Veterans Town Hall for Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

Bay Pines VA Medical Center

Bay Pines VA Medical Center

Here’s an opportunity for veterans and their family members who want to share ideas, compliments and complaints with the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System and St. Petersburg VA Regional Office.

It’s a town hall, scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 as part of the “improved communication” called for by new VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

The goal is to hear directly from veterans.

Outreach workers will be available to help veterans with eligibility and enrollment questions beginning at 8:30 a.m. The main program will follow at 9 a.m. featuring presentations by the two directors. Then, there will be a panel of VA representatives to field questions and comments from the audience that will last until 11 a.m.

The event is scheduled in the JC Cobb room located on the first floor of the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., Bay Pines, FL.

Stolen Motorcycle Returned to Iraq Veteran

Iraq veteran Paul Rivera, holds his 3-year-old daughter, as he examines his restored motorcycle with Ryan McDonaugh, one of the Nam Knights that helped rebuild the stolen motorcycle.

Iraq veteran Paul Rivera, holds his 3-year-old daughter, as he examines his restored motorcycle with Ryan McDonaugh, one of the Nam Knights that helped rebuild the stolen motorcycle.

When is a motorcycle more than just a ride? For Iraq veteran Paul Rivera, tinkering with the mechanics was a kind of therapy. It calmed him as much as a ride on the open road.

But his peace of mind was stolen from his apartment parking lot June 18, 2014.

The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office sent out notices about the veteran’s loss to local news media. The motorcycle was recovered and returned to Rivera on July 4th.

The Nam Knights Westside Motorcycle Club pose before the Iraq Veterans Memorial at Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park.

The Nam Knights Westside Motorcycle Club pose before the Iraq Veterans Memorial at Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park.

But, the vehicle was in bad shape. It had been stripped of parts and spray painted black.

So, the deputies contacted the Nam Knights Westside Motorcycle Club for help. The non-profit club of military veterans, law officers and civilian supporters stepped up. They raised money from other veteran organizations to cover about $1,500 worth of parts. And two members, Travis Wright and Ryan McDonaugh, completely rebuilt the motorcycle.

Businesses stepped up too.  Stepp’s Towing transferred the motorcycle for free as it was being repaired and repainted. Another donated the oil change and safety check,  another a motorcycle lock.

Saturday, August 16, 2014, at the base of the Iraq War Memorial at Veterans Park, members of the Nam Knights and Hillsborough deputies unveiled the renovated motorcycle to the awe of Rivera.

The sight of the restored motorcycle and the applause from more than 50 people who came to celebrate the return left the soft-spoke veteran almost speechless.

He told the crowd how much the motorcycle meant to him because it was the only thing he and his 3-year-old daughter had left after he got out of the Army in 2011.

Rivera said he didn’t know how he could ever thank them for their generosity.

Then someone from the crowd shouted “We thank you for your service.”

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.

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.

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

Image courtesy of

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

Veterans Welcomed to Share Stories, Poetry, Music

openmic-1-col-sq-10a044edaac1b2681dec6c7e4569c0ac091231b4-s6-c30What better way for veterans to celebrate Independence Day weekend than with an Open Mic Event?

It’s a chance to tell stories, recite poetry, share reflections and music.

Sponsored by the Art2Action Inc. and Sacred Grounds Coffee House, the monthly Veterans & Community Open Mic is this Sunday, July 6, 2014 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Sacred Grounds Coffee House, 4819 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa, FL.

Veterans, their families, caregivers and supporters are welcome to share in the evening. Suggested topics in light of the holiday:

  • What does Independence mean to you?
  • What is Freedom?
  • And anything else you like to reflect on or express this time of year.

The Veterans & Community Open Mic is set up as a space for creative self expression and community building. Local artists are encouraged to participate and share in what local veterans have to say.


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