Deployed Troops at Risk of Accidents Back Home

 A U.S. military cargo truck bypasses a charred vehicle destroyed by a roadside bomb while moving building materials to Forward Operating Base Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Nov. 24, 2009. Credit U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elisebet Freeburg


A U.S. military cargo truck bypasses a charred vehicle destroyed by a roadside bomb while moving building materials to Forward Operating Base Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Nov. 24, 2009.
Credit U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elisebet Freeburg

Evasive driving maneuvers like speeding and sudden lane changes are a must for troops driving in dangerous environments where there may be roadside bombs, like Afghanistan.

But the driving habits that can save a soldier’s life when deployed can cause an accident and maybe death when the soldier returns home.

A 2012 study, by the insurance company USAA, showed that deployed military members have a 13 percent higher risk of being in an accident after returning stateside.

There are other risk factors for at-fault accidents according to the USAA Returning Warriors Driving Safety Report 2012:

  • Army Veterans accidents increased 23 percent; Marines 12.5 percent; Navy 3 percent and Air Force 2 percent.
  • Drivers younger than 22 are more at risk (a 25 percent increase) while those over 29 have a 7.5 percent increase
  • Drivers with 3 or more deployments are most at risk with a 36 percent increase in at-fault accidents; 2 deployments saw 27 percent increased; 1 deployment had a 12 percent increase.

The insurance company that only serves military and their families created an online survey for members returning from deployment. It has a dual purpose, to gather additional data about risk factors and to alert combat veterans of the driving dangers and offer safety tips such as:

  • Don’t start out driving at night or in heavy traffic
  • Plan out your route ahead of time
  • Avoid things that might cause you concern like narrow roads

The online assessment asks simple questions and is short according to John Bird, a retired Navy admiral and senior vice president for military affairs at USAA. He quelled any concerns that the data would be used against the driver.

“I will tell you our whole company business is built on trust. We absolutely are not using this data to raise rates or to affect policies for those military members,” Bird said. “In sharp contrast, we’re using this data as we do so much data across all insurance areas to go toward prevention.”

Additionally, USAA is offering a $25 incentive to a spouse or military member who has recently returned from at least a six month deployment to take the survey.

So far Bird says they’ve had more than 30 percent of USAA members participate. The company estimates that about 5,000 of its members return monthly.

Help Greet Returning WWII Veterans

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Courtesy the National Parks.

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Courtesy the National Parks.

If you live in the Tampa Bay region and have an hour to spend this evening, head to the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

Honor Flight of West Central Florida has sponsored 80 WWII veterans for a day-long visit to Washington D.C. memorials as a way to honor their service.Part of the celebration is a public “hero’s welcome home.”

The welcome home celebration is open to the public and free. Gather at the baggage claim area by 8 p.m.

To date, the West Coast Honor Flight organization has sponsored 1256 veterans’ visits to the nation’s capital and veteran memorials. The next flight is Sept. 30, 2014 out of Lakeland.

For more information contact info@HonorFlightWCF.org.

New VA Secretary Gives His Cell Number to Change Culture

VA Secretary Bob McDonald

VA Secretary Bob McDonald

Have you ever heard of a cabinet member giving out his personal cell phone and email?

That’s exactly what the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald did to a room full of reporters during a news conference in Washington D.C. according to the Stars and Stripes.

While McDonald – who corrected a reporter who referred to him as Mr. Secretary by saying, “I’m Bob, really” — may be a little easier to reach now, the effectiveness of a 90-day plan he unveiled to fix a badly-broken program VA health care system is likely how veterans and observers will assess the beginning of his tenure.

McDonald is trying to make the VA culture more veteran centric. His initiative “Road to Veterans Day” focuses on reforming the department over the next 90 days.

He said there are three steps to the reform: regaining the trust of veterans, improving service to veterans and developing long-term excellence in the system.

You can read the secretary’s full comments here.

McDonald acknowledged there are currently more than 100 investigations into cases at VA facilities by the VA and outside agencies.

Launching Careers, Finding Jobs for Vets with ‘Urgent’ Need

Russ Barnes, a retired Air Force colonel, who designed the USF Veterans Employment Project.

Russ Barnes, a retired Air Force colonel, who designed the USF Veterans Employment Project.

Despite the improving economy, finding a job or establishing a career remains a challenge and will be especially so for the million or more military service members expected to transition to civilian life in the next few years.

So, the University of South Florida Office of Veteran Services created the Veterans Employment Project, thanks to a grant from the JP Morgan & Chase Company, to prepare USF student veterans for the competitive civilian market.

Russ Barnes, a retired Air Force colonel with 27 years of service, designed the program. More than 30 student veterans applied, but the sessions need to be smaller to provide one-on-one help.

So, he prioritized the applicants with a survey. Those who scored 10 out of 10 as “urgent” that they find a job in the next three months were accepted first.

“We want to solve that right now,” Barnes said. “They’re urgent. We want to get them right now.”

The employment project he created is not the typical workshop. Barnes turns things upside down. Instead of starting with resume writing, he ends with it. He begins by focusing the veterans on their passion, their ideal career or job.

Then, he guides them working backward, identifying their industry of interest, researching companies, and then honing their resume to fit the job description.

USF student veteran Joshua Gleaton will graduate in May 2015 with a criminology degree.

USF student veteran Joshua Gleaton will graduate in May 2015 with a criminology degree.

By the end of day one, Barnes had the six student veterans in his August session signed up on Linked In. They had to join a professional group in their area of interest, researched companies and made personal connections with people working in their desired profession.

Joshua Gleaton spent more than four years in the Army as a forward observer. The former sergeant is completing a degree in criminology as he works with students at the USF Office of Veteran Services.

“These guys are veterans, they have military experience, there’s still an enormous amount of competition in the work field,” Gleaton said.

His goal is to have a career as a state game warden or work in criminal forensics for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Gleaton said the mock interview process helped him the most.

“One question that caught me off guard is ‘What is my biggest weakness?’ because you don’t want to sound like you have a weakness,” Gleaton said. “You try to turn that into that into a positive answer. “

Student veterans pair off to complete an exercise during a 5-day USF Veterans Employment Project August session.

Student veterans pair off to complete an exercise during a 5-day USF Veterans Employment Project August session.

To prepare the student veterans for interviews, Barnes brought in Crista Shaw, a disability and employment specialist and author of Passport to Education.”

After introducing herself on day four, Shaw, who volunteered to come, started with a couple of questions the veterans may encounter during a job interview.

“Has anybody here been fired from a job, two, three, my hand is up too,” Shaw said, putting them at ease. “I’ve been fired from a job. Let me tell you how to answer this question. “

Shaw did role playing with Franklin Castillo, a Marine going for his MBA. She worked with him on how to shorten his answer and bring the question back around to the present and positives he learned from being dismissed.

“If you leave with one thing today, I would tell you wherever you go you’re in an interview and if you can just be yourself, relax and be yourself,” Shaw advised.

Castillo is one of the student veterans who marked in his survey that it is urgent he find a job in the next three months. He wants to work for a commercial bank in anti-money laundering and fighting fraud.

Russ Barnes conducting the Veterans Employment Project session at the USF student veterans lounge.

Russ Barnes conducting the Veterans Employment Project session at the USF student veterans lounge.

“I came here with a preconceived notion, now as we’ve gone through the week, I’m so desirous to put this to work,” Castillo said.

Barnes said the employment workshop works both ways. Helping veterans adjust to the civilian job market and assisting employers by dispelling common myths about military veterans.

“Some of the misconceptions: in the military they always tell you what to do. They tell you what to eat, where to go what to do. They tell you when to do it, they tell you how to do it. And then you just do it,” Barnes said. “Many business owners say ‘I can’t have someone like that in my company, I need somebody who will be creative and work on their own.’ That is definitely a misconception.”

The workshop ended on the fifth day with mock interviews for the veterans. However,  Barnes said there’s a sixth module – the actual interview and job placement. He plans to stay in touch with all the student veterans until they land their ideal position.

In the interim, a third USF veterans’ employment 5-day session is scheduled to start Sept. 15, 2014.

You can listen to the radio story on WUSF Public Radio.

Another Veterans’ Town Hall Set for Today

James A. Haley VA Medical Center, Tampa, FL.

James A. Haley VA Medical Center, Tampa, FL.

Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center, 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., is inviting veterans and their families to voice their concerns about service and share their ideas on how to improve at a town hall today, Sept. 4, 2014, at 3:30 p.m.

It is the second such veterans’ town hall held in as many days in the Tampa Bay region.

The Bay Pines VA Health Care System held a town hall Wednesday. About 60 veterans attended the Bay Pines event seeking updates and explanations on their specific cases, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

The town halls, reaching out to veterans, are among the steps outlined by the new Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to improve access to care for veterans.

The Haley town hall is planned in the second floor auditorium on the main campus.

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.”

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