Remembering Army Ranger and NFL Player Pat Tillman

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Pat Tillman, former NFL player.

The VA marked the start of the 2019 National Football League season with a VAntage Blog entry commemorating the service of Pat Tillman. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Tillman finished his 2001 NFL season and then enlisted in the U.S. Army.

He completed Army Ranger School in late 2003 and deployed. Tillman was killed April 22, 2004 in Afghanistan.

In a previous Off the Base blog post, I shared a portion of Tillman’s “Just In Case Letter” he left his wife, Marie Tillman shared in her new book, The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss, & Life:

  • Just in case I don’t come back I want the money used to put the boys through college.
  • Just in case I don’t come back I want you to know that I was fighting for my country: my country is you and our babies and my mom and my sisters.
  • Just in case I don’t come back I want you to know that you were everything a wife was supposed to be. That you made my life happy. That even though we didn’t have 50 years together, the five we did have were the fullest, richest years anyone could ever want.

But Tillman’s life did not end there.

Marie Tillman created the Tillman Scholars Foundation “empowering the next generation of leaders.”

I’ve had the privilege to interview several Tillman Scholars over the years. They are remarkable military veterans and spouses with even larger dreams and a passion for service and scholarship, among them:

So as you cheer on your favorite NFL team this weekend, you might also consider a “shout out” to the memory of Tillman and the team of Tillman Scholars who contribute daily to better our world.

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Mission Roll Call Seeks Voices, But Limits Feedback

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Field of Stars at the World War II Memorial, Washington D.C., courtesy of the WWII Memorial.com

 

It’s estimated that only about half of all United States military veterans are using the VA benefits they’ve earned, or are connected to a veteran service organization.

So, what’s the response? One, featured in today’s VA email newsletter, is a “movement” named Mission Roll Call

… to reach all Veterans, to learn how to better serve them. Every Voice Matters. Stand and be counted, make your voice heard.

But there’s a problem from my point of view as the spouse to a World War II veteran who is not actively using his VA benefits.

It’s “Every Voice Matters” campaign is pseudo marketing with a pseudo survey.

When you click on the “make your voice heard” link, there’s a survey that only gives you three options for your “most important issue”: veteran suicide, veteran employment and veteran caregiver support.

That’s it.

First let me acknowledge, veteran suicide, employment and caregiver support are all very important concerns.

However, if “Mission Roll Call” really wanted to “REACH ALL VETERANS,” this is not the way to connect with those who are not engaged. In fact, the survey is more like an insult to their intelligence.

There’s no option to write in a specific concern. There’s only the three issues, a space for your name, email and then a “VOTE” button.

That’s how you supposedly make your voice heard, pick only from Mission Roll Call’s three issues?

I understand if the survey is an attempt by the organization to prioritize its predetermined top issue.

I get it. But present it that way.

PLEASE don’t market this as a campaign to give “voice” to individual veterans and their concerns.

It’s not.

It appears only as a way to advance the organization’s concerns and to build a database of emails.

Additionally, this “pseudo survey” will come up with only “pseudo results” – none of them will be accurate or real. Unfortunately, such pseudo polls have become pervasive on the internet while consumers have become less discerning.

As a veteran’s spouse, I thought Mission Roll Call might be a way to encourage my WWII Veteran to use his VA health benefits for his hearing loss.

I’m disappointed. He remains among the estimated 50 percent who have not reached out and probably will not thanks to the level of pseudo marketing to veterans.

A Thank You To All Who Served Including My Dad

I’m thankful this Memorial Day for many people including my younger sister, Pat O’Brien Turner, who today visited our father’s grave at the U.S. National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

Navy WWII veteran Robert Joseph O’Brien spent D-Day off-loading troops on the shores of France. He was part of a naval landing-craft crew that made numerous trips back and forth to the coastline for the first two days of the invasion.

My father talked to me about his service just once. And that’s only because I was with my husband, also a WWII Navy veteran.

Like many of his generation, he didn’t like to recall the war. I think in part, it’s because he was assigned burial duty after the beach was secured. It was a heart-wrenching assignment that I know he carried out with the same care and dignity he would afford his own loved ones.

Today, I think of my father and all the families of those killed on the beach that day, those who died in WWII and all who have fallen while serving their country.

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Memorial Day 2019 at the U.S. National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

 

Registration Deadline For Veterans Outreach Court In Tampa

Here’s an opportunity for veterans living in Hillsborough County to resolve outstanding misdemeanor warrants, fines, legal fees and ordinance violations.

This is the second year that the Veterans Outreach Court is offering low income and homeless veterans a chance to clear up their court record.

Close to 100 veterans got help with their minor legal issues during the one-day outreach court last year.

Cases the outreach court will not hear:

  • domestic violence
  • child support
  • active felony warrants
  • cases already pending in Veterans Treatment Court

But to take advantage, veterans must act because today, October 26, 2018, the deadline to register.

The 2018 Hillsborough Veterans Outreach Court is free and scheduled in two weeks, Friday, November 9, 2018 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital Primary Care VA Annex, 13515 Lake Terrace Lane, in Tampa.

Online registration is available for veterans at the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court website: www.hillsclerk.com.

All qualified participants will receive a notification by mail.  Veterans can also view their case online at www.hover.hillsclerk.com.

Using A Military Mindset To Create Business Start Ups


Alex Hill, right, and Justin Duhe, left, walk through the coconut groves at Coco Rico, Homestead, FL.
Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

As he transitions out of the military this fall, Justin Duhe is going into business for himself. The 28-year-old Army linguist and cyber specialist bought a five acre coconut grove in Homestead, Fla. last year – sight unseen. He knew nothing about coconuts at the time.

“I farmed before in Texas, but it was all vegetable farming, nothing like this,” Duhe said. “But I saw the potential of money, you know, that they were growing fruit and it was an investment.”

Justin Duhe bought his 5 acre coconut farm as an investment as he transitions out of the Army.

But while his new career running Coco Rico Farms will be vastly different from what he did in the Army, Duhe said his military experience will still be an asset.

Noting that he learned Farsi in 47 weeks in the Army, Duhe said he’s not afraid of challenges. And his time in the military has helped him build a business network. He wasn’t in Florida long before crossing paths with a veteran in the food business who was looking for a fresh coconut supplier. The two Army men bonded instantly.

“That’s part of the military mindset,” Duhe said. “You see each other and you pick up your battle buddy and they pick you up and you both have a vision, a goal and you keep on moving forward.”

Duhe and Alex Hill, owner of Florida Coconuts, became “business” battle buddies – not partners, but supplier and vendor.

Alex Hill, Army veteran and owner of Florida Coconuts, met Duhe online while searching for a new supply of fresh Florida coconuts.

Hill, who was in the Army Airborne, sells fresh coconut water to tourists along the beach. He said it’s not the first time he’s done business with other people who’ve been in the military.

“They have a similar work ethic as you and also uphold those similar values that you have. It’s hard to find people that have the same values outside the military,” Hill said.

Green coconuts are the best source for fresh coconut water.

Agencies target “Vetrepreneurs”

About 2.5 million veterans own businesses. According to the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, veterans own 13 to 15 percent of small businesses, though they’re only eight percent of the population.

Women veterans are driving the trend, according to Misty Stutsman, the director of entrepreneurship and small business at the institute.

“Women veteran entrepreneurship has grown over 300 percent since 2007, which is insane,” Stutsman said. “If you look at these entrepreneurs, not only is the start-ups great, but they’re out earning their civilian counterparts.”

To offer veterans the option of self-employment, the Institute developed several entrepreneurship programs including some that are specifically for women veterans, active-duty, and military spouses.

“Communities are investing in these programs to make sure that the next generation of entrepreneurs is supported,” Stutsman said.

Alex Hill, second from left, accepts his $7,500 second place winnings at the first Veterans Florida “Batttle of the Pitches.”

Veteran-owned startups have attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The success record among veteran-owned startups has attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The US Small Business Administration Veteran Business Outreach Centers offer a range of resources and training in conjunction with more than 20 partners. There are non-profit organizations like Bunker Labs, created by military veterans for veterans interested in a start-up.

Veterans Florida – a non-profit corporation created by the state of Florida – offers free classes, mentors, and an annual “Battle of the Pitches” where “vetrepreneurs” compete for cash prizes.

Florida Coconuts, Hill’s company, won second prize – $7500 – at the 2018 competition. The first prize was awarded to Axon Motor Company in Clearwater, Fla.

Hill’s prize came at a good time. A drop in the coconut supply and a seasonal dip in tourism hurt his business, so he’s pursuing a new entrepreneurial idea. He is working to design a better coconut opener.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

A VA Suicide-Reduction Program Not Reaching Vets In Need

Last year, the VA began offering mental health treatment to vets who don’t normally qualify for VA care. Since then, fewer than 200 people have used the program. Steve Walsh with the American Homefront Project reports.


Former Marine Josh Onan talks with a mental health professional at the San Diego VA. Onan is taking advantage of a year-old program that makes VA care available to people with less-than-honorable military discharges.
Katie Schoolov / KPBS

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Onan was in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006 when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.

“I remember laying down in the truck,” Onan said. “Waking up, there is dust and debris all over me, and there was an Iraqi colonel, and he’s just screaming, screaming and I don’t understand what he’s saying.”

Onan suffered a head injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. During the next year, he was in and out of trouble with military officials, mainly for small infractions, which he chalks up to the medications he was taking.  Then, while on leave, he was caught with a small amount of cocaine and was kicked out of the Marines.

Onan is one of the thousands of veterans who have other-than-honorable discharges. They don’t typically qualify for VA benefits, even though they have a high suicide rate.

To address that, the VA last summer started a new program. It allows that group of veterans to come into the VA and be treated for mental health issues at least for 90 days.

Onan is taking advantage of the program. After years of being rejected by the VA, Onan now is getting his PTSD treatment paid for by the agency, and he hopes it helps him get back to being the person he was before the injury.

I’m 32 years old now, and this guy is 20, and I look up to this guy,” he said as he looked at a old photo of himself. “I know it’s me, but I miss everything about him. Sometimes it’s hard to find this guy.”

Advocates fault VA for inadequate outreach

The VA says nationally 115 veterans have used the program, a figure that’s disappointing to veterans advocates.  They say it represents just a small fraction of the veterans who now qualify for mental health care. The VA last year estimated that more than 500,000 veterans have other-than-honorable discharges.

“It’s not possible that that’s the number of people who need help,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an Iraq vet who works with the Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s a failure to contact them, to fully inform them, and to break the stigma.”

Vietnam Veterans of America lobbied the VA to help veterans with other-than-honorable discharges.

“It’s a program that most people who are eligible for haven’t heard of, and the reason for that is the VA refused to do any outreach,” said Vietnam Veterans of America Executive Director Rick Weidman.

Weidman said there was an internal debate over whether the VA could pay to reach out to veterans who normally don’t qualify for VA care.

Illness Related To Service

Of the 115 people who took advantage of the program, 25 were in San Diego, according to the VA.

“They came in saying they had an urgent need, and they were evaluated and received care for that urgent need – whether it was a substance use disorder or suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Neal Doran of the San Diego VA.

Earlier this year, Congress expanded the program to take in even more former service members.

Bi-partisan language inserted into a recent budget bill turned the VA program into law, making all vets with other-than-honorable discharges eligible for mental health care if their illnesses are related to their service.

The VA has not released details about how the new program will operate.

“VA is currently in the process of writing implementation regulations which will provide further guidance on expanding mental health care outreach to service members in need,” the agency said in a written statement.

The VA is also required to actively seek out the veterans who qualify.

But Onan said finding those veterans – and persuading them to seek out VA care – will still be difficult.

“I felt shunned. I still feel shunned,” Onan said.

He said treatment has been a lifesaver for him, but he fears the alienation he felt will make it difficult for other vets to seek help.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that a lot of them aren’t alive,” he said. “And the reason I say that, is without treatment and without proper care, even loved ones. I don’t think I could have done it without God and my family.”

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2018 North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC.

Thoughts On This Day: September 11th Anniversary

The Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 after the terrorist attack. Photo credit: Department of Defense

Sharing this simple, yet heartfelt message by DJ Reyes, a retired Army Colonel and Senior Mentor/Coordinator of the Florida 13th Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court:

Friends: We all take pause today to not only remember what happened, but to reflect on the incredible impact the events had on our very Nation.  For many of us, it defined our military lives as we were totally immersed in fighting the Global War on Terrorism. It affected all of us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It affected our families and those we love.

It confirmed for many of us that words such as Duty, Honor, and Country are not bumper stickers – but a Code that we live and die for.

For our VTC team of mentors, judges, lawyers, VA, and community support:  We continue the Fight, but now we help many of those get whole again, and to return home with honor. I am very proud and humbled to be part of this incredible group of true Patriots right here in the greater Tampa Bay area.

We’ll celebrate and honor and remember more during our upcoming 4th Annual Heroes Gala Dinner/Awards Event next month and hope to see many of our community supporters that evening.

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