Artist, Author, Former President Bush Visits MacDill AFB

Former President George W. Bush painting one of 66 portraits he produced for his new book. Photo courtesy of The Bush Center.

Former President George W. Bush painting one of 66 portraits he produced for his new book. Photo courtesy of The Bush Center.

The 43rd president appeared on the Today Show Monday to kick off his book tour and is following that with an appearance at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base in the afternoon with a book signing.

He won’t take questions from media. However, former President George W. Bush will autograph pre-purchased copies of his book at MacDill’s Surf’s Edge Club.

It’s been eight years since Bush has occupied the White House. And among his many pursuits he has picked up brush and started painting.

He has become rather prolific producing 66 portraits of military veterans for his book, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors. Many of the men and women are wounded physically or with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress. Bush paints their portraits and writes the story of their service.

The book’s title riffs off of the Pulitzer-winning book, Profiles in Courage, written in 1956 by former President John F. Kennedy while he was a U.S. Senator and after his distinguished career as a U.S. Naval officer during World War II. Kennedy’s book features eight profiles of men he felt showed extraordinary political courage.

Proceeds from Bush’s book will be given to his foundation, the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative, which supports transitioning military members offering help with employment and resources.

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The Veterans Garden In Tampa Officially Opens

Solar panels are the sole power for the sustainable garden project that was expanded to include veterans. It's a place where veterans can learn gardening techniques as well as solar power, raising chickens, bees and tilapia.

Solar panels are the sole power for the sustainable garden project that was expanded to include veterans. It’s a place where veterans can learn gardening techniques as well as solar power, raising chickens, bees and tilapia.

A ceremonial seed planting will be part of the official opening of the Veterans’ Garden, 918 W. Sligh Avenue, Tampa across from Lowry Park Zoo.

The event is set for Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, 10:30 a.m. and will include recognition of USAA which provided  a grant to expand the sustainable garden for veterans.

It’s a place where veterans can volunteer, learn agriculture techniques and the produce will be donated to veterans at risk of homelessness.

“Veterans found that since they started community agriculture initiatives that they were more comfortable talking with civilians and more comfortable talking to strangers and people that didn’t have a military background,” said VA researcher Karen Besterman-Dahan, “Those were really important things.”

She said researchers are just beginning to study the therapeutic value of  agriculture and gardening to help veterans manage depression, anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

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

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

Causes

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.

Treatment

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.

Judge Asks University To Readmit Expelled Veteran

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder with a graduate from Veterans Treatment Court in August.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder with a graduate from Veterans Treatment Court in August.

A Hillsborough Circuit judge is calling on the University of South Florida to live up to its recent ranking as a top “veteran friendly” university.

Judge Greg Holder has asked USF President Judy Genshaft to readmit a student veteran who was expelled after an off-campus incident in August 2014.

Holder said the charges against former Army Staff Sergeant Clay Allred were serious – threatening a store clerk with a firearm and later discharging the firearm into the air – but Allred’s actions were directly related to his combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Allred was accepted in the Veterans Treatment Court, he admitted his guilt, accepted responsibility and was sentence to two years on house arrest followed by three years of probation.

Now after a year of court supervision and treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that had gone undiagnosed, Holder said the former Green Beret deserves a second chance to complete his degree.

In his letter dated Nov. 13, 2015, the judge requested that USF re-admit Allred as an online student so he can finish his senior year. Holder even offered to amend Allred’s house arrest to prohibit him from going onto USF property.

“I’m providing whatever protections Dr. Genshaft or her personnel might deem appropriate,” Holder said. “So, that hopefully consistent with USF status as the number two veteran friendly school in this nation, we can get this man back as a member of the ‘Bull Nation.’”

A USF spokeswoman said the university has received Holder’s letter, but could not say if Genshaft has read it. The university declined comment on Allred’s status citing federal privacy laws and added that “USF does not offer online exclusive undergraduate programs.”

Along with his letter, Holder included 40 pages of supporting documentation including Allred’s citation for the Army Bronze Star Medal awarded for his service in Afghanistan training members of the Afghan National Police.

Veterans And Family Invited To ‘Debt Of Honor’ Preview

wusf_debt_of_honor_invitationFor veterans living in the Tampa Bay region, WUSF Public Radio invites you to participate in a panel discussion and preview of the new Ric Burns film “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History.”

The WUSF Florida Matters Town Hall taping is Thursday, Nov. 5 at the University of South Florida Tampa campus, in the College of Public Health’s Samuel Bell Auditorium (13201 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612).

Please join us at 5:30 p.m. for an opening reception, and the taping that starts at 6 p.m. Seating is limited and registration is required. Please RSVP at this link, or call 813-905-6901.

A preview of the film will be followed by a panel discussion with:

  • Filmmaker Ric Burns
  • Actor and national veterans’ spokesman JR Martinez
  • Taylor Urruela, a disabled veteran who lives in Tampa

It will be moderated by Carson Cooper, the host of WUSF’s weekly public affairs show.

 

Florida Puts Out Call To All Women Veterans

Florida has 160,000 women veterans living in the state, yet some of those women do not consider themselves a veteran and many more have never applied for veterans’ benefits.

 Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN. Credit Department of Veterans Affairs


Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN.
Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

Matching women veterans with available benefits, resources and support is the goal of the 2nd Annual Women Veterans’ Conference July 30-31, 2015 at the University of South Florida

“Women veterans have a lot of gender specific issues,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA). “But often they don’t consider themselves veterans because male veterans or male family members have told them that they are not.”

She said many of the older women veterans are unaware that their veterans or entitled to veterans benefits.

“I’m a veteran. I only served a couple of years in the Air Force and I didn’t know I was a veteran for 25 years,” said Larri Gerson, supervisor of claims for FDVA.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

Raising awareness and then helping women file for their veteran benefits is one reason why the state agency is planning the free, two-day conference in Tampa.

“I’ll be talking about the appeals process having women veterans understand what we can do to help them with their claim for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and MST, military sexual trauma,” Gerson said.

Sessions also will cover employment, vocational training, and an elder law expert along with an opportunity to sit down with benefits experts from the FDVA who will help women vets with their claims.

The 2nd Annual Florida Women’s Veterans Conference is free and open to women vets, their spouses and support. Online registration is available through the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

13 New Veteran-Related Laws In Florida

Zak, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador, is one of the newest Paws for Patriots graduates. (June 2015)

Zak, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador, is one of the newest Paws for Patriots graduates. (June 2015)

Florida’s new law that expands access for service animals used by people with disabilities has received the most attention of the 13 veteran-related laws passed this year.

House Bill 71 not only expands the protected right to use a service dog to people with mental impairments but it also allows for a jail sentence if a public business denies access. And the new law also makes it a second degree misdemeanor for someone to pass off an untrained pet as a service animal.

“When people abuse things like that, it diminishes the service that that patriot has delivered to our country,” said Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. “And it diminishes our community’s ability to sort out and determine who the legitimate person is and who is using an animal and mislabeling that animal for illegitimate purposes.”

Part of the problem, Prendergast said, is that no one authority certifies service dogs and their training. And there’s inconsistency at the federal level on the use of service dogs for veterans with mental health issues like post-traumatic stress.

Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs, at a 2012 news conference in Tallahassee. Photo courtesy of Steven Rodriguez, WFSU.

Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, at a 2012 news conference in Tallahassee. Photo courtesy of Steven Rodriguez, WFSU.

Prendergast plans to suggest to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald that the federal VA adopt Florida’s guidelines for service animals.

He’s also pushing to put Florida on the cutting edge to handle future challenges that will confront veterans.

“From the burn pits, the oil fires over in the desert, the other environmental hazards that are over in Afghanistan that are over in the Iraqi desert that we’ve all been exposed to and we’re all going to have health challenges that will manifest themselves,” Prendergast said. “Whether it’s 10 years or whether it’s next year. We still want to be prepared for those health challenges.”

As an example, Prendergast said the Florida Veterans Foundation, established by the legislature, funded hyperbaric oxygen treatments for a limited number of veterans with traumatic brain injuries or TBI. That is despite the fact that the pressurized oxygen treatments are not a recognized treatment for brain injuries and some consider it controversial.

“Whether a peacetime veteran or combat veteran, we’ve managed to get some folks exposed to that and they’ve had remarkable recoveries from it,” Predergast said. “We need to explore the frontiers of medicine to take care of our veterans.”

And he wants that frontier to start with Florida’s 1.6 million veterans.

Florida Veteran-Related Legislation for 2015:

  1. HB 27 – Authorizes replacing the “V” on Florida Drivers Licenses with the word “Veteran”
  2. SB 7028 – Grants in-state tuition to veterans’ spouses and children using Post 9/11 GI education benefits
  3. SB 132 – Allows veterans to use alternative documentation for disabled parking permits renewals
  4. HB 329 – Authorizes military-related specialty license plates Woman Veteran, World War II Veteran and others
  5. HB 185 – Creates a public records exemption for the identification and location of current or former active-duty U.S. Armed Forces service members, Reserves and National Guard who served after September 11, 2001 and their spouses and children.
  6. HB 801 – Adds a memorial to the Capitol dedicated to the 241 U.S. Armed Forces who lost their lives in the Beirut barracks bombing attack October 23, 1983.
  7. HB 277 –Motels and hotels are required to waive minimum age requirements for active-duty military, Reserves and Guard who present valid identification.
  8. SB 184 – Authorizes absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters to use the federal write-in absentee ballot in any state or local election.
  9. HB 71 – Updates on the use of service animals to include people with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits daily activity; makes it a second degree misdemeanor to deny access to a service dog accompanying a person with disabilities or a trainer; prohibits asking about the nature of an individual’s disability in order to determine if the service animal is legitimate; makes it a second degree misdemeanor to misrepresent a pet as a service animal or to misrepresent oneself as a qualified trainer.
  10. SB 686 – Grants a property tax exemption to leaseholds and improvements constructed and used to provide military housing on land owned by the federal government.
  11. HB 225 – Requires the state to only purchase U.S. and other state flags made in the United States and from domestic materials.
  12. HB 1069 – Allows for the expansion of the Veterans Courts program under certain conditions.
  13. HB 471 – Allows vehicles with a Disabled Veterans license plate to park for free in a local facility or lot with timed parking spaces with some restrictions.

Information on the veteran-related legislation was provided by the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

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