Why This Will Be a Good Weekend

feeding_america_tampabay_foodtruckWhy I will have a good weekend — it is thanks to Karen Griffin, head of development, at Feeding America Tampa Bay.

I called Feeding America Tampa Bay needing help for an Iraq veteran who had contacted me desperate about his ongoing battle over benefits. He had no money left for food after paying rent and other bills. Karen not only took my call, she offered immediate assistance despite the late hour and weekend.

It’s really comforting to know as a news reporter when I refer someone to a service that the individual gets help from a cheerful person and a supportive organization.

Thank you Feeding America Tampa Bay and extra kudos to Karen! Thanks to you a veteran and his young daughter also will have a good weekend and not miss a meal.

New Twitter Hashtag – #VetQ – for Veterans’ Questions

vetq1Do you want to learn more about veteran benefits or are you curious about adaptive sports?

If you can ask your question in 140 characters or less, tweet it to #VetQ on Twitter.

The new social media campaign is a collaborative effort between the Department of Veterans Affairs and seven Veteran Service Organizations which includes  Paralyzed Veterans of America.

The hashtag – #VetQ – will identify the question and allow the VA and partner organizations to answer it and promote their services. The idea is that more than one of the veteran service organizations will answer questions giving veterans a range of possible answers for their individual needs.

“I am excited at the prospect of using social networking to educate veterans, dependents, and caregivers on VA benefits,” Sherman Gillums, Jr., associate executive director of veterans benefits for Paralyzed Veterans of America, stated in the VA blog. “The #VetQ initiative will provide a dynamic forum to engage stakeholders in real time, which will help VA deliver timelier services. Additionally, it gives veterans service organizations like Paralyzed Veterans of America an opportunity to partner with VA in the effort to close transition gaps for Post-9/11 service members and their families.”

The VA digital team said over time, common questions and answers will likely be categorized on a frequently asked questions page.

The other VSOs collaborating on #VetQ are Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, the Home Depot Foundation, Student Veterans of America, Team Red, White & Blue, and the American Legion.

Debt Relief for Military Victims of Predatory Lending

 Holly Petraeus with the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs.  Credit Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army. / Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Holly Petraeus with the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs.Credit Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army. / Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Some 17,000 service members nationwide and other consumers who were targeted by Rome Finance through unfair lending practices will not have to payoff their outstanding finance agreements according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and several state attorney generals.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a media release that more than 800 Florida service members were targeted by the predatory lending schemes and will receive more than $4 million in debt relief.

The bureau announced action July 29, 2014 against Colfax Capital Corporation and its subsidiary (formerly known as Rome Finance Co. Inc.) for engaging in unlawful lending that financially hurt servicemembers.

The company provided financing at places such as SmartBuy to sell products to military members. But the merchandise cost was inflated to “hide the true finance charges that servicemembers would have to pay, typically by military allotment,” Holly Petraeus wrote on the CFPB blog.

“This trapped servicemembers in contracts that generated millions of dollars for the company and substantial debt for its customers,” Petraeus wrote.

She called the enforcement action “the last gasp of a chameleon-like company with a long and deplorable record of preying on servicemembers.”

Whether they borrowed to buy computers or gaming systems military members and other consumers who used Rome Finance to make their purchases were victims of “predatory lending schemes.” While the servicemembers will no longer have to pay off their unfair loans, Colfax is in bankruptcy and does not have assets to repay consumers.

Florida consumers who suspect scams or fraud can file a complaint by calling 1(866)-9-NO-SCAM or by visit MyFloridaLegal.com.

Complaints about financial services or products also can be filed with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Teens Spend Summer Vacation at Tampa’s Haley VA

Youth volunteer Mairyn Harris, 14, and Kathleen Fogarty, director of James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

Youth volunteer Mairyn Harris, 14, and Kathleen Fogarty, director of James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

When teachers ask this fall: “What did you do on your summer vacation?” Nearly four dozen Tampa teenagers will answer: “I spent it at the James A. Haley VA Hospita.”

For more than a decade, Haley has been operating a summer Youth Volunteer program that gives teenagers insight into health care careers while at the same time helping veterans.

Mairyn Harris will be a ninth grader at Wharton High School this fall. She is spending five days a week this summer at Haley. On Monday through Thursday she helps with clerical work in the administrator’s office. On Sunday she comes back and volunteers with her mother in the long-term unit.

“We work in in the nursing home part with veterans taking them to church, getting them to lunch, coffee, doughnuts that sort of thing,” Harris said.

She also helps with the pet therapy taking care of the therapy dog, Simon.

“Well that’s our future right?” said Kathleen Fogarty, director of James A. Haley VA Medical Center. “She gets exposure to the whole gamut of the acuteness of an illness all the way to the long term care of it. She’s working in our office, so she really sees everything that could possibly happen. She’s great.”

Forgarty sees a lot of herself in Harris.

“I don’t know if Mairyn knows this, but that’s how I started my career was a teen volunteer a hospital in Denver Colorado. And I took care of the CEO. I answered her phones while her secretary went to lunch,” Fogarty said.

Haley’s Youth Volunteer program accepts teens ages 14 to 18 and starts recruiting in April for up to 50 positions.

Camilla Thompson, chief of Voluntary Services, said the teens are asked to volunteer from 80-100 hours, must have a TB test and go through a full day of training. They are then assigned to one of more than 20 different services at Haley like nursing services or the recreational therapy department.

“They get an opportunity to provide like a buddy program where they read to veterans or they may get the newspaper for them or they may assist them with meal prep,” Thompson said. “They get an opportunity to interact with veterans by playing games.”

The volunteers also help take veterans on outings. Thompson said they do limit the teenagers’ exposure to veterans and service members with more severe injuries in the Spinal Cord Injury unit and Polytrauma Center.

“We really tread lightly with that and have open discussions and gain feedback from youth whether or not that’s an experience they’re comfortable with,” Thompson said.

The 47 Haley youth volunteers will finish their summer of service in August with a reception sponsored by veteran service organizations. The teens get a chance to share what they liked most about their summer vacation at Haley. You can listen to the story at WUSF News.

A Look at the Highest Paid VA Employees in Florida

James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

Six of the region’s 10 highest-paid Veterans Affairs employees are physicians who work at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, according to The Tampa Tribune.

All six physicians earn more than $350,000 annually at the Tampa facility, one of the nation’s largest and busiest VA facilities. A total of 40 Haley employees and 11 at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center are doctors earning at least $300,000, The Tribune reports.

Several of the highest-paid employees earned salaries and controversial performance awards, The Tribune reports. The House Veterans Committee pointed out that performance pay continued to be paid without a clear link to performance, according to The Tribune.

Job and Career Events for Veterans, Military Families

Veterans and military family members looking for a job or a new career – today is your day. Several Florida state agencies are sponsoring Paychecks for Patriots.

Image courtesy of VeteransToday.com.

Image courtesy of VeteransToday.com.

There are 18 hiring events planned throughout Florida Wednesday, July 16, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. organized by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), and the Florida National Guard.

The state is partnering with Dollar General and nearly 500 employers that are interested in the knowledge, skills, and of military veterans.

Paychecks for Patriots events in the Tampa Bay area:

  • NEW PORT RICHEY – CareerSource Pasco Hernando
    4440 Grand Blvd.
    New Port Richey, FL 35652
    Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Mike Prendergast will be in attendance.
  • ARCADIA – CareerSource Heartland
    DeSoto County
    2160 NE Roan Ave
    Arcadia, FL 34266
  • LAKELAND – CareerSource Polk
    Florida Army National Guard
    4140 Drane Field Road
    Lakeland, FL 33811
  • SARASOTA – CareerSource Suncoast
    HQ 3-265th ADA
    2890 Ringling Blvd.
    Sarasota, FL 34237
  • SEBRING – CareerSource Heartland
    Highlands County
    5901 US 27 S, Suite 1
    Sebring, FL 33870
  • WAUCHULA – CareerSource Heartland
    Hardee County
    324 Sixth Ave North
    Wauchula, FL 33873

Unable to attend a Paychecks for Patriots hiring event? Veterans and military members can apply for available positions online at www.employflorida.com.

Watch an Air Force Tradition: A Final Flight Drenching

A salute to Col. Scott DeThomas as he brings the KC-135 Stratotanker to a stop on his final flight as an Air Force pilot.

A salute to Col. Scott DeThomas as he brings the KC-135 Stratotanker to a stop on his final flight as an Air Force pilot.

Someday I’ll know what it’s like to leave behind a profession that I’m passionate about and have invested much of my life to. That’s what Col. Scott DeThomas is preparing to do as commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and MacDill Air Force Base.

After 32 years in the military, 23 of them as an Air Force pilot, DeThomas is retiring.

He was at the controls of a KC-135 Stratotanker, an aging refueling tanker, for his final flight which DeThomas said was appropriate.

It’s a bittersweet moment one last time in the pilot’s seat, DeThomas called it “surreal.”

But there were plenty of friends, family and staff to help him through it along with the time-honored tradition of drenching a pilot after the final flight.

The drenching started with two fire trucks as DeThomas taxied the tanker to it’s final resting spot.

DeThomas is scheduled to retire in August. He and his family, wife Marta, son Brad,17, and dautghter Anna, 8, plan to remain in the Tampa Bay community.



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