A Way for Student Veterans to Help Their Families

Photo courtesy of the VA

Photo courtesy of the VA

Military service involves more than the person wearing the uniform – families are always a part of that equation.

A team of three University of South Florida psychology doctoral students and a graduate of the School of Social Work are conducting a research study looking at how reintegration affects military veterans and their children.

Their focus looks at how veterans are “reintegrating” to both civilian and academic life and also examines the student veterans’ well-being and that of their children.

The USF Coming Home Project is an anonymous online survey for student veterans who qualify:

  • You must currently be enrolled as a student.
  • You must be a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • You have children between the ages of 6 and 18.

The online survey only requires about 15-20 minutes and is anonymous. It examines the impact of deployments on children in military families.

Information about the Coming Home Project survey is available here.

Medal of Honor Recipient Leroy Petry Is on A New Mission

MSgt. Leroy Petry (right) took time to greet everyone who stood in line to meet him and take a photograph.

MSgt. Leroy Petry (right) took time to greet everyone who stood in line to meet him and take a photograph.

Living Medal of Honor recipients are somewhat rare. There are only 79 living out of nearly 3,500 recipients since the highest military honor was created during the Civil War.

So, it was no surprise that 200 students, veterans and members of the public came out to hear Medal of Honor recipient Master Sergeant (Ret.) Leroy Petry deliver the keynote address at the University of South Florida Veterans Day Ceremony in Tampa.

An estimated crowd of 200 helped celebrate Veterans Day on Tuesday at the University of South Florida.

An estimated crowd of 200 helped celebrate Veterans Day on Tuesday at the University of South Florida.

After his 20 minute speech, numerous veterans stood in line waiting patiently to greet the Army Ranger personally, shake his hand and take a photo with him. Later the Medal of Honor recipient visited with members of the USF football team to talk about resiliency.

Resiliency is something Petry knows about.

On May 26, 2008 as a weapons squad leader in Afghanistan, Petry was shot in both legs as his unit was clearing a courtyard. Two Rangers, wounded by a grenade, were next to him.

Petry saw a second grenade near his men. He picked it up to throw it clear and the grenade exploded severing his right hand. Petry’s training kicked in. He applied his own tourniquet and then got on the radio to call for support. Later, he refused medical care until medics cared for the other wounded first.

Petry retired just a few months ago. And like many of the student veterans in the audience, he is taking on a new mission college and spending more time with family.

Army Ranger MSgt. Leroy Petry.

Army Ranger MSgt. Leroy Petry.

“I have served eight tours and I know that sounds like a lot, but I’d love to be nowhere else but with my guys right now who just returned from trip number 17 overseas,” Petry told the crowd. “They want and are still making a difference.”

He said in an interview afterward that the toughest part of transitioning into civilian life is balancing his drive to be with his battle buddies versus spending time with his family.

“I had an opportunity to go overseas with some guys and it was over Halloween and this might be my son’s last year trick-or-treating,” Petry said. “I had to choose one or the other.”

He chose to spend Halloween with his youngest son.

The hardest part of his retirement as a Medal of Honor recipient has been managing his time. He has to balance requests for appearances with time for his family and education.

The Color Guard opened the Veterans Day Ceremony at USF sponsored by the Student Veterans Association and Office of Veterans Services.

The Color Guard opened the Veterans Day Ceremony at USF sponsored by the Student Veterans Association and Office of Veterans Services.

“I know this award has kind of put me in a different spot where that will come first. But I don’t want to be known only as ‘Leroy Petry Medal of Honor recipient,” Petry said. “I want to be known as ‘Hey! That’s a good guy over there just helping me out,’”

Petry starts a new chapter this January when he heads back to college to study economics.  He will still do public appearances. And he’ll shake hands – with his prosthetics hand – and take photos with all who ask – just like he did with countless veterans and students at USF.

You can listen to MSgt. Leroy Petry’s full speech here.

New VA Polytrauma Center Holds an Open House

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

It’s not your father’s VA anymore as evidenced by just one look inside the Department of Veterans’ Affairs new Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center at James A. Haley VA Hospital at 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa.

There’s a putting green, a two-story climbing wall, and an aquatic center for recreational therapy. Each of the 56 new private rooms has large windows for natural light, lush wood paneling, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, a desk and a large-screen TV so veterans and active duty personnel have direct access to education programs and entertainment.

“It doesn’t seem so sterile. I can see green grass. I can see Busch Gardens from here,” David VanMeter, an associate director at Haley who is in charge of facilities, said as he gazed out a second-story window. “There are different things to look at instead of just four cold walls.”

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is scheduled Saturday, April 12, 2014, at 1 p.m. followed by an open house.

Bringing the outside indoors is the theme of the new Polytrauma Center. The home-like environment is filled with technology and conveniences to make life easier for patients like a track system in the ceiling so immobile patients can be moved easily from their bed to the bathroom.

And private rooms are carved into neighborhoods with military inspired names such as Duty, Patriot and Valor. The idea is to create a healing environment where patients and their families feel at home.

So beyond the individual rooms along an angled extra-wide corridor, there are day rooms where families can socialize.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children's play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children’s play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

There’s a two-story atrium called “Main Street” that is lined with freeze-dried, 20-foot palm trees. The concept is bringing the outdoors inside.

Main Street is filled with natural light. It’s a place where veterans can relax at the internet café or take a turn at the two-story climbing wall.

“You have to think of the veterans on active duty we’re seeing. One day they are in the field. They are serving in combat. They are active. They are young. They have expectations a different generation of veterans may not have had,” VanMeter said. “And now, we’re trying to tool what we provide here to them.”

The hallways are angled so the design doesn't feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

The hallways are angled so the design doesn’t feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

Interior glass walls continue the open feeling allowing a view inside the rehabilitation center and the kitchen of the transitional apartment. And it’s overlooked by a balcony. The third floor is where the general rehabilitation and chronic pain patients call home.

One of the hidden gems on the second floor is an outdoor deck. It’s surrounded on all four sides by buildings. But there is direct access to open sky above complimented by wood planking below and planters filled with greenery to frame the space.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

The aquatic center is a prime example of bringing the outside indoors. The main therapy pool is enclosed on one side with glass doors that can be opened up to the recreational courtyard.

The smaller pool is like a high-tech treadmill that can be raised and lowered for easier patient access.

The recreational space outdoors has a multi-surface area where wheelchair patients can practice traversing stone, brick and gravel surfaces. There’s a putting green, basketball court and a horseshoe pit plus plenty of benches – some of them shaded – for those who want to feel the breeze and sun on their face.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

You can listen to an audio tour of the new James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

 

A Flag, a Concert and a Tampa Home for a Wounded Veteran

Painter Scott Lobio. Photo by Yoselis Ramos.

Painter Scott LoBadio. Photo by Yoselis Ramos.

By Yoselis Ramos

Since 9 a.m. Monday, American artist Scott LoBaido has been painting a 80 x 30 foot American flag mural on the north wall of the Tampa Firefighters Museum in downtown Tampa.

LoBaido has traveled through all 50 states painting murals on rooftops as both a ‘welcome home’ and a ‘thank you’ message to our troops. He has not personally served in the U.S. military.

“I have some military in my family, I have never served but I have more freedom than most people in the world,” he said.

LoBaido’s specialty is American flags. “I’ve gazed at the Sistine  chapel, I’ve touched the statue of David by Michelangelo, but my favorite work of art is the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ It’s the most meaningful, powerful, the most recognizable work of art in the world,” he said.

LoBaido’s mural will be dedicated to Sergeant Mike Nicholson, who lost both his legs and his left arm during an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Afghanistan almost two years ago.

The American Flag mural being painted on the side of the Tampa Firefighters' Museum.

The American Flag mural being painted on the side of the Tampa Firefighters’ Museum.

Now, the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation are working together to raise enough funds to build Nicholson a new home in which he can be independent.

These “smart” homes for the most severely wounded U.S. service members cost about half a million dollars and include technology like retractable cook tops and cabinets, automated lighting, and roll-in bathrooms.

To help raise funds for this home, the Gary Sinise Foundation is holding a Lt. Dan Band concert on Friday, May 10, 2013, at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. That’s Senise’s rock band named after the legless Vietnam vet he played in the movie Forrest Gump.

LoBaido will also be there “speed painting.” LoBaido will paint a more abstract version of the American flag  in only three minutes and then auction it off. All the proceeds go to helping build Nicholson’s new home.

For concert tickets, click here.

Marine Sergeant to Throw Out First Pitch Rays vs. Yankees

Siller (back) and Nicholson give news media a demo before tonight's big pitch. Photo credit Yoselis Ramos.

George Siller (back) and Mike Nicholson (front) give news reporters a demo before tonight’s big pitch. Photo by Yoselis Ramos.

By Yoselis Ramos

At the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees game Monday night, triple amputee Sergeant Mike Nicholson will throw the first pitch from his wheelchair.

Nicholson, 23, was injured by an improvised explosive device – or IED- attack in Afghanistan in 2011. He lost both legs and his left arm and is medically discharged from the Marines.

Nicholson said even though he wrote with his left hand, he always threw with his right. So, he believes he’ll do just fine throwing to home plate.

“I plan on throwing it to the catcher,” he laughed. “That’s my goal right there, getting it to the catcher and make it look good.”

The Tampa Bay Rays along with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation are helping to sponsor Nicholson’s new “smart” home.

That home will have accommodations like ramps, automated lighting, and roll-in bathrooms to help Nicholson be more independent.

Nicholson plays catch and practices his first pitch prior to the Rays vs. Yankees game. Photo by Yoselis Ramos.

Nicholson plays catch and practices his first pitch prior to the Rays vs. Yankees game. Photo by Yoselis Ramos.

George Siller is vice chairman of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation which was started after the 9/11 attacks. Siller practiced throwing the ball with Nicholson before tonight’s big pitch.

“It brings us joy to see him have a full life as he can have. He gave so much for our country and we want to give back what we can,” Siller said.

The two foundations are also sponsoring the Lieutenant Dan Band benefit concert on May 10th  at the Curtis Hixon Park. The proceeds will go towards Nicholson’s new home in South Tampa.

Watch a Quadruple Amputee Use His Two New Arms

Brendan Morrocco at a news conference Jan. 29, 2013 with the surgeons who transplanted his new arms. Photo Credit PBS.org

Brendan Marrocco at a news conference Jan. 29, 2013 with the surgeons who transplanted his new arms. Photo Credit PBS.org

His goal is to hand-cycle a marathon. That is just one aspiration of a young soldier who lost his four limbs to a roadside bomb more than three years ago. He now has two arms, thanks to surgeons and medical staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

It’s one thing to read about the young soldier receiving his transplanted arms – it’s a whole other thrill to watch him as he brushes back his hair with his newly attached hand as shared by MilitaryTimes.

He can move the elbow on his left arm that was not taken in the blast. And now, he can now rotate his left hand slightly on the transplanted arm. His right arm does not much motion yet, but the 26-year-old is hopeful.

“I used to love to drive and it’s, it was a lot of fun for me. So, I’m really looking forward to getting back to that and just becoming an athlete again,” Brendan Marrocco told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

The retired infantry man lost all four of his limbs in a roadside bomb attack in 2009 in Iraq.

You can view a clip of his press conference at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore carried by the Telegraph here.

Tammy Duckworth Named as One to Shake Up Congress

Tammy Duckworth arriving for her speech at University of South Florida Oct 12, 2010.

Tammy Duckworth arriving for her speech at University of South Florida Oct 12, 2010.

An news article by US News names former assistant secretary at the VA and Iraq combat veteran Tammy Duckworth as one of seven new members expected to shake up Congress.

Illinois Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth - One of the first female Black Hawk helicopter pilots to fly combat missions, Duckworth survived a 2004 rocket-propelled grenade attack. She lost both legs and part of her right arm, but managed to safely land her helicopter before attending to her injuries.

Duckworth competed in one of the most bitter races in 2012, against Tea Party incumbent Republican Joe Walsh. Duckworth proved herself as a hefty fundraiser, outspending her opponent by more than $3 million.

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