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). He would like to hire more veterans because they “show up on time and don’t make excuses. … They are responsible,” he said. There may be more employees and stores, ahead: Ramirez’s ultimate goal is to own every Papa John’s in Delaware. There are nine left to go.

Company started franchising: 1986 Number of franchises: 600+ franchisees and 5,088 stores worldwide Standard startup cost: $250,000 to $300,000 Total investment: $300,000 Veteran incentives: No franchise fee; supplied with ovens, discounted royalties and food service credit (restrictions apply) upon opening a store Veteran-owned units: 100 to 150 domestic units Website: papajohns. com/franchise


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JIMMY JOHN’S; CARMEN BROWN

FELICIA PARKS | Jimmy John’s

Atlanta native Felicia Parks was 18 when she joined the Army in 1982. She was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone for three years before leaving in 1986. She later graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Ga., in 2006. Knowing that Parks wanted to own her own business, her niece told her about popular sandwich shop Jimmy John’s. Parks researched the company and liked what she learned, especially the emphasis on good customer service. Her two sons urged her to dive in — and the three of them headed to Champaign, Ill., to visit Jimmy John’s corporate headquarters, talk with the company and visit a Jimmy John’s store. She decided to take the plunge and open a franchise in Atlanta.

The process wasn’t as smooth as Parks would have liked. There were city building permits, licenses and paperwork headaches — “the city got tired of me being down there,” she said. Parks praised corporate Jimmy John’s for providing her the resources she needed along the way: “They held my hand through everything, from franchising to real estate to finding the location.” Parks is now preparing to buy her second Jimmy John’s — another existing store in Atlanta — and is considering a third. As much as she is looking ahead, she also recalled her start in franchising, saying, “It was work!” But when asked whether it was worth it, Parks doesn’t miss a beat: “Absolutely.”

Company started franchising: 1993 Number of franchises: 2,740 Total investment (includes startup costs): $329,500 to $557,500 Veteran incentives: None specified, but Jimmy John’s “helps veteran franchisees identify loan incentives and other special incentives that are available to veterans and helps walk them through the leasing loan franchising process,” according to the company. Website: ownajimmyjohns.com


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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

JOBS & EDUCATION

MCDONALD’S

KENNETH YOUNGBLOOD | McDonald’s Kenneth Youngblood served in the Army in Europe from 1964 to 1966, and went on to college at California State University, Los Angeles, in the early 1970s. Years later and facing the prospect of losing his job in a company downsizing, he realized that relying on others for his success wasn’t working. “I need to find someplace where I can control my own destiny,” he recalled thinking. While attending a conference in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s, he happened upon a McDonald’s career booth and filled out an application. It seemed like a good fit — he had worked in the restaurant industry as a teen and had always been interested in entrepreneurship. In 1988, he went on to buy a McDonald’s franchise in Philadelphia, becoming an owner-operator, in company parlance, and has since bought eight more, all in or near Philadelphia. Today, he’s a compelling spokesman for community involvement and entrepreneurship. He is active in local civic and charitable initiatives, including speaking about careers with young people and serving on the regional board of

Ronald McDonald House. On the business side, he is preparing to buy his 10th store in 2018. He believes he’s meeting his goal of controlling his destiny. Youngblood praises McDonald’s franchising system as orderly, logical and reliable. For fellow veterans looking to become owner/operators of a McDonald’s, he recommends they keep the old adage “location, location, location” in mind and to pay it forward by hiring other veterans, ROTC students and reservists. He has hired a number of them through the years and heartily endorses doing so. He has a more philosophical tip as well: “It’s all about the windshield, not the rear-view mirror,” meaning that even if people have come a relatively long way in life, they can still find success if they keep focusing on what’s ahead and what it takes to get there. Youngblood was 42 when he bought his first franchise, and he has no plans for slowing down. “I’m going out feet first,” he quipped. “I just figured it out. So why would I quit now?”

Company started franchising: 1955 Number of franchises: 3,000 owner/operators Standard startup cost: $500,000 Veteran incentives: None cited, but according to the company, McDonald’s is “committed to employing veterans in our restaurants and maintain partnerships with RecruitMilitary and the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.” Veteran-owned units: No specific number cited, but there are “multiple” ones in the U.S. Website: corporate.mcdonalds. com/mcd/franchising/ us_franchising.html


USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

JOBS & EDUCATION

DIGITAL DEFENDERS Many veterans find cyber careers a natural choice

By Adam Stone

W

HEN THE ARMY ASKED communications specialist Chris Reagan to study up on cybersecurity in 2012, he jumped at the chance. “They offered different classes and certifications, and it turned out to be something I really enjoyed. It was at the

forefront of things that you read about in the news,” he said. Cyber specialists in the military receive extensive training in current techniques for defending sensitive computer networks. Such training puts them in a strong position when they leave the service and enter a civilian workforce where cyber skills are in high demand. Of 775 corporate and government IT hiring professionals in

eight countries, 82 percent said they aren’t able to fill jobs, according to a survey done by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Intel Security. That training paid off for Reagan, who left the military in 2015 and now works as a cybersecurity and privacy consultant with national consulting firm PwC. He’s CO N T I N U E D

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

JOBS & EDUCATION

VetsInTech VETSINTECH; CHRIS REAGAN

one of a growing number of veterans who finds safeguarding networks and securing digital systems to be a good career fit.

SECURITY MINDSET Even veterans who did not work in a cyber specialty while in uniform like Reagan, still may be well placed to leverage their military experience in the cyber job market. Many cyber jobs require security clearances, and veterans typically already have some level of these credentials. That can give them an edge in the job market. More than this, vets bring a security mindset to the table. “In the military, it’s all about how you disclose information, how you keep things

confidential,” said Jesse Varsalone, who teaches cyber to a veteran-heavy student body at University of Maryland University College (UMUC), covering topics such as hacking, network forensics and incident response. “Veterans understand that there are certain things you don’t talk Chris about, even at the dinner Reagan table with your family.” Vets who bring that mindset may discover a corporate world eager for their talents. In 2016, more than 348,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled nationwide because organizations could not find qualified talent, according to the Sans Institute, a tech industry research group. A report from trade group (ISC)² and business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan

The National Cyber League expects there to be a 1.8-million person cybersecurity shortage by 2022. forecasts a shortfall of 1.5 million cyber workers by 2020. The National Cyber League expects there to be a 1.8-million person cybersecurity shortage by 2022. Ex-military personnel can be a natural fit for those jobs. “They have the leadership, the work ethic, and they have certain things ingrained in them that are important to cybersecurity. They have an intrinsic understanding of the need to watch out for threats, whether they are physical or cyberthreats,” said Katherine Webster, founder of VetsInTech (vetsintech.co), a group that offeres veterans a free five-day introduction to cybersecurity, through its partner, Palo Alto Networks. Held at Palo Alto Networks offices in Santa Clara,

Calif., the classes are open to any veterans who have experience in IT, networking or CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification. VetsinTech also holds classes in Texas and Virginia. In addition to veterans’ soft skills — like leadership and adaptability — many also leave the service with a solid understanding of the digital ecosystem. “The military today is very technological. You’ve got robots and drones and artificial intelligence,” Webster said. “People think about the veterans’ work ethic. But there is also a big tech component to their experience.” Those looking to leverage that tech CO N T I N U E D


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JOBS & EDUCATION

CYBER DEGREE RESOURCES For veterans considering a career in cybersecurity, a number of organizations offer free education and other support. Hire Our Heroes works with the Department of Homeland Security to offer free training and certification-prep courses. „hireourheroes.org/veteranstraining

The Sans Institute VetSuccess Academy PROVIDED BY SANS INSTITUTE; NIK ROBY

expertise in a cyber career may find multiple paths. While a computer science degree can be a launching point for some, it’s not the only way.

FOOT IN THE DOOR The Warrior to Cyber Warrior (W2CW) program (warrior2cyberwarrior.com) can train a veteran for a cyber career in 24 weeks, for free. The project of security automation firm Lunarline is one of a number of initiatives nationwide that offer veterans a free introduction to cyber skills (see sidebar). Participants earn certifications to show they can do the job, including Comp TIA Security+, Certified Expert Incident Responder (CEIR) and Certified Expert Privacy Professional (CEPP). The program has trained about 300 people since 2012, and with the demand for cyber skills as high as it is, most participants receive job offers within weeks of starting the program, said Lunarline co-founder and CEO Waylon Krush. “There are never enough people in the field to support the need, so we know that if we train the guys and girls coming back

from the military, it will open the doors of opportunity for them,” he said. W2CW graduates have taken jobs in a range of cyber positions. Most people want to be “ethical hackers” — those paid to try to break into corporate networks to expose potential vulnerabilities. But Krush encourages veterans to look beyond such “cool” jobs and consider regulated industries as a first step into the cyber workforce. Finance, health care and many other sectors operate under government mandate when it comes to the security of digital information. “Compliance programs are large; they are funded; they are required; and most executives understand them,” Krush said. “That makes them one of the easiest ways to get into cyber.” For such jobs, a handful of certifications can be enough to get a foot in the door. Still, some veterans opt for additional

training and education. Nik Roby earned an undergrad degree from UMUC while in uniform, left the Army in 2010 and, then worked in various computer science roles before eventually earning a UMUC master’s degree in 2016. The academic path required a lot of time and effort, but it paid off. He recently moved to Silicon Nik Roby Valley to take a dream position as a security engineer with Google. “If you’ve got a degree in a computer science, especially in security, the sky is the limit,” he said. Cyber will get you not just a job, but a cool career. “It’s fun because the landscape is constantly changing,” Roby said. “I like this whole cat-and-mouse game. Any time you finally figure out their trick, they change it, and then you figure out the new one. It’s like constantly solving puzzles. I wouldn’t want a job that stays the same all the time.”

The government’s FedVTE program gives veterans free access to more than 800 hours of training on topics such as ethical hacking and surveillance, risk management and malware analysis. „fedvte.usalearning.gov Veterans pursuing academic work in cybersecurity may be eligible for the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service (SFS). It’s available to those who go on to work in federal, state, local or tribal government service upon graduation. „sfs.opm.gov Through the Department of Homeland Security, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies consolidates information about scholarships, training and other assets available to veterans looking for a way into cyber. „niccs.us-cert.gov The Sans Institute VetSuccess Academy is designed to encourage veterans to join the cyber workforce through technical training and certifications. „sans.org/cybertalent/ vetsuccess

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JOBS & EDUCATION Former Marine Nick Taranto wanted to do something entrepreneurial and creative, so he created Plated with co-founder Josh Hix.

PHOTOS BY PLATED


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JOBS & EDUCATION

DELICIOUS DEVELOPMENTS

Veterans turn their passion for active duty into successful — and tasteful — civilian careers By Annette Thompson

L

EAVING ACTIVE DUTY AND returning to the civilian sector can be confusing for many veterans — it takes time to find the path that works best. These veterans found successful careers working with food and offer this sage advice: Figure out what both motivates and satisfies.

MARINE TO MEAL-DELIVERY MASTER

What worked for Nick Taranto was perseverance, no matter how meandering the path. After graduating from Dartmouth College with a bachelor’s degree, he moved to Indonesia where he started a microfinance group. He returned to the U.S. and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2010. Obviously interested in always pushing himself, he served as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, spending a year on active duty before transitioning to the reserves and becoming a private wealth adviser on Wall Street. Six months in, he was depressed. He had gained weight and was living an unhealthy desk-bound lifestyle. Something needed to change: “There had to be a better way to eat and live.” Taranto worked with friend and fellow Harvard alum Josh Hix, and they founded Plated in 2012. But the creation of the national ingredients and recipe delivery service didn’t come easily. “We spent the better part of a year experimenting and failing, knocking on doors to find customers and investors. It was humbling, but we had to pass that gauntlet to get where we are,” he said. Based in Manhattan, the small but nimble company had a tough time getting started. “It wasn’t until we appeared on Shark Tank in April 2014 (almost two years after launching) that our growth really took off,” Taranto said. And as a veteran, Taranto wanted his venture to include

PROVIDED BY NICK TARANTO

Nick Taranto, center, earned his MBA and MPA and then served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

other veterans, hiring dozens to work in Plated offices throughout the country. So far, Plated (plated.com) has delivered tens of millions of meal kits across the lower 48. “I’m a believer in the power of translating military skills into private-sector roles. We look for vets because of their discipline, team-oriented attitude, dedication and comfort operating under pressure,” said Taranto. “I know how hard it can be to make that transition from military to civilian life.” In late September, Taranto and his partner sold Plated to Albertsons Companies, one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, for $300 million. The sale infused Plated with both the capital and autonomy that Taranto’s team needed to take it to an even higher level. Taranto remains involved on a daily basis, leading the company’s strategy into the future.


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JOBS & EDUCATION COOKING FOR VETS

BLACK RIFLE COFFEE

GRINDING OUT A CAREER

Evan Hafer is the coffee guy. During the Iraq War, the Green Beret would brew coffee for the troops. “The guys would wake up to the sound of this grinder,” he said. “It was cold in the mornings. To have an incredible cup of coffee as the sun kicks over the edge of the Earth galvanized my love for it.” The northern Idahoan thrived on military work, especially in Special Forces. “I got to work with small groups,” he said. “It was like the Peace Corps with guns.” Hafer spent nine years on active service followed by another nine years in the U.S. Department of State and CIA before starting Black Rifle Coffee Company (blackriflecoffee. com) in 2014. Based in Salt Lake City, the online company roasts small batch South American beans on demand and ships around the world. Hafer enjoys employing a diverse mix of employees and more than

half are veterans. “We are eclectic and irreverent,” Hafer said. “Veterans have earned the right to not conform to what society said is normal. Black Rifle is based on the philosophy of ‘You do you.’ We want people to live without judgment. We are not lockstep military. Everybody is different. We have transgendered, openly LGBT employees, and next to them are fire-breathing conservatives driving trucks with rebel flags. Everybody here gets along because everyone thinks, ‘You do you.’” Hafer plans to expand the business. “I want to provide cool jobs for other vets who don’t want to go into corporate culture,” he said. And his commitment to the guys in the trenches hasn’t wavered either. In December, Black Rifle plans to ship 10,000 pounds of coffee to Army post offices across the world. “We try to do everything we can to help them.”

Prior to his medical retirement in 2008 from the Marine Corps, former infantry machine gunner Kyle Gourlie was attached to the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton, rehabbing at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, Calif. While there, he spent considerable time in the kitchen where he realized he had a love — and knack — for cooking for others. He moved back home to Washington state in 2008 and used the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend The Art Institute of Seattle, graduating with a culinary arts management degree in 2013. “I needed to get (an admissions) waiver because my grades were low,” he said, laughing. “Then I graduated with honors.” His Marine Corps background helped him become a careful cook. “I made sure my work was top quality — the way they teach you in the military.” Gourlie and wife Amanda have two young kids, so owning and operating a food truck was more cost-effective than opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant and fit perfectly into their busy lifestyle. The Vet Chef food truck (thevetchefllc.com) began operating in 2016, serving Mexican-inspired dishes. Its menu touts steak and pork tacos, Cubano burritos and carne asada nacho fries. Operating daily, the Vet Chef truck can be found in the greater Seattle area, including the Naval Station Everett on Fridays, when Gourlie serves those who serve: “That’s who we want as a clientele.” One of Gourlie’s goals is to hire more veterans to add to his roster of two — one from the Navy and one from the Army — who work alongside the daughter of a Navy vet. He’d also like to debut more food trucks. Gourlie likes to remind veterans that they have a choice in how to transition to civilian life. “Getting out of the military was hard for me. I was used to people telling me what’s next,” he said. Now he urges veterans to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to get a degree. “By the time you get out, you’ll understand that you have a choice. Nothing’s harder than the military because you don’t have a say in anything,” he said. “The civilian world is not like that.”

VET CHEF


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JOBS & EDUCATION

Peter Scott, below, created Fields 4 Valor Farms, a nonprofit that provides food, education and employment to veterans, their family members and Gold Star families. Right, volunteers help paint signs during a service day in 2016.

A PLACE TO FIND YOURSELF

PROVIDED BY FIELDS 4 VALOR FARMS

SEEDS OF COMPASSION

When Peter Scott emerged from 11 years in the Army in 2010 as a sergeant first class, the Massachusetts native was rated 100 percent disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I struggled,” he said. After his deployments to Afghanistan and Pakistan with Special Forces, Scott didn’t know where he fit in. “I tried college. I did culinary school, worked as a beer brewer, cheese-maker, butcher,” he said about his first four years as a civilian. That period culminated in the Veterans Affairs’ Combat PTSD Program in Lyons, N.J. He took another year off and started gardening and beekeeping and even considered starting a project growing food for people in need. “Then I discovered Dog Tag Bakery,” he said.

While Dog Tag (dogtagbakery.com) is a bakery, it is foremost an incubator program for veterans (see sidebar), working with the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies in Washington, D.C., to provide the education and the necessary real-life tools to determine their future. Through his participation in Dog Tag’s supportive program, Scott developed and implemented a plan for Fields 4 Valor (F4V) Farms, a Hyattsville, Md., nonprofit that grows produce and delivers it to families at nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., multiple times a month. “We don’t want veterans and their families to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” Scott said. “We are not a soup kitchen or a food pantry. We want to grow high-quality food and

deliver a basket for a family of four for a week.” F4V (fieldsforvalor.org) grows vegetables and raises bees to produce honey. And it’s expanding. “Next year, we are leasing a 6-acre farm to make a larger impact,” Scott said. “We are hiring veteran farmers to bring the cycle full circle.” As a start-up, Fields 4 Valor serves about 10 Walter Reed families. Scott’s long-term vision is to expand across the nation, with Fields 4 Valor supporting local veterans and Gold Star families. It’s not just the younger generation that needs help, “but Vietnam and Persian Gulf vets, too,” he said. “There will always be the need, unless something seriously changes in the world. We are always going to have folks who spent time (fighting) in support of nation.”

Dog Tag Inc., (dogtaginc. org) in Washington, D.C., offers five-month workstudy programs using its bakery as an incubator. Georgetown University professors teach courses such as entrepreneurship, marketing, communications and finance on-site to vets, who also rotate between jobs in the 4,200-squarefoot venue that includes a cafe, bakery and training and meeting space. Dog Tag has graduated 46 participants since its inception in 2014, and 60 percent of those are in the workforce, while 20 percent have started their own businesses. “We don’t guarantee a dream job,” said Lolly Rivas, director of development. “(But) Dog Tag provides time, space and resources to figure out what you want to do.”

PHOTOS BY SANDI MOYNIHAN/THE USO


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FROM BATTLEFIELD TO FARM FIELD Veterans find solace, substance in agricultural jobs

By Brian Barth

“H

OLD ON A MINUTE,” said Terrell Spencer, sounding slightly out of breath, as he answers the phone while pounding in fence posts at his farm in northern Arkansas. “Let me just get this last one in.” Several moments of loud clanking pass as he drives one more into the stony earth of the Ozarks. Satisfied, he sits down to tell me his story. The tale began with his visit to a U.S. Army recruitment office just after

9/11, and it ended with the post he just pounded in at Across the Creek Farm. In between were some difficult times. Spencer was deployed to Iraq in 2004 as a machine gunner with the Army’s 392nd Chemical Company. He returned home to Arkansas in 2005 with a fractured neck and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recovery proved to be a long journey. Healing, when it finally arrived, came in the form of a flock of chickens and 34 acres of rocky, overgrown land. “There is something really therapeutic

about clearing land and taking care of animals,” Spencer said. “It was powerful to go from such a destructive place to something restorative.” He and his wife, Carla, have three children and run Across the Creek Farm as a successful family affair. They lease an additional 20 acres and hope to have a total of 100 by the end of the year. They also have a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected processing facility for poultry. The agricultural enterprise has made Spencer a pillar of his community. Now in his ninth season

JEFF REISDORFER


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JOBS & EDUCATION Terrell Spencer moves a broiler pen, ensuring his chickens get fresh pasture daily and eliminating the need for antibiotics.

CARLA SPENCER

“There is something really therapeutic about clearing land and taking care of animals. It was powerful to go from such a destructive place to something restorative.” — Terrell Spencer, farmer

The Spencer family CARLA SPENCER

as a farmer, Spencer has several employees, raises nearly 15,000 birds a year and has developed a large client base of chefs and shoppers who value his humane, all-natural approach to livestock husbandry. He also keeps busy mentoring other veterans along their healing path, using a combination of peer-to-peer support and the grueling, yet rewarding, work of running a farm. Spencer has hosted more than 100 veterans at Across the Creek, some who stay for months at a time in informal or paid internships, and some who

have even gone on to run their own farms. Spencer also helped to create Armed to Farm (ncat.org/armedtofarm), a weeklong boot camp that teaches farmers and ranchers about sustainable and organic agriculture, how to get started in farming and how to qualify for government programs. “It was something that would have really helped me out,” Spencer said. He developed the program through the National Center for Appropriate Technology CO N T I N U E D


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JOBS & EDUCATION

Veterans participate in NCAT’s Armed to Farm training as Ken Coffey describes the grazing system at Maple Gorge Farm in Prairie Grove, Ark. ROBYN METZGER

(NCAT), a nonprofit that promotes sustainable living. While he is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, having left the program in the care of NCAT to pursue his farm full time, Spencer continues to work closely with Armed to Farm’s trainees, often hosting them for workshops at Across the Creek Farm. “I’ve had a lot of guys end up here after coming back from Afghanistan who were on their last legs,” Spencer said. “Farming helped keep me from going over the edge into a really dark place, so it’s been good to pay it back with other vets — it’s like one brother helping another to not fall over the cliff.” Working the land may have a restorative effect on wounded souls, but it comes with an equally important practical benefit: workforce training. The combination of the two — and the fact that veterans come from rural areas at a far higher rate than the general population — has made agriculture a top career choice among those returning to civilian life. When Spencer started farming in 2008, he was at the forefront of what is now a national trend. That same year, Michael O’Gorman left a 40-year career in agri-

Given the steep startup costs associated with agriculture — figures ranging from $2 million to $5 million are often cited — support from government agencies and non-government organizations is crucial.

Michael O’Gorman PROVIDED BY MICHAEL O’GORMAN

culture and founded the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), which now has more than 10,000 members. “When we started out, there were thousands of groups in the country organized to help vets, but zero that were connecting vets to ag; nor was there a single group focused on veterans from rural communities,” O’Gorman said. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. Among the many organizations that have recently emerged to support veterans transitioning to agriculture (see sidebar) is the USDA, which gives special consideration to vets in its lending programs and has established a special position — the military veterans agricultural liaison — charged with coordinating the agency’s veteran-oriented initiatives. Given the steep startup costs associated with agriculture — figures ranging from $2 million to $5 million are often

cited — support from government agencies and non-government organizations is crucial. O’Gorman said a high percentage of aspiring veteran farmers establish small organic farms, in part because the highvalue market for organic and sustainable products makes it easier for new farmers to get established. Conventional farms generally need to be quite large to be profitable, because profit margins are so low — you need a lot of land and big, expensive equipment. Organic agriculture generally has a much higher return per acre, so it’s conceivable to make a decent living with 10 or 20 acres and a basic tractor. “Organic is a way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace,” O’Gorman said. “But military people are extremely health conscious, so that’s a part of it, too.” FVC offers financial assistance and technical advice to veterans seeking to establish farms, as well as conferences, workshops, and job and apprenticeship placement. The organization also administers the Homegrown By Heroes (HBH) certification program, which allows farmers, ranchers and fishermen who have served in the military to use a special CO N T I N U E D


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JOBS & EDUCATION

FIND YOUR FIELD Resources to help veterans get into agriculture careers

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N 2007, AFTER 40 years as a successful organic farmer in central California, Michael O’Gorman read a study that found a disproportionate number of veterans are from and return to rural areas. This struck him extra close to home because his son, Gregory, was serving in the military in Kuwait at the time. He wanted to give back and help veterans returning home, but was unable to find an organization that was dedicated to helping vets enter a career in agriculture. He reached out to his fellow California farmer friends to see what could be done. In 2008, the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) was created with O’Gorman at its helm. Since then, the group has given $1.2 million in grants to veterans who want to start farms, and FVC boasts big-name support — Bob Woodruff Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Prairie Grove Farms, Farm Credit Counsel, Prudential Financial and Kubota Tractor Corporation, to name a few. “I wanted to do something to help new farmers, and I thought who better to help than men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said O’Gorman, noting that numerous other groups with a similar mission have since sprung up. “Now the idea has caught fire.” Thinking about farming as your next move? Here are 10 resources for veterans looking to get started:

Tony Weber PROVIDED BY TONY WEBER

“We fought for the country and now we get to feed the country — so we’re still serving.” — Tony Weber, farmer

emblem on agricultural products they sell as a way to boost awareness of the contributions veterans are making to the nation’s food supply. This summer, the 5-year-old program surpassed 1,000 certified producers, after doubling its numbers during the previous year. In total, Homegrown by Heroescertified farms boast $50 million in annual sales. If the HBH label is any indication, the farmer veteran movement appears to be growing exponentially. Tony Weber, an HBH-certified farmer who raises chickens, turkeys and hogs at Weber Ranch in Wayne, Ohio, just south of Toledo, says the label helps to attract the attention of customers, but he believes it is also helping to change the perception of veterans at large. “(HBH) has helped veterans be recognized as a reliable part of the economy,” he said. “We fought for the country and now we get to feed the country — so we’re still serving. I get a lot out of that.”

Farmer Veteran Coalition Provides technical and financial assistance to aspiring veteran farmers and administers the Homegrown By Heroes label program. „ farmvetco.org

Delaware Valley University A “Yellow Ribbon” school in Doylestown, Pa., that offers an organic farming certificate program geared toward returning veterans. „delval.edu

U.S. Department of Agriculture Offers a range of veteran-centric programs, from financial assistance to employment opportunities at USDA agencies. „usda.gov/veterans

Vets to Ag Program A Michigan State University program that trains homeless veterans to work in agriculture. „msustatewide.msu.edu

Veteran Farmers of America Connects veterans with agricultural training opportunities in California, providing two-week paid internships at select farms. „vetfarm.org Veterans in Agriculture An information resource for veterans in Iowa that offers career development resources and a database for consumers to find veteran-grown products. „veteransinagriculture.org Veterans to Farmers A program affiliated with Colorado State University that offers training in organic production, with a special emphasis in hydroponics. „veteranstofarmers.org

Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance A California group that employs veterans to grow medical-grade marijuana, which they provide free to other veterans. „scveteransalliance.com Veteran Farmer Program An initiative of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture (based in Alexandria, Va.) that assists aspiring veteran farmers with training and land access. „arcadiafood.org F.A.R.M. (Farmers Assisting Returning Military) A Dallas-based group that offers a variety of training programs, with a particular emphasis on urban agriculture. „farmvet.org — Brian Barth

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‘THE VIETNAM WAR’ DOCUMENTARY

FREDERICK M. BROWN/GETTY IMAGES

Filmmaker Ken Burns, composer Trent Reznor, composer Atticus Ross and filmmaker Lynn Novick answer questions about the making of The Vietnam War during the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association press tour on Jan. 15 in Pasadena, Calif. Burns and Novick spent more than a decade on the documentary series, which aired on PBS in September.

HISTORY LESSONS Why do the ghosts of Vietnam continue to haunt us?

By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

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ORE THAN 10 YEARS ago, as we were finishing our documentary series about the American experience of the Second World War, we decided to turn our attention to the Vietnam War, the country’s most consequential, misunderstood and divisive event since World War

II. We wanted to find out what the war was really like on the battlefield, back home and in the halls of power in Washington, Hanoi and Saigon. And we wanted to understand why for more than four decades, the wounds it inflicted on our country have festered. As Army veteran Phil Gioia told us in an interview for our 10-part series The Vietnam War, which aired on PBS, the war “drove a stake right into the heart of

America. It polarized the country as it had probably never been polarized since before the Civil War, and we’ve never recovered.” Why do the ghosts of Vietnam continue to haunt us? Why did things go so badly wrong? Who is to blame? Why haven’t we been able to have a civil, informed conversation about it? “It’s like living in a family with an alcoholic father,” Marine veteran Karl Marlantes told us on camera.


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‘THE VIETNAM WAR’ DOCUMENTARY

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Marines land at Chu Lai beachhead, 52 miles south of Danang in South Vietnam on Aug. 14, 1965.

JOHN NANCE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade is photographed after a morning firefight with Viet Cong patrol in July 1966.

NEIL ULEVICH/ASSOCIATED PRESS

University of Wisconsin students march Oct. 17, 1967, to protest the war in Vietnam and the recruitment efforts on campus of the Dow Chemical Company, which made napalm, a flammable gel that burned its victims. They marched again the following day.

about the Vietnam War, as writer Viet “You know: ‘Shh, we don’t talk about that.’ Thanh Nguyen has said, we think only Our country did that with Vietnam. It’s about ourselves. For our film, we did not only been very recently (that we) are finally want to repeat that mistake. We wanted to starting to say, ‘What happened?’” hear from our allies and our enemies — the For more than a decade, we have Vietnamese soldiers and civilians we fought immersed ourselves in this complicated, with, and against. epic tragedy and have tried to see the We got to know many brave and resilient war with fresh eyes and from many Vietnamese Americans who came to the perspectives. Nearly 100 ordinary people United States as refugees, having suffered generously shared their stories with us on the unimaginable loss, not just of families, camera: grunts and officers in the Army friends and comrades, but of their country. and Marines, prisoners of war, a fighter They spoke honestly about the brutality of pilot and a helicopter crew chief, a Gold Star the conflict, and their doubts about whether mother and the sister of a fallen soldier, a the Republic of South Vietnam under the nurse, college students, reporters, anti-war leadership of Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen activists, military analysts, spies and many Cao Ky had been strong others. enough to survive. “Thieu First and foremost, and Ky were corrupt,” we wanted to honor the Saigon native Phan Quang heroism and sacrifice of Tue remembered. “They those who served and those abused their position. … We who died. “It’s almost going to make me cry,” Army paid a very high price for veteran Vincent Okamoto having leaders like Ky and told us, remembering the Thieu.” infantry company he led To get to know soldiers in Vietnam in 1968. “Their and civilians from the loyalty to each other, their winning side, we made courage under fire, was numerous trips to Vietnam. just phenomenal. And you We were surprised to PBS DISTRIBUTION would ask yourself: How discover that the war ON BLU-RAY/DVD does America produce remains as painful and The Vietnam War is available young men like this?” unsettled there as it is here. on Blu-ray and DVD at While Okamoto and The victorious Vietnamese, shopPBS.org. The DVD and hundreds of thousands too, avoid speaking about Blu-ray extras include a of other Americans were what happened and have 45-minute preview program, fighting overseas, hundreds not reckoned openly with two special segments on the of thousands of their fellow the horrific price they paid. citizens back home were For Bao Ninh, a Hanoi-born contemporary lives of two of taking to the streets to try foot soldier who later the program’s participants to put an end to a war that became a celebrated noveland deleted scenes. The a majority of Americans ist, his country’s triumphal series is also available for eventually believed was narrative of the conflict digital download. unnecessary, unjust, rings hollow: “People sing unwinnable or simply not about victory … liberation,” in our country’s best interest. As anti-war he told us. “They’re wrong. … In war, no activist Bill Zimmerman recalled for us, one wins or loses. There is only destruction. “People who supported the war were fond Only those who have never fought like to of saying, ‘My country right or wrong.’ … argue about who won and who lost.” Those sentiments seemed insane to us. We As this wrenching story reminded us don’t want to live in a country that we’re at every turn, there is no single truth in going to support whether it’s right or wrong war. The questions we began with led to … so we began an era in which two groups deeper questions. What does it mean to be of Americans, both thinking that they were a patriot? Who was right? Who was wrong? acting patriotically, went to war with each Were the sacrifices in blood and bone too other.” high? Could it have turned out differently? In the 50 years since, the chasm that What meaning can be made from so much opened during the war has widened and suffering? deepened. So many of the troubles that Americans have argued about the beset us today — alienation, resentment, rectitude of the Vietnam War for nearly disillusionment and cynicism; mistrust of half a century. But if we can listen to each our government and each other; breakdown other with open minds and open hearts and of civil discourse — these seeds were sown allow more than one truth to obtain, we during the Vietnam War. Until we can talk, can finally have a courageous conversation not shout, across this divide, the virulent about this unsettled, traumatic event, and disunion that afflicts us will continue to learn some profound lessons about courage, metastasize. conscience, loyalty, resilience, forgiveness Far too often, when Americans think and, ultimately, reconciliation.


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PAINFUL MEMORIES Veterans keep close eye on PBS documentary on Vietnam War Despite the often painful memories evoked by the 10-part, 18-hour PBS documentary on the Vietnam War, many veterans watched. The graphic and engrossing project by filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick took viewers through the French colonization of Vietnam in 1887 to the fall of Saigon in 1975. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) warned that the series could be difficult for veterans to see. “It definitely could trigger a reaction for someone, particularly someone who has combat experience, and particularly a Vietnam veteran,” said Laura Tugman, a psychologist and assistant chief of mental health services at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, N.C. “One of the things that can be a trigger is sounds, and the documentary has the sounds of that era, the helicopters from that era.” Sometimes, that’s all it takes to bring a veteran back to the battlefield. To this day, Arden, N.C., resident Max Hurley jumps a bit if someone claps him on the back unexpectedly. Loud sounds can do the same. “You don’t ever want to do that to a Vietnam veteran,” said Hurley, was stationed in Saigon for 12 months starting in August 1964. He lived through three bombings and was shot at, despite working in the relatively placid public information office, typically dealing with young reporters like ABC’s Peter Jennings. Hurley said the first few episodes of the documentary did not trigger any truly disturbing memories. “It’s disturbing because it’s about the war,” said Hurley, 75. “But you see a lot of that same stuff — shootings, beheadings — in the movies these days.” Pensacola, Fla., resident Lenny Collins, a Marine who served in Vietnam in 1970, drove a fuel supply truck in Vietnam along the treacherous route known as Highway 1, a frequent target of enemy rocket and sniper attacks. Many of his fellow Marines didn’t make it home from the dangerous assignment. “I’m glad I’m watching because some of the history, especially in the beginning, was stuff I

TONY GIBERSON/PENSACOLA (FLA.) NEWS JOURNAL

Vietnam Army veteran Ron Smith stands near a 5-ton gun truck he built based on the one he drove while serving in Vietnam. He maintains that the difficult lessons of Vietnam should never be forgotten. wasn’t real familiar with,” said Collins. Years after the war, Collins led the effort to bring the only permanent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to Pensacola. The Wall South, at Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park, will mark its 25th anniversary this year. Collins knew watching the documentary would bring back a lot of painful memories. “To me, it seems like Vietnam was just yesterday,” he said. But the film filled some gaps in his understanding of the war. “A lot of my friends died before I got there, and I want to know what happened at certain places where they were,” he said. The film takes viewers through the war battle by battle, explaining the political and military decisions behind the engagements on both sides of the conflict. “It gives the big picture, a panoramic view of

the war and not just your little part,” said Steve Hatfield, a former naval flight officer who served as bombardier and navigator in an A-6 Intruder that flew off the aircraft carrier USS America from 1971 to 1973. Hatfield and pilot Clif “Spanky” Graf were in the last A-6 shot down during the war, just three days before the Paris Peace Accords were signed. Both were rescued. The difficult lessons of Vietnam should never be forgotten, and the film helps to preserve those lessons, said Army veteran Ron Smith, who served two tours in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. “We had no business sticking our nose into another people’s civil war, especially when they were not going to fight to the same extent that we were going to fight,” Smith said. — Melissa Nelson Gabriel and John Boyle


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CHIN NA NORTH VIETNAM HANOI ANO

LAOS

H Hon Gai Haiphong H

Thanh Hoa T

Vinh V

GULF OF TONKIN

Dong D ng Hoi

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Quang Qua Q ang Tri Hue H Da Danang D

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Note: Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

VIETNAM


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AR’ DOCUMENTARY

A CHRONOLOGY OF AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT MAY 7, 1954 Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces defeat the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, effectively ending the 7½-year Indochina War.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

JULY 1954 At a conference in Geneva, world powers agree to a divided Vietnam. Communists, led by Ho Chi Minh, control the North. The United States eventually supports an anticommunist government led by Ngo Dinh Diem in the South. SEPT. 10, 1960 Le Duan replaces Ho Chi Minh as general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. NOV. 8, 1960 John F. Kennedy defeats Richard Nixon in the U.S. presidential election; Lyndon Johnson becomes vice president. DEC. 20, 1960 Southern revolutionaries, backed by North Vietnam, form the National Liberation Front, known in Saigon and Washington as the Viet Cong. JUNE 11, 1963 Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sets himself on fire in Saigon to protest h repression in South Vietnam, sparking r outrage around the world and bringing o attention to the developing conflict. a

NOV. 2, 1963 President Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu are killed during a coup by dissident generals of the South Vietnamese Army.

JAN. 31, 1968 In the Tet Offensive, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops launch surprise attacks against targets throughout South Vietnam.

NOV. 22, 1963 Kennedy is assassinated, and Johnson is sworn in as president.

FEBRUARY 1968 In the ancient imperial capital of Hue, communist forces execute at least 2,800 people, mostly South Vietnamese civilians.

AUG. 2-4, 1964 A confrontation in the Gulf of Tonkin leads Johnson to seek congressional approval for direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. MARCH 8, 1965 First Marines land in Danang.

MARCH 16, 1968 Over the course of four hours, American soldiers kill more than 500 unarmed civilians in and around the hamlet of My Lai. MARCH 31, 1968 Johnson announces he will not run for re-election. NOV. 5, 1968 Nixon is elected president, promising to end the war in Vietnam.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NOV. 14-18, 1965 In the Ia Drang Valley, American troops fight their first large-scale battles against the North Vietnamese Army. APRIL 15 AND OCT. 21, 1967 Hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters gather for demonstrations in New York and Washington, D.C.

OCT. 15, 1969 The first Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, a series of mass demonstrations across the United States, takes place; a second happens on Nov. 15.

Protesters at the United States Capitol in 1969

FEB. 8 - MARCH 25, 1971 The South Vietnamese launch Operation Lam Son 719 against North Vietnamese forces in Laos. The mission is a failure, resulting in a hasty retreat. MARCH 30 – OCT. 22, 1972 The Easter Offensive invasion by North Vietnamese forces is successfully repelled by South Vietnamese forces. JAN. 27, 1973 A cease-fire agreement is reached between U.S. and North Vietnam. U.S. POWs begin to return home. MARCH 29, 1973 Last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam.

APRIL 30, 1975 Saigon falls. NOV. 13, 1982 The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington, D.C. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

NOV. 3, 1969 Nixon goes on television to call for national solidarity on the Vietnam War effort, appealing to a “silent majority” to support his policies. ASSOCIATED PRESS

STF/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

AUG. 9, 1974 Nixon leaves office.

SUMMER 1967 TO SPRING 1968 U.S. forces face relentless attacks from the North Vietnamese in remote “border battles” at Dak To, Con Thien and Khe Sahn. The North’s aim is to draw troops away from cities in the South ahead of the Tet Offensive.

Dak To, 1967

MALCOLM BROWNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

MAY 4, 1970 Four days after Nixon announced the expansion of the war into Cambodia, National Guard troops fire on protesters at Kent State University in Ohio. Four students are killed and nine wounded.

JULY 1995 Under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. normalizes relations with Vietnam.

SOURCE: Florentine Films and USA TODAY research. Edited by USA TODAY.


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DOCUMENTING DESTRUCTION

It was 30 years before the time felt right for these filmmakers to explore the Vietnam War, and it took another decade to do it properly

F4 Phantom jets rain bombs on unspecified targets over North Vietnam in December 1965. This photo was taken prior to the halt of airstrikes on Dec. 24, 1965. The Air Force and Navy sent planes against two targets in North Vietnam on Jan. 31, 1966, ending the lull that began on Christmas Eve.

PROVIDED BY THE U.S. AIR FORCE/ASSOCIATED PRESS; JASPER COLT/USA TODAY

By Matt Alderton

F

OR AMERICANS WHO GREW up learning social studies, watching Jeopardy! and playing Trivial Pursuit, history is supposed to be about answering questions. For documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, however, the point of history has always been to ask them. That’s especially true with respect to their latest film series, The Vietnam War,

which premiered in September on PBS. Barely a minute into the first episode, Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes articulates the burning question to which Burns and Novick have devoted 10 episodes and 18 hours. “For years, nobody talked about Vietnam,” said Marlantes, a former Marine Corps officer. “It was so divisive. It’s like living in a family with an alcoholic father: ‘Shhh! We don’t talk about that.’ Our country did that with Vietnam, and it’s

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

only been very recently that the baby boomers are finally starting to say, ‘What happened? What happened?’” Because there has never been a consensus answer, Burns and Novick spent the past decade asking it of witnesses and historians. The resulting piece of cinematic scholarship is not only a monument to art and history, but also a testament to the hard work that is filmmaking. “We don’t have an agenda; we’re just umpires calling balls and strikes,” Burns said.


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South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, executes Nguyen Van Lem on a Saigon street Feb. 1, 1968, early in the Tet Offensive. Lem, the captain of a terrorist squad, had just killed the family of one of Loan’s friends. “If you hesitate, if you didn’t do your duty, the men won’t follow you,” Loan said. Photographer Eddie Adams/ Associated Press

Several hundred people, including students from Boston University, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, march down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston on Oct. 16, 1965, to attend a rally on Boston Common protesting the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Photographer Frank C. Curtin/ Associated Press

THE RIGHT TIME Of course, Burns has made war documentaries before: 1990’s The Civil War and 2007’s The War, about World War II on the homefront. This time, however, there’s a personal connection, as Burns experienced the Vietnam era as an adolescent in Ann Arbor, Mich., where his father taught at the University of Michigan. “I didn’t go to the University of Michigan, but the campus there was a hotbed for anti-war demonstrations and unrest,” said

Burns, who co-directed The Vietnam War with Novick and co-produced it with her and longtime collaborator Sarah Botstein. “One of the war’s first teach-ins occurred in the anthropology department there in 1965. My father worked in that department … so I was very much aware of the war and followed it closely.” Although Burns was not drafted — he turned 18 in 1971, two years before the draft ended — the war still left a deep and lasting impression. So much so that he has

long wanted to make a film about Vietnam. Because the wounds were so fresh, however, the timing never seemed right. “We’ve been talking about doing something with Vietnam for as long as I’ve known Ken,” Novick said. “The Vietnam War was the most important event in American history since World War II. So being as interested as we are in American history, we felt we had to go there at some point. But when Ken and I started working together in the late ’80s, the war was still

“This was a very traumatic, difficult and painful moment in American history, and we as a country have never really dealt with it.” — Lynn Novick, filmmaker

relatively recent. We wanted to wait for more time to pass.” In 2006, as they were finishing The War documentary television mini-series, they decided the time was finally right. It had been three decades since Vietnam ended. “Since the fall of Saigon, we have gained massive new scholarship and the ability through our contacts to access Vietnam — including not only the physical country, but also its archives and, most importantly, its human beings,” said Burns, who began shooting the film in 2010, after four years of preproduction. “That made now an ideal time to make this film.” Timing is one reason Burns and Novick tackled the Vietnam War. Patriotism is another. “This was a very traumatic, difficult and painful moment in American history, and we as a country have never really dealt with it,” Novick said. “Our hope was that we could delve into it, try to understand it, put the pieces together in an organized way and perhaps help our country talk about something it really needs to talk about.”

FINDING FACTS

Because The Vietnam War is equal in length to 10 feature films, putting the pieces together to weave it into a compelling story was a herculean effort, Novick said. “A film like this requires an enormous amount of research,” said Novick, whose team of about 30 reviewed approximately 100,000 still photographs, thousands of hours of video footage, 1,000 musical tracks, countless sound effects and hours of presidential audio recordings. “We have a team of producers, associate producers and researchers that spent six years combing archives around the world, building relationships with individual photographers, people who lived through this experience and have their own personal collections, archivists at presidential libraries, and archivists at the world’s most respected photo houses and commercial CO N T I N U E D


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On a hillside in South Vietnam’s Long Khanh Province (now Dong Nai), Army Spc. Ruediger Richter, left, and Sgt. Daniel Spencer wait for a helicopter to retrieve the body of Pfc. Daryl Raymond Corfman. Smoke from a grenade that Richter threw shrouds the background. Photographer Pfc. Paul Epley/ Army paratrooper

BY THE NUMBERS The Vietnam War film series took 10 years to produce. It consists of 10 episodes totaling 18 hours. It’s scheduled to be broadcast in 35 additional countries this fall.

Under sniper fire, a Vietnamese woman carries a child to safety as U.S. Marines storm the village of My Son, near Danang, as they search for Viet Cong insurgents in April 1965.

DOCUMENTATION The production team reviewed archival materials (photos, footage and audio recordings) from 13 countries. The film includes 2,000 photos and seven hours of archival footage.

Photographer Eddie Adams/ Associated Press

news organizations so we could have access to all that raw material, which then had to be thoughtfully collected, organized, cataloged, labeled and tagged so we could find it and ultimately license it if we needed.” Then there were interviews with veterans and witnesses: Their personal contacts referred more than 1,000 people to the film’s producers, who ultimately interviewed 100 of them on camera — 79 of them made it into the film. “Just finding the people and figuring out who to talk to took us the better part of two years,” Novick said. The intensive research extended to writer Geoffrey C. Ward, who said he used

INTERVIEWS More than 1,000 witnesses in the United States and Vietnam were interviewed. 79 interviews are shown throughout the series; 29 interviewees are Vietnamese or Vietnamese-American.

1,000 books as source material for the script and for The Vietnam War: An Intimate History, a companion book co-authored with Burns. Archival materials and interview subjects came from both the United States and Vietnam, where producers got perspectives from North and South Vietnamese that only recently became available to American scholars. “This is a war, which means there’s two sides,” said Burns, who also interviewed Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and even former Viet Cong guerrillas, in pursuit of a holistic story that stands in stark contrast to Hollywood portrayals of the Vietnam War in films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon

and Born on the Fourth of July. “It’s really important not to demonize the enemy and turn them into faceless things. … We’ve got a complicated story to tell, and presenting different points of view allows us to paint a more complete picture.” The Vietnam War argues neither in favor of the war nor against it. Thanks to an advisory panel of veterans and historians, it’s an objective look at history. “Because we’ve created a space in which all these disparate points of view can coexist, it doesn’t matter what your politics are. ... This film is for everybody and will hopefully remind us all to have the kind of civil discourse that we’ve forgotten how to have.”

SOUNDTRACK Nearly 120 songs from the Vietnam era are featured. ORIGINAL MUSIC Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed and recorded 17 original themes. Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble recorded 15 songs or themes. Compiled by Florentine Films

MOLLY RILEY/ASSOCIATED PRESS


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Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, 1963

SOUNDTRACK TO AN ERA

ROWLAND SCHERMAN/GETTY IMAGES

Music mirrored deep, conflicting emotions of Vietnam War

By Matt Alderton

O

N THE BATTLEFIELD, THE Vietnam War was just as shrill as the wars that came before it. But because of rock ’n’ roll, it also had a sound all its own — at times joyful, sad, angry, hopeful, woeful, inspiring, fearful and forgiving. Sometimes — in The Beatles’ 1970 song Let It Be, for example — even peaceful. “Music is the fastest art form there is.

Two notes, and you feel something,” said Ken Burns, who co-created The Vietnam War documentary film series, broadcast on PBS, with partner Lynn Novick. Music plays a lead role. “The music of the time is a character in the film,” said co-director Novick. “It helps you understand the experience of people living through the Vietnam War better than almost anything else.” In truth, music isn’t one character in the film, it’s three: The Vietnam War: The

Soundtrack includes popular music from the period, an original score by Academy Award-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and interpretations of traditional Vietnamese melodies arranged and recorded by Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble. Each adds something special to the 10-part documentary series, the sounds of which make Vietnam reverberate in CO N T I N U E D


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es Ray Charl

, 1964 The Be a

tles, 19

America’s eardrums just as loudly today as it did 50 years ago.

LICENSED TO ROCK

Retired four-star Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak talks about music’s key role in the cultural revolution that coincided with the war, in the opening of the series’ eighth episode. “The late ’60s were a kind of confluence of several rivulets,” remarked McPeak, a fighter pilot who flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam. “There was the anti-war movement itself, the whole movement towards racial equality, the environment, the role of women. And the anthems for that counterculture were provided by the most brilliant rock ’n’ roll music that you can imagine.” Meanwhile, The Beatles’ 1968 song While My Guitar Gently Weeps plays hauntingly in the background, the phrase “I look at the world, and I notice it’s turning” bleeding from George Harrison’s vocals. That’s the kind of musical synergy Burns and Novick sought. They achieved it with the help of 120 licensed tracks from the Vietnam era. “While there’s popular music in other films we’ve made, this was on a very

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different scale,” said Sarah Botstein, who co-produced produced The Vietnam War with Burns and nd Novick. Acquiring the rights to use music ic for the film — songs such as Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and the Rolling Stones’ tones’ Gimme Shelterr — took five years. Among the record companies that joined the project was Universal Music Enterprises, which licensed music from The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and many others for the film and its soundtrack album. “This specific project was brought to us by Jeff Jones of (The Beatles’ corporate entity) Apple Corps, who had no special involvement, but had seen some of the documentary and sensed the importance. He wanted The Beatles to be included in the production and on the album — which, if nothing else, shows you the significance of this series, since The Beatles have never previously licensed their music for soundtracks,” said Universal Music Enterprises president and CEO Bruce Resnikoff. “Knowing how important music would be to the telling of the Vietnam story, we knew we had to be their music partner.” Because he grew up during the Vietnam

era, Tom Rowland, the executive vice president of film and TV music at Universal Music Group Group, was especially enthusiastic. “I had a cousin who was a Marine who lived with us between tours of duty when I was 12. He didn’t talk a lot about the war, but he turned me on to the music of the era,” he said. “He would talk about the life of a soldier. I was a big war buff, and I’d always pictured guys marching off to war with their guns. What was shocking and surprising to me as a kid was finding out that these guys didn’t just have guns; they had d guitars, and they’d sit around and play music during their downtime. Music was incredibly important to them. Hearing it was like getting postcards from home.” Music was as influential with pro-testers as it was with service members, ers, and producers consulted both groups ps in CO N T I N U E D

lin, 1969 Janis Jop ASSOCIATED PRESS; JOHN PRATT/HULTON ARCHIVE VIA GETTY IMAGES; ASSOCIATED PRESS


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12. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, The Temptations 13. Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience 14. I’m A Man, The Spencer Davis Group

CD 1 1. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan

15. Green Onions, Booker T and The MG’s

2. Hello Vietnam, Johnnie Wright

Jimi Hendrix, 1967

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

the course of assembling the soundtrack. “We interviewed 100 people, 80 of whom are in the final film. Before we started selecting tunes, we asked every single one of them to tell us what their 10 favorite songs from that time were,” said Botstein, who added that songs’ placement in the film corresponds with their release — songs in an episode about 1969 were actually on the radio in 1969. Such fidelity to the music helps explain why legendary artists wanted to participate in The Vietnam War, Rowland said. “It’s one thing to go watch Baby Driver and hear a classic song as part of the background. It’s another thing to see the music in the original context of how it was heard,” he said. “The way they approached this film made being part of it an easy decision,” said John McDermott of Experience Hendrix, which manages the estate of Jimi Hendrix. Several Hendrix songs were licensed for the film after the artist’s sister, Janie Hendrix, spent a day previewing it with Botstein. “We saw right away that it wasn’t about trading on famous names; it was about understanding what actually went on during that era. And Hendrix certainly was a part of that.”

THE VIETNAM WAR The Soundtrack

Because of the musician’s iconic performance of The Star-Spangled Banner on the electric guitar at Woodstock in 1969 — a commentary on America that was simultaneously scathing and celebratory — some might even call him a symbol of it. “Young people always looked at Jimi as one of the leaders of that era,” McDermott said. “We’ve heard from countless people over the years who said he made an incredibly difficult experience more endurable. For that reason alone, this project really resonated with us.”

SETTING THE MOOD The film’s original score, composed by Reznor and Ross, is a surprising complement to the likes of Hendrix and Dylan. A discordant potpourri of severe guitars, menacing synthesizers and intriguing percussion, it’s restless, raw, anxious and austere — just like the war was. “Our film changed profoundly when we began working with Trent and Atticus,” said Novick, who approached the pair after hearing their score for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Along with Burns and Botstein, she shared with them some of the film’s raw footage; sound effects from the era, like helicopter rotors; and a list of feelings

they wanted the music to convey — fear, love, panic, confusion, guilt, alienation, despair, adrenaline. Composed over two years, the score consists of 17 “themes” with titles like The Forever Rain, Counting Ticks and Haunted. “We wanted original music that would amplify, enhance and explain the emotional moods of the film; the music they created does that in ways we can’t possibly understand,” Novick said. Cellist Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble achieve a similar effect with their contribution: a collection of traditional Vietnamese folk songs rearranged and reinterpreted during a daylong recording session that also yielded several improvisations used in the film. “Sitting in the studio and watching Yo-Yo Ma and this group of musicians create art on the spot was one of the great joys of this project,” Novick said. “They gave us some truly remarkable music.” With 18 hours of footage, there’s no shortage of things to see in The Vietnam War. Clearly, however, the viewers who understand the war best will be those who listen as intently as they watch. “We’re very fortunate,” Burns concluded. “It’s one hell of a soundtrack.”

16. Strange Brew, Cream

3. It’s My Life, The Animals

17. Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (live), Pete Seeger

4. Eve Of Destruction, Barry McGuire

18. A Whiter Shade Of Pale, Procol Harum

5. Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season), The Byrds

19. The Lord Is in This Place, Fairport Convention

6. Masters Of War, The Staple Singers

20. For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield

7. Mustang Sally, Wilson Pickett 8. Smokestack Lightnin’, Howlin’ Wolf 9. Backlash Blues, Nina Simone 10. The Sound of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel 11. One Too Many Mornings, Bob Dylan

CD 2 1. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, Bob Dylan 2. Piece Of My Heart, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Janis Joplin 3. Magic Carpet Ride, Steppenwolf

5. The Letter, The Box Tops 6. Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival 7. Soul Sacrifice, Santana 8. Okie From Muskogee, Merle Haggard and The Strangers 9. The Thrill Is Gone, B.B. King 10. Psychedelic Shack, The Temptations 11. Ohio, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 12. Get Together, The Youngbloods 13. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones 14. Tail Dragger, Link Wray 15. America The Beautiful, Ray Charles 16. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye 17. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel 18. Let It Be, The Beatles

4. Tell the Truth, Otis Redding

1. Less Likely

10. Counting Ticks

2. Four Enclosed Walls

11. A World Away

3. The Forever Rain

12. The Right Things

4. Remnants

13. Passing the Point

5. Other Ways to Get to the Same Place

14. Strangers in Lockstep

6. Torn Polaroid 7. Before Dawn

15. Before and After Faith

8. What Comes Back

16. The Same Dream

9. Justified Response

17. Haunted

THE VIETNAM WAR Original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

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PAST IS PRESENT C

By Thomas Maresca OLORFUL PROPAGANDA POSTERS AND vintage war-era relics decorate a downtown cafe in Ho Chi Minh City — the former capital of South Vietnam. Young waitresses in olive drab fatigues and military caps serve coffee and smoothies to tourists and locals. The vibe at Cong Caphe, a franchise that describes itself as “a hipster cafe and lounge of Vietnam,” is tongue-in-cheek, a playful look at the imagery of the past and a far cry from solemn memorials nearby, such as the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace, where the fall of Saigon had its final act April 30, 1975. To many of the young patrons here on a summer afternoon, Cong Caphe isn’t a place to reflect on the war, but simply a cool place to hang out. “I like the atmosphere,” said Dang Duc Khiem, 27, an educational consultant. “The vintage dècor reminds me of my childhood. When I come here, I’m not thinking about the war.” That attitude seems to reflect the nature of memory here in Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, which has become an increasingly international hub, buzzing with commerce and development. Stepping out the doors of the cafe is to encounter a city that feels light-years removed from the images of war: a nonstop whir of traffic and construction cranes as high-rise office towers and condominiums, glitzy malls and new infrastructure projects spring up in every direction. From McDonald’s and Starbucks to craft beer watering holes and artisanal pizza restaurants, this city of 8.5 million has fully joined the ranks of other fast-growing Asian metropolises. The unbridled consumerism on display has left more than a few wondering which side truly “won” the war that ended more than 40 years ago. The hammer and sickle symbol of communism can still be seen, but it is far outnumbered by Nike swooshes and the interlocking C’s of the Chanel logo. Even so, behind the increasingly polished surface, many say the war still exerts a gravitational pull, that even as Vietnam races to the future, it has yet to truly reckon with the past.

Behind the sparkle of its rapidly developing economy, Vietnam has yet to heal its painful divisions

DIVISIONS ENDURE

A boat on the Saigon River passes in front of the Ho Chi Minh City skyline. THOMAS MARESCA

In Vietnam, divisions remain between those who were loyal to the North and the South. The one-party system that emerged from the war maintains control over large segments of the economy, with rampant corruption and a form of crony capitalism that can limit opportunities for all but the well-connected. Free expression remains extremely limited, and Vietnam ranks far down the list in terms of human rights.


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Retail stores like Chanel and Cartier dot Ho Chi Minh City’s landscape. THOMAS MARESCA

Many in the older generation say a true reconciliation between the two sides has never even been attempted. “Vietnam is still divided,” said 78-yearold Nguyen Huu Thai, an architect and author who worked undercover for the National Liberation Front, known as the Viet Cong, during the war. “It is not very unified in spirit.” Among younger Vietnamese, the old wartime gulf is not felt as keenly, but they are taught only a propaganda version of history that leaves a kind of vacuum, said Nguyen Dang, 26, an associate communications professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Ho Chi Minh City. “Young people seem to have no context or very little context about recent history,” she said. “It’s not like everyone has to think about the history of the nation in order to have any sort of

identity, but I can’t help but wonder — even myself, when I come to think of an identity as a Vietnamese — what materials do I draw on? I’m not quite sure.” Some are trying to bridge that gap with the past. Researcher Phan Khac Huy, 33, offers a historical walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City called “Saigon Then and Now.” It traces the city’s development from the French colonial era through the war and into the present day. He said many Vietnamese who take his tour are deeply unfamiliar with the history of the city. “Some of the younger generation, they’re not confident about where they’re from,” he said. Huy started the tour in the hope that understanding history will help younger Vietnamese better address the country’s growing pains as it continues to develop. “The consequences of what we are

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese study abroad each year. The concern at home is that many won’t return, creating a “brain drain” that will deprive the country of its most talented young people. facing now comes from history,” he said. “We want to help people understand what happened in the past in order to improve the country in the right way. We want them to understand the roots of the problems, and to stay here to solve the problems together.” Yet for many Vietnamese, the temptation to leave for greener pastures abroad is strong. “Vietnam is developing, it should be heaven for startups, but that’s just on the

surface,” said Hoang Mai Anh, 30, who recently moved to Vancouver for graduate studies in business administration. “We millennials talk about this so much. In theory, a developing country should have many niche markets, and people should have many chances. But those chances are only for the people with a lot of connections. It looks easy and fair at first, but just try it, and you will see a lot of CO N T I N U E D


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‘THE VIETNAM WAR’ DOCUMENTARY Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, aka “Mother Mushroom,” was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June for defaming the Communist regime on her blog.

EPA/VIETNAM NEWS AGENCY

“There is no such thing as freedom of expression here. ... You can’t sing and play your guitar on the street or organize a private show in your own house without having to first ask for permission.” — Mai Khoi, Hanoi-based pop singer

(challenges).” Tens of thousands of Vietnamese study abroad each year. More than 30,000 are in the U.S., meaning a country with an average income of more than $2,000 a year is America’s fifth largest source of international students. The concern back home is that many of them won’t return, creating a “brain drain” that will deprive the country of its most talented young people. The government seems to recognize the brain drain problem and has begun a sweeping crackdown on the corruption that has claimed high-profile targets both inside and outside the government and pushed citizens to leave. Although party

factions have criticized the campaign for being politically driven, it is widely popular with the public.

A PLUGGED-IN PEOPLE

At the same time, the growth of internet access and the spread of social media have driven the emergence of a more politically active and informed segment of the population than Vietnam has seen. Facebook in particular is a rollicking forum for dialogue, debate, satire and information that goes unreported in traditional state-run media. Journalist and blogger Huy Duc, whose 2012 book The Winning Side is one of the few Vietnamese-language accounts

to take a critical look at the end of the war and its aftermath, said he is starting to see a change in Vietnam. While his book remains banned in Vietnam, it is widely accessible online, and he said he encounters readers wherever he goes in the country. “No matter how open the government is, the Vietnamese people have many ways to access the truth,” he said. “I think the government is smart enough to know that.” The government has recently begun pushing back, however, calling for tighter controls on the internet. President Tran Dai Quang said in a recent article on the government’s official website that Vietnam needs to find ways to address “hostile forces” that have been using websites and blogs “for posting toxic content and organizing campaigns to blacken the reputation of leaders of the Party and State.” The country has also been arresting and prosecuting high-profile bloggers in recent months, including Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Mother Mushroom,” who received a 10-year prison sentence in June that drew condemnation from several

governments and human rights groups. “There is no such thing as freedom of expression here, not in any meaningful sense, anyway,” said Mai Khoi, a Hanoibased pop singer who has become one of the most outspoken critics of the government. “You can’t sing and play your guitar on the street or organize a private show in your own house without having to first ask for permission.” Her band, Mai Khoi and the Dissidents, has been banned from performing in public. In July, a private show in Hanoi was raided and shut down by police. And yet, at a location like Cong Caphe, it is hard to not also appreciate the strides Vietnam has made. From the country’s war-torn past, a solid middle class is emerging, and the country remains one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. The bigger questions are how fast and how far Vietnam will go and what type of society it will ultimately become. To many, at least part of the answer will have to start with an honest look backward. “We can’t find a path to the future without understanding the past,” said Duc.


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NEW DOCUMENTARY HIGHLIGHTS PROGRAM THAT GIVES VETERANS NEW LENS ON LIFE By Kristen A. Schmitt


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RTILLERY FIRE, BOMBS AND explosions contradict the sun-dappled water tumbling beneath California’s Dumbarton Bridge in the opening scene of Visions of Warriors, a documentary that follows four veterans as they participate in a revolutionary photography therapy recovery program for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and those with mental health conditions. For most Americans, wars are something they read about in newspapers or magazines, but for those who have experienced the battlefields and trauma firsthand,

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SHARING STORIES Marine Corps helicopter pilot Mark Pinto is one of four veterans who used photography to share their experiences in Visions of Warriors.

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PASSION PROJECTS Filmmaker and photographer Ming Lai, right, holds a photo album of images taken by Air Force veteran Gail Matthews, left.

returning to civilian life isn’t as easy as turning the page. Wars have left their mark on service members. And for thousands of veterans, these wars have turned into personal battles. Ming Lai, the filmmaker behind Visions of Warriors, threads the stories of war and rehabilitation in a way that non-veterans can relate to. The film, set to be released on Veterans Day (Nov. 11), knits together Lai’s longstanding interests in conflict, war and photography, creating a storyline aimed at understanding the complex layers that shape a military veteran. “Several years ago, while I was looking through a photography website, I came across an article about Susan Quaglietti and her Veteran Photo Recovery Project (VPRP),” Lai said. He’d been researching war trauma and photography while preparing to work on a narrative film about a photojournalist who had PTSD from his exposure to conflict and war. He was immediately intrigued. “Susan’s project was the exact opposite (of mine). She was using

photography as a way to heal PTSD. I immediately contacted her about doing a documentary about her project.” Quaglietti had been running the program alone since 2012 from the VA health facility in Menlo Park, Calif., where she has worked as a cardiology nurse practitioner for more than 35 years. She agreed to the documentary, eager to show Lai — and the rest of the world — that her innovative therapeutic intervention program has helped some veterans. For three years, Lai interviewed multiple veterans and others who worked with Quaglietti and VPRP: art therapist Jeff Stadler, clinical social worker Ryan Gardner and clinical psychologist Kristen McDonald. Sifting through hours of video, Lai crafted a film that he hopes will raise awareness about Quaglietti’s program and bring another recovery option to light. “We really wanted to create this diverse representation of the military veteran experience ... men and women of all different ages, all ethnicities, backgrounds, war conflict periods as well as badges


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REFLECTIONS Veteran Ari Sonnenberg sits in for a self-portrait as part of his Veteran Photo Recovery Project portfolio.

RESEARCH Cardiology nurse practitioner Susan Quaglietti started the Veteran Photo Recovery Project to use photography to help heal PTSD.

Photography therapy allows people to think about a new way of expressing difficult emotions and thoughts.” SUSAN QUAGLIETTI

ARI SONNENBERG; HUMANIST FILMS

of service,” said Lai. The film follows four veterans — Mark Pinto, Homerina “Marina” Bond, Ari Sonnenberg and Priscilla “Peni” Bethel — as they share their haunting stories of war, trauma and the winding road to recovery. Other veterans play supporting roles, rounding out the cast of characters into one that veterans from nearly every era of war or military branch can identify with. Yet, the story doesn’t focus on the hopelessness of their personal demons, which can be generally categorized as PTSD, moral injury, depression and military sexual trauma. Instead, Lai shifts the story to Quaglietti and VPRP, highlighting her treatment and revealing how it can complement evidence-based treatments and give veterans a different way to reconnect with their self-worth and dignity. “There’s a stigma that there’s something weak about a veteran who is asking for help,” said Quaglietti. “If you were a soldier, you should be able to get your bootstraps on and just get over it. Move

on. We have to get over that stigma and that attitude.” On screen, raw emotion filters across each veteran’s face as they share their stories, their diagnoses, their triggers and what they feel they’ve lost while decked out in civilian clothing. The documentary also highlights how veterans use Quaglietti’s photography therapy program to express themselves and connect with one another. “One group really resonated with one another,” said Quaglietti. “Vietnam veterans and the Iraq-Afghanistan veterans — because they’re both dealing with combat and a long war — were communicating about similar issues during the workshop. Even though it was different wartime periods, they were able to discuss their experiences and specifically what PTSD meant to them in a visual way.” Lai said that being entrusted with the stories of these incredible veterans was inspiring and that veterans who have attended the CO N T I N U E D


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RESILIENCE Priscilla Bethel, who served in the historic U.S. Women’s Army Corps during the Vietnam War era, prays at a chapel at the VA health facility in Menlo Park, Calif.

screenings have been very “warm and responsive.” “People were visibly emotional after watching the film because they had family members who are veterans or are still in the military,” said Lai. “They said that it connected with them on a deeper level.” During the six-week clinic, participants learn basic photography terminology and camera skills, discuss imagery and take photos. For many, photography feels less intimidating than drawing, painting or sculpture. Quaglietti noted that photography language mirrors the language used in recovery. For example, focusing on your issue/focusing the camera and framing the issue/framing the photo. “Photography therapy allows people to think about a new way of expressing difficult emotions and thoughts,” said Quaglietti. “Some people have a harder time expressing themselves with verbal dialogue; for others, it’s a distraction technique because they can just focus on taking the photo and let go of the other stuff like hypervigilance and anxiety.” For their final project, participants assemble a six-photo portfolio, present it in front of peers, family and friends, and explain why

they selected these photos to represent who they are. “I made the presentation a mandatory component of the class because some of the veterans have social isolation issues,” said Quaglietti. “To get up in front of an audience so someone can not only bear witness to your creative expression, but also to hear your story — that’s really powerful.” Those in the workshops said that Quaglietti has helped them by giving them a voice. Amanda Smith, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and participated in VPRP in 2016, said that the program helped her rediscover her self-worth. Smith met Quaglietti while she completed the Women’s Trauma Recovery Program at the Menlo Park VA campus. “A lot of my pictures focused on the sense of hope, worthiness and light,” said Smith, adding that, like many veterans, she suffered from hypervigilance and preferred to remain isolated. Her desire to embrace the photography skills taught in the clinic allowed her to live in the moment and take another step toward recovery. “A lot of veterans are experiencing some sort of trauma and a lot CO N T I N U E D


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USING PHOTOGRAPHY TO HEAL

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n photography therapy, participants take photos to explore emotions and experiences that they have trouble verbalizing as a step toward mental health recovery. “We’re not really treating people in the sense that they’re going to a specific therapeutic counseling group or individual counselor,” said Susan Quaglietti. “It’s a therapeutic intervention.” Quaglietti, who continues to research and analyze data from participants in the Veteran Photo Recovery Project (VPRP) to illustrate the benefits of this alternative recovery program, has written a paper, “Using Photography to Explore Recovery Themes with Veterans,” which is pending publication in the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. In it, Quaglietti discusses specific photography therapeutic benefits, such as using photography as a distraction technique for those who deal with hypervigilance as well as fostering camaraderie as a way to bring participants out of self-imposed isolation. Her hope is that through her continued research and publication in academic media, other VA recovery programs will consider incorporating photography therapy. “People want evidence that this works,” said Quaglietti. “You need veterans to want to do it, but you also need proof that this is worthwhile.” This push for proof is what drives Quaglietti to continue her research. — Kristen A. Schmitt

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RECOVERY Homerina Bond, top photo, looks at one of her many medications in the bathroom of her home. The Marine Corps veteran is featured in the film Visions of Warriors.

of times you can’t put words to that,” said Smith. “Conventional forms of therapy do help, but sometimes having a creative aspect to that therapy and literally having pictures of beautiful things that you’ve experienced is a visual reminder that not everything is doom and gloom.” Smith, who recently started working as a health technician for the Homeless Veterans Rehabilitation Program, is proof that photography therapy is an important piece of the recovery puzzle. “It’s amazing how far I’ve come in two years and much of it is because of people like Susan, who are willing to take a risk,” said Smith. “Recovery can be fun, and it can be creative.” Where does this leave Quaglietti and VPRP? Currently, the program is only offered at the Menlo Park VA center. “What I’ve realized is that I want other veterans to understand that there’s additional ways to process their mental health challenges and recovery,” said Quaglietti. “For those that may need a different avenue, this may be an option. Now, it’s not yet universally available throughout the VA system, but we’re trying. We’re working on it.”

HUMANIST FILMS

WHERE TO WATCH Visions of Warriors premiered in March at the Vail Film Festival in Vail, Colo., and will be officially released on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. To watch the film, head to Amazon Video on Demand, Apple iTunes, Google Play or Vimeo on Demand or, if you’re interested in hosting a screening, visit visionsofwarriors.com/store to purchase a screening license package.


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BROTHERHOOD OF THE

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Explosive Ordnance Disposal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the military. One group is trying to help EOD techs, veterans and their families cope with all that comes with it. By Carmen Gentile

IT’S A JOB UNLIKE ANY OTHER. While the front lines of battle are often perilous, not every mission is a potentially deadly one. But for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, every bomb buried in a road or an undetonated artillery shell can mean dismemberment or death. Tackling some of the most dangerous work — and willingly putting themselves in harm’s way — EOD techs are specially trained to disarm improvised explosive devices (IEDs), neutralize chemical threats and handle biological and nuclear weapons. And it’s not just about bombs — techs are also skilled in parachuting, diving and collecting forensic evidence. Assigned to some of the most dangerous missions worldwide, and put in extremely harrowing and demanding scenarios, the stresses that come with being an EOD tech are unimaginable to most. While

techs often use robots to defuse bombs remotely or wear full-body suits made of anti-ballistic material capable of protecting the wearer from most shrapnel and smaller blasts, it won’t save a tech from an explosion meant to destroy a large armored vehicle. Day after day, often over the course of several deployments, the high pressure, stress and anxiety caused by doing such dangerous work can build up and eventually tear down the toughest men and women. If that weren’t enough, the posttraumatic stress that frequently plagues both active and retired EOD techs is often coupled with physical injuries associated with the job. Working with explosives, these specialists can experience traumatic brain injury (TBI), loss of limb or internal organ damage because of concussive blasts.

Recently retired Army Lt. Col. Paul Kopelen knows the hurt associated with the job all too well. The former commander of the 303rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion was briefly knocked out during a deployment to Iraq by a concussive blast during a controlled detonation of an explosive. He also experienced at least a dozen concussions during other operations throughout his six combat deployments. His injuries, coupled with seeing many fellow EOD techs severely injured or killed in the line of duty, resulted in Kopelen returning home to Virginia in 2010, changed in ways his wife and children couldn’t ignore — and weren’t equipped to deal with. “I would get angry more easily and was CO N T I N U E D


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Air Force and Slovakian explosive ordnance disposal technicians set up a controlled detonation in 2013 in Afghanistan.

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just generally irritable,” he said. Kopelen was also no longer passionate about former hobbies like scuba diving — or even just spending time with his family. The troubling changes prompted his wife, Rebecca, to seek help for her husband. She found it in the EOD Warrior Foundation, a Florida-based national nonprofit group that, in addition to providing financial assistance to both active-duty and veteran EOD techs and their families, also helps with the transition to life back home. The foundation sponsors national retreats where EOD techs and their families can come together and discuss their shared frustrations, losses and concerns about the future. And there are many who need their help. According to the foundation, there are currently more than 7,000 EOD techs serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Kopelen found solace in the gatherings.

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“They provided me with the ability to reach out without judgment,” he said, recalling sessions with clinicians and other techs where they shared their common experiences, painful memories of lost comrades and their own injuries. The foundation has proved popular with the EOD community, drawing some 20,000 active-duty personnel and veterans who rely on its services, including educational scholarships that range from $1,000 to $5,000 for two- and four-year regionally accredited degree programs, other forms of financial assistance and the emotional and mental support to grapple with the aftermath of doing such a dangerous job. Nicole Motsek, the foundation’s executive director, said that while every EOD tech has a distinct perspective and set of challenges when returning from the CO N T I N U E D

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT The foundation is asking people to take part in the EOD 130 Memorial Workout (eodwarriorfoundation.org/offsite-workouts). The workout requires a $35 registration fee and is intended to raise awareness about what EOD techs do by having participants wear a 20-pound vest or body armor — similiar to ones worn by technicians — while working out. The Tackitt Family Vineyards offers wines through its EOD Cellars. Profits from the wine sales benefit the EOD Warrior Foundation. On Nov. 14, the foundation and the vineyards will host a Wine Makers Dinner at the Eagle Watch Clubhouse, 3055 Eagle Watch Dr., Woodstock, Ga. Learn more at eodwarriorfoundation.org/events.

EOD technicians perform some of the most dangerous work to keep others from harm.

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Brian Reed

“When another EOD tech gets killed, it hits close to home because we know that could have been us.” — Timothy Colomer, former EOD tech front lines, there are a handful of ailments common in the community, such as posttraumatic stress and TBI as well as injury to life and limb. But treatment isn’t limited to EOD technicians. “We’re also addressing how (injuries) affect the whole family unit,” said Motsek, who is married to an Army EOD technician who has deployed multiple times. “We know that the struggles they come home with are often too much and that it affects their lives and their families’ lives.” For the EOD Warrior Foundation, providing help is sometimes a race against time. While the foundation doesn’t know the exact number of EOD techs who have died by suicide (in part because it

is often difficult to tell whether someone died accidentally or intentionally and because there is not an adequate tracking system), stress has taken its toll on the community. EOD Warrior Foundation officials know from anecdotal reports that suicide numbers among EOD veterans have reached a crisis level. “For those family members (who have) lost loved ones to suicide, we want to make sure that they know that they are as important to us in this community as everyone else,” Motsek said. Among those EOD techs who have taken their own lives was Army Staff Sgt. Brian Reed, who died last year after a prolonged battle with depression. Brian’s death left his brother, Aaron

Reed, saddened, angry and confused, but also seeking the comfort of others who experienced similar loss. Aaron attended a retreat through the foundation in May for White Star families — those who have lost a veteran to suicide. “You enter the retreat knowing that you are going to have some very similar experiences of the people there,” Aaron said. One of the common experiences shared is how many of those techs who committed suicide were seemingly happy, even jubilant, right before they died. Aaron recalls how Brian’s wife told him that his brother had been extra nice to family and friends — “everyone to the dogs on down” — right before his suicide. When the parents of another EOD tech who died by suicide shared that they too had a similar experience with their son, Aaron realized he wasn’t alone in his loss. “From then on, my family has grown by 20 to 30 people. And now I can talk to them just as I would with any family member,” he said. “You hear that one little tidbit and you say, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what my brother, my son, my father did.’” Connecting with others through the foundation also made Aaron want to share his experience: “Not just for me, but to help someone else make their first step.” That feeling of wanting to pass along what you’ve learned is common at the foundation, said Mostek, noting how CO N T I N U E D

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several of those who attend the retreats are now “ambassadors” for the organization, raising support for and awareness about the foundation in their hometowns. Among them is Timothy Colomer, a former Marine Corps EOD tech who was wounded when his armored vehicle struck an IED in Iraq. In addition to injuries to his spine and internal organs, Colomer also has post-traumatic stress that contributed to memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. He first learned about the foundation while volunteering to visit with injured soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “I’d go there just to play cards and tell stories,” said Colomer. “It was just as therapeutic for me to hang out with other EOD guys.” Through the foundation, he was able to connect with other veterans who weren’t as hurt as those recovering in the hospital. “I have a lot of survivors guilt — a lot of the guys in EOD do,” he said. “The injuries that EOD techs get are often catastrophic, multiple amputations or we die. When another Timothy Colomer EOD tech gets killed, it hits close to home because we know that could have been us.” Through therapy and continuing conversations with those in the groups, Colomer has been able to confront that guilt and recognize that the loss of fellow EOD techs wasn’t his fault. “I had to be told that it wasn’t my fault that all these guys were injured or killed,” he said. “That kind of guilt isn’t grounded in any kind of reality,” he said. “It’s never going away, but I understand it better now.”

PREVENTIVE MEASURES

EOD Warrior Foundation seeks answer to suicide crisis among military bomb techs

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anelle Hackett knew her husband was angry when he came home from tours serving as an explosive ordnance disposal technician in Iraq. But she didn’t know he was suicidal. “When my boys and I would tell him that he had a problem and needed help, he would say that we were the ones who had the problem,” said Hackett. Her husband, Marine Maj. Jeff Hackett, fatally shot himself in 2010. Danelle said her husband blamed himself

for the deaths of each of his 16 colleagues killed on bomb disposal missions he led in Iraq. “Each time a tech was killed with an IED, he would go out to the scene before it was cleaned,” she said. “What he saw was like a movie that played nonstop over and over.” Struggling to find answers to the high number of suicides among current and former U.S. military bomb techs like Jeff, directors of the EOD Warrior Foundation came up with

simple cards that might make a difference (see below). Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber of Columbia University directs the Columbia Lighthouse Project, which is devoted to finding ways to prevent suicide, and she helped to develop the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale, used to formulate the questions on the cards. Similar cards have been proven to make a difference. — Melissa Nelson Gabriel

CHECKING IN The cards (eodwarriorfoundation.org/ace-cards) include a list of six questions to gauge whether someone is suicidal and whether they need help: „ Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up? „ Have you actually had any thoughts about killing yourself? „ Have you thought about how you might do this? „ Have you had any intention of acting on these thoughts of killing yourself, as opposed to you have the thoughts but you definitely would not act on them? „ Have you started to work out or worked out the details of how to kill yourself? Do you intend to carry out this plan? „ Have you done anything, started to do anything, or prepared to do anything to end your life?

PROVIDED BY TIMOTHY COLOMER


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SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED Groups that go the extra mile to support veterans and their families By Ken Perrotte

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NSURING AMERICA’S VETERANS, ESPECIALLY those injured while serving their country, aren’t forgotten is a timehonored, if sometimes neglected, obligation of society. The Department of Veterans Affairs is the governmental organization tasked with delivering support, but veterans and their families have varied and long-term needs. Many private organizations are dedicated to enhancing that effort. There are more than 45,000 nonprofit charities related to military personnel and veterans that are registered with the Internal Revenue Service. Some are small, one-person operations, while others function on a grand scale, focusing on many areas. Here’s a look at three that are making a difference:

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PROVIDED BY BOB WOODRUFF FOUNDATION

The Bob Woodruff Foundation, including Bob Woodruff, third from right, joined the Walking With The Wounded’s Walk of Britain expedition, a 1,000-mile trek in 2015 in which injured British and American veterans walked across the United Kingdom to generate awareness of issues faced by injured and ill service members and veterans.

BOB WOODRUFF FOUNDATION

STEFAN RADTKE/BOB WOODRUFF FOUNDATION

Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with Bob Woodruff.

Television journalist Bob Woodruff was covering operations in Iraq for ABC’s World News Tonight on Jan. 29, 2006, when the armored vehicle he was riding in struck a roadside bomb, nearly killing him. Woodruff sustained a life-threatening, traumatic brain injury. He spent 36 days in a medically induced coma at the naval hospital in Bethesda, Md. “I’m very lucky to be alive and owe everything to the quick actions of the soldiers we were with, and the medics, nurses and doctors who treated me as if I was one of their own,” Woodruff said. Recovering in Bethesda, he and his wife, Lee, got to know the wounded service members on his floor and their families. “They had experienced the same challenges I did and accepted me as part of their tribe — for which I’m forever grateful,” Woodruff said. “When I left the

hospital, I was determined to focus the attention away from me and my wounds, to tell their stories and to ensure that they have the resources they deserve.” In 2006, he created the Bob Woodruff Foundation (bobwoodrufffoundation. org), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting post-9/11 veterans and their families in all 50 states. The foundation partners with nonprofits, corporations, the military and the government to award grants. In May, the foundation announced $3.3 million in grants to 32 nonprofits. The foundation’s executive director, Anne Marie Dougherty, said they’ve invested more than $45 million to “find, fund and shape the most innovative programs supporting returning veterans.” The foundation team researches and analyzes trends to find gaps and needs among the military and veterans community, including families and caregivers, she added.

While many of the grants are to organizations, the foundation also helps individuals. One specific example is an in vitro fertilization funding program, designed to complement government efforts and further support the 1,500 to 2,000 service members who sustained genitourinary injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq. The foundation is focused on ensuring “veterans are well served throughout their lifetimes,” Dougherty said. Its grants broadly address employment and education, rehabilitation and recovery and quality of life needs, which are evolving, she added. For example, “This year, we’ve begun what we’re sure will be a multiyear emphasis on addressing the legal needs of veterans as well as the critical shortage of mental health care providers who are CO N T I N U E D


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appropriately qualified to serve the military and veteran population,” she said. The foundation also pioneered the National Veterans Intermediary (nvi. org), created to help the many nonprofit, educational institution and government agency programs designed for veterans to best leverage people, money and programs. Better information sharing is at the heart of the issue, organizers said. On the governmental side, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with cooperation from the VA and the Department of Labor, manages the National Resources Database (warriorcare.dodlive.mil/nrd), which lists many nonprofit organizations grouped by support specialty. But, Dougherty noted, “The network of military and veterans services provided by all of these stakeholders remains complex, fragmented and difficult to navigate, resulting in access and outcomes that are highly variable across and within our country’s communities. “The NVI is focused on coordinating the vast, complex array of veteran efforts across the country; and serves as a catalyst to build bridges across all military and veterans services and harness their often untapped potential.” Dougherty said the Woodruffs regularly lend their voices to promote the needs of service members, veterans, families and caregivers — as much today as when they founded the organization. “The work that we’ve done with our foundation, I think, is the most satisfying, fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Woodruff said.

FISHER HOUSE FOUNDATION

FISHER HOUSE FOUNDATION

The Fisher House Foundation provides free housing for families, like Luke Bryant’s, who was able to have his wife and daughter with him during medical treatment. Elizabeth Bryant smiles at her dad at the Fisher House of the Emerald Coast on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

“Until the day I die, I will give back to Fisher House, because without Fisher House allowing us to be there to provide that family support, there’s no way my son would have healed as much as he has healed. Family love and support is the key to all of this.” — Maureen Crabbe, mother of injured Marine Justin Crabbe

The first days and weeks after a military member is severely wounded can be devastatingly stressful to his or her family. Care frequently takes place at military medical centers far from their hometowns. During early stages of inpatient treatment, the military can fund travel for up to three family members to provide support. But once service members transition to outpatient status, that support decreases to one person. This can prove difficult for families with young children or those who want to stay together as treatment and therapy progress. So, the Fisher House Foundation (fisherhouse.org) provides housing for families at no charge while their solider, sailor, airman or Marine recovers. Fisher Houses debuted in 1991 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Walter Reed Army Medical Center (then in Washington, D.C.), after prominent

developers and philanthropists Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher were told about the need for temporary lodging facilities for families. They have expanded throughout the United States, opening near military and VA medical centers. The newest facilities just opened in Germany and the United Kingdom. There are 72 Fisher Houses located on 24 military installations and at 29 VA medical centers. Several more are in the design and construction phases. Today, the Fishers’ grandson, Kenneth Fisher, oversees the foundation. “On any given night, up to 950 families can be staying at a Fisher House,” said Kerri Childress, foundation vice president of communications and Navy veteran. Fisher Houses provide support to more than 28,000 military and veterans’ families annually, Childress said. More than 305,000 families have benefited since the foundation’s inception, saving an estimated $360 million in out-of-pocket costs and providing a comforting and compassionate environment as they care for their loved ones. Retired Marine Corps Cpl. Justin Crabbe faced months of painful treatment and recovery following the August 2011 roadside bomb blast that took both of his legs. His family traveled from southern California to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, now in Bethesda, Md., wanting to ensure he was never without their support. He spent 13 weeks as an inpatient at a facility before transitioning to a small apartment for outpatient therapy. Under military rules, one caregiver can stay in the apartment with the wounded warrior, but Crabbe’s mother, Maureen, said, “As critically wounded as my son was, I wasn’t ready to send my husband and daughter home.” That’s when they heard about Fisher House, which Maureen called a “dream come true.” “Instead of being in a hotel room, you were part of a community of people going through similar experiences,” she said. “Until the day I die, I will give back to Fisher House, because without Fisher House allowing us to be there to provide that family support, there’s no way my son would have healed as much as he has healed. Family love and support is the key to all of this.” Childress called the work between Fisher House, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the VA a model public-private partnership. She said both government organizations CO N T I N U E D


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Arizona Department of Veterans' Services For Arizona veterans and those who care for them. Arizona is home to

600,000

veterans with accredited Veteran Benefits Counselors across the

$4 million

distributed from the Arizona Military Family Relief Fund to help veterans and families in need

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$40 million a month in Veterans Affairs (VA)

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The catalyst in response to the evolving needs of Arizona's veterans and their families

15,000

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The Arizona Roadmap to Veteran Employment has placed

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work together to advise Fisher House of the most immediate needs. Fisher House staff then conducts site visits. If a location is approved, the government turns over the land to Fisher House, which takes over construction. This speeds the process because Fisher House isn’t encumbered by the sometimes onerous contracting regulations government agencies must follow. “We can usually build a house within nine months,” Childress said. “We completely furnish it so that it’s turnkey and then turn the house and land back over to the VA or DOD, which then owns and operates the Fisher House.” Fisher House sponsors annual training for the house managers, bringing them to a central location to network and share information, problems and solutions. “Fisher Houses are so much more than a free place to stay. That’s important, but the families bond in a way that would never happen if they were in hotels. They support one another, cry on each other’s shoulders, celebrate the good times. I’ve heard many families talk about friendships they made that last a lifetime,” Childress said. “It’s a place where families heal, too.”

GARY SINISE FOUNDATION

If ever there was an example of an actor experiencing a life-changing moment after playing a fictional character, it’d be difficult to top that of Gary Sinise and his powerful portrayal of Lt. Dan in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump. The character, while fictional, illustrates the range of difficulties and emotions wounded service members endure and the struggles many face trying to resume some semblance of their former lives. “Coming from a family of veterans, I felt a terrible sorrow at a young age at what happened to our Vietnam veterans when they came home from war,” Sinise said. “So, in the ’80s, I began to try to support them locally in Chicago. In the mid-’90s, after playing the injured Vietnam veteran in Forrest Gump, I began to support our wounded veterans, and shortly after the attacks of 9/11, 2001, with our nation deploying troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, these early efforts grew into a full-time commitment to try to ensure that our defenders always know they are appreciated.” Those efforts evolved into the Gary Sinise Foundation (garysinisefoundation. org). Established in 2011, it focuses on four pillars: Education and Outreach, Relief and Resiliency, First Responder Outreach, and R.I.S.E., which stands for Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment. Judy Otter, the foundation’s executive

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director, said the R.I.S.E. program consumes most of the nonprofit’s resources, with much of the money allocated to building homes. Each home features automated amenities to ease challenges faced by wounded or disabled veterans. The program also provides adapted vehicles and mobility devices. Some homes are built new while others are modified to meet the veteran’s needs. Retired Army National Guard Master Sgt. John Masson and his family are beneficiaries of one such home. Masson was a 20th Special Forces Group soldier when he was severely wounded in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province in 2010. His home in Southern Pines, N.C., was custom-built for him, thanks to Building for America’s Bravest, a R.I.S.E. partner, and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. “Living with a disability can cause much stress, as I encounter obstacles multiple times on a daily basis out and about, throughout the world,” Masson said. “In our home, I can get through every hallway, into every single room, and out every single entry and exit with ease and with no help, whatsoever.” The smart home includes a kitchen with retractable cabinets and shelving, and the home has transfer benches and no carpeting, making it easier for Masson to get around in his wheelchair. “There is absolutely no other place that can compare to the comfort of our home. No five-star hotel, no other specially adapted home and no mansion,” Masson said. Otter praised the foundation’s wide range of national partners, which provide furniture, wood flooring, roofing materials and more. Sixty-one homes have been completed or are underway. “We tend to add eight to 12 new home recipients a year, and we like to have at least two-thirds of the project funds in place before we begin work on a home. Site acquisition, design and construction typically spans 18 months,” she said. Otter said the foundation is also expanding its Soaring Valor program, begun in 2015. Somewhat similar to Honor Flights, where World War II and Korean War veterans are flown to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials for free, the Sinise Foundation trips are to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. While there, a historian documents the veterans’ firsthand accounts of the war on video. In 2017, Soaring Valor started pairing veterans with high school students who CO N T I N U E D

GARY SINISE FOUNDATION

Gary Sinise poses with retired Army Master Sgt. John Masson and his family, who live in their specially adapted smart home in Southern Pines, N.C.

JULIA ROBINSON/GARY SINISE FOUNDATION

During a dedication, Marine Sgt. Michael Frazier checks out his new North Carolina smart home, built for his family by the Gary Sinise Foundation.


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VETTING CHARITIES

Research helps ensure donations benefit vets

JULIA ROBINSON/GARY SINISE FOUNDATION

The Lt. Dan Band, onstage at the Invincible Spirit Festival at Fort Belvoir, Va., in August, performs around the world, including combat zones, military medical centers and more. accompany them on a trip, providing a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience. Otter said the program concept was forged when Sinise took an elderly uncle, who flew 32 combat missions in WWII, to the museum. On a smaller scale, Sinise’s foundation also directly helps veterans, first responders and their families in times of urgent need by providing cash grants, typically between $250 and $5,000. They also work with graduates of Veterans Treatment Courts, a program set up by individual states to handle cases of veterans who may be having transition difficulties or issues with drugs and alcohol and often need help instead of punishment. “When they go through a veterans court program, they can get these violations expunged from their record and gain a new lease on life. We work with these courts around the country to help them once they graduate. Sometimes they need help with food, fuel or family child care. Relief and resiliency grants can help,” Otter said. One of the foundation’s most visible components is the Lt. Dan Band (ltdanband.com), a 12-member group that features Sinise on the electric bass. The band, formed in 2003 to entertain

troops, performs around the world, including combat zones, South Korea, Guantanamo Bay, military medical centers and more. The band also plays at Invincible Spirit Festivals, daylong events that feature cookouts by celebrity chef Robert Irvine and activities for the whole family. Sinise is heavily engaged in the foundation’s work. Otter estimates Sinise spends at least 150 days a year doing foundation work. “He’s not in the office every day, but that’s because he’s on the road a lot,” she said. “Our original donor was Gary. He paid all the startup costs associated with beginning the foundation. We’ve moved from one donor to more than 35,000 donors. It’s his passion, and I think people realize that, and is one reason why so many veterans, active duty and first responders like being around him. He wants them to know that we appreciate them and their families.” Otter said Sinise is fond of using the President Calvin Coolidge quote at foundation meetings: “The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” Sinise added, “We can never do enough for those who sacrifice to defend our freedom, but we can try our best to do more by reaching out and extending a supportive hand when needed.”

Veterans today have many avenues of support, but navigating the incredible maze of nonprofits can be difficult. Many are big, national efforts, while others serve local needs. Some do an incredible job of delivering donated program dollars on target, ensuring their mission focus is on providing actual services, versus staging fundraisers or creating bureaucracies and well-paying jobs and perks for the staff. When trying to determine what charity can best serve you, a good place to start is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which wants to be a primary resource for veterans as they transition from active service. “It is important for veterans to first access all VA and government benefits, services and supports they have earned through their service to our country, said VA spokesman Randal Noller. “Nonprofit and private-sector services can often complement government services where gaps exist or services are challenging to access, such as rural locations.” Veteran-support charities cover a wide range of needs, such as matching wounded and disabled veterans with companion and service animals. Other charities

may be military or veteran-family directed, providing scholarships for children of the wounded or fallen, or helping with financial emergencies. There are those that assist with legal issues, support groups, job training and placement and more. Their reach is broad. More than 45,000 nonprofits devoted to veterans and their families are registered with the IRS, making it difficult to select the most credible. Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) uses a four-star system to rate tax-exempt charitable organizations that meet certain monetary and longevity thresholds. To be rated, an organization must provide seven years of financial reporting using the full IRS form 990 nonprofit tax return. Another reputable site is GuideStar (guidestar. org), which awards bronze, silver, gold and platinum ratings based on an organization’s financial transparency. “We believe transparency is closely correlated to the effectiveness of an organization,” said Gabe Cohen, GuideStar’s senior director of marketing and communications. “Look for clear and open communication.” Donors used to be advised to look at the ratio comparing a

charity’s overhead costs to the services it directly provides. Cohen said that high overhead ratios can be a red flag, but aren’t always definitive. “We advise potential donors to research the organization and find out exactly how the nonprofit is making a difference,” he noted. For example, advocacy organizations, such as some related to veterans courts, may have higher ratios than a direct service organization. Cohen also warns against making immediate contributions over the phone. He finds this particularly applicable to charities for veterans: “Ask them to mail you something. Research it. Think about it. If you’re convinced this organization is making a difference, go ahead and give. But, don’t be reactive in your giving. Be proactive. If you don’t feel comfortable with an organization, there’s probably a good reason for it.” Noller said that beyond donating to nonprofits, people may want to donate time or resources via the VA’s Office of Voluntary Services (www.volunteer.va.gov). Support is always welcomed at local VA medical centers, veteran centers, communitybased outpatient clinics and cemeteries. — Ken Perrotte


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HEALTH & HEALING After years of serving in Iraq, Nigel McCourry experienced such severe posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms that he thought of taking his own life.

MIKE BELLEME/SPECIAL TO THE (ASHEVILLE, N.C.) CITIZEN-TIMES

‘IT’S NO PARTY’

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy helps veterans with PTSD By Patricia Kime

T

HE SUNNI TRIANGLE IN Iraq in 2004 was completely hellish: Nigel McCourry’s Marine Corps’ unit, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, saw at least four members die and 154 wounded in engagements from Mahmudiya and Fallujah to Zaidan. McCourry, then 23, was a lance

corporal assigned to a weapons platoon. After a roadside bomb exploded near a vehicle he was in, he felt “distinctly different” — experiencing bizarre nightmares, survivor’s guilt, insomnia, intense anger and anxiety — changes he thought would go away but eventually became part of him. He sought medical help, was diagnosed with a personality disorder and booted

from the Corps. It took seven years before he received his actual diagnosis from the VA: post-traumatic stress disorder. “It was a burning in the back of my brain that would flare up whenever it wanted to,” McCourry said. “I drank a lot of alcohol. The only way I could fall asleep was to basically pass out.” CO N T I N U E D


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HEALTH & HEALING In 2012, McCourry’s sister saw a news report about a small study taking place in Charleston, S.C., that used MDMA, known to most as the party drug ecstasy or molly, to facilitate psychotherapy for PTSD. McCourry called. At the time, he had just started graduate school at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., and knew that the cocktail of drugs he’d been prescribed by the VA — an antidepressant, sleeping aids and an antipsychotic — along with talk therapy, weren’t working. He even had thoughts about taking his own life. “I was starting to fixate on the idea. It was bad,” McCourry said. He was selected for the study and traveled to Charleston to work with Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist who had conducted MDMA psychotherapy with numerous patients, and Mithoefer’s wife, Ann, a nurse who assisted with the treatment. The therapy included taking 75 milligrams of pharmaceutical-grade MDMA in the morning, resting quietly for a while — an opportunity to “focus inward” McCourry said — and then talking with the Mithoefers until late afternoon. He then spent the night at the research facility, monitored by a specially trained medical professional. “After the first session (with MDMA), I noticed an immediate improvement in my sleep. I hadn’t slept straight through the night for nearly nine years,” McCourry said during a phone interview from his home in Portland, Ore., where he works as a chemist. “Then came this sense of self-forgiveness.” McCourry is not alone in finding relief MULTIDISCIPLINARY ASSOCIATION FOR PSYCHEDELIC STUDIES (MAPS) from a street drug known more for causing The nonprofit group Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies is testing the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. euphoria and joy. In research studies, more than 120 military veterans, first responders According to the National Institute of Drug decline in symptoms, they no longer fit Although small studies have been and sexual assault victims with PTSD have Abuse (NIDA), its use can cause negative the clinical definition for having PTSD. And conducted on MDMA’s effects on PTSD seen a decline in their symptoms following after effects, including irritability, depresfollow-up exams a year later found these since 2011, with the FDA’s approval, a standard three sessions of MDMAsion, anxiety and memory issues. Other patients continued to be symptom-free. MAPS, the sole backer, will move ahead assisted psychotherapy. And in August, the physical side effects can include nausea, “The results are extremely promising,” with a significant phase Food and Drug Adminsweating or chills, seizures, kidney failure Mithoefer said. of research — Phase 3 istration designated it a and panic attacks. According to McCourry, the experience clinical trials, which “breakthrough therapy” With its complex influence on the brain, helped him discover the reasons behind look at the effectiveness — clearing the way for With MDMA’s scientists and researchers want to tread the sensations he had been feeling, without of the medication additional research complex influence carefully in legalizing it for medicinal use. any anxiety: “As I focused on an issue, it in larger groups of and the fast track for “While fatal overdoses on MDMA are rare, would just vanish.” patients. The research, potential approval as a on the brain, they can potentially be life-threatening,” Because MDMA releases a rush of the which will take place in prescription drug. scientists and noted NIDA, a branch of the National feel-good neurotransmitter seratonin, it nearly a dozen locations “This would be Institutes of Health. can neutralize anxiety and emotional denationwide, will include medicalization, not legalresearchers want Doblin emphasized that the drug would fense mechanisms, allowing users to think at least 230 patients and ization, of MDMA,” said to tread carefully only be offered during therapy and is and talk through their trauma without fear, counselors trained by the Rick Doblin, executive not a take-home cure for PTSD. “This is Mithoefer explained. MDMA also causes an Mithoefers and others. director of the Multiin legalizing it for something that would only be offered increase in norepinephrine and dopamine “We are concerned disciplinary Association medicinal use. in specialized clinics under controlled — neurotransmitters known for increasing that the rollout be done for Psychedelic Studies circumstances,” Doblin said. energy and alertness. The drug also carefully,” Doblin said. (MAPS), a nonprofit In 2016, 583,000 veterans were treated appears to decrease activity in parts of the “This has the potential research and educational for PTSD from the VA. Standard treatment brain associated with emotions, which may to help those who have organization and the includes cognitive processing therapy, help dull responses to negative emotions been suffering from PTSD for decades.” research sponsor. “There is such a concern prolonged exposure therapy and eye and memories, according to researchers at According to Michael Mithoefer, one of about veteran suicide … and so many movement desensitization and reprocessthe Imperial College of London. the studies showed that 61 percent of 107 patients with PTSD are treatment resistant, ing, along with drug therapies. Currently, MDMA is not without its risks, however. participants reported such a significant that this is seriously being considered.”


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HEALTH & HEALING substance use disorders, is associated with two prescription antidepressants — Zoloft suicide. and Paxil — are the only two medications With veterans ages 18-24 taking their approved by the FDA to treat PTSD. lives at four times the rate of their nonAlthough standard treatments — psychoveteran peers, alternative therapies need to therapy or medication or both — are efbe explored, said McCourry. fective for many patients with PTSD, there Following the three remain several barriers to sessions, McCourry says care, including difficulhe is not completely ties in getting timely symptom-free but is appointments at the VA, “(After MDMA now equipped to handle low treatment adherence flare-ups of anxiety or rates and, in the case treatment) I noanger. He is repairing of the FDA-approved ticed an immediate relationships bruised by medications, low efficacy more than a decade of rates. (One study found improvement in uncontrolled PTSD, he that while antidepresmy sleep. I hadn’t said, though he has no sants are associated with desire to take MDMA a response rate of 60 slept straight recreationally. “(The percent in PTSD patients, through the night therapy) is no party,” he only 20 to 30 percent of said. “It’s really difficult, those achieved complete for nearly nine but worth it.” remission.) According to MAPS, The FDA reserves the years.” the next phase of the “breakthrough therapy” — Nigel McCourry research is expected designation for medicato start in spring 2018 tions that “demonstrate after more therapists are substantial improvement trained to facilitate the over existing therapies” counseling. Doblin, who has been raising and treat a serious or life-threatening funds to support MDMA research since disease or condition. 1986, called the recent developments and PTSD is a debilitating condition and for planned trial “remarkable.” some veterans, it’s life-threatening. Several “What the FDA has really demonstrated studies have noted that PTSD, either alone is that it is choosing science over politics,” or when diagnosed alongside other mental Doblin said. health conditions, including depression and

MULTIDISCIPLINARY ASSOCIATION FOR PSYCHEDELIC STUDIES (MAPS)/CALEB HELLERMAN

Dr. Michael Mithoefer and his wife, Ann, a nurse, conduct MDMA psychotherapy with numerous patients who have PTSD and said the results are “extremely promising.”

GETTY IMAGES

HIGH HOPES

Advocates continue to push for medical marijuana as treatment for PTSD MDMA is not the only illicit drug that the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research (MAPS) is supporting as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The group is sponsoring a $2.1 million study in Arizona to determine whether marijuana can help manage the symptoms of PTSD. But the research, conducted at the Scottsdale Research Institute by Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist, has faced a number of problems: it took five years for it to receive federal approval; Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore withdrew its participation, citing differences in research goals; and it is struggling to secure the required 76 veterans to participate. As of October, it had enrolled only 28 veterans. MAPS Executive Director Rick Doblin said his group has been pushing for the marijuana research to provide veterans more options. Since 2007, the group Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access has lobbied for the broadening of medical marijuana laws to help veterans with a variety of illnesses, including PTSD. And last year, the American Legion, which represents 2.4 million members, called on Congress to support research on marijuana’s use for treating PTSD. Doblin maintains that marijuana is a “palliative treatment” and not a cure, but says his group still supports the research. “It may help veterans manage their condition. But it’s like alcohol — it mainly just masks the problem.” Sisley remains committed to determining whether marijuana helps ease PTSD symptoms for combat veterans, many of whom have suffered since the Vietnam War. She was instrumental in swaying the American Legion to support research and has pushed the VA to help find participants. “I grind every day to make sure this study is successful,” Sisley told the Arizona Republic. “I want people to understand I am not an activist. I am a scientist. The only thing I care about is collecting objective data and getting that data in the public domain.” — Patricia Kime


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HEALTH & HEALING

NEXT-GEN PROSTHESES

Veterans are on the forefront of testing innovative artificial limbs that could change amputees’ lives

By Gina Harkins

W

HEN ARMY SGT. JAMES “JP” McGuire Jr. used his own belt as a makeshift tourniquet after his right leg was nearly destroyed by an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq in 2007, he briefly thought he might not make it home. Now a decade later, the retired McGuire can be found chasing after his two kids, hitting the golf course or sparring with the high school wrestlers he coaches — all using a new prosthetic leg that connects directly to his femur. “My life has 100 percent turned around,” said McGuire, who previously used prostheses that attached to a socket that fit over his remaining limb, but found them so uncomfortable and cumbersome that he often went without using them for most of the day. “It took me about 20 minutes to put my leg on in the morning with the socket and another 10 minutes to take it off. Now it’s as quick as five seconds.” McGuire is one of 10 veterans to get a titanium implant surgically inserted into the bottom of the femur as part of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trial at a Veterans Affairs center in Salt Lake City. The ground-breaking device is called a percutaneous osseointegrated prosthesis,

or POP, implant and it gives amputees the ability to attach artificial limbs directly into their bodies. The study is just one way the VA is working to improve the lives of amputees. The VA routinely teams with the Department of Defense, universities and privatesector companies to test and develop new prostheses and orthotics (external braces). Those partners are leveraging 3-D printing, virtual-reality platforms and complex robotics to develop artificial limbs that feel and act more like natural extremities. Roughly 14,000 patients receive a new prosthesis or have one repaired by the VA each year, according to Dr. Joseph Webster, the national medical director with the Amputation System of Care at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. Amputation is most common among older vets with medical conditions like diabetes or vascular disease, he said. But even if their injuries or illnesses aren’t connected to their military service, veterans typically don’t face any out-of-pocket costs for the devices, he added. Artificial limbs have come a long way in the last 10 to 20 years, Webster said. Part of what prompted the innovation was the more than 1,600 troops who lost hands, arms, legs or feet during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They want to get back to doing higherlevel activities and … lead a relatively normal and active lifestyle,” Webster said. “We have to have artificial limbs that help them to meet those goals.”

INNOVATION FOR ALL

Veterans are often the first to test new prostheses, but if the technology is


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approved, any American in need of an artificial limb can benefit. That has been the case with the DEKA Arm System, a state-of-the-art prosthesis. About three dozen veterans participated in the research for that system, which was developed by the New Hampshire-based DEKA Research & Development Corporation, through funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Designed by Segway creator and DEKA president Dean Kamen, the arm uses a series of sensors and switches that give patients six different grips. Joints allow for several movements to occur simultaneously, so amputees can do near-natural actions that weren’t possible with other prostheses, such as turning a key in a lock, holding a tube of toothpaste or gripping anything from a grape to a glass — all through a wireless control system. The yearslong study resulted in the bionic Life Under Kinetic Evolution, or LUKE Arm, which is now commercially available through Mobius Bionics. The prosthesis was named, in part, for the bionic limb Luke Skywalker sports after losing his hand in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Fred Downs and Artie McAuley, Vietnam War vets who’d each lost all or part of an arm, were the first two veterans fitted with the LUKE arm earlier this year, restoring essential functionality. “I think that’s a good example of how the VA partners not just with the (Defense Department), but also other manufacturers or private industry,” Webster said. Other ongoing VA partnerships include: efforts to restore sensation through prosthetic hands using research from DEKA, Medtronic and numerous universi-

The DEKA Arm System, an advanced robotic prosthesis, can carry out multiple, simultaneous, powered movements, giving the wearer advanced control.

ties; testing new cooling prosthetic sockets that ease discomfort and skin irritation with Vivonics; and developing 3-D printed metal prosthetic fingers with SynTouch, the Alfred Mann Foundation, and others, according to VA officials. McGuire recently had his ninth checkup as part of the yearlong VA study for the POP implant. His 10th and final one is scheduled for December, and if the FDA approves the device, more veterans and civilians could soon swap their prosthetic sockets for new limbs that attach directly to their bodies. Because the study is ongoing, there’s no set time frame for the final FDA approval, but it’s likely several years away, Webster said. The next phase of the research is expected to involve 50 to 60 participants, he added. Webster, who helped get McGuire into the study, said he couldn’t comment further on the ongoing research. But added that the other veterans involved have also seen positive results.

HURDLES REMAIN

Prostheses advancements have proved promising, but Webster said amputees still face a lot of challenges. “JP is a good example of someone who’s been able to get back to doing most of the CO N T I N U E D

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MATTHEW BREITBART/NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HEALTH AND MEDICINE


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HEALTH & HEALING James “JP” McGuire Jr. is one of 10 veterans testing titanium implants that connect directly to the femur.

PROVIDED BY JAMES MCGUIRE JR.

things he’d like to do,” Webster said. “But there are still a number of individuals who struggle and aren’t able to achieve that.” One reason for that is sockets continue to bother many patients. Before McGuire got his new implant, the former Army combat engineer said he tried about 10 different prosthetic legs with sleeve-type sockets that fit over his thigh. “There would be times after a few rounds of golf when my whole stump would be just raw and worn out,” McGuire said. Controlling artificial limbs is another challenge, Webster said. Someone wearing an artificial hand, for example, not only has to think about opening or closing it, but also what they need to do to make the prosthesis move. That might mean flexing their wrist to move the hand, so actions typically require multiple steps, Webster said. “We’re looking at how we can connect this person’s own nervous

system to … the artificial limb,” he said. Another issue is that after the surgery, some patients have reported skin irritation, which can be treated with a topical agent. “There can also be the formation of what is called ‘granulation tissue’ at the skin-implant interface,” Webster said. “This is also usually managed with local treatments, but can require surgery to correct or remove the granulation tissue.” The VA also needs to be able to reach veterans where they live, and that can be difficult — especially for those in rural areas. Webster helps lead a system of care designed specifically for veterans with amputations. The department has designated seven VA medical facilities as regional amputation centers, which allow health care professionals at smaller facilities to consult with experts at their regional amputation center. The department also uses telehealth technology to connect

STRIVING TO MAKE PROSTHESES MORE NATURAL

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

with vets in remote areas. Last year, VA officials had 3,000 telehealth encounters with veteran amputees, Webster said. That means veterans don’t have to travel as far for care. “It provides the veterans the ability to receive care from a highly specialized team of amputation care providers (physicians, physical therapists, prosthetists) when that service is not available at the veteran’s local VA medical center,” said Dr. Joel Scholten, national director of the Veterans Health Administration’s physical medicine and rehabilitation office. (To learn more about telehealth initiatives, turn to page 140.) McGuire urges veterans to talk with their VA doctors about studies or trials that might help improve their lives. He credits his doctors with helping him get back to a “completely normal life.” “They changed in 12 months what I’ve been trying to change about my life for about 10 years,” he said.

Artificial limbs are getting more high-tech, but if they’re uncomfortable, heavy or impractical, amputees won’t bother using them. That’s prompting researchers like Marco Santello and Bradley Greger to help create prostheses that amputees will use in their daily lives. An artificial hand that can play the piano is useless if it weighs too much, said Santello, director of Arizona State University’s school of biological and health systems engineering. “Nobody wants to wear something that’s four times heavier than my regular hand, difficult to control … or will break as soon as it hits the table,” he said. People also want something that looks and feels like a natural body part, added Greger, an associate professor with Santello’s department — not something that’s going to draw a lot of attention. “They don’t want that cyborg-looking robot arm,” he said. “They want normal.” Santello is researching ways to transmit movement, vibration, pressure and temperature from a prosthesis to an amputee’s remaining limb. The nerves that run from a stump to the brain are still intact, he said, so his team implants tiny electrodes to stimulate those nerve fibers to mimic sensations. Greger uses virtual reality to study ways to make prosthetic limbs move. Subjects are given headsets that show virtual limbs where theirs are missing and are asked to complete various movements. “We’re trying to reactivate the part of the brain that controls the limb that’s missing, because that’s all still there,” Greger said. It’s a matter of years — not decades — before people will be able to control artificial limbs through their nervous system channels and receive some sensory feedback, Greger added. “They’ll be able to pick up their child with confidence because they can sense how tightly they’re gripping,” he said. Santello, Greger and their partners receive research funding through the Department of Defense, and they said it feels good knowing their work could someday help veterans. “(Service members) who put themselves at great risk for us and sustain some serious injury, it’s almost a social obligation that we try and provide them the best technology we can to get their lives back to what it was,” Greger said. — Gina Harkins


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Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and President Donald Trump talk with a patient virtually during an announcement to expand telehealth initiatives. EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLOSER CONNECTIONS VA telehealth initiatives improve medical access for veterans

By Cindy Kuzma

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ELEHEALTH — USING TECHNOLOGY to provide care at a distance — can save veterans time and eliminate obstacles to getting to the doctor’s office. And, in some cases, it can save lives, said Ron Acierno, professor and associate dean for research in the College of Nursing at the Medical

University of South Carolina and a senior clinical research scientist at the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charleston. Acierno works with a team of health care providers to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental health conditions, both in person and virtually via videophones or software on their home computers. He recalls a patient under the care of one of his

team members who’d missed several in-person medical appointments. When it came time for his home-based mental health appointment, the patient answered the video call but was preparing to attempt suicide. “He was able to have his session, which wouldn’t have happened in person because he just wouldn’t CO N T I N U E D


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ROAD TO WELL-BEING

The VA’s best links for health resources Navigating the large Department of Veterans Affairs health care system can be difficult. The VA’s Veterans Health Administration suggests these sites for a quick overview.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Learn how to access the VA’s health care benefits, how to schedule appointments, when to go to the emergency room and more. You’ll also find a link to a page that details the VA’s medical benefits package. va.gov/healthbenefits/access/index.asp

VETERANS CENTERS

WILL MCCULLOUGH

Dr. Nader Nassar, a clinical pharmacy specialist at the VA Central California Health Care System, demonstrates how to use video to talk to a patient miles away from his office in Fresno, Calif. these programs further. One element is a proposed have shown up,” Acierno said. The provider stayed regulation change that ensures physicians can in virtual contact, speaking with the patient as treat patients using telehealth across state lines, a police and medical services came to his house, workaround to state laws that sometimes prevent avoiding a potentially tragic situation. providers from using these This dramatic example technologies. serves as just one way the VA The second is expanded use is making medical services Research has shown of an app, VA Video Connect, more accessible to the nation’s which enables veterans to wounded warriors — by that providing connect to their VA providers allowing them to see and speak using their own mobile phones with doctors and providers telemedicine to and computers. More than 300 miles away and often from the veterans with providers at 67 hospitals and comfort of their own homes. clinics use the app. Shulkin said VA Telehealth offers more than such conditions it will be rolled out across the 50 types of care, including as depression and country over the next year, with teledermatology, teleintensive a special focus on mental health care and teledentistry. Last year, post-traumatic care. more than 700,000 veterans stress disorder The third part of the new made a combined total of more initiative includes a separate app than 2.17 million virtual visits to (PTSD) can work called Veteran Appointment psychiatrists, cardiologists and just as well as Request, which patients can other physicians. use to schedule or change Almost half of them live in-person visits. appointments. It’s currently in in rural communities, where 18 regions now, and will soon patients might otherwise roll out nationwide. have to travel long distances These efforts are “really going to expand access or simply go without access to certain types of for veterans in a way we haven’t done before,” specialists, Acierno said. Shulkin said the day of the announcement. “We’re In August, President Donald Trump and VA removing geography as a barrier so that we can Secretary David Shulkin — a practicing physician who still sees patients virtually and in person CO N T I N U E D — announced three initiatives that will expand

Combat veterans and their family members can find counseling, job-hunting assistance, help decoding their benefits and other assistance at the more than 300 VA-sponsored veterans centers in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Philippines. Type in a ZIP code or click on a state to find the center or regional office closest to you. va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

Take anonymous screening tests, learn about addiction and PTSD or find a medical professional — all the resources you’ll need to help with mental health issues are here. mentalhealth.va.gov

PTSD

Watch videos of veterans who have dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and learn more about treatment. www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/aboutface

HOMELESSNESS

Find resources to help homeless veterans and learn what you can do to help yourself. va.gov/homeless

DISEASE PREVENTION

Get information on how to quit smoking, lose weight, start exercising and other health basics. prevention.va.gov


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“There’s an independence that happens more so through telehealth than what I’ve seen in a therapist’s office.” — Heather Spooner, art therapist

speed up access to veterans and really honor our commitment to them.” The announcement was welcome news to Dr. Rachel Rose, who practices telepsychiatry full time at the VA Central California Health Care System in Fresno. “There are so many veterans that stand to benefit from being able to have more options for accessing care — options they feel more comfortable with,” she said. The patients she treats travel to one of three California satellite clinics in Tulare, Oakhurst and Merced, which are often far closer to their homes than the main facility in Fresno. “A lot of them have conditions where they get really stressed when they have to come to a large facility or drive a long distance, which can worsen their mental health symptoms,” she said. “By being seen in a smaller facility close to home (by) staff who know them better, that really helps them manage their illness better.” Besides obvious benefits like ease of physical access and time savings, telemedicine — especially home-based care like that provided through VA Video Connect — reduces stigma that prevents some patients from seeking mental health care, Acierno said. And for veterans who experienced military sexual trauma, it means they won’t have to come to a clinic where, as one research participant described it, “every single patient looks like the perpetrator.” Acierno’s research has shown that providing telemedicine to veterans with such conditions as depression and PTSD can work just as well as in-person visits. In some cases, it might improve patients’ outcomes, because removing barriers means veterans receive more therapy sessions. In fact, VA data shows individuals who received mental health services via telehealth spent 39 percent fewer days in acute psychiatric care. Although it might seem awkward to conduct therapy from different locations, Rose said any initial skepticism patients have usually disappears quickly once they try the system. “Basically, the screen dissolves,” Acierno said. “After a few minutes, you’re just talking to somebody like you would over the phone, but now you can see facial expressions. So you have better communication.” Dr. Nader Nassar, a clinical pharmacy specialist who works with Rose in Fresno managing patients’ medications, agrees that technology breaks down personal as well as logistical barriers. “I still feel like the patient is in the room there with me, as much as I’m there with them,” Nassar said. “I almost feel

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

The updated telehealth initiative will allow the VA to hire providers in bigger cities where there is an abundance of clinical services and connect them to veterans in rural communities that may lack sufficient medical services. like it makes it more of a casual environment, where we’re just having more of a chat, instead of someone standing up or sitting across from a desk.” As telehealth expands, even complementary and alternative therapies are now delivered virtually. Veterans in some areas can now receive creative arts therapy — including dance, visual arts and music — from the comfort of their own homes. Dr. Charles Levy, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, treats veterans with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD and worked to launch a program that first offered virtual occupational, physical and recreational therapy — then expanded to include the creative arts in 2014. He said artistic approaches complement more traditional therapy in restoring veterans to wholeness and healing. And while therapists have had to modify their practices for virtual visits — for instance, working with patients to develop a common way to describe art verbally, since video transmission might make some of the details of their work more difficult for

the therapist to see — the setup ultimately has some advantages, too. “There’s an independence that happens more so through telehealth than what I’ve seen in a therapist’s office,” said Heather Spooner, an art therapist who works with veterans through the program. “They have to really develop the space in their own homes to create the art; they have the supplies in their own home. So a lot of them have really developed this artists identity.” Soon, through a Creative Forces partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Defense, the VA and state arts agencies, the creative arts telehealth programs Spooner and Levy’s region offers will be available on a more widespread basis. In the meantime, Levy encourages veterans to inquire about all their telehealth options — and if a program like creative arts therapy isn’t yet available, it may be soon. “The VA tries to be responsive to veterans’ needs and preferences,” he said. “We’re trying to make our services available wherever people are.”


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RAPID RESPONSE VA employs high-tech tracking center to improve veteran health care In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has seemingly lurched from crisis to crisis. Now, a cadre of monitors clustered deep within the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., is trying to address those issues. They are stationed in a new health care improvement center, which tracks problems at VA hospitals across the country and dispatches help to fix them — ideally before they turn into crises. VA Secretary David Shulkin gave USA TODAY an exclusive sneak peek at the center, where maps, lists and data are arrayed over 16 screens in an extensive control room for veteran health care. Workers can toggle between various data points, including rates of death or avoidable complications, staffing and wait times. Red dots indicate hospitals faring poorly. “It’s much like you would expect an air-trafficcontrol system to be — to make sure that they know the altitude of their planes, the speed of their planes so they can have safe landings and safe takeoffs,” Shulkin said. “That’s what we’re doing in our health care system.” The center has been up and running for only a few months but has already logged some successes. When a nurse vacancy rate spiked dangerously in Little Rock, Ark., center workers dispatched help that resulted in a job fair and same-day employment offers to dozens of nurses. “That is very unusual for the federal government,” said Shulkin, who added that 84 nurses were hired. “If we had not taken what I would call dramatic intervention, we may have had to start limiting services there or the quality of care could have gone down.” Similar efforts addressed staff shortfalls in Orlando, Fla., and physician productivity and scheduling in Butler, Pa., and Richmond, Va. At the VA in Poplar Bluff, Mo., the center was tipped off to a poorly functioning type of ultrasound probe, and workers quickly shared the information with other hospitals using the probe. The effort eventually led to a national recall. “I think that the health care improvement center is really just a natural extension of what we’ve started,” Shulkin said. Since he became VA undersecretary for health in 2015 and then secretary in February, Shulkin has prioritized clinical urgency in cutting down wait times and implemented “same-day” appointments for urgent needs. Earlier this year, he implemented the first website (accesstocare.va.gov), comparing wait times at VAs across the country and also quality with nearby private-sector hospitals. He said that kind of transparency is key to driving

JASPER COLT/USA TODAY

Employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs work in the department’s new health care improvement center, which tracks the clinical performance of VA hospitals to identify and solve problems. improvements in the VA. It allows veterans and other members of the public, including Congress, to hold their local VA hospitals accountable and make more informed decisions about health care. “I don’t know of any industry that improves unless the consumer of the product is demanding improvement or unless there’s competition that is forcing that company to up its performance,” Shulkin said. Now the center is using that data — along with other internal records — to drive internal management decisions in an effort to improve VA health care, not just at individual hospitals but across the agency as a whole. On average, the VA scores better than the private sector on many key patient-safety measures, including instances of avoidable death, respiratory failure and infection. But there are vast disparities among VA hospitals, according to VA data collected from October 2015 to March 2017. The death rate for surgical patients with treatable complications ranged from zero at the VA hospital in Sacramento, Calif., to more than 20 percent in Miami; Columbia, Mo.; and Washington, D.C. In Long Beach, Calif., it was 29 percent. That’s more than double the private-sector average of 14 percent, according to Medicare data. Shulkin said he hopes the improvement center will help reduce such disparities. The center, which was set up by his recently departed deputy Poonam

Alaigh, is tasked with taking progressive action to solve problems, from speaking with hospital leadership, to helping them create and implement solutions to actually launching a takeover of hospital management. Shulkin took the unusual step, after being selected to lead the VA, of holding a White House briefing to outline 13 areas in which the agency still faced considerable challenges, among them wait times for appointments and health care quality. At the time, he said the VA was still in critical condition. Since then, he has set up a 24-hour “White House hotline” (855-948-2311) for veteran complaints, and a special office to protect whistleblowers. He published a 450-page compendium of successful practices at VA hospitals, Best Care Everywhere, to help replicate them. Still, Shulkin is not ready to upgrade the agency’s critical diagnosis. “I don’t think that we’ve gotten out of the need for intensive monitoring, and that’s what you do in critical care units: You watch very, very closely, and you make sure that you’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “And hopefully with that care and attention, you’re seeing improvements, and I do think that we’re seeing improvements, but we certainly have a lot of work to do.” — Donovan Slack


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HEALTH & HEALING The Telling Project, a national performing arts group, uses theater to explore the experiences of military and veterans.

TELLING G STORIES

By Cindy Kuzma

Veterans organizations harness the power of sharing to ease transitions and build connections

EORGE HAUGHT SERVED THREE years in the Marine Corps, including one year in Vietnam and 31 days in one of the war’s longest, bloodiest battles in Huế City. Then, he spent 48 years in silence. “I was like this little turtle,” said Haught, who now lives in Monaca, Pa. “I stayed in my shell, within my small circle of friends.” That was until last spring, when a fellow Marine he met at a hardware store told him about a community listening event called the Veterans Breakfast Club (VBC). Over scrambled eggs and bacon, Haught opened up about his time in combat. The rivers of blood, the lack of ammunition,

LUKE HEIKKILA

the complete and utter certainty he would die — the words, and emotions, came fast. He couldn’t help but cry. Since then, Haught has told his story on a VBC podcast and at many morning meals (veteransbreakfastclub.com), including at a breakfast attended by his daughter and grandchildren, who’d never heard him speak about his experiences. Each retelling still drains him, but afterward, he’s calmer and less jumpy. He now volunteers to help organize VBC events, which have served roughly 5,000 veterans in western Pennsylvania since 2008. “I’d often wondered why I had survived the battle. The more I get to talking about CO N T I N U E D


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DRAGONS EYE STUDIO

Since 2008, the Telling Project has produced more than 50 original performances, put more than 180 veterans and family members onstage and performed in 16 states across the nation.

KEVIN FARKAS/VETERANS BREAKFAST CLUB

The Veterans Breakfast Club creates communities centered on storytelling, ensuring that veterans’ histories will not be forgotten and they have a welcoming space to share.

it … maybe this was the reason why I was spared, to talk about the people who weren’t as fortunate as me to make it back,” he said. Stories bind us as humans, helping us understand each other — and ourselves, said Todd DePastino, a former history professor who founded the VBC and now serves as executive director. “There is an almost biological need to take the jumbled confusion of experience that we all have in our lives, to hone it down and externalize it as a narrative,” he said. “I think there’s something very healthy about that.” The VBC is just one of many organizations nationwide now helping veterans with processing and presenting their stories. Some — such as Austin, Texasbased The Telling Project (thetellingproject. org) — craft them into full-scale theater productions. Another, the Armed Services Arts Partnership (asapasap.org), collaborates with Washington, D.C.-based Story District to offer an intensive six-week Storytelling 101 workshop. Each of those

sessions culminates in a graduation performance (the organization also offers similar programs for stand-up comedy, improv and creative writing). And then there are less formal gatherings like the VBC — breakfasts that require no long-term commitment, only an RSVP. At each one, DePastino interviews vets on the spot about their experiences. All have similar goals: To help veterans overcome the considerable obstacles to sorting out and sharing their personal plot lines. Military culture requires and promotes a focus on instinct and teamwork instead of creativity and individuality and comes complete with a lexicon and context often indecipherable to outsiders. Veterans may believe no one cares or fear they’ll be judged for their actions, said Anne Demers, an associate professor of public health at California San José State University, who researches reintegration issues among veterans and their families. CO N T I N U E D


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HEALTH & HEALING Meanwhile, with only 7 percent of the country having military experience, many people go about their daily lives without ever speaking to a veteran. “There is this cultural, social and literal geographic disconnect between those who’ve served and those who haven’t,” said Sam Pressler, founder and executive director of the Armed Services Arts Partnership. Even if civilians want to understand, they might not know where to begin; attending a storytelling or theater performance opens the door and bridges the gap. Audiences have been eager to engage, said Jonathan Wei, a writer, director and producer who’s the founder and executive director of The Telling Project. From the first performance he organized at the University of Oregon in 2008, crowds have filled the house. “War is of vital importance on any number of levels, the least significant of which are economic and political, and the most significant are moral and spiritual, to everybody who is a part of this nation, part of this world,” he said. Bearing witness to veterans’ experiences offers civilians a STEPHANIE FAUCHER chance to shoulder part of the burden, to The Armed Services Arts Partnership works with Story District to offer free storytelling classes for veterans, service members, military close the loop on what happens after the families and caregivers. Storytellers work closely with coaches to be able to use public performances to share their experiences. representatives they’ve sent off to battle return home, he added. fiancé, also a veteran. The audience’s ences; her own parents didn’t know she’d Wei, Pressler and other organizers point reaction made her realize how others attempted suicide. Crafting and sharing her out that these endeavors don’t substitute perceived the weight of her words. Many story in different contexts — sometimes for therapy, and researcher Demers said laughed at the light moments; one man with humor, other times with brutal not every veteran needs to put his or her sat in the front row, weeping. “But nobody honesty — allows her to view it differently past into words. “There’s an attitude out walked away disgusted in me when I got and often more positively, she said. there that if they just talk it out, they can off the stage,” she said. “There are certainly things I cannot move forward — and for some people, The next time the topic came up among change about my military experience — that’s not good,” she said. The memories friends, she still cracked a joke at first — but people I’ve killed, lives I’ve saved,” she may be too painful, the retelling too then made a point of slowing down, said. “But one of the traumatic. Or, veterans explaining more and letting other people things I’ve learned is the may simply prefer to absorb what she was telling them. It’s still more flexible my mind move on. not easy to share such intense moments, is, the more flexible But for others, verbal“Maybe this was but giving them more space means the reality is, and that to me izing their experiences the reason why connections that result run deeper, she said. is a great thing.” As she connects the threads of In addition to easing interpersonal prepares to return to the who they were before Anne Barlieb I was spared, communication, she and Barlieb hope civilian world, she knows deployment and their to talk about the openness and authenticity of sharing this more open mindset time in the service with narratives reminds civilians that veterans will ease her transition. the person they hope the people are just people, too. “ Her classmate in the to become, Demers’ Yeah, we’re service members, but we’re a storytelling program, research has shown. That who weren’t as lot more than that, and we have stories just Marine Corps veteran was the case for Army fortunate as me to like everybody else,” Barlieb said. What’s Jennie Haskamp, has Maj. Anne Barlieb, who more, she finds expressing herself artistialways processed the participated in an Armed make it back.” cally just plain fun — which, along with world through writing Services Arts Partnership — George Haught justice, freedom and democracy, is one of — she has her own blog, storytelling class earlier the values she said she fought to defend. has published articles in this year. She served in For Haught, finally telling his story outlets like The Washingthe military for 13 years, after all this time has opened the door to ton Post, and worked in including assignments revising the manuscript. “I’m to the point communications for the military as well as in Iraq and Qatar and is in the process of now with it that I’m actually going back to the disaster-relief nonprofit Team Rubicon. transitioning out of the military, currently a Vietnam for the 50th anniversary of the But in personal conversation, she’d often member of the Warrior Transition Brigade battle,” he said. “A year ago, I wouldn’t feel compelled to apologize for things that for ill and injured service members at have even thought about undertaking that, had happened to her or to deflect difficult Walter Reed National Military Medical Jennie Haskamp to revisit that period in my life. Now I look moments with humor. Center in Bethesda, Md. upon it as a way of closing out that chapter In her final storytelling performance, Like Haught, she’d never told those closin my life and moving on.” Haskamp talked about the suicide of her est to her about her most difficult experiMAHNAZ REZA


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HUNTING TO HEAL

Many wounded warriors, veterans find camaraderie, comfort in the great outdoors By Ken Perrotte

S

OME 53,000 MILITARY MEMBERS — more than 32,000 in Iraq and nearly 21,000 in Afghanistan — have been wounded in action since Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom began. Many of those with severe injuries wonder whether they’ll ever be able to resume any semblance of the lifestyle they previously enjoyed. Learning to live with loss of limbs, nerve damage and severe physical and mental trauma can take years of therapy and incredible perseverance. Supportive medical staff, family and friends nurture the process. Many military members were avid hunters, anglers and recreational shooters before their injuries. Fortunately, numerous nonprofit organizations have emerged throughout the past decade to help wounded warriors regain access to those outdoors passions. And for veterans seeking new outlets and experiences, these three nonprofit programs offer a path to increased self-reliance and adventure:

HONORED AMERICAN VETERANS AFIELD

The catalyst for Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) came a decade ago when four wounded veterans were invited to join outdoors writers on a hunt sponsored by a few companies affiliated with the shooting sports industry. “Everyone agreed we needed to find a way to do this in a bigger way,” said Tom Taylor, HAVA’s chairman and then an executive with Smith & Wesson. Six companies pooled resources and created HAVA. From those six (Smith & Wesson, Leupold, Hornady, Crimson Trace, Yamaha Outdoors and Surefire), HAVA’s sustaining sponsors have more than tripled. Based out of Massachusetts, the organization operates nationwide. HAVA helps disabled soldiers as they transition into civilian life, facilitating their confidence and reconnecting them with their love of the outdoors and the American tradition of hunting. With the

Honored American Veterans Afield teaches adaptive shooting and hunting skills. HONORED AMERICAN VETERANS AFIELD

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CONNECTIONS leadership and support of several veterans who learned new ways to shoot, as well as certified firearms instructors, HAVA’s “Learn to Shoot Again” program, which provides adaptive training for severely disabled veterans and injured active-duty military, has been held in 10 states, including Florida, California, North Carolina and Kentucky. The event offers one-, two- and three-day adaptive pistol, rifle, shotgun and braced firearm instruction. HAVA stages several range events and hunts annually, but the programs aren’t limited to just wounded warriors. The group also holds yearly National Family Day events. “We believe in making it a family event, where we may take a vet hunting and also take the spouse and kids on a photo safari or have an airsoft range for the youngsters,” Taylor said. The all-volunteer group is distinct in that most of its financial support comes from the sustaining companies, although it welcomes individual donations. The companies represent some of the biggest in the shooting sports and outdoors world, and Taylor said many of HAVA’s volunteers from those companies are veterans themselves: “We all support the Second Amendment and those who’ve served our country. It’s a pure effort, and I think the kinship is why our program has thrived.” More than 85 cents of every dollar HAVA spends goes directly to services for wounded warriors and disabled veterans, he added. “(HAVA) has become a very vibrant organization. I don’t believe we’ve ever lost a sponsor once they joined,” said Taylor, who’s now chief marketing officer and executive vice president for commercial sales with firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer.

ON THE HUNT Looking to join a hunting or fishing trip? Honored American Veterans Afield HAVA hosts many shooting and hunting events each year around the country. Wounded warriors and immediate family members can apply at honoredveterans.org.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES Hope For The Warriors was created in 2006 by military families at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina. The multifaceted national program, now based in Springfield, Va., delivers an array of services, including transition, health and wellness, sports and recreation, and community engagement and development for post-9/11 military members and their families, as well as relatives of fallen military personnel. The group’s popular Outdoor Adventures Program, created in 2010, provides adaptive opportunities for wounded warriors. Two years later, the organization recognized the therapeutic benefits for family members and expanded the program to include spouses and children of wounded and fallen service members, according to Karen Lee, senior director for communications. Veterans are selected for adventures based on a variety of criteria, including

PHOTOS BY HONORED AMERICAN VETERANS AFIELD

Outdoor range days are a part of HAVA’s mission. The all-volunteer group is distinct in that most of its financial support comes from the major hunting and fishing companies. their proximity to an event location, explained retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Ken Sutherby,the group’s director of outdoor adventures. A few times a year, depending on budgets, the organization flies veterans to hunting or fishing trips, mainly in North America. Recent trips include hunts in Idaho and fishing in Alaska.

Hunts are often donated, with Hope For The Warriors Outdoor Adventures Program covering the cost of food and travel. Overall, 86 cents of every donated dollar go to programs and services for the charity’s target beneficiaries. This summer, CO N T I N U E D

The Outdoor Adventures Program Hope For The Warriors’ program gives wounded warriors adaptive opportunities to participate in sporting activities. Apply at hopeforthewarriors.org. Reel American Heroes Foundation The small charity helps to organize bass fishing trips for wounded warriors. To apply, visit reelamericanheroes.org.


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HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS

Jake Taylor and Dave Williams on a Hope For The Warriors fishing trip. the small community of Elfin Cove, Alaska, came together to host a five-day fishing trip for two combat-wounded veterans and their caregivers. The veterans loaded the boat, catching more than 500 pounds of fish, including salmon, halibut and rockfish. “Other times we join up with partner nonprofits and bring our veterans to their event. We also use donations to buy hunting or fishing trips when opportunities are not as readily available,” Sutherby said. The Outdoor Adventures Program helps combat-injured veterans, many who are experiencing social isolation and physical and mental injuries, Sutherby said. “The trips provide veterans an opportunity to discuss any obstacles in their recovery with other veterans experiencing the same issues and concerns.” Chris Sharon, the chief operating officer, said Hope For The Warriors envisions growing outdoors opportunities through partnerships with organizations like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Rifle Association, Mossy Oak and other outfitting and conservation groups and through broad engagement with private landowners.

REEL AMERICAN HEROES FOUNDATION

Pro angler Shaw Grigsby, left, and veteran Raul Carbajal at a recent Reel American Heroes fishing tournament.

“Outdoor Adventures is a program truly enabling connection, growth, healing and restoration. The time spent in a hunting blind or on a boat, gives our staff the time and venue to easily surmount the natural barriers that vets put up as defensive mechanisms,” Sharon said.

REEL AMERICAN HEROES FOUNDATION

Reel American Heroes Foundation (RAHF) is a small, all-volunteer, familymanaged charity that uses fishing to provide recreational therapy for wounded or disabled combat veterans. Founded in northern Virginia in 2010 by Ronald DeFreitas, it first began as an organization that worked with military hospitals and installations to stage a couple of fun fishing tournaments every year on the Potomac River, usually staging from Hope Springs Marina in Stafford, Va. Guides, including professionals with Bassmaster’s Elite Series and local experts, donated time and talents. Gear manufacturers donated prizes. Events included family activities and a massive cookout. Inspired by the wounded warriors he met at his events, DeFreitas worked with

Fishing trips are machinist Carl Foster typically requested by to develop an adaptive “The time spent in veterans or their family fishing system that helps a hunting blind or members. DeFreitas said people who had lost the each participating use of one arm to fish on a boat, gives our veteran is provided a again. The system contackle box with gear, and sists of a Lew’s American staff the time and a Lew’s American Hero Hero fishing rod and venue to easily surrod and reel combo. An a battery-powered, event shirt, sunglasses electric fishing reel. mount the natural and hat are theirs to Five wounded veterans barriers that vets keep. Fishing trips with are testing the system. a TEAM RAHF pro staff Once a final design is put up as defensive member take place on patented, they hope to mechanisms.” lakes or rivers close to use sponsor donations the veterans’ homes. to produce the tools and — Chris Sharon, DeFreitas said RAHF provide them free to Hope For The Warriors received $67,354 in wounded veterans. cash contributions and The Virginia tourna$31,605 in fishing gear ment is still a centerproducts last year. piece event, but the charity is working “We gave 93 percent of all cash and to expand, and in 2014 it formed “TEAM product contributions back to our woundRAHF,” a group of volunteer bass anglers ed, injured, disabled and combat veterans,” with boats who work with the foundation he said. “We never turn away a wounded to get wounded warriors out on the water. veteran from all military conflicts, no matTEAM RAHF has members stationed ter what injury they have, and we strive throughout much of the U.S. Nearly 30 for perfection in our programs, constantly trips in six states were scheduled to take improving each year.” place in 2017.


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Army veteran Lee Hernandez had one last wish before dying — to hear from others.

MEANINGFUL MESSAGES

PROVIDED BY ERNESTINE HERNANDEZ

Dying Army veteran whose request for texts and phone calls went viral now seeks to inspire others

By Cydney Henderson

A

N ARMY VETERAN WITH a terminal illness was looking to make the best of a dire situation. What Lee Hernandez found was an overwhelming amount of

inspiration that he now hopes to pass on. “We have found another outlet of life,” said Ernestine Hernandez, Lee’s wife of 14 years. “His health made a 180.” The 47-year-old is under hospice care in New Braunfels, Texas. In July, his dying wish was to receive text messages and

phone calls from anybody willing to talk to him. His wish was granted hundreds of thousands of times over. “He is trying more. He is making the best of what he has,” said Ernestine, 36. “I CO N T I N U E D


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Want to send a meaningful message of your own? Lee Hernandez is still accepting cards from anyone who wants to send their well-wishes. “He loves to go to the mailbox,” said wife Ernestine Hernandez. “He thinks it’s Christmas every day.” Send cards to Lee Hernandez P.O. Box 200265 San Antonio, TX 78220

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ERNESTINE HERNANDEZ; GETTY IMAGES

Lee Hernandez received more than 100,000 text messages after a Facebook post asking for people to reach out went viral. The outpouring has helped motivate the veteran, his wife said. “It melts my heart that so many people can help other veterans that are lonely.”

believe it was people reaching out to him and the power of prayer (that’s made a difference).”

‘IT MELTS MY HEART’

It all started when Ernestine enlisted the help of Caregivers of Wounded Warriors and the Arizona Veteran Forum to spread the word in July. The group posted a Facebook message asking people to reach out. In a matter of days, the Hernandezes received more than 100,000 text messages — probably a little more than expected — and crashed the phone, according to a GoFundMe page. “Had one of the best days in a long time and even danced! This is huge,” Lee wrote this summer on the GoFundMe page. Ernestine described the past couple of months after going viral as “amazing.” “It melts my heart that so many people can help other veterans that are lonely and

need support,” she said. Ernestine previously said that doctors have not been able to pinpoint a cause of Lee’s illnesses. He has undergone dozens of strokes, loss of cognitive abilities and visual impairment. “They call it a traumatic brain injury (TBI),” she said. “He was a part of an explosion in Iraq in 2005. That’s what we think it is.” However, the simple act of sending a text message made all the difference to Hernandez, who served the country for nearly 19 years. It also helped acquire some necessities. “We were able to get a better wheelchair from the VA and got a hitch on our car,” Ernestine said.

INSPIRATION AND MOTIVATION

Ernestine credits the numerous messages as the motivation to push her

husband to keep fighting. “I think that is what’s keeping him going. It makes him want to get up and be more engaged,” she said. “His pain is still immense every single day, but he still finds the strength.” He has the motivation to do things that he wasn’t able to do before. “One of our major accomplishments is that I taught him how to feed himself,” she said. “He walked 300 steps today and engages in more conversation.” His strength also serves as an inspiration to others. “Our main goal is to inspire other people who have been in our situation, who have lost hope or are in a dark place,” said Ernestine. “There is one lady who has cancer that said if Lee doesn’t give up, then why should she.” “I guarantee you that I am going to keep trying,” Lee said.


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CONNECTIONS Veteran Richard Bell Jr., 99, was presented in August with several medals, including the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.

TERRANCE BELL

MAKING STRIDES Report highlights successes, challenges with serving the growing minority veteran community

By Adam Hadhazy

A

S THE 101ST AIRBORNE crossed a field of peanut plants in Vietnam in June 1966, William Sims was asked by his lieutenant to take point. Then, without warning, “all hell broke loose,” Sims said. The American troops dove for cover as gunfire ripped through the air from the surrounding jungle. The soldiers would

later learn they had stumbled upon a hidden and well-guarded Viet Cong hospital. By the time the fight was over, Sims had shrapnel in both of his legs, but he fared far better than all those he saw killed in action that day. Sims is one of the nearly 340,000 African Americans who fought in the Vietnam War — nearly 11 percent of the total 3.14 million U.S. troops. Later that year, back home in Milwaukee,

Sims landed a job as a welder at A.O. Smith’s automotive frame factory, despite his occasional use of a cane to get around. A friend and doctor at the Department of Veterans Affairs convinced Sims that he should apply for disability benefits. The VA physician Sims ended up seeing, however, tried to dissuade him because Sims was physically able to work. “The doctors said I was A-OK,” Sims recalled. “I was furious.”

The Vietnam veteran applied anyway. A few months later, he was approved for disability benefits. Yet before another year was out, the VA reduced his rating from 40 percent to 10 percent, citing his ability to work. Meanwhile, other problems Sims experienced, including anxiety, trouble sleeping more than three hours at night and irritability toward others, went initially ignored as symptoms of what is


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Celestino Almeda, 100, speaks Oct. 25 during a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino veterans of World War II at the U.S. Capitol. MANUEL BALCE CENETA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder. Friends kept suggesting he return to the VA regarding his mental health, in addition to his physical health, but Sims’ experiences with the VA left him feeling marginalized and demoralized. He had heard similar stories from his fellow African-American veterans, aligning with the broader discrimination they routinely faced from society. Hoping to help other veterans understand and obtain the benefits to which they were entitled for their service to their country, Sims co-founded a group in 1969 that today is known as the National Association for Black Veterans (NABVETS). Through NABVETS and other organizations, Sims has worked with veterans for nearly 50 years. Although the VA has improved since the late 1960s, Sims said he has never stopped hearing and seeing firsthand the struggles that minority veterans encounter — including

rude interactions with staff and denials of seemingly open-and-shut disability claims. “We constantly are up against the wall with the VA in terms of trying to prove our case,” said Sims. “It’s gotten better,” said Danny McKenzie, a Vietnam veteran, NABVETS member and a national service officer at the Center for Veterans Issues (cvivet.org), also based in Milwaukee. “But we still got a long ways to go.” Both of those sentiments are supported in a recent study conducted by Veterans Affairs and the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. The “Minority Veterans Report,” released in March found that black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander or Native American veterans generally have low awareness of which benefits are available to them. They also face issues including homelessness, unemployment and chronic diseases, following military service at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

“(We’re) trying to make sure minority veterans understand what the benefits and services are, and then help facilitate getting them to the right place and right time when they need assistance.” — Barbara Ward, director of the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans

According to the report, almost 23 percent, or about 5 million out of a total 22 million, of veterans in the U.S. were minorities in 2014, the last year studied. Based on population and enlistment trends, the number of minority veterans is expected to rise by 36 percent by 2043, and continue to increase. At 52 percent, African Americans made up the largest group of minority veterans in 2014. Latinos comprise the second largest minority veterans group, at 31 percent of the minority population.

A positive finding is that between 2005 and 2014, the number of minority veterans enrolled in VA health care rose from 1.4 million to 2 million, a 43 percent increase that meant nearly half (46 percent) of all minority veterans were enrolled in VA health care in 2014. While non-minority veteran rates also rose during that time, the growth was significantly slower, just 23.9 percent for the same time frame. “The increase in utilization of one benefit CO N T I N U E D


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MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Members of the Navajo Code Talkers, the famed U.S. Marines who developed unbreakable codes during World War II, watch the Veterans Day parade Nov. 11, 2009, in New York City. A recent study by the Veterans Affairs and the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics found many minority veterans aren’t aware of all the benefits available to them. and other services within the VA system is very good news,” said Barbara Ward, one of the contributors to the report. Ward is also the director of the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans (CMV) which was created in 1994 to advocate for minorities. “We certainly take credit for some of that because of the extensive outreach that our office conducts at a national level,” Ward said. “(We’re) trying to make sure minority veterans understand what the benefits and services are, and then help facilitate getting them to the right place and right time when they need assistance.” Implementing these outreach initiatives are the more than 300 minority veteran program coordinators stationed at VA hospitals, community clinics, regional claims offices and national cemeteries. MVPCs, as they are called, hail from a range of professions, including social workers, nurses and chaplains. The coordinators ultimately reach about a million veterans annually, half of whom are minorities, said Ward. They use tools such as mailings, social media, job fairs, town halls at VA medical centers, and even “virtual” town halls, where veterans can pose questions to an online forum for VA officials to answer. Ward’s office also coordinates outreach with veterans service organizations nationally. These include large groups like

NABVETS’ McKenzie and Sims made the the American Legion and the Veterans of same point regarding African-American Foreign Wars (VFW), as well as smaller vets. “It’s not welfare; it’s an entitlement,” minority organizations such as NABVETS McKenzie said. “It’s a promise from the and the American G.I Forum of the United country and the VA.” States, which focuses on the needs of Some of the reticence minority veterans Hispanic veterans and was founded feel in seeking VA benefits “boils down to in March 1948, a few months before trust,” added McKenzie. President Harry Truman desegregated the For veterans of his generation, he armed forces. pointed to the government’s deceit about The CMV further seeks to place employactions and motivations ees at minority events, such as regarding the Vietnam War, Native American pow wows to exposed in 1971 in the disseminate information. National so-called Pentagon Papers. Minority veteran groups Association for And, specifically for African are doing their part as well to Black Veterans Americans, he cited the increase awareness and break „ nabvets.org infamous Tuskegee Study, down cultural barriers to revealed by the media in 1972 seeking benefits. American G.I to be a decades-long study Phillip Gutierres, who Forum of the on black men with syphilis served in the Navy from 1978 United States who were not offered simple, to 1984, has spent decades curative antibiotic treatment around fellow Hispanic „ agifus.com by the study’s researchers. veterans, some of whom are The CMV’s Ward mentioned reluctant to apply. Tuskegee as well in noting that “They felt veterans benefits there is a “distrust issue” when it comes to were more like charity or welfare, and minorities seeking both public and private most Hispanics don’t go for that; they services. stand on their own two feet,” said Not seeking help when it is available, Gutierres, who is the VA commissioner for or having bad experiences when doing so, the city of Austin, Texas, and commander could contribute to the disparities faced by of the American G.I. Forum’s Central Texas minority veterans when their active duty region. “We have to constantly remind ends. them that’s not what it is.”

The CMV study reported on these challenges. It found that minority veterans have a 44 percent higher chance of being unemployed than non-minority vets. And although high levels of homelessness affect the whole veteran population, minorities are hit harder, the report found. African Americans, compared with the rest of the minority population, were more than three times as likely than non-minority vets to have to resort to using shelters in 2014. Ward said that while the increasing benefit utilization trendline bodes well for the future, the work is far from done. “We need to make certain minority veterans not only know about their benefits, but they utilize them,” she said. Added McKenzie: “We need to locate those veterans that are having a hard time and get them back up again.” Sims is just such an example. Nearly half a century after his tour of duty, he listened to the advice of another friend, McKenzie, who serves as a veterans service officer. He convinced Sims that it is never too late to apply for disability benefits for his PTSD, which was never resolved. In 2005, Sims qualified for the benefits. “The VA owed him that,” said McKenzie. “He paid his dues; we paid our dues. And we’re still paying them.”


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Celestino Almeda, 100, speaks Oct. 25 during a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino veterans of World War II at the U.S. Capitol.

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— Barbara Ward, director of the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans

According to the report, almost 23 percent, or about 5 million out of a total 22 million, of veterans in the U.S. were minorities in 2014, the last year studied. Based on population and enlistment trends, the number of minority veterans is expected to rise by 36 percent by 2043, and continue to increase. At 52 percent, African Americans made up the largest group of minority veterans in 2014. Latinos comprise the second largest minority veterans group, at 31 percent of the minority population.

A positive finding is that between 2005 and 2014, the number of minority veterans enrolled in VA health care rose from 1.4 million to 2 million, a 43 percent increase that meant nearly half (46 percent) of all minority veterans were enrolled in VA health care in 2014. While non-minority veteran rates also rose during that time, the growth was significantly slower, just 23.9 percent for the same time frame. “The increase in utilization of one benefit CO N T I N U E D


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CONNECTIONS Before entering the main gallery, visitors cross a glass bridge suspended over a symbolic Western Front poppy field.

PRESERVING HISTORY

NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL

The National World War I Museum and Memorial tells a collective global story

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W

ALK ACROSS A GLASS bridge toward the main gallery at The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., and pause

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brance because of John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, in which he wrote of poppies growing between rows of crosses on battlefields. The museum boasts the most diverse CO N T I N U E D


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PHOTOS BY NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL

The uniforms of Christian Celius Nicolaisen, who was born to Danish parents in German-occupied Denmark and forced to serve in the German Army. He later emigrated to the U.S. and served. collection of World War I memorabilia in the world and has been designated by Congress as the official national museum of the war. This depository houses 300,000 artifacts and documents and does a spectacular job escorting visitors through history. On April 6, to mark the centennial of the U.S. entry into the war, the museum featured special exhibits, community outreach programs and celebrations. So why Kansas City as the location? The answer is a point of pride in this city. After the war ended, museums and memorials popped up all over the country. In Kansas City, community leaders formed the Liberty Memorial Association in 1919 and in just 10 days raised $2.5 million (about $34 million in today’s dollars) to build a memorial. One-quarter of the city’s population donated to the cause. “It was an extraordinary grassroots crowd-funding effort,” said Matthew Naylor, CEO and president of the museum. “They made the decision (that) they would do more than just honor the lives of Kansas City soldiers — they would tell a much bigger story.” The 217-foot-tall Liberty Memorial was dedicated in 1921. About 100,000 people

attended the ceremony, as did the five supreme French Renault Allied commanders from FT17 tank the U.S., Britain, France, Belgium and Italy. It was the first time they had been together in one place at the same time. When safety concerns forced the aging memorial to close in 1994, the city rallied again. A short-term sales tax approved in 1998 financed restoration work and a new 80,000-square-foot museum and research center underneath the memorial. Congress made it a national museum in 2004. The main galleries were designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the firm responsible for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Although there are other significant World War I museums in the world — such as the Imperial War Museum in London — those institutions exist primarily to

tell the story of the war from their own country’s perspective. “First and foremost, we tell a global story, which differentiates us,” Naylor said. “We are not just telling a sliver of the story, or the U.S. story … we collect from around the world and have been since 1920.” The artifacts are spread throughout 120,000 square feet of museum space, but the collection is so large that at any given time, less than 10 percent of it is on display. Highlights include a French Renault FT17 tank — considered the first modern tank — and a 1917 Harley Davidson motorcycle, an integral tool during the war. (The first American to enter Germany the day after the signing of the armistice rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.) But the museum’s strength lies in the

personal stories and relics, including the tale of Christian Nicolaisen, born to Danish parents in German-occupied territory and forced to serve in the German Army. After the death of his brother, Nicolaisen deserted and eventually emigrated to the U.S. He was then drafted and sent back to fight, this time as an American soldier. Both his German and American uniforms are on display. There’s a cane crafted from the propeller of the plane that Teddy Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin, was flying when he was killed in aerial combat over France. And there are artifacts that require no backstories, such as a photo of a field of decomposing bodies, or horror-inducing medical kits complete with saw blades. Other exhibits honor the often-overlooked contributions of women and minorities in the conflict. The goal of the museum is not just to revere the fallen but to make people aware of the lasting impacts of the Great War, said Mike Vietti, director of marketing and communications. After the war, “the boundaries of the CO N T I N U E D


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CONNECTIONS WANT TO GO? Tickets for the National World War I Museum and Memorial are $16 for adults; $14, ages 65 and older and students 18 and older with ID; $10, ages 6-17; free for children 6 and younger. Active-duty military with ID receive half-price admission. Teachers, convention attendees, veterans and family members of active-duty military receive $2 off admission with ID. All tickets are $8 on Wednesdays. Admission is good for two days. Closed on Mondays. „ 2 Memorial Drive, Kansas City, Mo.; 816-888-8100; theworldwar.org

NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL

SPECIAL EXHIBITS Posters as Munitions, 1917 (through Feb. 18, 2018) Soon after the onset of World War I, the poster was recognized as a means of spreading national propaganda with unlimited possibilities. Posters as Munitions, 1917 showcases the depth and breadth of the collection through a series of works on display for the first time at the museum. Posters from France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the U.S. and more are featured, providing a sense of the global nature of this form of communication. Revolutions! 1917 (through April 8, 2018) The centennial exhibition showcases the incredible events that occurred worldwide, from America’s official entry into the war and Russia’s upheavals from an imperial state to Bolshevik rule. The stalemated battles on the Western Front and in other theaters and troubles on the homefronts also led to societal changes, mutinies and revolts. Images of the Great War (through May 13, 2018) Focusing on the final two years of the Great War with the emphasis on American involvement, this exhibition features works by French, British, German and American artists who attempted to capture the harsh realities of the incredibly brutal war.

NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL

A French propaganda poster from the Posters as Munitions, 1917 exhibit advertises the war. The translation reads “The Hour has discovered the machine to end the war — Serialization by Gignoux and Dorgeles, which begins March 27.” world were redefined, and Britain and France carved up the map and created arbitrary boundaries. Look at Iraq: Why would you put people together (in a country) who have been fighting for centuries?” Yet that’s what the new maps did. “I think you can make an argument we are still dealing with those repercussions,” he said. The museum’s main gallery is divided into halves, both of which have timelines that wrap around the wall in a series of panels. Each panel contains first-person reflections from individuals involved in the war, photographs and information about significant events. The first half covers the period from 1914 to April 1917, when the U.S. joined the war; the second half continues the story.

A world map on one wall shows the complicated relationships of the 36 countries — on every inhabited continent — that eventually became tangled in the war. Another wall tells a story in numbers: an estimated 3.5 million prisoners held by the Allies and Central Powers by 1917; 5 million civilians who perished in the war; 35,000 miles of trenches crisscrossed the Western front by 1917. There are uniforms from all over the world — from the U.S. to South Africa, Scotland to Australia. One can see how the gallant dress of 1914, such as the bright blue French uniforms that made easy targets for German guns, soon gave way to drab, utilitarian garb as armies discovered that their 19th-century trappings

and techniques were outdated. “Swords and regalia were no match for the machine gun, Vietti said. “Soldiers were not equipped to handle the advances in weaponry that happened before World War I.” There are numerous interactive exhibits, including a touchscreen table where visitors can design their own propaganda poster and email it to themselves. At another spot, they can poke their head into a cubbyhole and peer down into a re-created trench. In a “Reflections” room, visitors can settle in and listen to music, speeches or poetry from the period. There is also a tactile element here. You can run your hand over a shiny red-tipped torpedo or touch a tank. At the transition between the first and second halves of the museum, a theater perched above a muddy trench holds real artifacts that were not preserved enough to be on display. A film looks at the factors that drew the United States into the war. The Liberty Memorial itself is an Egyptian Revival-style column completed in 1926 and dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge. Carved at the top, four 40-foot tall spirits — Courage, Honor, Patriotism and Sacrifice — watch over the memorial. Visitors can take an elevator to the top and soak in stunning 360-degree views of the Kansas City skyline and the surrounding area. The original complex includes two Assyrian sphinxes, both shrouding their faces. One faces east toward Europe while hiding its eyes out of fear of the unknown future. The museum appeals to people of all ages, not simply an older generation, Naylor said. Last year, 300,000 people from every state and more than 70 countries visited. An additional 500,000 participated in outreach programs. Mindful that not everyone can travel to visit the exhibits, the museum has an extensive online collection of photos and educational tools on its website. The goal is to honor the past, but make people aware of the lasting impact of World War I, its administrators said. “Our lives are powerfully impacted by the days of war and the days after. It thrust the U.S. into a position of leadership and into a role from which it has never retreated,” Naylor said.


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CONNECTIONS Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy Angenend and Fito at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan

“He is my best friend just as I am his. We spend most of our days together, and I am able to appreciate both life and time better with him.” — Jeremy Angenend

LANCE CPL. MEGAN SINDELAR, USMC

BATTLE BUDDIES

Afghanistan veteran reflects on a meaningful friendship By Jeremy Angenend

M

Y BEST FRIEND IS my 12-yearold German shepherd, Fito. He is quirky, fun and occasionally grumpy. What he is most, however, is therapeutic. Fito and I worked as a combat tracking team in the Marine Corps beginning in 2008. Our sole job was to track down insurgents in combat zones, and our relationship was dictated by the needs of a wartime military. We worked at a relentless pace each day to provide support to the war effort overseas. Our relationship was meaningful, but I believed that only I understood the meaning. To him, he was just blessed with a new best friend. To say that I was initially hesitant to become attached to Fito would be a huge understatement. I would see him smiling

every morning and remind myself that our relationship wasn’t one of attachment but of necessity. In 2010, after 18 months of training in the California desert, our unit was called to go to Afghanistan. Fito had no idea where we were going or what we were about to do, and I’m eternally grateful for that ignorance. On the long plane ride overseas, I slept on the floor of the airplane with my head nudged against the door of his kennel. He was uneasy about the loud noises, and I was uneasy about war. Admittedly, it is impossible for any handler to work with a dog for that length of time and not form an attachment. I knew I would need him for comfort despite my emotional reluctance. War is emotionally, mentally and physically draining. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows can come within a matter

of minutes. Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant is change.” To Fito, however, I was his constant. From his perspective, he and I were simply living somewhere new. Our missions would take us directly into the line of fire, and I was often envious of how completely oblivious he was to our surroundings. We would return to our base after lengthy missions and, while I would be mentally assessing everything, Fito would drift off to sleep by my feet almost instantaneously. We returned home later that year. War had twisted my outlook on life and death. It had even given Fito some gray hairs on his muzzle. However, the most profound change was our relationship. Just as I was beginning to understand the complexity and weighty nature of it, I was told that Fito was to be sent to Texas to help train new handlers without me. As a Marine,

I can tell you that possessing a steely reserve and unshakable bearing is at the core of our nature. As a man who loves dogs, I can tell you that it was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. I was losing the friend I needed most. Over time, I accepted Fito’s departure. The end of my enlistment came in 2012, and by that time the memories of him were stored and well-preserved. I went on to work with other dogs, but Fito was never far from my thoughts. Then, in 2014, on a beautiful day in June, I received a phone call from a woman informing me that Fito was ready to be retired and asked whether I would be interested in adopting him. Dumbstruck and tongue-tied, I was able to spit out a yes. She told me he was still living in Texas about three hours away. We arranged for a time and place for me to pick him up and, in the days leading up to the reunion, a million thoughts raced through my head. Would he remember me? How had time affected him? All those questions were answered the second I saw Fito and he saw me. He ran straight toward me as I knelt down to receive him. My outstretched arms happily welcomed him as he barreled into my chest. I’m not certain how long I spent hugging him as he licked my face. It was one of those rare moments in life where time just seems to stop. I realized that time and separation couldn’t weaken our relationship. Today, he is my best friend just as I am his. We spend most of our days together, and I am able to appreciate both life and time better with him. The only changes in Fito are a slower step and more gray hair, and I guess I have experienced the same. We are both aware of the importance of our bond, but I suspect Fito has always known. At the root of his ignorance lies the understanding that it was never in jeopardy. We will never have a better friend than the friend we have in each other. Jeremy Angenend, a pre-law student and veterans advocate, is a four-year Marine Corps veteran who did a six-month tour of Afghanistan in 2010.


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Profile for STUDIO Gannett

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017  

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017