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.

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2014 Major Changes for Veterans, Military

Chairman Jeff Miller calling for a vote to subpoena the VA Secretary's emails pertaining to an "alternate wait list" at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

Chairman Jeff Miller calling for a vote to subpoena the VA Secretary’s emails pertaining to an “alternate wait list” at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

It’s been a transformative year for veterans and those serving in the military. We’ve seen the resignations of both the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of the Department of Defense.

And there have been changes at the state and local levels too. Here are some of the major stories from 2014:

  • Florida state lawmakers granted in-state tuition to all veteran students using their Post 9-11 VA education benefits.
  • After national reports of long waiting lists linked to some veterans deaths, Gov. Rick Scott ordered Florida regulators to inspect records at the state’s federally run VA hospitals. State inspectors were denied access to the patient records, so the governor sued.
  • Several local members of congress, including U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) and U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), held local “veteran intakes” to help expedite their VA claims and appointments.
  • Congress held hearings looking at the VA health care system and reports of secret waiting lists that led to veteran deaths and poor quality of care. Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), continues to spearhead those investigations.
  • During his first 100 days in office, the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert “Bob” McDonald visited VA facilities in the Tampa Bay area.
  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel resigned, but he remains on the job until his successor is approved.
  • At Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base: Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie took over as commander of the Marines at US Central Command; Col. Daniel Tulley is now commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.
  • Army Ranger Lt. Gen. Joe Votel became commander of U.S. Special Operations Command upon the retirement of Navy SEAL Adm. William McRaven who will forever be remembered as the architect of the plan that captured Osama Bin Laden.

Listen to weekly reports on veterans, active-duty military and their families on WUSF 89.7 FM Friday mornings and follow daily updates on the Off the Base blog.

A Way for Student Veterans to Help Their Families

Photo courtesy of the VA

Photo courtesy of the VA

Military service involves more than the person wearing the uniform – families are always a part of that equation.

A team of three University of South Florida psychology doctoral students and a graduate of the School of Social Work are conducting a research study looking at how reintegration affects military veterans and their children.

Their focus looks at how veterans are “reintegrating” to both civilian and academic life and also examines the student veterans’ well-being and that of their children.

The USF Coming Home Project is an anonymous online survey for student veterans who qualify:

  • You must currently be enrolled as a student.
  • You must be a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • You have children between the ages of 6 and 18.

The online survey only requires about 15-20 minutes and is anonymous. It examines the impact of deployments on children in military families.

Information about the Coming Home Project survey is available here.

Chili Cook-Off Connects Veterans to Campus

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

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

Over the last five years the University of South Florida Office of Veterans Services has worked to raise its visibility among the estimated 1,400 student veterans on campus and provide them resources.

One way USF Veterans Services has gained a lot of notice is its annual Chili Cook-Off.

This year, the Office of Veterans Services 5th Annual Chili Cook-Off is scheduled 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 5, 2014 at the Marshall Center Amphitheater on the Tampa Campus, 4202 E. Fowler Ave.

Evan Itle, associate director of the USF Office of Veterans Affairs, says the Chili Cook-Off has grown in popularity and may hit their maximum of 24 participants this year.

“There actually could be people we’ve got to tell no,” Itle said. “And we don’t want to tell people no.”

In fact, they’re excited about bringing in new participants from beyond the USF Tampa Campus such as the Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce which plans to enter a chili dish.

The cook-off also works as an outreach event for both student veterans and other students on campus. More than 400 students, faculty and USF staff attended the free 2013 event to taste-test the entries.

Royce Thomas, last year's winner of the chili cook-off.

Royce Thomas, last year’s winner of the chili cook-off.

Last year’s winning recipe came from the home kitchen of Royce Thomas, location manager for the Fresh Foods Company USF Dining facility. He didn’t divulge his recipe, but did share a major secret to “great chili” is cumin.

“The way that I like my chili profile to come across is a little sweet up front and a little hot in the back,” Thomas said.

It’s a matter of pride to Thomas that he used his own home recipe to beat out 19 other competitors because to him, chili is a comfort food.

“We used to have chili night in college and everybody would come with a bunch of ingredients and make chili and have a good time,” Thomas said. “You can make chili a thousand different ways and that’s what I love about it, there is no one, great chili.”

He was surprised to win the competition in 2013 and declined to enter this year so others from his dining facility could try their hand.

“It’s really about the cause. It’s not about the competition, it’s not about the chili,” Thomas said.

Royce Thomas shows off his trophy for last year's winning chili recipe.

Royce Thomas shows off his trophy for last year’s winning chili recipe.

And that cause is the USF Office of Veterans Affairs. Director Larry Braue said the office has grown in visibility along with the contest that went from about 200 the first year to more than 400 participants in 2013.

“We have a vision to go beyond this and not just tie our veterans to the USF community, but to tie them to the Tampa Bay community,” Braue said.

The 5th Annual USF OVS Chili Cook-Off is one of several events planned for Veterans Week at USF. Student veterans will be honored at a football game that includes a tailgate graduation bash. There’s an expo of veteran services and a Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 4, 2014 that will feature Medal of Honor Recipient Army Ranger Master Sergeant Leroy Petry.

Braue said the wounded warrior will speak to USF student veterans about life after the Army and life after the military and to USF student athletes.

“He’s a typical student veteran, although he’s not a typical man, he will be on a campus just like all of our student veterans going to school and earning his degree,” Braue said.

You can learn more about the 5th Annual Chili Cook-Off, the Veterans’ Week Ceremony and Expo and the USF Office of Veterans Affairs.

Reporting for the WUSF Veterans Coming Home project is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Mud Run to Benefit Saint Leo Student Veterans

Sometimes you’ve got to get down and dirty to raise money for your charity. And that’s exactly what Saint Leo University is doing.

One several mud obstacles at the Mud Endeavor course in Brooksville, FL.

One several mud obstacles at the Mud Endeavor course in Brooksville, FL.

To raise money for the veteran student emergency fund (now known as Military Education Excellence), the Saint Leo Veteran Student Services office is partnering with Mud Endeavor to sponsor the Mud Endeavor V Saturday, Oct. 4, at 29251 Wildlife Lane, Brooksville, FL.

The event is planned on the site of an old dirt mine and promises a 100-foot water slide, plenty of mud obstacles, challenging hill climbs and a spectator viewing area where you can see 75 percent of the course.

The dirtier and tougher, the better for military veteran Christopher Burke, incoming president of the Saint Leo Student Veterans Association.

“Sometimes, we need to get the blood pumping,” Burke said. “So things like the mud run, I believe that is going to be a huge thing. A lot of veterans – a lot of veteran organizations are tied to those events.”

Anyone who pre-registers for the Mud Endeavor V – using the promotional code: STLEOVETS will get a discount to $45 and their registration will benefit the Saint Leo Military Education Excellence fund.

The competitive runners start at 9 a.m. and participants continue in waves through 11 a.m. There’s a $5 charge for spectators.

 

Saint Leo Offers Veterans A Free Transition Course

Tedd "Gunny"Weiser has an impressive display of Marine Corps memorabilia on his office wall.

Tedd “Gunny”Weiser has an impressive display of Marine Corps memorabilia on his office wall.

It’s difficult to define today’s military veteran. But there is one thing they have in common – they don’t like being painted with the same broad brush.

“Just because I’m a veteran, particularly me because I’m a Marine, a combat Marine, don’t think you know my political affiliation, my beliefs, my values,” said Tedd “Gunny” Weiser, short for Gunnery Sergeant. “There is a label and we want to shed that, we want people to know that we are our own person.”

After 20 years in the Marine Corps, Weiser has become a touchstone for the veterans at Saint Leo University where he’s now interim director of Veteran Student Services. He knows what it’s like to have difficulty moving into the civilian world, to hit rock-bottom with post-traumatic stress symptoms “starting to rear their ugly head.”

“It came to a point one day at a traffic stop. I actually put my car in park, got out of the car, ran up two or three car lengths ahead of me to tell the driver who cut me off six miles back what I thought of him and my wife said, ‘That’s enough,’” Weiser said.

The floormat outside Tedd Weiser's door replicates the yellow footprints outside the Marine Corps recruit depots.

The floormat outside Tedd Weiser’s door replicates the yellow footprints outside the Marine Corps recruit depots.

He got help from the VA for his PTS and decided to pursue his passion and his faith which led Weiser to Saint Leo University where he’s working on two masters’ degrees in Religion and Instructional Design.
But Weiser said he found his true calling running the Veteran Student Services office and the student veterans appear to be responding.

When Weiser started as an assistant in December, he said they averaged about one to two veteran visits a week. Now, just weeks into the fall semester and more than 60 have come through the office.
To help with the veterans’ adjust to campus life, a team at St. Leo University including Weiser, developed an online, Veterans Transition Course.

They partnered with Corporate Gray, publishers of The Military to Civilian Transition Guide which is used by the Department of Defense. Saint. Leo created an online version.

“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our student veterans and their families knowing that their time is limited and their resources are limited,” Weiser said.

The Saint Leo University Veteran Student Services office hands out dogtags celebrating their student veterans.

The Saint Leo University Veteran Student Services office hands out dogtags celebrating their student veterans.

The course is broken into eight modules and is self-paced. So, it can take as little as eight weeks or as much as eight months to complete depending on a veteran’s needs. And the course is geared to more than academics. It also offers guidance on networking, interviewing, resume building and even negotiating salary and benefits.

Weiser encourages the spouses and adult children of the student veteran to take the online course too.

“Because if it helps them, then it helps that veteran because it’s one less thing that veteran has to worry about,” Weiser said.

About one-third of Saint Leo’s 15,000-to-16,000 students are veterans or active duty military and a majority are not on the Pasco County campus. Saint Leo University has a College Online as well as 40 locations, many on military installations, throughout the U.S.

“When others in the 70s were protesting military, Saint Leo went onto its first campus in North Florida and started teaching at a military installation,” Weiser said. “We just celebrated our 40th Anniversary last year.”
That anniversary generated donations that created another program Saint Leo’s Student Veteran Emergency Fund.

 Interim director of Veteran Student Services, Tedd "Gunny" Weiser, stands in Dempsey Plaza home to the sculpture, "For Those Who Serve," that honors the men and women of the armed forces.


Interim director of Veteran Student Services, Tedd “Gunny” Weiser, stands in Dempsey Plaza home to the sculpture, “For Those Who Serve,” that honors the men and women of the armed forces.

Since January, Weiser says they’ve given more than 30 gifts ranging from $200 to $500 to help with a financial crisis. The student veteran fills out an application, answers some questions about their financial problems.

The circumstances are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Weiser said he tries to give the student veteran a response within 12 hours.

“We’ve given money for, just last week, cancer medications, day care, car repair, unemployment, food, utility bills,” Weiser said.

That isn’t the only gift St. Leo University Veteran Services is distributing.

Their online transition course was initially just for their students. But earlier this month, the course was opened up to all transitioning military and veterans for free whether they’re headed to Saint Leo University, another college or into the job market. You can learn more about the online Veterans Transition Course here.

 

8 Benefits for Veterans and Military in ‘Florida GI Bill’

Governor Rick Scott signs the 'Florida GI Bill' with Senate President Don Gaetz, Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, Rep. Doc Renuart, Rep. Jimmie Smith and Rep. Jimmy Patronis at the Panama City ceremony. Photo Courtesy of Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

Governor Rick Scott signs the ‘Florida GI Bill’ with Senate President Don Gaetz, Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, Rep. Doc Renuart, Rep. Jimmie Smith and Rep. Jimmy Patronis at the Panama City ceremony. Photo Courtesy of Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

With the stroke of a pen Monday, Gov. Rick Scott positioned Florida to attract more veterans – beyond the estimated 1.5 million already living here – to attend college, to work and to retire in the state.

The “Florida GI Bill,” crafted to resemble the post-WWII benefits, includes measures for veterans, active-duty families and military installations.

A key provision is in-state tuition waivers for student veterans attending public colleges and universities. Student veterans lobbied for several years before lawmakers granted them the lower tuition rate now granted to vets no matter when they moved to Florida . It will cost universities and colleges an estimated $12 million.

Ray Mollison, president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association (SVA), said it was a team effort finally getting tuition waivers passed.

“People in the SVA, all of them together, really collaborated together to try to push this in-state tuition,” Mollison said Monday. “What this definitely emphasizes is, is that we definitely in the state of Florida facilitate veterans’ needs.”

Photo courtesy of the VA

Photo courtesy of the VA

Mollison believes the tuition benefit may attract more veterans to Florida for an education and job possibilities.

“It’s something that I’m looking forward to seeing in the fall semester, when it gets kicked off, because I think we’re going to see a new veteran population start flowing in,” Mollison said. “Because they realize Tampa has a great environment, a great area for employment opportunities.”

That’s what lawmakers hope as well. So the new law includes other “military friendly provisions”:

  1. $1.5 million in scholarships for Florida National Guard members
  2. $12.5 million to renovate and upgrade National Guard facilities
  3. $7.5 million to buy land surrounding MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, and Naval Support Activity in Panama City.
  4. It waives state professional licensing fees for veterans up to five years after discharge.
  5. It grants a waiver to active-duty military family members, spouses and dependents, so they don’t have to obtain a Florida drivers license to get a job or attend public schools in the state.
  6. It establishes Florida Is For Veterans, a new nonprofit corporation, to promote the hiring of veterans and to get veterans to move to the state.
  7. It also requires the state’s tourism arm, Visit Florida, to spend $1 million a year marketing to veterans.
  8. It establishes the Florida Veterans’ Walk of Honor and Florida Veterans’ Memorial Garden in Tallahassee.

The new law (HB 7015) goes into effect July 1, 2014. And in a tribute to former Cong. C.W. Bill Young, the tuition wavier act was named after the Pinellas County lawmaker who passed away in 2013 after more than four decades in Congress.

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