2015 Veterans Day Events In Tampa Bay

flag_homeThroughout the Tampa Bay region, Florida and the nation, special ceremonies are planned to recognize the sacrifice of those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and those who are currently serving. You can find the Veterans Day events nearest you at a Department of Veterans Affairs website or check the listings below.

And if you can’t make it to a ceremony or parade, there are alternative opportunities to honor a veteran year-round, check them out.

Wednesday, Nov. 11 – Veterans Day

ALL FLORIDA STATE PARKS – To celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, entry into all state parks is free to veterans and the general public (with the exception of the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park) as a tribute to Veterans Day. Here’s an interactive map to locate the state parks nearest you: https://www.floridastateparks.org/interactive-map

PINELLAS COUNTY PARKS – how The parking fees at county parks on Veterans Day is beign waived to show appreciation for local veterans and their families. The offer applies to all visitors: all county boat ramps, Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, Sand Key Park in Clearwater and Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde. Other county managed parks offer free parking daily. A list of Pinellas County parks is available at www.pinellascounty.org/park.

SARASOTA – ROBARTS ARENA – 7 AM – The 2nd Annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast, at 3000 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, FL, features keynote speaker retired General Charles Shugg, a music medley and Vietnam Vets who will receive a commemorative pin in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The breakfast benefits the Sarasota Kiwanis Foundation and Goodwill Manasota’s Veterans Services Program. $25 per person. Register at 941-925-2970 or SRQKiwanisVeterans-DayBreakfast@gmail.com.

ST. PETERSBURG – WILLIAMS PARK – 8 AM – The 2nd Annual Veterans Day Celebration featuring patriotic songs from the Gibbs High School Pinellas County Center for the Arts Choir, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and honored military veteran Willie Rogers, who served as a Master Sergeant for the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. The ceremony is planned in front of the Veteran’s Memorial at Williams Park, 1st Avenue and 4th Street N., St. Petersburg, FL.

NEW PORT RICHEY – RIVER RIDGE CENTER FOR THE ARTS – 9 AM – The Pasco County School District is holding a district-wide Veterans Day Ceremony featuring keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the River Ridge ROTC, Pasco County Schools veteran alumnus and music provided by River Ridge Middle and High Schools, and the Cypress Elementary School Chorus. Winner of the Pasco Constitutional Officers Essay Contest will be announced. The event to honor and celebrate is at River Ridge Center for the Arts, 11646 Town Center Rd., New Port Richey.

TAMPA – PORT TAMPA BAY TERMINAL #2 – 9 AM-1 PM – Operation: REVEILLE – an event for veterans who are homeless – brings together a range of resources and organizations to help veterans with housing, employment, health benefits and other services. The goal is to connect 50 homeless veterans with housing on Veterans Day. The event is planned at Terminal #2, 651 Channelside Drive, and cosponsored by Hillsborough County, the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative and the city of Tampa. Details on the program are available at THHI.org/operation-reveille-2015

SARASOTA – DOWNTOWN – 10 AM – The Sarasota Veterans’ Day Parade with the theme “When Duty Calls,” starts at Main Street and Osprey Avenue and proceeds down Main Street to J. D. Hamel Park on Gulfstream. A Veterans Day Ceremony is planned around 11:00 a.m. after the completion of the parade. The special guest speaker is Army Col. (retired) Stephan D. Cork, the original commandant of Sarasota Military Academy. Sponsored by the Sarasota Patriotic Observance Committee.

TAMPA – JAMES A. HALEY VA10 am – The 8th Annual Veterans Day ceremony and parade, classic car show and Welcome Home event, on the hospital campus, 13000 Bruce B Downs Blvd, Tampa, FL. There will be a brief ceremony in front of the Fisher House. The parade follows immediately after. The parade has 70 units. Col. Daniel H. Tulley, Commander, 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida is the key note speaker and former Army Paratrooper and military contractor Rick Cicero, is this year’s grand marshal. After the parade, Operation Helping Hand is sponsoring a cookout with hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad and chips, and USF is sponsoring the desserts. http://www.tampa.va.gov/

VENICE – PATRIOT’S PARK – 10 AM – A ceremony, sponsored by the Marine Corps League 643 of Nokomis, will include the presentation of the colors, the Venice Police, Venice H.S. Marine Corps JROTC plus the Sun Coast Wind Ensemble. The observation is at 800 Venetia Bay Blvd., just off Route 41 south of Roberts Bay on the east side. Following the ceremony all veterans are invited back to the American Legion NO-VEL Post 159 in Venice for the Veteran’s Day Open House. 1770 E. Venice Ave., Venice.

BAY PINES VA 11 AM – The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System  will host its annual Veterans Day Ceremony in the courtyard located buildings 2 and 37 on the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center campus, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd, Bay Pines, FL.  The event is open to all Veterans, their family and friends, and the general public. Highlights include guest speakers from VA, MacDill Air Force Base and U.S. Rep. David W. Jolly, and musical performances by the Florida Orchestra and the Keswick Christian School Choir; a special parade of colors provided by local Veteran Service Organizations; and traditional military including a taps performance. A shuttle service will be available to provide transportation for guests from parking lots to the ceremony area. www.baypines.va.gov/locations/directions.asp

BUSHNELL – FLORIDA NATIONAL CEMETERY – 11 AM – Keynote speaker Don Hahnfeldt, a retired Navy veteran and chairman of the Sumter County Commission, is a highlight of the Veterans Day Ceremony moderated by Steve Jerve of WFLA-TV and with music by the Pasco High School Band. Seating is limited so you’re encouraged to bring chairs or blankets. Florida National Cemetery, 6502 SW 102nd Ave., Bushnell, FL.

HILLSBOROUGH VETERANS MEMORIAL PARK – 11 AM – The Annual Veterans Day of Remembrance ceremony will highlight JROTC students from several high schools including Bloomingdale, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Middleton, Newsome and Riverview scheduled. The presentation includes students performing exhibition drills, presenting poems, and leading participants in the Pledge of Allegiance. The event at the Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 N. U.S. Highway 301, Tampa, FL, is free and open to the public.

SAINT LEO UNIVERSITY – 11 AM to 4 PM – A ceremony and service projects will mark Veterans Day starting with a ceremony with keynote speaker Major General James S. Hartsell, USMC, at the Student Community Center followed by several student service projects: the Peace Paper Project from 12:30-4 PM; Theta Phi Alpha sorority “Sending Kisses to the Troops” care package project 12:30-4 PM; The Circle of Veterans providing resources and information for veterans 12:30-4 PM. A performance by the J2 Band will run from 1:30-4 PM. The campus is located at 33701 State Road 52, four miles east of Interstate 75 (Exit 285) in the town of Saint Leo. Parking is available in the campus garage.The events are free and open to all veterans, active military, and the local community.

SARASOTA – ISLAND PARK – NOON – Florida Veterans for Common Sense will participate in the Sarasota Veterans Day Parade and Ceremony and follow it up with a picnic to build camaraderie among its members at Island Park, 5 Bayfront Dr, Sarasota, FL, Set-up is on the south side of the park. Bring your own picnic food and some to share as well as seating and portable tables. Contact Mike Burns at : Mtburns44@gmail.com

LONG BOAT KEY – 2:30 PM – A Veterans Day Parade, starting at Bay Isles Road (behind the Publix) to Temple Beth Israel, 567 Bay Isles Rd, will feature a VFW Color Guard, Fire Truck, and Marching Band. A program of “Memorable Moments” is planned at the end of the parade followed by refreshments for participants. More info at: jackrozance@att.net, eugenelu@comcast.net.

SARASOTA NATIONAL CEMETERY – 2:45 PM – Opening ceremonies followed by the Annual Veteran’s Day Mass at 3 p.m. with Bishop Frank J. Dewane.  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, FL.

LARGO CENTRAL PARK – 5 PM – The city of Largo is presenting a ceremony with a keynote speaker, music and a color guard presentation is free and open to the public at the Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive, Largo.

TAMPA – WATER WORKS PARK – 5:30 PM – A free Veterans Day Observance and Patriotic Concert, hosted by the city of Tampa, 1710 Highland Ave., Tampa, FL. It will feature members from MacDill Air Force Base, U.S. Central Command and entertainment by the Eastern Hillsborough Community Band, as well as a salute to veterans and local Medal of Honor recipients. The event will also feature a display of several pieces of vintage military equipment stationed within the park.

SARASOTA HIGH SCHOOL – 7 PM – The Singing Sailors from Sarasota High School host a free, Veterans Salute concert with a guest choir from Booker Middle School. The public concert is at Sarasota High Auditorium, admission. 1000 S. School Ave., Sarasota, FL.

TAMPA – UNIVERISTY OF TAMPA – 7:30 PM – A free concert of American music featuring organist Ryan Hebert and celebrating those who served in the Armed Forces is planned at the UT Sykes Chapel, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

SAINT LEO UNIVERSITY – 8-10 PM – Moonlight Madness highlighting a student veteran color guard, a national anthem soloist and a mental toughness challenge game is planned on campus at the Marion Bowman Activities Center, 33701 State Road 52, four miles east of Interstate 75 (Exit 285) in the town of Saint Leo. The event is free and open to all veterans, active military, and the local community.

Thursday – Nov. 12

TAMPA – PORT TAMPA BAY TERMINAL #2 – 9 AM-1 PM – A Job Fair and free classes on how to conduct a job search are open to veterans and persons with disabilities. The Mayor’s Alliance for Persons with Disabilities is sponsoring the event with 29 employers that are looking to hire veterans. It’s being held at Port Tampa Bay Terminal 2, 651 Channelside Dr., Tampa, FL. You can pre-register at www.tampagov.net/jobfair.

SARASOTA HIGH SCHOOL – 7 PM – The Singing Sailors from Sarasota High School host a free, Veterans Salute concert with a guest choir from McIntosh and Sarasota middle schools. The public concert is at Sarasota High Auditorium, admission. 1000 S. School Ave., Sarasota, FL.

Friday, Nov. 13

NEW PORT RICHEY – VET CENTER 8:45 AM-4:15 PMA full day of free sessions for veterans and their family members is being offered at the Pasco County Vet Center, 5139 Deer Park Drive in New Port Richey, FL.  The seminar starts with a session on Readjustment Counseling Services, followed every hour with a new topic: VA Home Based Primary Care/Medical Foster Homes, Veteran Burial Benefits, Elder Law & Changes to Caregiver Benefits, a free lunch, VA Claims, Veteran Preference and How to Use It, Employment, VA Mortgage/Real Estate. There’s only room for 30 at each session so pre-registration is requested. Call 727/372-1854.

Saturday, Nov. 14

TAMPA – RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM – 7 PM – The University of South Florida Tillman Scholars and other military veterans will be recognized at half-time at this year’s Salute to Service Football Game featuring the University of South Florida vs Temple. The USF Office of Veterans Services has partnered with USF’s Athletic Department to sponsor this event.

Free Offerings 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, 2015 Veterans Day. You can check-out the list and links.

HART BUS RIDES – Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will offer free rides to U.S. military veterans on Veterans Day, and to all members of the armed services, both active and retired, as well as to their family members and dependents. Riders are asked to show a valid military or veterans ID card when boarding any HART bus to qualify for a free ride. This offer is not valid for use of HARTPlus service or the TECO Line Streetcar System.

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. You can check-out the Veterans Day admission offerings.

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.

 

Retired Admiral Kicks-Off USF Veterans Week

U.S. Department of State spokesperson John Kirby, who retired as a Rear Admiral in May 2015. Photo courtesy U.S. State Department.

U.S. Department of State spokesperson John Kirby, who retired as a Rear Admiral in May 2015. Photo courtesy U.S. State Department.

Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby is featured at two free, public events today at the University of South Florida Tampa Campus.

The current spokesperson for the Department of State, Kirby, is the keynote speaker at the USF Veterans Day Ceremony at 10 a.m. in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom A.

Later at 1 pm, Kirby will be part of a presentation, “U.S. Foreign Policy in a Turbulent World,” on campus at the Patel Center for Global Solutions, Room 138.

Kirby is a former chief spokesman for the Department of Defense and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a USF alumnus and St. Petersburg native. He retired from the Navy in May 2015.

Other events for USF’s Veterans Week are scheduled to honor the nearly 2,000 veterans and their family members attending USF.

On Wednesday, Nov. 4 from 11 am to 12:30 pm is the 6th Annual Chili Cook-Off at the Marshall Center Amphitheater. USF departments compete to be named for the top chili recipe. Free samples of chili are sampled by attendees who vote for their favorites.

A Salute to Service Football Game, USF vs. Temple, is scheduled Nov. 14 at Raymond James Stadium. Active duty military and veterans will be recognized during a presentation at the game.

Naming the chili is half the fun of participating in 2013 Annual USF Office of Veterans Services Chili Cook-Off. Photo courtesy of OVS.

Naming the chili is half the fun of participating in 2013 Annual USF Office of Veterans Services Chili Cook-Off. Photo courtesy of OVS.

Veterans Show Up for Pasco’s Stand Down

A Marine Corps helicopter door gunner in Vietnam, Maurice Buff, said the Veterans Treatment Court judge at the Stand Down was very fair dealing with his court costs and fines.

A Marine Corps helicopter door gunner in Vietnam, Maurice Buff, said the Veterans Treatment Court judge at the Stand Down was very fair dealing with his court costs and fines.

There’s a military tradition called a “Stand Down.” It’s when soldiers get a temporary break from combat for a shower, hot meal and peaceful night’s sleep.

Recently, Pasco County held a Stand Down for veterans in our community who are fighting a different kind of battle with homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues.

This is the fourth year One Community Now (OCN), a group of local churches, sponsored the event according to Mary Miller, a member of the OCN Stand Down Core Team and St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Pasco County.

Army veteran Ira James Holt, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, gets a free haircut from a Great Clips volunteer.

Army veteran Ira James Holt, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, gets a free haircut from a Great Clips volunteer.

What started as a one-day event to connect homeless veterans has grown into three days with 500 volunteers from the community at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson.

“This is the first year we have two dental buses,” Miller said, adding that the dentists and dental hygienists were kept busy with extractions and teeth cleaning.

Portable hot showers were set up next to the concession stand where veterans could get a free haircut.

A donations tent where homeless veterans could shop for free clothing, shoes and food was set up on one ballfield next to the tent housing the temporary Pasco Veterans Treatment Court.

Pasco Circuit Judge Shawn Crane brought the Veterans Treatment Court to the Stand Down to assist veterans with pending cases.

Pasco Circuit Judge Shawn Crane brought the Veterans Treatment Court to the Stand Down to assist veterans with pending cases.

That’s where Sixth Circuit Judge Shawn Crane presided over 52 cases handling issues like overdue fines and court fees and suspended drivers’ licenses.

“Things we take for granted and probably shouldn’t, they are very important for folks homeless or veterans,” Crane said. “We have to understand and appreciate the sacrifices our veterans have made for our country and appreciate some of the things they come back with.”

Crane helped Vietnam veteran Maurice Buff with his legal problems.

“The judge was very fair to me,” Buff said.  “I figured if I got my fines and court costs taken care of I’d be able to get my license back and be able to support myself.”

He landed in Pasco county jail after a dispute with his long-time girlfriend. When he got out, all his possessions were gone and he was homeless.

“I’m a proud person, but I actually went to St. Vincent DePaul Veterans Department and they’re helping me find a home,” Buff said.

He was one of 181 homeless or at risk veterans at Pasco’s 2015 Stand Down. That’s 60 more veterans than in 2013.

Foxtrot, Echo, Delta, Charlie were the tent names for the Stand Down sleeping quarters.

Foxtrot, Echo, Delta, Charlie were the tent names for the Stand Down sleeping quarters.

A Citadel Cadet Speaks Out, Gives Thanks

My thanks to Dorie Griggs – a former Citadel parent – for sharing this video. It’s worth watching the full 6 minutes to hear from this young cadet on scholarship.

She is living proof of what can be when opportunity is given.

Florida Veterans Courts Grow Despite Little State Funding

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.

It was only a few years ago that the Florida legislature gave counties permission to create Veterans Treatment Courts as an alternative to criminal prosecution of former military members charged with misdemeanors and third degree felonies.

And in that time 23 courts have been created, but only nine including Pinellas and Pasco counties are funded by lawmakers.

Others like the Veterans Treatment Court in Hillsborough County get no state money.

“We did this within the resources of our offices. Our bosses committed the resources for this court to work,” said Marie Marino with the Hillsborough Public Defender’s Office who represents many of the veterans.

In addition to carrying a full felony docket, Hillsborough Circuit Jude Greg Holder hears all the cases that come before the Veterans Treatment Court (VTC).

“In defense of the legislature though, until we expanded, perhaps it was thought that we didn’t have the need,” Holder said. “Now that it’s expanded, we have over 50 veterans. That need exists and we can use that money and use it wisely.”

Holder took over the veterans’ court in February from Judge Richard Weis when third degree felony cases were added.

Retired Army Col. D.J. Reyes was the first to volunteer as a mentor for the Hillsborough VTC. He now coordinates 33 other mentors – some retired, some still active-duty – along with handling his own caseload.

“It’s been grass roots campaigning on my part because I have no money, I have no funding, I have nothing except me, my time and my energy,” Reyes said.

The mentors are key to the success of the specialty court. All volunteer, they are considered a veteran’s “battle buddy” someone who provides help and accountability. The veterans must check with their mentor at minimum once a week – more often if needed.

Veterans also are assessed by the VA for service related physical and psychological problems. Many need treatment for things like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse. The VTC gets them enrolled in programs some at the VA others through public, non-profit or even private providers.

Choosing to go through the Veterans Treatment Court is not the easier route. Veterans will spend anywhere from six to 18 months under its supervision. And just like in regular criminal court, the veterans still have to do community service hours and report to the Department of Corrections if on probation.

“The difference in veterans court is the defendants are here voluntarily,” said Hillsborough assistant state attorney Stephanie Ferlita. “They want to seek treatment. They realize they do have a problem. Most of them are embarrassed to have come in contact with the criminal justice system and we are providing them a way to hopefully have a onetime contact with the justice system.”

Another difference in the veterans court – the judge, prosecution, defense, mentors and caseworkers act as a team.

“Even the defense attorney is the first to say, ‘You’ve got to clean up’ or ‘that’s a violation.’ Where in a traditional courtroom, it’s all about defense and mitigation,” Marino said.

The number of veterans seeking admittance into the VTC is growing. And despite having no direct state funding, the court continues to accept qualified veterans.

State Rep. Dwight Dudley from St. Petersburg recently represented one of the veterans in Hillsborough’s VTC. He believes veterans courts should be funded throughout the state.

“If people say they’re patriots and they believe in the value of the service of veterans, they need to step up and put their money where their mouth is and fund the courts the way they need to be funded,” Dudley said.

But the earliest Hillsborough could see any funding would be after January when the legislature meets.

The Veterans Treatment Courts receiving state money this fiscal year:

·         Okaloosa ($150,000)

·         Clay ($150,000)

·         Pasco ($150,000)

·         Pinellas ($150,000)

·         Alachua ($150,000)

·         Duval ($200,000)

·         Orange ($200,000)

·         Escambia ($150,000)

·         Leon ($125,000)

According to the senate president’s office, at this time, there is no specific criteria that determine how and which veterans’ courts get state money.

Chairmen Call for Wholesale Change in VA Health Care

The official  photo of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The official photo of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs has set a hearing Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. to discuss A Call for System-Wide Change: Evaluating the Independent Assessment of the Veterans Heath Administration.

The 168-page Independent Assessment was also the focus of a joint statement released Friday, Sept. 18, 2015 by Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA-R), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

“When we requested an independent assessment over a year ago, many of the failures at individual hospitals were well-documented. However, we all feared that they were just the tip of the iceberg. This in-depth review justifies those fears, and validates Congress’ efforts for years to investigate and uncover the many serious issues preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs from providing America’s veterans with quality, timely healthcare. The VA can no longer deny that its problems, as outlined in this report, are deep-seated and systemic. From delays in care and scandal cover-ups, to rampant unaccountability and a lack of leadership, the VA is an organization challenged at every level.

“This is not just another report to sit on a shelf collecting dust. Failing to act on its findings would be a great disservice to the men and women who have worn the uniform and to the values that make our nation great.

“We know that the Commission on Care will be closely examining these assessments and recommendations, and we look forward to the commission’s plan to end this continuing national tragedy. As the assessment confirms, fixing the VA will require a lot of time and hard work. This report is yet another reminder that it is far past time for President Obama to come to the table and work with Congress to transform the VA into an organization worthy of those it serves.”

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