Why it's important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry - We Are The Mighty
Veterans

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

The exposure of troops to burn pits and open-air sewage pits is a black eye on the Global War on Terrorism. While troops were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, a quick and easy solution to getting rid of garbage and sewage was to simply set it on fire. Years later, this has resulted in wide-spread health issues that affect many of our veterans.

The use of burn pits and the subsequent failure to address them as a serious issue has been likened to the struggles that Vietnam vets faced with Agent Orange in countless headlines. And, frankly, there is truth to this comparison.


 

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
It shouldn’t take this much hassle to prove that breathing burning garbage, chemicals, literal human sh*t for twelve months is harmful to our lungs.

(photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

Agent Orange was a powerful herbicidal chemical used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. Countless veterans suffered from leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and various cancers as a direct result of being exposed to Agent Orange. It took until 1991, eighteen years after U.S. involvement in Vietnam, for the Agent Orange Act to pass. It took eighteen years for veterans to be declared eligible for medical treatment for issues resulting from exposure to a known toxic chemical.

History is repeating itself with the veterans of the post-9/11 generation who are walking in frighteningly similar footsteps. The IAVA has been making strong headway in getting burn pits and open-air sewage pits recognized as hazardous to troops’ health. But full recognition requires proof and an accurate count of exactly how many veterans this practice has effected.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
We cannot make the same mistake with our veterans again.

(U.S. Air Force Photo)

This is where the VA’s Burn Pit Registry comes in.

If you’ve been affected by burn pits or open-air sewage pits, it is of the utmost importance that you — and every veteran who has been affected — make your voice heard. At the time of writing, over 144,000 veterans (not even 1/20th of the number of veterans who’ve been to Iraq or Afghanistan) have completed their registry questionnaire.

The questionnaire will take around 40 minutes to complete and it’s very thorough in documenting every base, FOB, COP, and anywhere else you’ve deployed. If you took R&R, you’ll even have to document your one-week stay at Ali Al Salem before getting back into the details about your deployment.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
It should be noted that, despite its name,u00a0the Burn Pit Registry also covers open-air sewage pits.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka)

Even if you were just slightly affected for a little bit (let’s say you took a jog around the Sh*t Pond at Kandahar Airfield), you should register. If you were asked only once to burn garbage, you should register. If you dealt with these hazards on a daily basis, you should definitely register.

This is much bigger than any individual. Every questionnaire filled out is one step closer to getting our brothers and sisters the medical treatment that they need. While only the affected veteran can fill out the form, anyone can help by spreading awareness of the Registry and its significance.

You can sign up here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

In a world of vet-owned coffee, Rakkasan Tea has a mission of its own

Brandon Friedman wants you to know that just because coffee has the reputation of being the military’s beverage of choice, tea isn’t reserved for Brits in silly hats enjoying crumpets. For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, their wars have centered mostly around having tea. After all, foreign fighters and tribal leaders hold court over tea, not coffee. Friedman thought it was strange that tea isn’t more associated with the military experience. He founded Rakkasan Tea Company with that in mind.

Friedman was commissioned as an Army infantry officer in 2000 and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division — known as the “Rakkasans,” the old Japanese word for “parachute.” By March, 2002, he and his unit were in an air assault into Afghanistan’s Shah-e-Kot Valley as part of Operation Anaconda. In 2003, he was part of the initial invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and eventually became part of the force that held Tal Afar and Mosul.


By 2004, he was out of the Army and taking his career in a different direction. His now-business partner in Rakkasan Tea was then-Pfc. Terrence “TK” Kamauf, whom Friedman met in his unit. Kamauf was a machine gunner then, but stayed in long after Friedman left. Kamauf went on to become a Green Beret and was in another six or seven years. Now, the two import tea together.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

Friedman’s partner in Rakkasan Tea, Terrence “TK” Kamauf (left), in Iraq.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

But Friedman’s love for the leaf began in Iraq. As many veterans can attest, all business was conducted over tea. It was an introduction to what Friedman calls the “social experience of tea.”

“It’s hard to find that in the U.S. because this is such a coffee country and coffee is really a solitary drink,” He says. “Tea brings people together and we think the U.S. is ready for that. I know we won’t convert everyone, but the veteran community should certainly give tea a serious look.”

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

Friedman with his platoon of Rakkasans in Iraq.

But where Rakkasan Tea Company gets its tea is central to its ongoing mission. The company imports solely from post-conflict countries as a way to promote peace and economic development.

“As a veteran-owned and veteran-staffed company, we understand what conflict does to communities,” Friedman says. “And we want to get as many veterans into this business as we can. So, we often describe our mission as being one that helps communities recover from war at home AND abroad.”

Rakkasan Tea comes from places like Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Laos. With the exception of Sri Lanka, these are difficult to find on American shelves. The tea imported from Laos is significant because it comes from one of the areas most devastated by American bombing during the Vietnam War — more ordnance was dropped on Laos than in the entirety of Europe during World War II.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

One of Rakkasan Tea Company’s Vietnamese tea pickers.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

The latest effort in Laos centers on small farms in the mountainous Xiengkhouang Province and on the Bolaven Plateau in southern Champasak Province. The teas come from some of the oldest trees in the world and you won’t find this quality at Starbucks or Whole Foods.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

To Friedman, tea is like wine: its character, flavor, and aroma are all greatly influenced by its environment. That might be why he sells tea both by the type of tea and its place of origin.

“Rainfall, altitude, soil content, processing techniques, and more all factor into the taste and quality,” Friedman says. “So when we say we have premium tea grown in Rwanda’s volcanic soil or tea grown on northern Vietnam’s 400-year-old tea trees, that’s of interest to tea enthusiasts. Because it’s really good.”

He wants you to know how good it is and he wants you to be a repeat customer. He obsesses over the returns from his customers. Their feedback really does have an influence on the direction of the company.

“First, I hope we’re living up to the Rakkasan ideal of honor, justice, and commitment,” he says. “But meeting people who enjoy our product is best part of doing this.”

Articles

U.S. Navy vet and comedian Charlie Murphy has died

Charlie Murphy, a standup comedian and Navy vet known for his work on the “Chappelle’s Show,” died after a battle with leukemia. He was 57.


Murphy joined the Navy after being released from a stint in jail. His mother wanted him to get out of the neighborhood to prevent him relapsing into his old habits and he enlisted the same day. He had to lie to get in, but has told interviewers ever since that he doesn’t regret it.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
Charlie Murphy played himself in skits with Dave Chappelle dramatizing Murphy’s run-ins with Rick James. (Photo: YouTube/TV One)

“I became a man in the Navy,” he said in a PR.com release. “That’s where I got my first apartment, my first marriage, my first bank account, my first car… it all happened there. That was a good experience.”

Somehow, Murphy made it through his service without ever being issued dog tags.

“I’ll tell you something bizarre. I was never issued dog tags. It’s part of your uniform, but I never got them. I thought it was for ID. But it’s not to ID you. It’s to ID your corpse. That’s why they make them out of metal,” he was quoted as saying.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
Comedian and Navy veteran Charlie Murphy performs standup. (Photo: YouTube/Leon Knoles)

After separating from the military, Murphy became the head of security for his little brother, Eddie Murphy, before launching his own career as a writer, actor, and standup comedian. The older Murphy helped write the movies “Vampire in Brooklyn” and “Norbit” which his younger brother starred in.

Charlie also played small parts in “Night at the Museum,” “The Boondocks,” and the 2012 reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Veterans

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

Michael Whittaker joined the military in July 1982 through the delayed entry program. He served in the U.S. Navy for 24 years, including 16 active and eight years in the Ready Reserve. Today, he lives with Multiple Sclerosis.

Michael Whittaker while serving in the US Navy
Michael Whittaker while serving in the US Navy

The following was written by Whitaker:

I remember a moment where an enemy was in sight during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and my fingers became numb. It felt like I had frostbite. I reported what happened to the physician, but he couldn’t find anything wrong. When I returned to the US, I had a series of tests and they figured it out. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2006.

When I was diagnosed with MS, I knew nothing about the disease. While I was extremely active before I had MS, my activities diminished as MS started to change my body. Before MS, I felt there were no barriers to what I could do.

Getting Diagnosed with MS

With MS, I found myself having a pity party and I stopped participating in the things I loved. It didn’t help that I pushed my family and friends away following my diagnosis. Everyone seemed to have a suggestion on what I should or shouldn’t be doing. I didn’t want to hear people’s home remedies, that they “understood” what I was going through, or that I could still do so much even though I had MS. It wasn’t until I became affiliated with VA’s spinal cord injury program that my outlook started to improve.

Getting Help

I joined an MS support group where I could talk about what I was feeling and experiencing. MS symptoms are different for everyone, but members of the group understand and can relate to how I feel. They understood not just about living with MS, but about serving in the military and dealing with the PTSD I was diagnosed with. Talking with others helped me to look at things as achievable.

Veteran Michael Whittaker competes in VA Adaptive Sports Tee Tournament.
Veteran Michael Whittaker competes in VA Adaptive Sports Tee Tournament.

I found that I didn’t have excuses not to do things, I just had to do them differently. I discovered adaptive sports through VA: riding a bike, golfing, air gun shooting and sailing were now things that I could do again. I even took some cooking classes at my local VA. In September 2019, I attended the National Disabled Veterans Tee Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa, with about 400 other Veterans. It was amazing to see so many Veterans together, competing in sports and making the most out of life.

While my diagnosis of MS was difficult to accept, I’ve now educated myself about the disease and feel prepared to take on anything that comes my way. Whenever I tell my providers that I can’t do something, they don’t accept the excuses. They help me to break down barriers that MS has caused, or that I’ve created myself. Everyone is dealing with changes and difficulties in life, and I’ve learned that adapting is the best way to move forward.

Accepting the Challenges and Changes

I’ve also learned the importance of communicating, not just with family, friends and my healthcare team, but with others going through the same thing. MS has changed me. There are days that I miss my military lifestyle, but I’ve learned that I’m not that guy anymore and that’s okay. Life changes us. I feel I can lift my head high now because of all the amazing staff, nurses and doctors at the Long Beach, CA VA medical facility who have helped me.

Visit VA’s website https://www.va.gov/ms/ for information on Multiple Sclerosis (MS), VA services, benefits and MS resources.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 ways to use that Veterans Day Amazon Prime discount

If you haven’t heard, the generous folks at Amazon are celebrating Veterans Day with the best discount ever: $40 off your Amazon Prime membership. For those of you doing the math at home, that’s 32% off. Free two-day shipping (and sometimes one-day shipping and in some locations, even same-day shipping) on all your favorite things like paper towels, and furniture, and clothes and, well, everything, should be enough to entice you to take advantage of this incredible deal.


Turns out, there’s more to Amazon Prime than just free shipping. Here are 6 other benefits to this incredible service. Alexa, sign me up.

Amazon Household

If you are a Prime member, you can set up Amazon Household. You can add one other adult and up to four teenagers and four children on your Prime Household. That means everyone gets to take advantage of the awesome perks. Here’s how to create your Household.

Through Household, your teens can shop til they drop without actually spending any money. That’s right: you have approval powers. We both know a trip to the mall with the fire-monster that is your 15-year-old daughter will be an entree of eye-rolling served with a side of teenage angst. Skip the dressing room battles and let that person who used to love you pick out her own damn clothes. And then veto and approve with the judicious powers that only a mother or father could have and love.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

(Department of Defense)

Prime Wardrobe

So your teenager has picked out eight pairs of jeans, and you’re going to let her keep one. With Prime Wardrobe, she can try all of them before she buys.

Mandatory fun coming up? Order all the dresses or pants in the land without spending a dime. Yep, order up to eight items at a time, only pay for what you keep, and the returns are free and easy. And you never have to leave your house.

Prime music

With more than two million songs and curated playlists, listening to your favorite tunes just got easier. Download the Amazon music app and listen offline.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

(live.staticflickr.com)

AmazonSmile

Set your shopping guilt aside and tell yourself that you’re doing it for a good cause with AmazonSmile.

“AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. You can choose from over one million organizations to support.”

See, shopping for yourself is a good thing.

Prime Video

Jack Ryan isn’t going to watch itself. Neither will the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the entire Suits series, countless Disney movies, or thousands of other shows, all included with your Prime membership. Best part? With the app you can download all of these to watch offline. Alexa, book me a cross-country flight.

Prime Books

More of a binge-reader than a binge-watcher? Good on ya. Prime has something for you, too. Prime Books gives you access to thousands of books that you can read on your Kindle (or through the Kindle app if you don’t have a separate device). You is smart.

There are countless benefits to having an Amazon Prime account. Take advantage of this weekend’s discount and live your best life, one Prime perk at a time.

popular

Shipping costs to troops spiked in 2018 and need to switch back

Care packages are how troops stay connected with the ones they love back home. Most troops will have their family send them little trinkets or mama-made cookies to make things better while troops without families have their day brightened by a sweet, heartfelt thank-you card sent by a grade schooler.

These packages are the one constant that every troop, regardless of where or when they served, can depend on. But on January 21st, 2018, the shipping costs for postage to and from all APO/FPO/DPO addresses increased substantially. Thankfully, this increase can be reverted and the rate for shipping can be permanently fixed, benefiting the troops.


Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

Nothing can bring joy to troops like a care package from home.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)

The increases in shipping costs to APO/FPO/DPO addresses were part of an overall increase in the price for all mailing services, across the board. Rates for APO/FPO/DPO mailing addresses were hit hardest — almost doubled. In the defense of the United States Postal Service, the APO/FPO flat-rate box was only increased by five cents and they’ve always supported the troops, but a recently proposed bill can take that support further.

If there were a separate, fixed rate for all postage going to and from troops at APO/FPO addresses, it would be classified as Zone 1/2 postage from any CONUS location. Meaning, that if you were to ship a big ol’ care package not in a APO/FPO flat-rate box, it would cost the same as sending a letter to a soldier stationed in Germany.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

But mainly, you don’t want to screw over the nice people who just want to help support the troops.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)

In addition to offering a single, fixed rate for those who want to send a care package abroad that might not fit within a fixed-rate box, this could also open up companies to more readily offer online shopping opportunities to deployed troops.

This also means that troops would be more able to ship things from deployed environments back to the States. So, a deployed parent could pick up souvenirs at a local bazaar for their kid while crafty troops could ship certain personal belongings home before they return stateside so don’t need to wait for the connex to return months later.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

The bill would apply to all troops everywhere, even if they’re sailing in the middle of nowhere.

(U.S. Navy photo by Lorenzo J. Burleson)

The bill that includes this fixed cost, H.R.6231 – Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Thomas MacArthur. It would permanently establish a single rate for mail and packages being sent to and from at APO/FPO/DPO addresses.

Congressman MacArthur has championed veteran issues since his assignment to the Armed Services Committee and its two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces and the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. He also introduced the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act, which would have allowed veterans to access any mental health care facility and eligible for reimbursement — but it failed to garner approval.

To help make sure that this bill makes it through Congress, contact your representative and let them know how you feel. Let them know that this bill will greatly benefit the morale of our fighting men and women. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3 percent chance of being enacted, so if you feel passionately about it, don’t wait; act.

If you’re unsure of who your representative is, you can use this tool right here and let them know you support H.R.6231 — the Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Marine Veteran is pioneering a new VA program to help veterans and their families

This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC).

The UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center is honored to continue to serve and support the military-connected community during COVID-19! For appointments call (310) 478-3711 x 42793 or email info@vfwc.ucla.edu

Every Marine knows the saying, “Pain is Weakness leaving the body.” It’s the motto that drill instructors use to encourage recruits to dig just a little deeper during boot camp and it’s often repeated when physical training takes a turn from hard to brutally hard. The military, especially the Marines, know that pain is the beginning of resilience, our ability to bounce back from difficult situations and complete the mission. But while some pain often prepares our servicemen and women for strength in war, we are often at a loss for what to do when our families or even children are challenged with pain and stress once we return. So when the VA wanted to start helping veteran families they smartly turned to one of the few and the proud.


Marine Veteran Tess Banko is no stranger to pain. By twenty three years old, she had survived homelessness, a massive back injury (for which she was medically discharged) and the suicide death of her husband, also a Marine. When her world seemed to be coming apart, Tess did the opposite of what most of us would do. Instead of allowing her pain to overwhelm her, she fought back. She dug into her pain both physically and mentally. Along the way, she volunteered to empower and assist others, went to college (she was crowned homecoming queen), and ultimately, found the tools inside to help her (and her family). Tess is the epitome of resilience and now she’s bounced back to take on a new mission.

Today, Tess is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center, a one of a kind partnership between UCLA and the West Los Angeles VA system. Tess and her team are part of the first VA program specifically designed to help not only veterans, but their families. To support their work, the team is relying on cutting edge research from UCLA just a few blocks from the VA campus. UCLA, the university which revolutionized kidney transplants and invented the nicotine patch, is now offering veterans and their families a state of the art resiliency program. Families Over Coming Under Stress (FOCUS) is a resiliency training regimen for individuals, families with children and couples facing adversity or issues like traumatic stress.

With Tess at the helm, she’s not only pioneering a new way of thinking for the VA, she’s also helping others find their path through trauma. Tess sat down with We Are The Mighty to discuss her work, passion and journey into resilience.

WATM: First things first, thank you for everything you do for military families. How do you describe yourself and your work here at VFWC?

Tess: Well it’s really easy to give a title. I’m the executive director of the UCLA/VA. Veteran Family Wellness Center. But really, I’m a social worker and public administrator.

WATM: And a Marine? What made you join the Corps?

Tess: I think it was really a lot of wanting to be part of something that made a difference. When I was younger I used to go to the [El Toro] airshow with my grandfather and that’s the first time I ever laid eyes on a Marine standing there in the uniform. You know guiding people, I mean it was airshow duty. I didn’t know at the time probably how much fun that wasn’t, but they were motivating and just really interacting with the public, and there were are all these exciting machines and demonstrations. So, it really made an impact on me as a little girl. The wider world was calling.

WATM: Did your family have a history of military service?

Tess: I didn’t find out until many years later that my own grandfather was actually in the Army. He never told those stories to the family because I think he was embarrassed. He said that a lot of his friends were being sent off to war but he served two years in a non-combat role, got out and went into aerospace engineering and he was one of the first Mexican-American designers of bomb and missile systems at White Sands, NM. I personally saw the military as one of the only places that you could go as far as your own two feet would take you basically or your hard work that you put into it. That’s one of the reasons why I was excited to join.

WATM: Wow.

Tess: And I like a good challenge. The Marine Corps seemed like a good fit. So I joined [as] an engineer.

WATM: Did you find the challenge you were looking for? Especially as a female Marine in the engineers.

Tess: When I joined it was very idealistic. I wanted to be just one of the guys and I saw myself in that way. I never saw myself in terms of being a woman, only a Marine and that actually caused a lot of problems and disappointment at the time as we have only just begun to move more fully into gender integration among the services. And it was really challenging for me because as I said I never saw myself as anything other than a Marine. I always just wanted to do my job.

WATM: What made you transition out of the Marine Corps?

Tess: I got hurt.

WATM: You got hurt?

Tess: Yes. We were training and I noticed that there was something wrong with my back because my leg had stopped functioning. I was in my early 20’s and the command atmosphere gave this impression that you had to white knuckle it through anything. I was told, ‘There’s no problem, there’s no problem. You just need to keep going.’ It turned out that I had a herniated disc in my back and it was it was crushing the nerve to the point where it began to permanently kill the nerves. I was standing there on the rifle range and I just fell over on my side because my leg finally gave up. They called an ambulance and rushed me into emergency surgery in Japan.

WATM: Did you feel like you had the resiliency skills that prepared you for that experience?

Tess: My life growing up was challenging. My parents were very young when they had children. I was the only person in my immediate family to successfully graduate from high school. My parents had dropped out at 17, which kind of spells disaster for a young couple with four children. And so it was really a life of learning to adapt, moving from place to place, experiencing homelessness as a child, living between motels and being chased by bill collectors. You know all that bad stuff for [a child] but even from a young age I adopted a viewpoint of life that was more curious than anything. It was less ‘Oh my God, why is this happening to me?’ and more ‘huh this interesting.’ It was just a minor shift of perspective. I developed that curiosity and a different way of looking at problems and I think that’s a key part of resilience.

WATM: Did you know what resilience was growing up?

Tess: I did not. I think it was something that I saw modeled by example. My grandmother was a very kind and giving woman, she taught me so much. She always went out of her way to help people in the community even when she seemed in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in life. So, paying that forward, even on active duty I was volunteering in the local community teaching English to Okinawan children. I’ve always been so curious about other people and their lives. It’s a great education.

WATM: And then you lost your husband (also a Marine). How do you process all of that?

Tess: It was a surreal experience having the casualty assistance team knock on the door. I can remember I opened it a crack. It didn’t make sense in my mind what was happening so I opened the door a crack and a Marine stuck his foot to keep me from shutting it. Then I saw the Colonel. And then it finally hit me that it was real. My husband wasn’t coming home. When you’re actively experiencing shock, pain or trauma it’s less thinking about resilience and more survival mode kicking in. It was one second, one minute at a time. The days blurred together. I mean being emotionally injured is much like being physically injured, it can take a long time to wrap your head around. There’s no linear pathway. Also, processing trauma is not just about moving through pain but about overcoming fear. There’s the fear that you as a person or things in your life will never be the same. Sometimes you don’t know what other people are going to think. Usually some of the fear ties back to being afraid that people are going to judge you if you feel broken. And I think that really was hard for me to overcome, but it was necessary. I think that being gentle with yourself is a skill.

WATM: You not only survived but thrived? You went back to college and grad school and now you literally work with Neuroscientists.

Tess: The science behind the brain fascinates me because people that are in pain sometimes seem to think, ‘I’m damaged forever and I’m never gonna be able to do or be anything. There is no coming back from this.’ I understand where you’re at if it’s crossed your mind, I’ve been there too, but there’s so much possibility. We can’t change what happened but our brain is essentially plastic and able to rewire. The body and mind actively try to repair themselves, and we can support our own process through building resilience. There are a lot of tools for that belt, resilience isn’t just a buzzword.

WATM: Is that thesis behind your team’s work at the VFWC?

Tess: Exactly. The center is a place of hope and healing. We teach tangible skills, identifiable tools, for veterans and their families to be able to overcome challenges and build better relationships. The FOCUS model that’s our cornerstone is pretty incredible.

WATM: Is there anybody else out there that’s focusing on families like this?

Tess: Not in this way. From a wellness-based resilience perspective this is the first center of its kind, especially paired with the VA which traditionally only sees individual veterans. They took a huge step to open their doors to couples and families too. When you think about it, though, our families, friends and communities are on the front lines supporting after military service.

WATM: So this is a groundbreaking VA partnership all based in science?

Tess: Yep. That’s why UCLA is such an amazing partner because the VFWC is just blocks away from world class researchers. The Center falls under the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and the Nathanson Family Resilience Center which focus on resilience for all families, not just veterans. The research behind our programs is about understanding what drives human behavior and growth. Based on that, VFWC programming is tailored to veterans and their families with really firm research and evidence backing it up.

WATM: Classic, intel drives operations model. But you have specific model for your programs as well. What is FOCUS?

Tess: FOCUS is Families Overcoming Under Stress. It’s a holistic model that was co-created between UCLA and Harvard University and currently in use on over 30 active duty military bases around the world. Our center represents the first wider translation of FOCUS from active duty into the veterans community, which are distinctly different populations. It’s a departure from traditional therapy models.

WATM: What can veterans and their families expect when they come to the center?

Tess: When somebody comes into the center in general we start with a consultation that helps us to really guide veterans and family members to the resources that they might be needing. It’s starting where the individual is. We have individual, couples, early childhood, military sexual trauma, and combat veteran adaptations, plus group sessions and special workshops and events. We keep our doors open for veterans and family members regardless of discharge, benefits or when they got out. The building we’re housed in also offers veterans with VA benefits massage, reiki, mindfulness and yoga. There’s even a drum circle and Taichi.

WATM: And children?

Tess: Especially children. Research that was done as far back as the Holocaust indicates that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation. In cases of post-traumatic stress, suicide and even repeated deployments, the effects of secondary trauma is a very real thing. A lot of the times we see families with children who don’t know how to talk to them about certain issues or there’s not a huge understanding of the developmental piece of what’s behind behaviors. Kids aren’t just mini-adults, the human brain is still developing until the age of 25! So, we support both the parents and children to find a closeness and ability to communicate more as they move through the journey.

WATM: That sounds pretty awesome especially for the VA. How would you describe starting the center?

Tess: It’s been a lot of pioneering. Improvising. Being resilient. There are so many people who care in the VA system and a whole lot of need. Offering another avenue for assistance is important to the team here.

WATM: What is your vision for the center and the future of resilience in the VA?

Tess: I would love to see the VA expand the VFWC’s holistic wellness model to include centers in every facility, especially coupled with a research institution. Veterans and their families would really benefit. Both our families, and wider communities for that matter, are really impactful in our individual wellness. One of the great things about the VFWC is our ability to seek additional community resources. It’s a long table and there is no one size fits all for wellness, reintegration, and healing.

WATM: So now you you’ve gone through your own experience gone through two years here. What does resilience mean to you?

Tess: I think the Marine Corps says it really, well you adapt and you overcome. Sometimes it seems like pull-through comes from out of nowhere because we’re born with it, but sometimes life can bring those levels low. Resilience is that wellspring that allows for course correction and being able to bounce back. Resilience to me also means working on saying, “hey something’s wrong here” and being open to assistance. First step for me personally of breaking the cycle was my own acknowledgment of what I was facing. For instance, I couldn’t talk to my family being sexually assaulted on active duty and I now know that’s common to those who have experienced trauma. I simply didn’t have the vocabulary, I had to organize the words in my own mind. We really need each other to get through hard times, so it’s crucial to develop.

WATM: What does 2019 look like for you and VFWC?

Tess: We’re working on piloting a new transition program, TEAM, for those at any point after active service based on the core FOCUS model paired with the ideas of identity ,mission, meaning and purpose. These are four essential elements of transition. Your perception changes along the transition to civilian life just like my perception changed of myself when I got out of the Marine Corps. It really was a rediscovery of who I was, where I was. I had to find a new mission. For me that happened to be serving people, but it could be different for others. It can be challenging to figure these things our while also providing for yourself or a family. We want to offer veterans and their families the resilience tools before they even need them.

WATM: Do you have any advice specifically to the families

Tess: There is no one size fits all to happiness, health and healing. If one thing doesn’t work, move forward. No matter what you face, keep reaching out and moving forward. Families, you are vital to service. You’re heard and seen. You matter.

Marine Veteran Tess Banko is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center (VFWC). To learn more about the center’s work or begin your own resilience training please contact familycenter@nfrc.ucla.edu or Phone 310-478-3711, ext 42793.

Jobs

5 reasons veterans leave civilian jobs

For most hiring managers, sourcing, and hiring employees is only half the work: Retaining and engaging them is critical. According to a study published by the Society of Human Resources Professionals in late 2017, “The average overall turnover rate in 2016 was 18%. The 2016 rate is similar to the 2015 rate (19%).” This indicates a huge savings for employers, as replacing employees is time intensive and costly.

As companies recognize the benefits of hiring military veterans, the question often arises: Will they stay? Replacing an employee who is also a veteran is costly (as with any employee) and often emotional (I feel bad for not retaining someone who served our country).


A 2014 study from VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families IVMF) at Syracuse University found that nearly half of all veterans leave their first post-military position within a year, and between 60% and 80% of veterans leave their first civilian jobs before their second work anniversary.

There are many reasons an employee leaves their current job – some are within, and others are outside of their control. For instance, downsizing, performance issues, and natural employee attrition certainly account for some retention statistics.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

In the case of military veterans in civilian careers, the five reasons that stand out for turnover include:

1. Lack of leadership

Leadership is a foundational value and skill developed in the military. From the moment an individual puts on the uniform, to the day they leave the military, they are taught how to lead, why leadership matters, the importance of driving towards a mission, and caring for their teams/colleagues. In their civilian careers, veterans often seek to lead or be led in similar ways: Ascribing to a high set of values and principles, complete accountability and responsibility for actions, and caring for others. When these goals fall short, the veteran might feel disillusioned and could leave the company in search of a more meaningful contribution or leader.

2. Feeling a deficiency of support

Unlike your recent college graduate, or civilian employee, your veteran will likely not feel comfortable asking for help, resources or support. They are accustomed to being self-sufficient to solve problems. When they hit a wall, they were trained to go around, over, under or through it to get to resolution. But what happens when they feel stuck, lost, confused or hopeless? Unless the employer has a structure in place (that is well communicated to the veteran employee,) about what to do when needing support, the veteran could leave the company rather than risk the embarrassment of asking for help.

3. Found a better job

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
Lt. Col. Donald Elliott, of the Adjutant General School, talks to a representative from Penske. Elliott is retiring in a year and wants to start preparing for his transition into civilian life.
(Photo by Ms. Demetria Mosley)

With 5 million veterans estimated to be in the workplace by 2023, and more employers recognizing the value in hiring military talent, it’s common today for veteran employees to be recruited out of their current job. As social media tools have enhanced their search ability for prospects, savvy recruiters are contacting employees and recruiting them away.

4. Skills not aligned

Perhaps the employer took a chance on a veteran candidate who lacked several of the key skills for the job. And, maybe that employer neglected to give that employee access to training and tools needed to do the job well. Combine this with the veteran’s reluctance to ask for help… and you may have an employee who is not skilled up on the work needed.

5. Chose the wrong job

There are a number of military veterans who will accept the first job offer they get simply to create some stability in their transition. This is not ideal for the employer or the employee, but it does happen. The pressure and stress of transitioning from a career, culture, and team you are very familiar with, to something completely unknown, is daunting.

When it comes to military veteran employees, employers can do more to increase the support network, open communications channels, and demonstrate leadership aligned with values to positively impact retention.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA partners with Dole Foundation, Red Cross to help Veteran caregivers

VA is teaming up with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF) and the American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN) to provide one-year, free, premium LinkedIn subscriptions to Veteran caregivers. Donated by LinkedIn, the free premium subscriptions help Veteran caregivers get noticed by recruiters, build out a network, stay in the know on new jobs that fit their skills, and apply for new opportunities.


In addition, LinkedIn offers a free year of unlimited access to over 15,000 business, creative and technology courses. The courses are all taught by industry experts through the LinkedIn Learning platform. Veterans may also request a free one-year premium subscription here: www.linkedin.com/military.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

Caregivers support one of VA’s key priorities

VA values its long-standing relationships with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the American Red Cross. Together, we work to strengthen and bridge the gaps in services and resources in the community for caregivers.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation will soon share this offering with their military and Veteran caregiver community. Over the coming weeks, the Dole Foundation will be sharing this with the Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community, an online platform that connects thousands of military caregivers to a network of peer support and other resources.

The American Red Cross MVCN welcomes Veteran caregivers to join their Employment and Workplace Support Group if they are interested.

Specifically for the Veteran community, LinkedIn has created two learning paths.

  • Transition from Military to Civilian Employment: This learning path will help youis designed to navigate your job searches, helping you while building youra professional identity, assists in preopreparing prepare for interviews, negotiatinge salariesy, and even get promotionsed once you’ve after been hired.
  • Transition from Military to Student Life: Covering everything from ACT/SAT/GRE test prep to essay writing, study skills, time management tips, and how to land an internship, this learning path propels Veteransshould set you on a course to success – graduation and beyond.

To make the most of LinkedIn, use these resources:

  • LinkedIn for Veterans: This course provides a “LinkedIn 101” tutorial for everything from selecting and uploading the right picture to searching and applying for jobs.
  • Translating Your Military Skills to Civilian Employment: This course will help Veteransyou understand the civilian hiring process and empower you to demonstrate your best self to potential employers.
  • Finding Your Purpose After Active Duty: This course is all about the intangibles of transition – understanding the Veteran’syour value to civilian employers, dealing with the uncertainty of transition, and wrestling with some of the challenges inherent in this process.

LinkedIn is exited to support the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who has teamed up with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network to offer Premium to family members of wounded veterans. These parents, spouses, and children of returning service members often disrupt their career paths to take on the important role of a caregiver.” Sarah Roberts, Head of Military and Veterans Programs, LinkedIn.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation is excited to share this new, free offering with their military and Veteran caregiver community. Over the coming weeks, the Dole Foundation will be sharing this with the Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community, an online platform that connects thousands of military caregivers to a network of peer support and other resources. This offering is also available to military and Veteran caregivers who request to join Hidden Heroes in the coming weeks!

“We’re very excited to team up with LinkedIn and the VA on this very exciting offering,” said Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “Finding flexible employment has always been a challenge for the military caregivers we serve, and in the midst of COVID-19, this continues to be a top need for caregivers. We are excited to make this offering available to our community and continue to find ways we can creatively support military families during this difficult time.”

The American Red Cross MVCN welcomes Veteran caregivers of all eras to join their custom, secure, caregiver– only Network. The MVCN is delighted to host Sarah Roberts, Head of Military and Veteran Programs at LinkedIn to demonstrate how LinkedIn can support caregiver employment. Caregivers interested in a free Premium LinkedIn Subscription are encouraged to join the Employment and Workplace Support group where the ongoing issues of caregiver employment are shared.

Other resources from our partners:

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY GAMING

How Call of Duty is returning to help our real-life war heroes

Since 2009, the Call of Duty Endowment has been making strides in helping out the real-life heroes upon which the Call of Duty series is based. Now, the newest installment in the series, Call of Duty: WWII, is once again offering gamers the chance to give back to our nation’s war fighters — and get some really sweet loot in the process.


The deal here isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it is effective. The developers over at Sledgehammer Games, Inc. are again putting out some cosmetic DLC that offers gamers some nifty swag in exchange for putting some cash towards helping veterans find jobs after they leave the service.

They’ve began this trend with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare when they offered players a sweet red, white, and blue skin for their weapon, giving fans of the series the chance to showcase their commitment to helping veterans. Shortly after the release of Call of Duty: WWII, players once again had a chance to chip in and, in return, receive a helmet with the C.O.D.E. emblem on it.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
My character still rocks the helmet even after I’ve unlocked plenty of others in the game.
(Activision)

This time around, the pack is called the “Fear Not Pack.” It comes with a new Monty uniform, two calling cards, two player emblems, a weapon charm that’s a Scottish Terrier wearing Teddy Roosevelt’s glasses, and a green “Viper” weapon skin.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
(Activision)

You can pick up this new pack for $4.99. Playstation 4 players can snag an exclusive premium, animated theme for an additional $3.99. Or, you can get it all bundled up with last year’s Bravery pack for a grand total of $9.99. Both packs are now available for players to purchase.

No matter what your stance is on buying in-game cosmetics, remember, it’s all for a good cause. All of the proceeds go towards placing veterans in high-paying, high-quality jobs — and things are going well. The Call of Duty Endowment first set out to place 25,000 veterans in great jobs by the end of 2018. Due to an overwhelmingly positive reception and avid participation from the players, they met that goal two years early. They’ve since revised their goal. Now, they want to place 50,000 veterans by the end of 2019 — and you can help.

Check out the video below to learn a little more about the organization and how they’re helping our nation’s vets.

“The continued support from Sledgehammer Games, PlayStation, and Xbox for Call of Duty® in-game items this year is vital to our mission of helping veterans beat unemployment and underemployment as they transition back into civilian life. Via these programs, we have raised more than $3.8 million toward helping veterans into meaningful careers,” said Dan Goldenberg, Executive Director of the Call of Duty Endowment. “We want to thank Call of Duty gamers and our partners for their continued support, without which we could not be have helped more than 6,000 vets.”

ACTIVISION and CALL OF DUTY are trademarks of Activision Publishing, Inc. All other trademarks and trade names are the properties of their respective owners.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The most recent Korean War remains are close to a final ID

In defusing tensions between the United States and North Korea in 2018, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un returned the remains of 55 allied troops, kept by the North for the previous 65 years or more. Almost 7,700 members of the United States Military remain unidentified from the Korean War, which killed more than 36,000.


North Korea returned the remains in July 2018 after a historic summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore. It was a first for a sitting President to meet the reclusive leader of North Korea and a first for the North Korean dictator to meet with a non-Chinese foreign leader outside of the Hermit Kingdom.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

Transfer cases, containing the remains of what are believed to be U.S. service members lost in the Korean War, line a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

Unidentified remains were transferred from the United Nations Command in South Korea to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the team that manages the repatriation of American war dead, identifies them, and ensures they are returned to their families for a proper burial. They were received in an “honorable carry” ceremony in Hawaii.

The only personal item returned by North Korea that could identify any of the remains was the dog tag of Army medic Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel. It was the first of such returns since President George W. Bush halted the cooperation with North Korea in 2005.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

An honor guard detail of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command personnel conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

DPAA’s mission is to search for, find, and account for missing Defense Department personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and other recent conflicts. More than 82,000 Americans remain missing from those conflicts, with 34,000 believed to be recoverable.

The recently recovered remains have been mostly identified. The lab responsible is still finalizing the process and doing one last quality check before telling the families of the fallen. Master Sgt. McDaniel’s family has already received his dog tags, along with the hope that their long-lost father is among the honored dead on their way home. Only three others have been positively identified thus far.

Trump and Kim are expected to meet again in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2019.

Articles

7 struggles these veterans know all too well about humping gear

SAPI plates, hundreds of rounds of ammo, and as much water as you can haul is just a fraction of the gear our ground troops carry on their back as they move through their objectives every day.


Related: This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Not too long ago, WATM ran a story featuring a TV show host who wanted to know what it felt like to carry the typical combat load a Vietnam War GI would haul. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, click here: This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Many members of our loyal audience took the opportunity to chime in after reading the article and commented about what the heavy equipment they had to lug around during their time serving “in the suck” and here’s what they had to say.

1. The veteran grunt

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

2. The motivated Corpsman

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

3. The usual checklist of gear for this grunt was…

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

 

Related: 8 things Marines love to carry other than their weapon

4. The proud and seasoned machine gunner

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

5. Packing some major heat

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

6. He’s down to do it all over again

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

7. Ready for just about anything

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry

 

What gear did you carry? Comment below.

Articles

94 unknown US WWII vets are being exhumed and possibly identified

Military and Veterans Affairs officials are digging up the remains of 94 unidentified Marines and sailors killed on a remote atoll in the Pacific during one of World War II’s bloodiest battles.


The servicemen were killed in the Battle of Tarawa in 1943 and buried as unknowns at a national cemetery in Honolulu after the war.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency spokeswoman Maj. Natasha Waggoner said March 28 advances in DNA technology have increased the probability of identifying the unknowns.

Why it’s important for vets to be on the Burn Pit Registry
U.S. Marines storm the beach at Tarawa Atoll, November 1943. (U.S. Archives)

More than 990 U.S. Marines and 30 U.S. sailors were killed in the three-day battle. About 550 are still unidentified, including some still in Tarawa, Waggoner said.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific spokesman Gene Maestas said the disinterments began in October. The cemetery, which is also known as Punchbowl, expects to transfer the last eight servicemen to the military next Monday.

The exhumations come two years after the Pentagon announced new criteria for exhuming remains from military cemeteries for identification.

Shortly after, it dug up from Punchbowl cemetery the remains of nearly 400 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma who were killed in the 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The work to identify them is expected to take about five years.

Waggoner said her agency doesn’t have an estimate for how long it will take to identify the Tarawa remains. That’s because some of the skeletons from Punchbowl are incomplete and parts of some bodies are still in Tarawa.

The agency recently received Pentagon approval to exhume some 35 Punchbowl graves believed to hold the unidentified remains of servicemen from the USS West Virginia, which was also hit in the Pearl Harbor attack.

The agency will schedule these disinterments after it gets a permit from the state of Hawaii, she said.

Tarawa, which is some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) southwest of Honolulu, is today part of the Republic of Kiribati.

During the U.S. amphibious assault on Tarawa 74 years ago, Japanese machine gun fire killed scores of Marines when their boats got stuck on the reef at low tide. Americans who made it to the beach faced brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Only 17 of the 3,500 Japanese troops survived. Of 1,200 Korean slave laborers on the island, just 129 lived.

The U.S. quickly buried the thousands of dead. But these graves were soon disturbed as the Navy had to quickly build an airstrip to continue their push west toward Japan.

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