Twin Brothers Share The Healing Power Of Storytelling

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Mark and Matt Fetterman are co-founders of The Homefront Foundation – a non-profit organization dedicated to helping service members, veterans and their families learn the power of storytelling as a tool for coping and community outreach.

Next month, it will have been 15 years since the United States went to war in Afghanistan and then later, into Iraq. It’s estimated 2.5 million men and women have served during that time and each has a story to tell.

Helping those service members and veterans shape and share their story is why Tampa brothers Matt and Mark Fetterman started the non-profit organization, The Homefront Foundation.

“While I was pursuing my degree at Columbia University, I was exposed to storytelling as a business tool,” Matt Fetterman said, who earned an master’s degree in organizational psychology.

That’s when he said he learned the power of storytelling, not only for business but for veterans and service members can use it as a coping tool and an opportunity to bond with their communities.

Matt Fetterman shares his story as an example. It begins on the parade deck the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

“When I was a freshman or a plebe at the Academy, I remember raising my right hand. I took my oath on Saturday. I swore into the Navy,” Matt Fetterman said. And three days later, on a Tuesday, he and his section of plebes were marching to class, stopped and watched across the water as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

During his last 15 years of service, he only had three days when the U.S. has not been at war.

“It’s a long time and it’s very trying,” Matt Fetterman said. “I think that we are all tired.”

Matt Fetterman volunteered in 2010 to serve in Afghanistan as did his twin brother, Mark Fetterman, also an engineer and graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy.

“Before we had gone to Afghanistan, a good friend of mine and Matt’s who went to college with us, he was shot and killed in Afghanistan,” Mark Fetterman said. “Shortly after we found ourselves in country, another one of our friends was dead. This time he had stepped on a land mine. And knowing this is part of my story makes me believe that other veterans have stories to tell and in their stories there are lessons.”

homefrontfoundation_posterMark Fetterman said the lesson he learned from his story, “You’re not alone.”

“When you transition back home away from the battlefield you feel alone,” Mark Fetterman said. “I know when I got home, I was not transitioned back with a unit, and I found myself living in a hotel room for three weeks by myself, drinking too much, making some bad decisions.”

But Mark Fetterman said his brother came knocking on his door to make certain he knew he was not alone. Also, storytelling helped.

“I was a skeptic. Didn’t think storytelling had anything to do with me as a person,” Mark Fetterman said. “But it had so much and when I finally learned how to tell my story and felt comfortable and get past that vulnerable stage, I found it was relieving.”

The Fetterman brothers hope to bring that same relief to others and at the same time create a bond with the community. Last fall, they both moved to Tampa to be closer to family and start The Homefront Foundation, a non-profit set up to help teach service members, veterans and first responders storytelling  as a tool for coping and outreach.

Unwritten Letters is their first workshop in Tampa. Matt says veterans from all service branches and some first responders have signed up.

“This is not a theatrical performance. This is a story,” Matt Fetterman said.

After the daylong workshop, there’s a community event for the public to share in the stories on August 27, 2016 at 6 p.m. at the University of South Florida Tampa Campus, Theater 2, 4202 E. Fowler Ave.

Mark Fetterman said they hope that people with no links to the military will attend, as will family and friends of active-duty members and veterans.

“I think what they’re going to see, when they start to hear these stories come out, is the value in these individuals and the value they can bring back to their communities again,” Mark Fetterman said.

New Report: Suicide 21 Percent Greater Risk For Veterans

veteran_suicide_crisisline_graphicAfter releasing a summary in early July, the Department of Veterans Affairs today released its  full report on veteran suicides.

The Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans 2001-2014 is a comprehensive analysis that looked at more than 55 million veterans’ records  from 1979 to 2014 from every state in the nation.

Some key findings from this year’s report include:
  • In 2014, an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day. Six of the 20 were users of the VA Health services.
  • In 2014, veterans accounted for 18 percent of all adult deaths by suicide in the U.S. but only make up 8.5 percent of the population age 18 or older.
  • In 2014, about 67 percent of all suicides by veterans a firearm was used.
  • Approximately 65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide in 2014 were 50 years of age or older.
  • Since 2001, U.S. adult civilian suicides increased 23 percent, while Veteran suicides increased 32 percent in the same time period. After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21 percent greater for Veterans.

A fact sheet is available and the VA is taking several measures to increase prevention programs and access to care and the Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255.

 

Tiny Homes For Vets Teach Huge Lessons To Students

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Celebrate Outreach president Reggie Craig looks over USF students’ construction documents. Bobbie O’Brien/WUSF Public Media

There’s a growing movement to help homeless veterans by providing tiny houses – structures of only a couple hundred square feet. The idea has taken root in Eugene, OR, Kansas City and Huntsville, AL. Now, you can add St. Petersburg to that list.

 

The interfaith group, Celebrate Outreach, is embracing the tiny house concept and building on it.

For a start, their tiny houses are custom designed by students at the University of South Florida School of Architecture and Community Design. Continue reading

VA Researchers Seek Volunteers for Engagement Council

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(April 2014) Lead therapist Michael Firestone adjusts the Exoskeleton computer backpack for veteran Josh Baker, paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

Veterans and their family members in the Tampa Bay region have an opportunity to help guide VA research at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, Tampa, FL.

The Haley VA is looking for 10 volunteers to serve on a Veteran Engagement Council. The council will bring a veterans’ perspective and help shape VA research that studies things like the effectiveness of new technologies on veterans’ care.

Council members will have the opportunity to interact with primary investigators and the research center staff to develop ideas for future research and provide feedback on current proposals.

To serve on the Veteran Engagement Council, you need to be a veteran, a family member or caregiver of a veteran and want to bring about meaningful change in VA research.

Volunteers should have good communication skills, have received VA care or have a family member under VA care, and be willing to look beyond personal experiences.

The terms are two years and require attending a monthly meeting of up to two hours in person or through phone conferencing.

A copy of the application and details are available here.

10 Things The VA Wants You To Know About Agent Orange

Photo courtesy of the VA website.

Photo courtesy of the VA website.

The official blog for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VAntage Point, has produced a “Top 10 List” of important information all veterans should know about the herbicide Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War. It was sprayed on trees, vegetation, forests and waterways along boarders in Cambodia, Laos, and in South Vietnam.

The list is below, and you can read the full details on today’s VAntage Point.

  1. Agent Orange was a herbicide and defoliant used in Vietnam.
  2. Any Veteran who served anywhere in Vietnam during the war is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  3. VA has linked several diseases and health conditions to Agent Orange exposure.
  4. Veterans who want to be considered for disability compensation must file a claim.
  5. VA offers health care benefits for Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during military service.
  6. Participating in an Agent Orange Registry health exam helps other Veterans and the VA.
  7. VA recognizes and offers support for the children of Veterans affected by Agent Orange who have birth defects.
  8. Vietnam Veterans are not the only Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  9. VA continues to conduct research on the long-term health effects of Agent Orange.
  10. VA contracts with an independent, non-governmental organization to review the scientific information on Agent Orange.

The VA blog entry is written by Dr. Ralph Erickson, a 32-year Army Veteran of the Gulf War (1990-91) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) who has also served as Commander of The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research; Command Surgeon, US Central Command; and Director, DoD Global Emerging Infections and Response System (DOD-GEIS).

National Air Guardsman Tapped To Lead MacDill AFB

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Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox, commander of the 18th Air Force, passes the 6th Air Mobility Wing guidon to the incoming commander, Col. April Vogel, during the wing change of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 8, 2016.
Tech. Sgt. Krystie Martinez / U.S. Air Force

Commanding an Air Force Wing – like the 6th Air Mobility Wing in Tampa – is challenging enough.  Add to that being accountable for the security and daily operations of a high profile military base that is headquarters for U.S. Central Command, and those responsibilities grow “huge.”

That’s why the Air Force selected Col. April Vogel to take command at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa. Continue reading

New Veteran Suicide Statistics Show 20 A Day In 2014

veteran_suicide_crisisline_graphicA new, more in-depth analysis of veteran records from all states from 1979 to 2014  indicates “that in 2014, an average of 20 Veterans a day died from suicide.”

An estimated 22 veterans a day – on average – committed suicide according to a Department of Veterans Affairs report in 2010. But that analysis was limited to data from only 20 states.

The final 2016 report is due out later in July. However, the VA did release some key findings: Continue reading

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