Life Is Different For Homeless Veterans In Rural Communities


Homeless veterans and other homeless people live in this encampment near the Saratoga Springs, New York train station.
Sarah Harris / American Homefront

A report from Sarah Harris for the American Homefront Project looks at how homelessness differs for veterans living in rural communities: Rather than living in the streets, they may be couch-surfacing, sleeping in their cars, or camping in the woods.

Downtown Ballston Spa, New York, is full of charming old Victorian houses. But there’s one that’s different from its neighbors: the Vet House.

Fourteen formerly homeless veterans live there. It has a comfy frat house vibe: guitars are propped up in the corners, military flags and posters hang on the walls, the kitchen is overflowing with food.

“It’s cozy,” says Dave, who moved in a couple weeks ago. “All the guys get along. We all cook, clean, look out for each other.” Continue reading

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VA Opens Applications For Standardized Veteran ID Card

The veterans group AMVETS distributed this early prototype of the VA’s new veterans ID card in October. The VA has not released a final design, and it’s not clear if the Office Depot logo will appear on the final card.
AMVETS

It might seem a bit surprising – but there is no standardized Identification Card for veterans. Military retirees with 20 years or more service have their own ID card. And veterans who use VA health services have another. But there was no ID card for all veterans – until now.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (FL-R) of Sarasota sponsored the 2015 law that created the Veterans Identification Card to make it easier to officially prove one’s military service. But after more than two years, the VA only just opened the application process this week.

“In my mind and my experience, I think it’s unacceptable that it’s taken two years to do this,” said Carl Hunsinger, chairman of the Manatee Veterans Council and a retired Air Force Retired command chief master sergeant.

Several years ago, Hunsinger saw the need for a standardized veteran ID card after watching a homeless vet pull out his tattered discharge form (DD-214) to prove he qualified for services.

“This sheet of paper cannot only become illegible over a period of time and damaged but also can be easily forged,” Hunsinger said.

So, he took the problem and some suggested solutions to his congressman, Buchanan. It took about a year to pass the law that was signed by President Obama in July 2015.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the VA announced it was officially accepting applications for the Veteran Identification Card. But according to the Military Times, the final design of the ID has not been decided and it could take up to two months before delivery.

Veterans can apply for the ID card online go to the bottom of the page and look for Apply for Printed Veteran ID Card.

The new standardized card, however, will not be accepted as proof for VA disability and medical benefits and there’s no guarantee that businesses will accept it as proof for veteran discounts.

10 Ways To Honor Veterans

If you can’t make it to a Veterans Day parade or ceremony, there are other ways to show your appreciation for the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Here are a few suggestions you can practice year-round:

A bonus suggestion: if you live with a veteran like I do, hug them and make their favorite meal for dinner. Or visit this Military Avenue link 101 Ways to Thank a Veteran for more inspiration.

2017 Tampa Bay Veterans Day Events

The James A. Haley VA Medical Center 2016 Veterans Day Parade.

You can find Veterans Day events celebrated in the nationwide at the Department of Veterans Affairs website. And you can find a listing of dates and times for the ceremonies at National Cemeteries for all the states here.

Listed below are special ceremonies throughout the Tampa Bay region, Florida and the nation that will recognize the sacrifices of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and those who are currently active-duty.

Friday, Nov. 10, 2017

PASCO COUNTY SCHOOLS – 9 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. – A 4th annual district wide Veterans Day Ceremony with patriotic songs, flag demonstrations and featuring Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corely will honor veterans and encourage students to participate in the Vote in Honor of a Veteran program. The event is at the Center for the Arts at River Ridge,11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. Supervisor of Elections Outreach Ambassadors also will conduct voter registration drives at all high schools once the Veterans Day Ceremony concludes.

TAMPA JAMES A. HALEY VA PARADE – 10 a.m. – The 10th Annual Veterans Day ceremony and parade will commemorate the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, which is celebrating 30 years. A brief ceremony is set at the Fisher House followed by the parade on the medical center grounds, 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. Tampa.  Free and open to the public . More than 40 veteran and civic groups will march in the parade which includes several Gasparilla Krewes and a Santa Claus Drill Team. A performance by the University of South Florida Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity is planned before the parade.  And afterward, Operation Helping Hand and Lupton’s are sponsoring a cookout.

HILLSBOROUGH COMMUNITY COLLEGE – Dale Mabry Campus – noon – Those who have served will be commemorated during a ceremony scheduled at the campus flag pole in the courtyard.

242nd MARINE CORPS BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION – 2 p.m. – The Sgt. Walter P. Ryan Detachment of the Marine Corps League invites all area Marines active, retired and former to celebrate the 242nd birthday of the U. S. Marine Corps at American Legion Post 148, 7240 US Highway 301, Riverview. The event begins at 2 p.m. with a reading of the 13th Commandant, General Lejeune’s, birthday message at 6 p.m., the singing of the Marine Corps Hymn and the cutting of the birthday cake.  Call 813-672-1778 for details.

NEW PORT RICHEY FREEDOM FEST – 5 p.m. – The two-day Freedom Fest kicks-off at Sims Park, Grand Blvd & Bank St., New Port Richey, with a dinner for invited Veterans and other dignitaries. There will be live entertainment, a kid’s zone, food and beer sales through a variety of vendors that will be open to the public.

Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017

FLORIDA STATE PARKS – Entry into all state parks is free to veterans and the general public as a tribute to Veterans Day. Here’s an interactive map to locate the state parks nearest you: https://www.floridastateparks.org/interactive-map

ST. PETERSBURG VETERANS AWARDS – 8 a.m. – Honored Veterans” is the theme for the fourth annual Veterans Day Celebration in Williams Park, corner of Fourth Street and First Avenue North, St. Petersburg.  Honored veterans for 2017 are Carrie W. Nero and Charles Claybaker. The event is free and open to the public.

OLD GLORY RELAY – 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. – You can watch the final leg of a journey of one flag that has traveled for 62 days and more than 4,600 miles. It’s the fourth iteration of Team Red, White & Blue’s cross-country run featuring hundreds of veterans from all branches and eras of service. In total, over 70 teams walked, ran and cycled carrying the American Flag from Seattle on September 11th to finish in Tampa on Veterans Day, Nov. 11th. That final Tampa leg starts in Citrus Park, moves south along County Road 576 eventually connecting to the Veterans Memorial Trail and down almost to MacDill AFB before turning onto Bayshore Boulevard, traveling north to downtown Tampa then east along Channelside Drive toward Brandon where the final destination is Westfield Brandon Mall for a retreat and celebration.

SARASOTA PARADE – 10 a.m. – The Sarasota Veterans’ Day Parade, with the theme “We Can Do It!” The phrase, made famous by the fictional icon Rosie the Riveter, represented the contributions of thousands of women both in the military and at home during World War II. This year’s parade and ceremony will honor those women. The parade opens at Main Street and Osprey Avenue and proceeds down Main to J. D. Hamel Park on Gulfstream. A Veterans Day Ceremony is planned for 11 a.m. after the parade ends.

CLEARWATER VETERANS DAY DEDICATION & CEREMONY – 10:30 a.m. – Hosted by the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance, the event features a tribute to Navy SEAL Danny Dietz and the dedication of State Road 60 as a Purple Heart Trail. The ceremony is at Crest Lake Park, 201 S. Glenwood Ave., Clearwater. Former Congressman David Jolly will host the event, which features speaker Cindy Dietz, a Gold Star Mother of Navy SEAL Danny Dietz, who died during a firefight in Afghanistan. Capt. Ward Sandlin, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos will also make remarks. The Purple Heart Trail was established in 1992 by the Military Order of the Purple Heart to be a symbolic national network of roadways to commemorate and honor all men and women who were wounded or killed in combat while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The ceremony will also include a fly-over by the U.S. Coast Guard, entertainment and food.

AVON PARK VETERANS DAY PROGRAM – 11 a.m. – American Legion Post 69 is holding a Veterans Day ceremony to honor all those who have served in the United States Military. It’s a chance to learn about the history of Veterans Day. Post 69 is situated on almost five acres, 1301 W. Bell St., Avon Park, and sponsors the local police K-8 unit as well as the high school JROTC. Larry Roberts is service officer (850)718-7773.

BAY PINES VA CEREMONY – 11 AM – The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System  will host its annual Veterans Day Ceremony in the courtyard of buildings 2 and 37 on the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center campus, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd, St. Petersburg.  The event is open to all veterans, their families and friends and the general public. Highlights include guest speaker U.S. Navy Rear Adm. (Ret.) John Kirby, who now works as a CNN military and diplomatic analyst, local VA leaders and U.S. Representative Charlie Crist (FL-13). Musical performances by the Keswick Christian School Choir; a special parade of colors by local Veteran Service Organizations and the playing of taps. A shuttle service will be available to provide transportation from parking lots to the ceremony area.

BUSHNELL FLORIDA NATIONAL CEMETERY – 11 AM – A Veterans Day Ceremony is planned in the Assembly Area. Seating is limited, so you’re encouraged to bring chairs or blankets. Florida National Cemetery, 6502 SW 102nd Ave., Bushnell, FL.

HILLSBOROUGH VETERANS MEMORIAL CEREMONY  – 11 a.m. – The 53rd Annual Veterans Day of Remembrance ceremony has the theme of “Honoring America’s Veterans,” and feature speakers Col. S. Troy Pananon, Vice Commander, 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base; Col. Jim Waurishuk, USAF, Retired; There will be a POW/MIA Missing Man Ceremony, rifle salute, and taps. And JROTC students from several high schools will perform exhibition drills. The event at the Veterans Memorial Park and LeRoy Collins, Jr. Veterans Museum, 3602 N. U.S. Highway 301, Tampa. The tribue is free and open to the public. Visitors may bring lawn chairs, enjoy patriotic music, and stay for refreshments following the ceremony.

TEMPLE TERRACE VETERAN EVENT – 11 a.m. – The City of Temple Terrace will observe Veterans Day during the Temple Terrace Arts and Crafts Festival, hosted by the Temple Terrace Arts Council at Newly-Woodmont Park, 407 Woodmont Ave.

SARASOTA NATIONAL CEMETERY – 3 p.m. – A Veterans’ Day ceremony is planned at Patriot Plaza. The service honors the men and women who have served our country and are serving us today. There will be ample seating and parking. Sarasota National Cemetery, 9810 State Road 72 (Clark Road), Sarasota.

VETERANS ART CENTER TAMPA BAY – Noon – 4 p.m. – “The Art of Remembrance”  is an event scheduled to honor veterans and first responders through art, music and community. The VACTB is located at 6798 Crosswinds Drive North, B106, St. Petersburg.

BOK TOWER VETERANS CONCERT – 1 & 3 p.m. – Two Veteran’s Day Carillon Concerts – a musical salute of gratitude by carillonneur Geert D’hollander – is open to the public. It’s free admission for military veterans and active-duty with a valid ID.

NEW PORT RICHEY PARADE & THROW DOWN  – 3 p.m. & 6 p.m. – It’s the first ever Veterans Day Parade for the city of New Port Richey that begins at Sims Park, Grand Blvd & Bank St.,  led by a fly-over of veteran aircraft.  Following the parade, the Veterans Alternative’s 3rd Annual Boxing Throw-Down will take place at 6 p.m. The Boxing Throw-Down is a separate, ticketed event, and tickets can be purchased through Veterans Alternative. Vendors, live music, entertainment, and family activities are also planned.

CARROLLWOOD VETERANS CONCERT & MOVIE – 4 p.m. – A Veteran’s Day Concert & Movie in the park, presented by the Carrollwood Village HOAs, starts with a free concert and is followed with festivities and the showing of the movie “Hollywood Canteen” at 6 p.m. at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, 4537 Lowell Rd., Tampa.

BRANDON OLD GLORY PARADE – 5:00-8:00 p.m. – A parade and celebration welcoming Team RWB is planned at the Westfield Brandon Mall, 459 Brandon Town Center Dr., Brandon. Highlights include live entertainment with special MC Roxanne Wilder, Q105 Radio, Military Exhibits, Health & Fitness Demonstrations. Family Crafts & Activities, Food & Beverage Sampling, Interactive Art Display & Photo Opportunities and giveaways.

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Sunday – Nov. 12, 2017

FLORIDA MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHIC ART  – 2 p.m. – “Florida and World War II” is the topic of this Veterans Day Weekend lecture by Gary Mormino, PhD. The FMoPA is located at 400 N. Ashley Drive, Cube 200, Tampa. There will be free admission to all veterans and their families as well as museum members on Saturday and Sunday. Non-members are asked to give a donation.

ST. PETERSBURG CONCERT HONORS VETERANS – 7 p.m. Una Voce, the Gay Men’s Chorus, honors veterans with a performance of the “Testament of Freedom” at the Palladium, 253 5th Ave N, St. Petersburg. Admission is free for veterans and those with military ID for Sunday.  Tickets are available at www.mypalladium.org.

 

Monday – Nov. 13, 2017

BAY PINES VETERANS TOWN HALL – 4-6 p.m. – The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System (VAHCS) and St. Petersburg VA Regional Office, will host a Veterans town hall meeting in the J.C. Cobb room located on the first floor of the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center (building 100) located at 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., Bay Pines. VA leaders will provide updates. Veterans and their families will have an opportunity to comment publicly about VA programs and services. Click here for driving directions and a campus map.

 

Free Offerings and Discounts for Veterans & Active-Duty Military

RESTAURANTS – From Applebee’s to Village Inn – Military.Com has a full, national listing of restaurants offering free meals or discounts to veterans and active-duty military on Nov. 11, 2017 Veterans Day. A list of Retail Deals and Discounts is available here.

ATTRACTIONS & MUSEUMS – Several museums and local attractions are offering free admission to military personnel from active-duty to retired veterans and discounts for additional guests and family.

 

Looking For Vets Caught In VA “Means Test” Snafu

 

flag_homeI’m reaching out to veterans who may have experienced a lapsed VA “means test” renewal and subsequently been charged for medication or care that should have been free.

It happened at St. Petersburg’s Bay Pines Medical Center as told earlier this year. Is it happening at other VA medical centers?

Confusion over the VA “means test” started three years ago when the Department of Veterans Affairs tried to reduce paperwork. The VA eliminated the annual income verification requirement.

But there are exemptions.

And it’s those exceptions such as low-income veterans who have no co-pays that are causing confusion. Many of those veterans didn’t receive notice or ignored their renewal thinking it was a mistake.

If a low income veteran fails to certify his or her income every year, that veteran will be billed for medication and services once the “means test” lapses.

What’s worse, some may not have been unaware of the lapsed charges or thought the bills were a mistake and had money taken from their benefits checks to cover the overdue VA bills.

Veterans at Bay Pines alerted a new administrator to the bureaucratic snafu and he is credited finding a solution.

But that’s only one of more than a hundred VA Medical Centers. Have veterans elsewhere experienced a similar problem? Please contact me at bobrien@wusf.org. And thank you.

 

St. Petersburg VA Celebrates LGBT Pride Month

Courtesy of the Miami VA

Organizers are hoping for a big turnout for a special LGBT Pride event planned Thursday,  June 15, 2017 at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System (VAHCS) in St. Petersburg, FL.

“Viva La Vida! Live the Life!” is the theme for the celebration open to all veterans and the public. The program will focus on diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity and is scheduled to start at noon at the JC Cobb room located on the first floor of the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center (building 100).

Additionally, there will be information on VA benefits and health care services that are available as well as local business offerings for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender) community.

“We take pride in serving all Veterans and strive to be a national leader in the provision of health care to LGBT Veterans while assuring care is provided in a sensitive, safe environment in all of our facilities,”  Tonya Wieck, Bay Pines Equal Opportunity Program Manager, stated in a news release.

To learn more about the Bay Pines VAHCS’s LGBT Pride Month celebration, please call 727-398-6661, extension 15086.

2017 Memorial Day Tampa Bay Observances

The Special Forces Memorial at U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

There are a variety of ways to honor the fallen this Memorial Day, several are listed below. Originally, it was called Decoration Day, named after the practice of families and citizens who “decorated” the Civil War graves of fallen troops with wreaths and flowers.

The day dedicated to remembrance was expanded to include American soldiers who died while serving in World War I and then all American conflicts. Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 and now recognizes the sacrifice of all who have lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In 2000 Congress passed additional legislation calling on all Americans to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.

To pay tribute to the men and women who served and sacrificed for the country, you can locate a VA National Cemetery nearest you that is holding a 2017 Memorial Day Ceremony HERE.

Events in the Tampa Bay region are listed below:

Monday – May 29, 2017

Carry the Load March and Rally – 8 am -2 pm – Ferg’s, 490 Channelside Drive, Tampa. The idea is to have citizens, scouts and ROTC members participate by carrying a rucksack, memento or photo to honor service members and their families for the sacrifices they make. Registration is followed by a brief ceremony, Taps and moment of silence at 8:40. The 5K walk moves down Bayshore Boulevard for 2.5 miles, does an about face, and returns to Ferg’s for a live band and Memorial Rally.

14th Annual Fallen Veterans Ride to Bushnell – 9 a.m. – Start location at the I-75 North, Interstate Rest Area, 1.5 miles north of I-275. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Defenders Law Enforcement MC is organizing the ride. Kickstands up at 9:30 a.m. to the Memorial Service at Bushnell’s Florida National Cemetery at 11 a.m.

Bradenton Memorial Day Ceremony – 9 a.m. – at Veterans’ Monument Park, directly behind the Manatee Memorial Hospital near U.S. 41 and the Bradenton Riverwalk. The guest speaker scheduled is Retired Rear Admiral Richard Buchanan, sponsored by the Manatee County Veterans’ Council.

Bay Pines National Cemetery – 10 a.m. The Bay Pines VA in Pinellas County will commemorate Memorial Day with a ceremony at the Front Committal at the Bay Pines National Cemetery, 10,000 Bay Pines Blvd. North, St. Petersburg. Keynote speaker scheduled is U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Edward W. Sandlin, Commander, Air Station Clearwater, and  U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, and local VA leaders. The ceremony will also feature musical performances by the Suncoast Symphony Orchestra and Vietnam Veterans who attend may receive a commemorative lapel of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

Sarasota Memorial Day Parade – 10 a.m. – The parade, in downtown Sarasota, starts at Main Street and Osprey Avenue and concludes at J.D. Hamel Park, at Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue. “Celebrate, Honor, Remember,” is the ceremony that will pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. Sarasota Military Academy students will lead the parade carrying an American flag flown at the Battle of Midway, followed by the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard. Keynote speaker is James D’Angelo. who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era and founded the Midway Memorial Foundation in 1992.

MathAlive and Military Family Day – 9:45 a.m. – A grand opening ceremony at the Glazer Children’s Museum, 110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa.  Free admission for active-duty military and veterans and their families for Memorial Day. Events will feature  Florida Military Youth of the Year, Gregory Davis, a robotics team demonstration, math and art exhibits and challenges.

Venice Annual Memorial Day Ceremony – 10 a.m. – Patriots Park, U.S. 41,  just north of the intersection of U.S. 41 Bypass North and U.S. 41 Business. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8118 is sponsoring the ceremony which is open to the public. The American Legion NO-VEL Post 159 host and open house immediately after the ceremony at their Post Home, 1770 E. Venice Ave., Venice.

Florida National Cemetery11 a.m. – An ceremony honoring those who have fallen is planned at the Florida National Cemetery Veterans’ Memorial assembly area, 6502 SW 102nd Avenue (Sumter County), Bushnell. For details, call (352) 793-7740 or 1074.

Avon Park Memorial Day Program – 1 p.m. – American Legion Post 69, 1301 W. Bell St., Avon Park, has planned a special program to honor the troops and service animals that have given the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. Contact the Post Service Officer for more information at 850-718-7773.

Annual Memorial Day Concert – 2-4 p.m. – Bring your lawn chairs and coolers for the concert featuring the Sarasota Concert Band at Philippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Adults $5, 12 and under are free. For details call: 941-364-2263.

Memorial Day Sunset Ceremony – 7 p.m. – Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Dr., Largo. The City of Largo is inviting the public to gather at sunset to honor those who have served and died for the country. A color guard, wreath laying and music will round out the ceremony.

Elsewhere in Florida

Barrancas National Cemetery – 9 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony is set at Shelter A, Barrancas National Cemetery at the Naval Air Station, 80 Hovey Road, Pensacola, FL. Call for details: (850) 453-4108 or 453-4846.

St. Augustine National Cemetery,  – 10 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony is scheduled at the Flag pole, St. Augustine National Cemetery, 104 Marine Street, St. Augustine, FL. For information contact: Florida National Cemetery at (904) 766-5222.

South Florida National Cemetery – 10 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony, open to the public, is planned at the Flag pole and Section 39, at the South Florida National Cemetery, 6501 South State Road 7, Lake Worth. For details, call (561) 649-6489.

WASHINGTON D.C. AREA

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery11 a.m. – The U.S. Army Military District of Washington will conduct a Presidential Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath-Laying Ceremony at 11 a.m., at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to be followed by an observance program hosted by the Department of Defense in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. A musical prelude by the United States Air Force Band will begin in the amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. All ceremonies are free and open to the public.

National Memorial Day Parade2 p.m. –  The annual parade is held to commemorate the fallen troops from the Revolutionary War through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The parade traditionally marches along Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C. Grand Marshals include Ken Burns, documentary film maker; Retired Gen. Richard Myers, 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a tribute to World War II generation.

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