Is The Pentagon ‘Clawing Back’ Your Enlistment Bonus?


Packing for a year in Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on legacy bonuses – paid to California National Guard troops during the height of the Iraq War – and that the Pentagon is now “clawing back” those bonuses.

The reason given is that some troops got enlistment incentives improperly or their recruiters broke the rules. So, the Defense Department is now demanding them back – even, in some cases, after combat deployments, injuries or honorable military service.

Now, the question is if this issue is widespread – beyond the California Guard. Have you, a current or former soldier,  been asked to repay some of your incentives to the government? Please email if that’s happened and you want to share your story. Bobbie O’Brien at – the military and veterans reporter for WUSF Public Radio.

6 Mobile Apps To Help Fight Depression

On 4 September 2006 soldiers with Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment, hug during a memorial ceremony held for Army Staff Sgt. Joshua R. Hanson, a fire team leader with Able Company, at Mainside Chapel here September 4. The chapel filled with tears when a photo slide show, featuring pictures of the moments that Hanson had spent with the unit was displayed before the last roll call and a 21-shot rifle salute. The memorial consisted of the playing of our national anthem, prayer; a scripture read by Justin D. Knopf, a 24-year-old squad leader from Detroit Lakes, a photo slide show, a 21- shot rifle salute and the playing of "Taps". An inverted M-16A2 rifle was placed in Hanson's homage, with a Kevlar helmet resting on top. Engraved identification tags and a crucifix hung from the rifle's pistol grip. Immediately in front, an empty pair of boots was positioned, while behind the display, the national ensign and battalion colors were displayed. Along the sides were two ammunition cans containing keepsakes from fellow soldiers. The battalion, an Army National Guard unit out of Detroit Lakes, Minn, is currently attached to 1st Marine Logistics Group (Fwd). Able and Headquarters Companies, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group is deployed with I MEF (FWD) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq (MNF-W) to develop the Iraqi Security Forces, facilitate the development of official rule of law through democratic government reforms, and continue the development of a market based economy centered on Iraqi Reconstruction. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Ryan L. Tomlinson)

On 4 September 2006 soldiers with Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment, hug during a memorial ceremony held for Army Staff Sgt. Joshua R. Hanson, (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Ryan L. Tomlinson)

The following article comes directly from the public affairs office of the Defense Centers of Excellence: For Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. The centers are an excellent resource for information on mental health for the whole family: service members, veterans, families, caregivers and health care providers.

For a quick look at depression in the United States, check out these statistics:

With reports like these, we should keep tools to fight depression handy. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), with the Department of Veterans Affairs, designs tools like apps for your smartphone. And these days, there are few things handier than a mobile app.

However, before you explore the T2 suite of apps, here’s an overview of depression:


Depression isn’t a simple feeling (sad, down, blue, etc.); it is a serious condition that requires patience, understanding and treatment. Clinical depression is a medical condition and like other medical conditions, it can interfere with a person’s daily life and can make normal functioning a challenge. Depression can vary in type and symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Intense sadness, feelings of hopelessness
  • Memory lapse, trouble with attention
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Thoughts of death, suicide
  • Exhaustion, fatigue
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Impatient, fidgety
  • Loss of appetite, changes in weight
  • Body aches (headaches, cramps or digestive problems) without a clear physical connection and no relief even with treatment


According to the “VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Major Depressive Disorder (PDF)”:

“Depression is considered a biological illness but can result from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger depression, but depression can also occur without an obvious trigger.”

It can present at any age and may co-occur with other medical conditions such as a traumatic brain injury, diabetes or cancer.


Health care providers can treat depression. The earlier a person starts treatment, the better the outcome. Treatment involves psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Without treatment, depression can recur frequently and may become chronic.

“If you experience several depression symptoms that last longer than two weeks and interfere with normal daily activities, it’s time to see a health care provider,” said Cmdr. Angela Williams, chief of evidence-based practice at the Deployment Health Clinical Center. “Most people who engage in treatment for depression get better.”

Fight Depression with Mobile Apps

This list of mobile apps from T2 can help users understand and manage depression symptoms:

  • ACT Coach uses mindfulness and acceptance strategies to help users cope with emotions and symptoms of psychological health conditions.
  • LifeArmor offers information, support tools (such as depression assessments), videos and a symptom tracker. It is the mobile compliment to AfterDeployment.
  • Mindfulness Coach teaches focused attention using guided mindfulness meditation practices. It includes session logs to track progress and educational materials.
  • Moving Forward features problem-solving tools designed to teach life skills.
  • Positive Activity Jackpot helps users overcome depression and build resilience. It uses augmented reality technology to locate positive activities nearby.
  • T2 Mood Tracker helps users monitor and track their emotional health. Results are displayed in an easy-to-understand graph.
  • Virtual Hope Box strengthens coping, relaxation and distraction skills. Users can add personal photos, inspirational quotes, etc., to support positive thinking.

If you, or someone close to you, are experiencing depression, please talk to your health care provider. For more information about depression and available resources in your area, contact the 24/7 DCoE Outreach Center. Professional health resource consultants stand ready to help you access information specific to your needs. Call today: 866-966-1020.

Messages For Deployed And White House Christmas Tree


Examples of the Christmas ornaments

Here’s a special opportunity for families with a military member serving overseas. But it’s limited to today, Oct. 10, 2016, because there’s only so much capacity.

Blue Star Families is offering its members a chance to share a holiday message with their deployed family member by putting that message on an ornament that will hang on the White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room.

The family message can be up to 140 characters and will be imprinted on an ornament. Learn more and fill out the form at Don’t delay, Blue Star Families is collecting a limited number of responses today only.

Read The Military Regulations Regarding Political Activity

vote-hereThanks to the National Conference of State Legislatures for this item that was published by the Department of Defense eight years ago.

The Department of Defense issued a directive in 2008 regarding political activity by members of the military. This section refers specifically to “holding and exercising the functions of a state or other non-U.S. government office attained by election or appointment.”

4.5.1. Paragraph 4.5. applies to a civil office in a State; the District of Columbia; a territory, possession, or commonwealth of the United States; or any political subdivision thereof.

4.5.2. A regular member may not hold or exercise the functions of civil office unless otherwise authorized in paragraph 4.5. or by law.

4.5.3. A retired regular or Reserve Component member on active duty under a call or order to active duty for more than 270 days may hold─but shall NOT exercise─the functions of a civil office as set out in subparagraph 4.5.1., as long as: The holding of such office is not prohibited under the laws of the State; the District of Columbia; a territory, possession, or commonwealth of the United States; or any political subdivision thereof. The Secretary concerned grants permission after determining that holding such office does not interfere with the performance of military duties. The Secretary concerned may NOT delegate the authority to grant or deny such permission.

4.5.4. A retired regular or Reserve Component member on active duty under a call or order to active duty for 270 days or fewer may hold and exercise the functions of civil office provided there is no interference with the performance of military duties.

4.5.5. Any member on active duty authorized to hold or exercise, or not prohibited from holding or exercising, the functions of office under paragraph 4.5. is still subject to the prohibitions of subparagraph 4.1.2.

Many civilians might not distinguish between active-duty and retired military which can be confusing when listening to news stories where former service members offer their backing and implied military expertise to political candidates.

A good example are two reports on NPR this morning:

Registered independent, retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd Newton, announced his endorsement of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Scores of retired military officers endorsed Donald Trump on Tuesday.

88 former military leaders endorse Donald Trump: In an open letter, they said they believe America needs a leader who has not been deeply involved with the hollowing out of the military. Steve Inskeep talk to retired Rear Admiral Philip Anselmo.


Post 9-11: It’s 15 Years And Counting


Photo credit: Jackie Dorr

Sunday is the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks and as National Public Radio reports, the United States has been fighting every day since:

The U.S. has carried out airstrikes, sent in ground forces, or both, in seven countries stretching from Pakistan in the east to Libya in the west. None of these conflicts has been resolved, and all signs point to years of strife ahead.

Sept. 11 has reshaped the U.S. in countless ways, but perhaps the most profound has been the transformation from a country where peacetime was the norm into one seemingly locked into a permanent state of war. Yet strangely, the country doesn’t feel much like it’s at war.

But that sentiment – “the country doesn’t feel much like it’s at war” – does not hold true for those in the military, nor for their families and friends. They have fought the battles and borne scars for the never ending war against terrorism.

This blog, Off the Base, was created in part to bridge that gap between the civilian community and active-duty military, veterans and their families.

Off the Base, which will be six years old next month, owes its creation to First Lady Rosalynn Carter and the Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowships she inspired.

If the stories shared here have lifted the stigma of seeking mental health help for even one Airman, Sailor, Soldier or Marine or a spouse or military child, then it has been a good six years.

My deepest appreciation with humility and awe is extended to all the blog contributors and to all those who allowed me to tell their story. Their wisdom and willingness to serve no matter the sacrifice is inspiring and significant.

And of course – I am overwhelmed by Mrs. Rosalynn Carter’s graciousness and generosity of spirit. I am forever changed and grateful to have been selected a Carter Fellow 2010-2011.9-11_screenshot_cropped



67 Percent Question If Military Absentee Ballots Get Counted

The Golden Knights fly a Federal Voting Assistance Program banner promoting absentee voting. Credit: FVAP

The Golden Knights fly a Federal Voting Assistance Program banner promoting absentee voting. Credit: FVAP

In 2000, the Florida ballots of overseas service members were a key point of controversy in the Bush vs. Gore election.  Now, 16 years later, little has changed for most overseas troops, who still have to vote absentee mostly through international mail.

Florida lawmakers did create a task force this year to study developing an online voting system for military and overseas voters. But task for members aren’t expected to meet until after the 2016 November election.

However, a handful of other states are experimenting with more modern electronic ballot return.

If you’re active duty military on base, aboard ship or in a combat zone, absentee voting can be a complex process because each state has its own regulations.

So, the Department of Defense created the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to simplify access. But director Matt Boehmer said many service members remain frustrated with the process.

“One of the things that our active duty military told us was the fact that 67 percent of them weren’t confident that their ballot was counted,” Boehmer said referring to a 2014 post-election survey. “Certainly that 67 percent number gets people’s attention and it certainly got my attention.”



All states are required to provide overseas voters an electronic ballot. All 50 do so by email and online. Most offer faxed ballots and paper ballots can still be requested.

But returning a voted absentee overseas ballot is where it gets tricky. Eighteen states require ballots to be returned only through the mail. The other 32 allow some form of electronic return but it varies widely.

For instance, Florida accepts overseas ballots only by mail or fax.

“If you’re in a Forward Operation Base in the middle of the mountains in Afghanistan there’s no option to fax,” said U.S. Army veteran Diego Echeverri. “And you’re not going to have a scanner, you’re not going to have these devices.”

Echeverri served in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004 and is Florida director for the advocacy group, Concerned Veterans for America (CV4A).

Dan Caldwell, CV4A vice president of communications and policy, is an Iraq War veteran. He said their generation expects the ease of electronic voting.

“If troops can Skype overseas in most locations now with their family members, then they should be able to find a way to securely and secretly vote,” Caldwell said. “And I think that can work. I think we have the technology to do it. It just requires some government bureaucrats to get off their butts and actually do it.”

Courtesy: FVAP and MacDill Air Force Base

Courtesy: FVAP and MacDill Air Force Base

But it’s not just bureaucrats; state lawmakers decide their states’ election rules.

And it’s a balancing act between giving voters the convenience of online access versus protecting the integrity of their ballot.

“We’ve got legislators who are very interested in meeting the needs of military members,” said Wendy Underhill, program director for elections and redistricting with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “They are younger. They are used to using electronic interactions for every single thing in their life, and so, there is that push against the security.”

Four states do provide online voting to limited groups like military personnel in combat zones. Alaska is the first state to allow everyone to vote online. Yet, Underhill says the Alaska process is not all that simple.

“Not only do they cast their ballot online, they have to printout a voter identification certificate and something else and get it signed by themselves and a couple of witnesses. And then, scan that back in and send it too. And so it’s not that it’s an easy process,” Underhill said.

Looking at the bigger picture, 56 percent of active duty military, in the 2014 FVAP survey, said the process to get an absentee ballot was too complicated and confusing.


Twin Brothers Share The Healing Power Of Storytelling


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.

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