Homeless Veterans Flood into San Diego Stand Down

Homeless Veterans Flood into San Diego Stand Down

For a quarter of a century, the Veterans Village has sponsored a Stand Down for homeless veterans in San Diego. It started as outreach for Vietnam veterans but now organizers are starting to see veterans from Desert Storm and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are looking for a safe place to bunk down, get a shower, warm meal and medical care. According to NPR, more than 1,000 veterans came out to the three-day event.

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Vietnam Veterans “Welcome Home Day” in Charlotte, NC

Photo courtesy of VAnatage - the VA blog.

The following comes from a VAntage blog entry by Alex Horton:

It has been more than three decades since my uncle came home from his tour in Vietnam, but he wore the battle on his face for many years. Even when I was little, I understood the man in my family who walked jungle trails as a Marine grunt was different from my other relatives. He didn’t talk about his experiences much, to the detriment of our family and our history.

My uncle’s story is hardly unique among Vietnam Veterans, and the less than welcoming reception from the public played a role in how comfortable many were in speaking about his experiences. As the Marine Corps blog noted, Vietnam Veterans never received a welcome fit for their honor and sacrifice.

Last year, the Senate recognized March 30 as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” to right the wrongs of our past.

This year, the USO of North Carolina is organizing an event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 31, Saturday, to thank Vietnam Veterans. The VA will have mobile sites set up to help Veterans sign up for health care and benefits. Veteran Service Organizations will be there and there will be live entertainment including the Charlie Daniels Band and George Clinton. Details on the event are available HERE.

You can read Alex Horton’s full blog posting HERE.

Military Base Housing Adapts for Wounded Warriors

Retired Army Capt. Alvin Shell was one of several advisers on the design of the Wounded Warrior Home Project in Fort Belvoir, Va. Soon 19 more innovative homes will be built to accommodate wounded active-duty personnel. Photo by: Kainaz Amaria/NPR

Pair a few severely injured soldiers  with a renowned architect confined to a wheelchair and a design firm with a Vietnam Veteran as a partner and you get the team that designed the new wounded warriors’ housing at Army’s Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

National Public Radio took a tour of the new adaptive housing. It was created by architect Michael Graves who was left unable to walk after a bad infection and the design firm IDEO with partner David Haygood who  served in Vietnam and now lives with Parkinson’s Disease after being exposed to Agent Orange.

“When I was interviewed, I rolled in, in my wheelchair,” Graves says, “and I thought I had a pretty good chance of beating out the competition, because I was with the Wounded Warriors.”

From automated door openers to adjustable stove heights, the innovative home addresses a wide range of disabilities. There are obvious fixes such as wider hallways and doors to accommodate wheelchairs. But, there also are subtle design changes to help with the invisible wounds or emotional scars.

Huge windows and French doors are everywhere, so a resident can observe the surroundings, inside and out. That’s important for soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress.

View a slide show of the adaptive housing and listen to the NPR story HERE.

Veterans Helping Veterans: A New Mission for Civilian LIfe

Army Veteran Andrew Berry said his role as a Mission Continues Fellow has restored his sense of "mission and brotherhood" missing since he left active duty in September 2009.

Combat veteran Andrew Berry spent almost six years in the Army in the Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault and then as a sniper. He survived two bullets and eight bomb blasts when deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the last Improvised Explosive Device (IED) left him too injured to continue his military career.

Like many combat veterans, Berry misses the sense of mission and the feeling of brotherhood he experienced while on active-duty.

It took a few years, but he’s found his “mission” in the civilian world thanks to the Mission Continues, an organization founded by a veteran Navy SEAL that emphasizes community service and helps returning veterans use their military training to become civilian leaders.

Berry was in Tampa Tuesday representing Mission Continues at the Home Depot Foundation “Celebration of Service” project – doing repairs and renovations at the K-9s for Veterans facility. It’s one of 200 service projects for veterans nationwide that Home Depot and Mission Continues are completing between Sept. 11th and Nov. 11th.

“I have four young boys at home, so it takes me to be a leader and show my kids that if I can adapt and overcome everything that happened to me, they can do anything,” Berry said.

Nearly 100 volunteers and veterans worked Tuesday to renovate the facilities at Tampa's K-9s for Veterans facility.

Here’s just a short list of what Berry has had to overcome. He is blind in his right eye, deaf, suffers from seizures due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). His right leg was crushed. He wears a brace proudly. He has three slipped disks and a hematoma on his brain.

“Since I’ve been retired September 09, I’ve had seven friends, seven who served with me in Iraq, that committed suicide and that’s something I don’t never want to hear from someone else,” Berry said adding that he tried to commit suicide twice.

“For a while, I told my wife the best thing that could have happened to me was dying in Iraq,” Berry said. “I know how much it hurt her. She’s been with me before the military. She’s been with me after.”

Porsche is the service dog of Vietnam Veteran Mike Halley who founded K-9s for Veterans with his wife Pam.

And like many veterans, he said, he “would go back to Iraq in a heartbeat” because he misses having a mission and feels he should be there to support deployed troops.

But by helping with service projects like the K-9s for Veterans renovation, Berry is developing a new “civilian” mission as a veteran helping other veterans.

That’s what motivated Vietnam veteran Mike Halley and his wife Pam to start the K-9s for Veterans program. They say they’ve trained 50 service dogs for 50 veterans over the past three years. Sitting in a wheelchair with his service dog Porsche next to him, Halley thanked the Home Depot volunteers and veterans who came to help fix-up his kennels and surrounding buildings.

A new deck connecting ancillary buildings is one of the many improvements made by the Operation Continues veterans and Home Depot volunteers.

“All of this is for the veterans and we can’t do this without your help,” said a tearful Halley. “When Mission Continues and Home Depot got together, it’s just like God came down here and he’s in this crowd somewhere.”

There were almost 100 volunteers dressed in orange Home Depot t-shirts.Tampa district manager, Pat Dixon offered the crow a pep talk shortly after 8 a.m.

“Ready to have long fun day,” Dixon asked? “We’re here today to make a difference.”

They broke up into teams. One group laid sod and landscaped around the flagpole, others put up fencing while another group laid-down a deck.

Army veteran Berry, despite his leg brace, was ready to grab a hammer and start working, but he was in demand. Touched by his story, volunteers kept approaching him, wanting to talk and to thank him for his service.

“I know my place now is here helping other guys,” Berry said, “because not every person can understand where a veteran is coming from.”

Berry’s favorite saying is one he learned in the military – Adapt and Overcome – and he’s now applying it to his civilian life.

PTSD Poem, Art Exhibit Misses the Mark, Some Veterans Say

The reintegrattion brochure that inspirede the poem, Many Happy Returns.

Art for a cause is nothing new especially on college campuses and at the University of South Florida an adjunct professor is using her poetry, she said, to shine the spotlight on America’s responsibility to help combat veterans with post traumatic stress. But some veterans on campus believe her poem and accompanying art exhibit missed the mark and instead portrays them in a bad light.

The poem is titled Many Happy Returns by Melanie Graham who teaches composition and professional writing at USF. Graham called it a found poem because it combines written material from other sources into a poem. In this case, she merged language from a military brochure on reunification that one of her students had brought in for a project with news reports.

The poem begins:

A note to the returning service member and family:

If the return home was easy, there would be no need for this guide

But we know that is not always the case.

June 2002, the first veterans of the war in Afghanistan return to Fort Bragg, N.C.

However, knowing what to expect and preparing for it can make the process easier.

June 11,Sgt. First Class Rigoberto Nieves fatally shoots his wife Teresa and then himself in their bedroom.

A cork-board display, many with symbolic photos, is set up for each stanza of the poem Many Happy Returns.

She crafted the poem into an art installation making an individual cork-board for each stanza. At each board, you read the military brochure set-up and then the media account typewritten on onion skin paper.

“I choose onion skin because of rareness of the paper and it’s extremely fragile, you can almost see through it and like truth it’s very fragile,” Graham said.

Also symbolic are the many of the images with the displays: photos of a beekeeper, a steak and potato dinner, a family with their faces scratched out. Graham, whose father was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, said she wrote the poem to focus on the observation that many military service members are coming home and not getting help with their symptoms of post traumatic stress.

“If you’re in America, we are at war. We don’t feel it,” Graham said. “We need to appreciate what’s going on and beside the fact of putting a yellow ribbon magnet on your car, beside the fact of saying to someone thank you for your service look at what the realities are that these people face.”

One of the more disturbing photos in the exhibit shows a generic family photo with the faces scratched out.

But some student veterans at USF who saw the exhibit drew different conclusions.

“One of the veterans said to me ‘I’m not going to come out and say I’ve got post traumatic stress if this is what they’re going to look at me and say oh you’re going to do this,’” said Larry Braue, director of the Office of Veteran Services at USF. “It (Graham’s art exhibit) paints an image that is not accurate of post traumatic stress.”

Braue said there are many different levels of post traumatic stress that are not reflected in the exhibit. He learned about Graham’s PTSD poem and display when one of his student veterans gave him a controversial postcard promoting the exhibit.

“Just the words that were on there,” Braue said. “And the graphic image of a veteran or somebody who appeared to be a veteran blowing his head off with a pistol.”

Braue, a veteran himself, went to the exhibit at USF’s Centre Gallery worried there would be similar violent images. There are not. But he was troubled by Graham’s poem as were many of the student veterans who come through his office for services.

“Some of them were offended. Some of them were hurt,” Braue said. “They felt hurt that they were being portrayed in a light that was very negative. You know when you look at the stories of a sergeant who comes home and kills his family, that’s certainly not how many of our veterans want to be portrayed and while things like that have happened, that is not the norm.”

Many Happy Returns - a poem turned into an art exhibit that focuses on returning combat veterans who have committed domestic violence, murder and suicide.

Graham said she sought feedback from veterans in her family as she worked on the poem and the postcard is an illustration of her brother who was a Marine embassy guard. She added that she did not mean to offend or traumatize veterans, but she defended her use of only violent homecoming scenarios.

“It’s a necessary evil, so to speak, to raise these issues and I certainly didn’t mean for it to damage anyone,” Graham said. “I’m hoping to wake people off of their Facebook so they’ll realize this is reality for a lot of people and people who sacrifice on behalf of the country.”

Because of the sensitive topics covered by the poem - the USF Centre Gallery put up a cautionary "adult content" notice on the gallery door.

While Braue did not like parts of the exhibit, he said it did prompt much-needed discussion about post traumatic stress.

“While maybe it’s not the way we would have liked it to happen, but it has raised awareness and it helps our veterans to say what post traumatic stress really is – it gets them to speak out and tell the real  story of what post traumatic stress is,” Braue said. “And really raises awareness for our counselors to know that there are misconceptions about post traumatic stress.”

The exhibit, Many Happy Returns, is open through Friday at the USF Marshall Center, Centre Gallery, Tampa Campus.

VA Fast Track for Agent Orange Retroactive Benefits

Photo courtesy of the VA website.

A year ago, the Veterans Affairs Department expanded its list of diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange to include Ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease,  hairy cell leukemia and other chronic B-cell leukemias.

Since then, about 89,000 Vietnam veterans and their survivors have received benefits exceeding $2 billion. But, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is encourage other potentially eligible Vietnam veterans to apply soon.

Those potentially eligible for Agent Orange Claims:

  • exposure based on duty or visitation in Vietnam or its inland waterways between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
  • exposure along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968 and Aug. 31, 1971
  • exposure due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside the United States

Claims related to the new conditions can be filed for fast track at the Agent Orange Claims Processing System.

Information about presumptive diseases and disability compensation is available at the VA Agent Orange website. Or you can call the VA’s Special Issues Helpline at 1-800-749-8387 and press 3.

A Veteran Living with PTSD: You Owe It to Yourself

Cheyenne represented veterans with "invisible wounds" during the 2010 Florida Ride 2 Recovery from Tampa's MacDill AFB to Jacksonville.

BY CHEYENNE FORSYTHE

 

Sitting in an office, at the University of South Florida, about to participate in a PTSD study called Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) for Psychological Trauma, I heard these words, “You owe it to yourself.” For some reason they hit home and have been resonating with me all morning long. Maybe it’s the news of another suicide or the downing of a chopper with all those soldiers on it but I haven’t been able to get those words out of my head.

When I think of all the reasons to stay alive and get myself well, so that I can take on the challenge of the rest of my life, seldom do I think of myself. Usually, it’s other people that first come to mind, like my son. I want to be there to be dad even though his mom and I are divorced and he lives 1,177 miles away. Recently, he’s been calling more often. Last week, he lost two teeth and called me when he wiggled them out, both times. That felt great.

The next person that comes to mind, is my dad. He’s the greatest man who I’ve ever met. Dad is going to be 60 years old this year and mom is throwing him a big party. Relatives from all over the country are coming in to help us throw him a big surprise party. I’ve been thinking about the speech I’m going to give. It’s going to go something like this, “Many of you might think Superman is a fictional character, but I know better. Superman was born 60 years ago and has been married to my mother for 35 years.”

Point is, before you think about how much all these people will be torn up if you killed yourself, you have to remember that you owe it to yourself to succeed, first and foremost. You’re a special individual who’s carved out a niche in life and someday someone is going to be depending on you to be there. Whether it’s a joke at the old man’s birthday party or your child’s tooth story, you’ve got a responsibility to be healed, as much as possible, so you can be there to handle those situations, as best as you can.

Give yourself an opportunity to heal your mind, body and soul. In this instance, its OK to be selfish and think of yourself first. VA facilities all across the country are waiting for you to give them a call to set up an appointment to start taking care of yourself so you can be the best you possible. University counseling centers and Vet Centers all across the country are ready to help you get started on the rest of your life. Are you ready? Remember, you owe it to yourself.

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