VA Acting Secretary Issues Message To Workforce

The following message comes directly from the Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie:

Robert Wilkie, photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

I’m deeply grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to serve with you and for America’s Veterans.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War to end all Wars”.  One hundred years ago, my great grandfather left the comfort of teaching law at Ole Miss to join the 320th Field Artillery Regiment of the 82nd Infantry Division assembling at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Across the cantonment from his regiment was an infantry outfit whose muster roll included a reluctant scratch farmer from Pall Mall, Tennessee, by way of Buncombe County, North Carolina, by the name of Alvin York.

In another part of the country was my wife’s grandfather, who had probably never ventured beyond three or four counties in North and South Carolina, but by the time he was 18, he was marching up the Champs Elysees into the terrible battle of the Meuse Argonne.

Captain A.D. Somerville, Sergeant Alvin York and Private Onslow Bullard, ordinary Americans called upon to do extraordinary things. It is their descendants whom we are honored to serve—millions of ordinary Americans who have answered a special call for us and the world.

At my Pentagon swearing in, I was proud when the officiating officer noted that I had been born in khaki diapers. I have been privileged to see this military life from many angles—as a dependent, as the son of a gravely wounded combat soldier, as an officer in two services—the Navy and the Air Force– and as a senior leader in the Pentagon. Being with you today is the culmination of a lifetime of watching those who have borne the battle.

I do not know how long I will be privileged to serve as the acting secretary, but let me tell you about my philosophy.

Customer service is the key—but not necessarily in the way you might think. Customer service must start with each other—not talking at each other but with each other across all office barriers and across all compartments. If we don’t listen to each other we won’t be able to listen to our Veterans and their families.

We must have a bottom up organization. The energy must flow from you who are closest to those we are sworn to serve. It is from you that the ideas we carry to the Congress, the VSOs and to America’s Veterans will come.  Anyone who sits in this chair and tells you he has the answers is in the wrong business.

This is a noble calling. We have a solemn responsibility to Veterans—not just today, but in the months and years to come, to set the standard for the millions coming into our VA and for the millions who will join the ranks down the years.

That is our important and nonnegotiable mission. The president and Congress support us, and I’m honored to help lead this organization.  I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible. I value your thoughts and insights as we improve our cepartment (department) for the challenges in the years ahead.

Thank you and God bless.

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Transition Help Without The DoD PowerPoint Slides

Soldiers line up to check in for the CivilianJobs.com job fair sponsored by the Fort Campbell, Ky., Army Career and Alumni Program office. Hundreds of transitioning service members, veterans, and their family members took part in the event.

My thanks to Barrett Bogue, Student Veterans of America vice president of Public Relations and Digital Engagement, for passing along a new website focused on transitioning service members.

While the issues covered in Rebootcamp may sound similar to the TAP classes you sat through, don’t worry – there’s no “death by PowerPoint” here. The site includes edutainment videos, informative how-tos, custom tools, and inspirational stories about veterans.

Education, employment and entrepreneurship are the cornerstones of the new site, Rebootcamp, produced by the Military Times. The strength of the website; the many partners that contribute.

A huge chunk — maybe even a majority — of the information, advice and other content that you’ll see comes from more than a dozen partners, spanning veterans service organizations, government agencies and the private sector.

A few of the recommended articles:

Another resource to check out, Project Transition USA, a non-profit organization that shows service members how to use LinkedIn to help transitioning military find meaningful careers in the civilian world.

75 Employers At Military Spouses, Veterans Job Expo

PHOTO COURTESY: Visit Tampa Bay

In addition to the job opportunities – military spouses and veterans who register prior to the event will have a chance to win free tickets to the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Ottawa Senators hockey game.

The Hiring Our Heroes Expo is scheduled Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL.

However, doors open at 9 a.m. for those interested in the free, Career Connections employment workshop to help build your resume and translate military skills into civilian skills. There are additional resources for connecting with veteran-friendly employers, digital networking and job search techniques.

Expo sponsors, in addition to the Lightning, are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Lockheed Martin and USAA. Employers range from large, national companies to smaller, regional businesses.

Since 2011, Hiring Our Heroes has helped hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment through more than 1,100 job fairs in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and on military installations overseas.

VA Faces Challenges Expanding Mental Health Care


Army veteran Phillip Faustman sifts through his belongings at a San Diego homeless shelter. Faustman says he attempted suicide three times in two and a half years.
Christopher Maue / KPBS

The following is a report from Steve Walsh, my colleague at the American Homefront Project, reporting on military life and veterans issues.

The Veterans Health Administration is planning to make mental health care more available to help reduce veteran suicide. But veterans advocates worry about the impact on the already strained VA health system.

A recent government study concluded that the majority of veterans who commit suicide are not enrolled in VA mental health care.

Phillip Faustman almost became a part of that statistic. Faustman, who is gay, joined the Army in 2012 after the end of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, which barred gay and lesbian troops from serving openly in the military.

“I waited for the repeal, so I joined the Army to prove to myself that I could do it,” he said.

While in the military, he suffered sexual trauma that led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Discouraged, he left the military in 2015, he said.

“When I first got out, I was alone, and no one was really helping me,” he said. “So I had my suicide attempt.”

Periodically homeless, Faustman did not turn to the VA, in part because he found the enrollment process daunting.

That’s a common problem among new veterans, only forty percent of whom receive VA mental health coverage. Many are discouraged from seeking care because of a complicated process to determine their eligibility. Veterans may have to prove, for instance, that their mental health need is connected to their service.

Without treatment, Faustman attempted suicide three times in less than three years. Continue reading

18 Veterans Ready To Skate, Ski And Curl Their Way To Gold

USA Paralympian Jen Lee in goal. Photo courtesy: US Department of Veterans Affairs.

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics flame is extinguished – but that doesn’t end the quest of U.S. athletes for gold.

Opening Friday, March 9, at the same South Korean venue, Team USA will field 74 athletes to compete in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

And one quarter, 18, of those athletes are veterans and active-duty military.

And, as a confessed hockey fan, I’m proud to say a third of veterans are playong on the USA sled hockey team:

Thanks to the work of Mike Molina, a VA public affairs specialist, and VAntage Point author Mei-Mei Chun-Moy, a VA intern, you can meet all 18 of the veterans on Team USA competing in the 2018 Winter Paralympics.

You can read their story in VAntage Point, the official blog of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

And you also can follow the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games here.

Looking To Help Veterans Exposed To Open Burn Pits

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Sharing an update for veterans exposed to the burn pits while serving in Iraq. The  story on proposed congressional action is by my fellow journalist Howard Altman, Tampa Bay Times.

For years, tens of thousands of veterans suffering from their exposure to the burning of toxins in military trash pits across Afghanistan and Iraq sought official acknowledgement of a connection between the smoke and their health issues.

Their long march for recognition is gaining some traction.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the Tarpon Springs Republican, is developing legislation requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to assume that certain diseases arise from burn pit exposure when it makes decisions on compensating veterans. The legislation mirrors connections formally established to the defoliant Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.

Read Altman’s full update here.

Add your name to the VA Burn Pit Registry.

Learn more about proposed legislation, H.R. 1279,  that would establish a VA center of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits.

Evidence Of Housing Discrimination Against Veterans

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Quil Lawrence, NPR Veterans Correspondent. Photo by David Gilkey/NPR

The following audio is a report by Quil Lawrence from National Public Radio.

It had long been suspected.

There was even anecdotal evidence.

But it wasn’t until the Washington state attorney general set up a “sting” that officials had proof that landlords were discriminating against veterans using federal housing vouchers.

The HUD vouchers were part of the Department of Veterans Affairs effort to end homelessness among veterans.

But because of the high cost of housing and the unwillingness of landlords to accept vouchers, Lawrence reports that homelessness increased last year.

You can listen to his NPR report here.

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