USF Student Veterans Have “Got Your Six”

USF student veteran and Marine Reservist Patrick Schweickart helps academic advisor Alyssa Thomas try on his military-issued backpack.

USF student veteran and Marine Reservist Patrick Schweickart helps academic advisor Alyssa Thomas try on his military-issued backpack.

Over the next five years, more than one million men and women will leave the military and re-enter civilian life.  For some, that is not an easy transition.

But there’s a program to help. The national, Got Your 6 campaign partners Hollywood with veterans groups. Their focus is helping veterans reintegrate in their communities through jobs, education, health, housing, family, and leadership.

The education component is in practice in more than 100 universities. It’s a campaign where student veterans instruct faculty and staff about their experiences so educators and advisors can help student veterans adjust to campus life and the classroom.

Student veterans at the University of South Florida are holding weekly Got Your 6 classes this summer. The three-hour session is voluntary, yet it is attracting a lot of participants. Continue reading

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Defense Secretary Attends Military Sexual Assault Panel

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel served in the senate from 1997-2009 representing Nebraska. Photo credit: Congress.com

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel served in the senate from 1997-2009 representing Nebraska. Photo credit: Congress.com

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made clear “that his goal is to eradicate the crime of sexual assault from the military, and that he is open to all their ideas on how to accomplish this objective,” according to a readout from the Pentagon.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little provided the written comments about the secretary’s meeting with the panel today.

The Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel is charged with conducting an independent review and assessment of the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault and related offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It will develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of those systems.

Hagel believes the panel’s findings and recommendations will play a critical role in ensuring that the department, working closely with Congress, makes well-informed decisions to improve sexual assault response and prevention — considering all the options on the table.

“The Secretary asked the panel to work deliberately and carefully, based on thorough research and analysis, but also emphasized the importance of acting quickly.  He pledged the department’s full support for the panel’s efforts,” according to the Little press readout.

“In addition to today’s meeting, Secretary Hagel continues to hold regular weekly meetings of the top civilian and military leadership of the department focused solely on sexual assault prevention and response efforts.”

27 Things You Should Know About PTSD

Infantry veteran Timm Lovitt shared how he handles his PTSD in the VA About Face project.

Infantry veteran Timm Lovitt shared how he handles his PTSD in the VA About Face project.

A top concern of virtually every deployed military member is the misconception held by many civilians that all combat veterans have PTSD. It’s an incorrect assumption. But it’s a pervasive misconception among employers, educators and even some friends and family.

So, the Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to bust that and other myths about post-traumatic stress disorder. An awareness campaign includes assigning today, June 27th, as PTSD Awareness Day.

For Veterans

One way to raise awareness is to listen to the veterans who are living with PTSD such as Timm Lovitt, part of the VA’s About Face project: Nobody knows Vets like other Vets. Here the Veterans offer personal advice about PTSD, based on what they’ve been through.

“One of my big triggers is driving,” Lovitt said. “I got angry and I rolled my window down. And just as I was about to you know start yelling things out, I realized, Timm, this is exactly what you don’t want to be doing right now.” Continue reading

7 Steps to Raise PTSD Awareness and Help Someone

Credit: PTSD.VA.gov

Credit: PTSD.VA.gov

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised the profile of post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.  But just hearing about it is one thing – understanding it takes more effort.

Yet, it’s important because many people who have only “heard” about PTSD tend to paint all with the same broad brush when individualized understanding is needed. So, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to raise awareness and understanding.

The VA has launched its campaign: Take a Step – Raise PTSD Awarness:

Why do your actions matter for others? If you have PTSD, treatment can help you get better and live a full life. If you are a provider, you can help someone take the step into treatment. And anyone in the community can make a difference by understanding more about PTSD.

Here are seven steps suggested by the VA:

Heart Rocks to Welcome Wheelchair Veterans

Duane "Red" Jensen, a Recreation Therapy Assistant at Haley VA and a disabled veteran, receives more than three dozen heart rocks from 8-year-olds Olivia Stano and James Chong.

Duane “Red” Jensen, a Recreation Therapy Assistant at Haley VA and a disabled veteran, receives more than three dozen heart rocks from 8-year-olds Olivia Stano and James Chong.

During the week of July 13th — Tampa will show some love to a group of amateur athletes — who will arrive from around the nation for the 33rd Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

More than 600 veterans, all using wheelchairs, will compete in different events from basketball to bowling to quad rugby to table tennis according to Cathy Williams, head of recreational therapy at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital, host for the national competition. A calendar of events is available HERE.

A close up of one of the veterans' heart rocks.

A close up of one of the veterans’ heart rocks.

“It’s 19 events during the week of July 13 -18th in downtown Tampa,” Williams said. “There will be several different venues from Raymond James Stadium to the convention center to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.”

And at each of those venues,  when the athletes get on and off the buses, they’ll receive a “heart-felt” welcome prepared by children.

More than three dozen hand-painted “heart rocks” with messages for the veterans will be placed at the various stops.

Children show off some of the heart rocks they painted for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Children show off some of the heart rocks they painted for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

“God made these rocks shaped like a heart because he cares about us,” said James Chong, 8, who helped with the project. “So, we made these rocks for the veterans because we love them and care about them.”

Another 8-year-old, Olivia Stano had her own reasons to paint her heart out for the veterans’ wheelchair games.

“I wanted to make sure that the veterans knew that we liked how they helped our country,” said Stano whose cousin and great-grandfather served in the military. And her great-grandfather is in a wheelchair.

Some of the one-word messages for the veterans: honor, brave, USA.

Some of the one-word messages for the veterans: honor, brave, USA.

That’s the beauty of the heart rocks which are part of the landscaping. People in wheelchairs tend to see them first said Terri Thompson – who came up with the project idea.

Thompson, a kindergarten teaching assistant, said the rocks come from a Vietnam veteran who owns a rock and gravel company. He donates heart-shaped rocks that are then decorated for wounded veterans.

“That’s what it’s about. The kids showing their love and the kids understanding the love the vets have for us,” Thompson said.

A few of the children’s heart rocks can already be found on the grounds of the Fisher House near the waterfall at the Haley VA Hospital.

A heart-felt message to the veterans in wheelchairs.

A heart-felt message to the veterans in wheelchairs.

Some Reductions Made in VA Benefit Claims Backlog

The 2010 Homeless Stand Down was held September 18, 2010 at the National Guard Armory in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. The Stand Down is an annual event designed with the Homeless Veteran in mind. Courtesy Miami VA.gov

The 2010 Homeless Stand Down in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. Courtesy Miami VA.gov

Less than three months ago, the VA began expediting disability claims of veterans who have been waiting for more than a year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has made progress resolving more than 65,000 claims in less than two months thanks in part to mandatory overtime for VA benefits claims workers.

Other progress that has been made includes: 97 percent of all claims over two years old are gone from the backlog and the backlog now has the lowest number of claims since August 2011.

“Any progress toward eliminating the backlog is welcome news,” Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, state in a news release.

“But we cannot forget that the department is still far short of its own backlog performance benchmarks for 2013. Additionally, one can’t help but question how the department was able to process most of its two-year-old claims in just 60 days. If two months was all VA needed to adjudicate these claims, why did the department let them sit for two years or longer?”

Miller concludes by stating that “this problem won’t be solved unless the backlog is at zero by 2015, just as VA leaders have promised.”

The VA focus is now on claims from veterans waiting more than a year.

Wounded warriors’ claims are a priority and those separating from the military for medical reasons are not part of the VA backlog. Their claims are handled separately.

Other disability claims prioritized at the VA:

  • Homeless veterans
  • Those experiencing extreme financial hardship
  • The terminally ill
  • Former Prisoners of War
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims

According to a news release, VA’s backlog is comprised mostly of supplemental claims from Veterans already receiving disability compensation who are seeking to address worsening conditions or claim additional disabilities.

Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint Department of Defense/VA web portal eBenefits at http://www.ebenefits.va.gov.

Rambo’s Days Are Over, GI Jane May Have to Wait Years

The ban on women in combat was lifted Jan. 23, 2013. Though 99 percent of the careers offered in the Air Force are open to women, the decision will open more than 230,000 jobs across all branches of the military. 2013 marks the 20th year that the Department of Defense allowed women to serve as combat pilots. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Senior Airman Micaiah Anthony/Released)

The ban on women in combat was lifted Jan. 23, 2013. Though 99 percent of the careers offered in the Air Force are open to women, the decision will open more than 230,000 jobs across all branches of the military. 2013 marks the 20th year that the Department of Defense allowed women to serve as combat pilots. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Senior Airman Micaiah Anthony/Released)

The days of Rambo are over (a quote from a special ops officer), but it could be years before GI Jane appears in some combat roles.

That’s a broad summary of plans to integrate women into previously closed combat positions. The plans were reviewed and released by the Department of Defense earlier this week.

Among the services, the Marines have the fewest women, only 6 percent, and therefore are taking a “slow and deliberate” pace to assess what combat positions should be opened to women according to NPR reporter Larry Abramson.

Abramson’s story examines how quickly the various branches are moving but the overall process is expected to take years.

Some women are worried that arbitrary barriers such as social concerns will pop up because there is resistance from small, elite teams reports Abramson.

But the special operations officer said that “combat isn’t about strength any longer.” Special Operations and other military are looking for smart qualified operators who can learn and speak foreign languages and understand culture. You can listen to the NPR story HERE.

The Stars and Stripes reports that as early as the end of this year the Navy may open up jobs to women in its Riverine Force’s small craft.

In the near future, the plans call primarily for study of institutional and cultural factors of putting women into units closed to them under the 1994 combat exclusion policy, which former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted in January.

In addition, a key step will be the establishment of gender-neutral physical and mental standards for each position, including infantry, artillery, armor and special operations forces.

The Army, which has hundreds of thousands of jobs in combat units closed to women, said in its plan that it would present gender-neutral standards to qualify for those positions during 2015.

 

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