On Veterans Day 2017, U.S. Army veteran David Brown was walking around an area of Arlington National Cemetery that was far removed from the holiday crowd of tourists and volunteers. He came across an older man walking alone among the tombstones in Section 60 – where those killed in action in the Global War on Terror are laid to rest.
The man was Secretary of Defense (and retired Marine Corps General) James Mattis.
There were no cameras or news reporters walking with the retired general. He was dressed respectfully in a black tie and jacket, walking through the rows of graves. As Brown put it, “Defense Secretary James Mattis spent his Veterans Day with the recent fallen.”
Brown then watched Mattis as he spoke with others visiting Section 60. Mattis listened to the stories of those visiting their lost loved ones. And overheard an exchange between the general and a Gold Star Father.
“An old man visiting his Marine son’s grave told Mattis that he was his boy’s hero; the Warrior Monk smiled sadly and said that the old man’s son was one of his.”
Brown snapped a selfie with the secretary and posted it to his Facebook page. The comments on the photo were full of stories of personal encounters with Mattis and love for the general and his long history of supporting American troops.
Comments ranged from “General Mattis is a national treasure and we are very lucky that he remains in service to the United States of America,” to “THAT IS F**KING COOL AS SH*T BRO!!!” – a testament to the wide respect the General earned in both his time in the Marine Corps to his service as SECDEF.
Call of Duty is one of the biggest first-person shooter franchises in the world. Starting with World War II scenarios, this video game franchise has honored those who fought for freedom and against evil-doers for over a decade.
What you may not have known is that there is also a Call of Duty Endowment, which helps to support non-profits that are effective at helping the real-life heroes who have served make the transition from military life to civilian life. Yesterday, that endowment gave three such charities its Seal of Distinction, and announced plans to expand its recognition to charities in the United Kingdom.
The first charity recognized by the Endowment was Goodwill Southern California. In 2016, they placed 752 veterans in civilian jobs at a cost of $1,022 per placement, while still providing job placement, work experience, education, and training.
Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region was also honored by the Endowment for their Military and Veteran Services team’s ability to place 208 veterans into jobs at a cost of $1,076 per placement. This charity provides “individualized, holistic plans to help each participant succeed with the goal of achieving career placement, retention, and long-term financial education and stability.”
The third charity honored was Houston-based NextOp, Inc. Since its founding in March 2015, it has placed over 1,000 vets at a cost of $1,599 per placement. This charity specializes in placing “middle-enlisted military leaders” into industrial careers in the Houston region.
The charities supported by the Call of Duty Endowment have a strong record of delivering results. According to the endowment’s web site, the average cost per placement is less than $619, while the federal government spends almost $3,100. The average salary for the vets placed by charities supported by the endowment is $57,000, compared to just over $30,000 for those placed via government programs. The endowment has placed over 37,000 veterans into jobs since 2009.
Veterans and Gold Star Families will be granted free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and other Federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior starting on Veterans Day this year and every day onward.
“With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting Veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veterans Day and every single day thereafter,” said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.
Entrance fees for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and standard amenity recreation fees for the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation sites will be waived for Veterans and Gold Star Families. They will have free access to approximately 2,000 public locations spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, which host activities to fit any lifestyle, from serene to high octane, including hiking, fishing, paddling, biking, hunting, stargazing and climbing.
Many Department managed lands have direct connections to the American military, such as frontier forts, Cold War sites, battlefields, national cemeteries, and memorials. These special places pay tribute to our veterans and serve as reminders of their courage and sacrifice throughout the history of our nation, from Minuteman National Historic Park where colonists stood in defense of their rights, to Yellowstone National Park, which was protected from vandalism and poaching by the 1st U.S. Cavalry before the National Park Service was established, to Mount Rushmore where modern warriors attend reenlistment ceremonies.
Details on program
For purposes of this program, a Veteran is identified as an individual who has served in the United States Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves, and is able to present one of the following forms of identification:
Department of Defense Identification Card
Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
Veteran ID Card
Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card
Gold Star Families are next of kin of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a “qualifying situation,” such as a war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the United States Armed Forces.
The Interagency America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program already includes a free annual pass for active duty members of the U.S. Military and their dependents. Other free or discounted passes are available for persons with permanent disabilities, fourth grade students, volunteers, and senior citizens age 62 years or older.
The Department also offers free entrance days for everyone throughout the year to mark days of celebration and commemoration including the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., National Public Lands Day, Veterans Day, and the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Before John Klipstein joined the Army, he smoked a pack a day and his PT test run time was roughly 23 minutes — which accounts for the time spent throwing up on the side of the track. The military turned that around. The newly-minted 13B found a love for fitness and pushing his body to the limit. After leaving the military, he developed a line of supplements to help others do the same — safely.
During his first deployment, Klipstein and his friends handled the stress by working out. In his time at the gym, he noticed a lot of soldiers taking a lot of different supplements — some of which could be found on the military’s banned supplement list. Klipstein was interested in why those expensive jugs of pre-workout were confiscated — what exactly their ingredients were.
By the time his second deployment rolled around, he was making his own pre-workout using ingredients he ordered himself. Now that he was in the role of squad leader, it was his job to confiscate banned substances. He used the opportunity to educate his troops on the dangers of those banned ingredients. Sadly, shortly after his deployment ended, an NCO in their unit died during a five-mile run. The cause was cardiac arrest — caused by a pre-workout supplement.
“This happens all the time in the military,” Klipstein says. “Heavy stimulants mixed with extreme heat and intense training can be very dangerous and soldiers end up dying from it.”
(Courtesy of John Klipstein)
“Sometimes, supplements may be effective but have questionable safety profiles.” says Jennifer Campbell, an Army veteran, Certified Personal Trainer, and Master of Science in Nutrition Education. “Remember Hydroxycut back in the early 2000s? Its active ingredient was Ephedra, which was banned by the FDA in 2004.”
So, when Klipstein started UXO Supplements after leaving the Army, he made it UXO’s mission and vision to provide safe and effective formulas for supplements while educating people on how to use them the right way.
“With UXO you get clean energy with clinical amounts of researched and proven ingredients” he says. “All products are manufactured in an FDA approved lab, so you will not find any banned substances. In fact, we have all products 3rd-party tested before they hit the shelves to ensure they are safe for our consumers.”
“Knowledge of a supplement’s legality, safety, purity, and effectiveness is critical,” Campbell says. “Unlike food, the FDA does not review supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. The manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe before they go to market.”
Klipstein left the Army as an E6 promotable after herniating two discs and banging up his knee but UXO’s other business partner remains in the service, keeping up with the fitness trends that affect the military the most. Even though John Klipstein isn’t rucking up and down mountains and patrolling villages on maneuver missions anymore, he’s still working to keep himself — and his veteran-owned business — in shape and taking care of his brothers- and sisters-in-arms.
“The most important thing about being a vet-owned business is giving back to the veteran community,” Klipstein says. “We do it with a quality product and solid education. We also offer them a 25 percent discount.”
Just use the coupon code MILSUPPS25 at when checking out at UXOSupplements.com. He also invites the military-veteran community to tell him what they think of his products.
Fitness and Nutrition expert Jennifer Campbell also adds that some supplement manufacturers aim to pursue the most inexpensive raw material from suppliers that will pass under the given certificate of analysis to minimize the cost of goods. She backs Klipstein’s insistence on supplement education.
“Do your research,” she says.
John Klipstein isn’t about to let another soldier fall to poor or unethical supplements. He’s happy to post his ingredients — and explain how lesser supplements are trying to be deceptive with their ingredient lists. He, like Campbell, warns of things like “proprietary blends” and implores supplement seekers to find third-party reviewed ingredients in the products they purchase.
UXO products are tasty and provide the energy and recovery they promise. The military discount is great because it makes the products extremely affordable. On top of that, before purchasing, UXO Supplements tells you everything you need to know about the type of product you’re buying as well as the formulation and purpose of the specific item you’re interested in. It’s a great intro to workout supplements, from start to finish.
Klipstein wants all his clients to be healthy, happy, and of course, repeat customers. The UXO Blog says it all.
“There is nothing better than receiving positive feedback from veterans and athletes alike. Our goal is to deliver a great product with an amazing taste. We will never sacrifice our values or our quality to try and make a quick dollar.”
Members of the military and veterans the world over have a dark sense of humor. Given the nature of our lives, we can either think about the gravest consequences of what we do or we can choose to laugh about it. We spend so much time joking about dark things, it bleeds into the rest of our lives. For one Irish veteran, it carried on into his death.
Shay Bradley died on Oct. 8, 2019, of a long illness, one “bravely borne” in Dublin, Ireland. Bradley was a veteran of the Irish Defense Forces, the all-volunteer military forces of the Republic of Ireland. He was laid to rest just four days later in a beautiful funeral that would have been at the same time solemn and sad. That’s when someone started knocking on the casket door.
From the inside.
“Hello? Hello. Hello? Let me out!” the funeralgoers heard. “”Where the f*ck am I? … Let me out, it’s f*cking dark in here. … Is that the priest I can hear? … This is Shay, I’m in the box. No, in f*cking front of you. I’m dead.”
Bradley wanted his wife to leave the funeral laughing instead of crying. According to his daughter Andrea, Shay recorded the audio about a year before his passing, knowing full well how his illness would end. No one knew about the recording that would be played at the funeral except Shay’s son Jonathan and his grandson, Ben. Jonathan let the cat out of the bag two days before the funeral, though, telling the immediate family about the recording.
It was Shay’s dying wish to play the prank at his own funeral. His wife was laughing as she left the cemetery, just as Shay had hoped.
“[It was his] way of saying not only goodbye, but to also say, ‘OK the sadness is over now here is a laugh so you can go and celebrate my life with a smile on your face.'”Bradley’s daughter told the Huffington Post. “This prank was one in a million, just like my dad.”
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.
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
(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.
In 2018, Navy veteran Anthony Price burned through more than 450 gallons of gasoline and three sets of tires. He spent more than 700 miles in the rain, many days in temperatures above 100 degrees, and at least one day in the snow. He did all of it to honor the families who lost a loved one to America’s wars. And he’s going to do it again in 2019, as he has for the past six years.
The Gold Star Ride of a lifetime.
Price began his ride for Gold Star families in 2013 as a means of calling attention to those families and saying thank you in his own way. Since then, he has been to more than 44 states, enduring extreme temperatures and conditions just to ensure the families of fallen service members are taken care of. As the Gold Star Ride website says, “We ride because they died… We do the work that our fallen heroes would do if they hadn’t fallen for all our freedom.”
Soon the Minnesota-based Price and his fellow riders were a full-fledged nonprofit, dedicated to the mission of helping those in need. Gold Star Riders actively support, comfort, and provide education benefits to Gold Star Families throughout the United States directly with personal visits via motorcycle. They also vow to partner with any group who actively helps these Gold Star families.
“The families themselves are not looking for any stardom or any fame or any glory,” Price says. “They’re just looking for someone to remember, to remember a huge sacrifice.”
The title of Price’s book is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s “Bixby Letter,” a letter the 16th President penned to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. In it, the President is said to have written his regret at her loss and his attempt to console her by reminding the mother of the Republic they died to save. He ends the letter with “Yours, Very Sincerely and Respectfully.”
Price in an interview with a Fox affiliate.
The letter is an apt reference, as Price describes on commercial producer Jordan Brady’s “Respect the Process” Podcast. Price mentions that he would talk to twenty or so people a day, on average, for two months straight. He found that 19 of those 20 didn’t know what a Gold Star Family was. In one case, even a Gold Star Family did not realize they were a Gold Star Family.
To be clear, a Gold Star Family member is the immediate family of any military member who lost their life in military service – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children.
“One of the reasons we do this is because no one else was doing it,” says Price. “Every once in a while I hear someone say ‘you’re adding an element that makes [the loss] a little more palatable… the work you’re doing is helping me make sense of the tragedy I have to go through.'”
Wil Willis knows a thing or two about weapons. He was born into a military family, served as an Army Ranger for four years, then transferred to the Air Force to become a pararescueman for another ten years. Since his time in service, he’s found ways to utilize the skills he learned on active duty as both an entertainer and an instructor.
Now an actor and writer, Willis is perhaps best known for his work on Forged in Fire, a competition series where world-class bladesmiths compete to create iconic edged weapons from history. He also teaches veterans and members of the first responder community about tactical combat casualty care.
So, yeah, he’s kind of bad ass.
U.S. Marine Weston Scott met up with Willis to connect over a past-time they both love: hitting the road on two wheels.
In this episode of “Paving the Way,” Willis and Scott hang out in their favorite Los Angeles garage working on their bikes and chatting about what it means for them to ride.
“I don’t do anything illegal. It’s not out of control. But I definitely am more aggressive than a lot of other riders. I ride every day.”
His riding style might be “fast and loose” but Willis insists it helps him slow down.
“I think being left alone with your thoughts can be scary sometimes, especially when you’re talking about a transitional period. I’ve got through it a bunch of times. Everybody’s had rough times. For me, getting back on the back was a way of slowing everything down in my mind. I do believe there’s something spiritual I get out of riding.”
Check out the episode above to find out more about why Willis rides every day, but Scott sums it up nicely: “It’s just good for the soul.”
U.S. Navy Surface Warfare officer, Jesse Iwuji, is a rising star in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. A veteran of two Arabian Gulf deployments, Jesse spends his time on land meticulously building each element of his pro racing career.
And of course, the bedrock of pro racing is the ability to move a ton of steel around a track at bone-rattling velocity.
“Jesse, let me know when it’s safe to unpucker.” (Go90 Oscar Mike screenshot)
As he related to Oscar Mike host Ryan Curtis when they met up at the Meridian Speedway in Boise, Idaho, success in life is all about finding the thing you’re passionate about and then making a firm decision to go and get it.
In Iwuji’s experience, hot pursuit starts with putting one foot in front of the other. He finished the 2016 season ranked Top 10 overall in points and entered the 2017 season newly partnered with three time NFL Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman as his car owner for Patriot Motorsports Group.
Curtis, of course, couldn’t wait for his chance to get behind the wheel.
“How about now?” “Just drive the car, man.” (Go90 Oscar Mike screenshot)
Watch as Iwuji pushes the K&N Pro Series stock car to it’s outer limits while Curtis makes the lamest joke in military history in the video embedded at the top.
Silhouetted palm trees dotted a creeping sunrise to the east, and a waning moon hung in the black sky above the Pacific Ocean at 5 a.m. Friday morning as 22 current and former Reconnaissance Marines stood on the San Onofre Beach shoreline aboard Camp Pendleton, California, waiting to start a grueling day.
“Three! Two! One!” a Marine yelled, starting the 2021 Recon Challenge.
Competing in two-man teams, the Marines took off over sand and slick rocks, rifles slung across their backs and carrying rucksacks weighing at least 50 pounds. Without hesitation, they waded into the surf, shrinking smaller and smaller until they disappeared in the waves.
Competitors put their strength and endurance to the ultimate test during the punishing, daylong contest. Each Recon Marine wore the name of one of his fallen brothers on his pack, and the Gold Star families of the fallen were on hand to observe the commemorative event throughout the day. They cheered competitors on at several of the challenge’s 10 events and welcomed the Marines at the finish line.
The teams raced through Camp Pendleton’s hilly terrain, rucking from event to event and logging roughly 25 miles with many steep climbs along the way. They overcame obstacles such as underwater knot-tying, casualty evacuation drills, and live-fire marksmanship drills. While the morning started out cool, the Southern California sun beat down brutally, and afternoon temperatures reached as high as 90 degrees.
“It is an honor to put our bodies through that grueling pain and shared suffering so that we remember our fallen and feel them with us as we move through that route,” said Gunnery Sgt. Frank Simmons, an instructor with Reconnaissance Training Company (RTC) and one of the lead coordinators for the 2021 Recon Challenge.
Team 8, consisting of RTC Executive Officer Capt. Benjamin Lowring and Basic Reconnaissance Course Instructor Staff Sgt. Andy Meltz, took a strong lead from the beginning of the competition, only to be overtaken late in the day. The team took a wrong turn on their way to the eighth of 10 events, losing precious time and allowing Team 11 to close distance.
The second-to-last event of the challenge sealed Team 8’s fate. The Marines struggled with the task of moving a massive tire from a 7-ton truck from the deep end of the Camp Horno Pool up and over a 9-foot ledge to the shallow end. The Marines resurfaced over and over, experimenting with different strategies and techniques before finally succeeding after more than 15 minutes. By the time they managed to heave the tire over the ledge, RTC Senior Enlisted Advisor Master Gunnery Sgt. Cory Paskvan and RTC Commanding Officer Maj. Morgan Jordan — Team 11 — had caught up.
After quickly shedding their rucks and stripping down to swimsuits, Team 11 jumped in the pool and went to work. They wasted no time, using a rope to pull the tire to the surface and bobbing it across the water with ease. They hurriedly applied a topical aid to sore muscles, dressed, and stepped off in hopes of a come-from-behind victory. A poorly timed leg cramp helped them leapfrog Team 8, and Paskvan and Jordan took the lead going into the final stretch.
Once in the lead, Team 11 maintained a strong but manageable pace as they made the final push across the roughly 5 miles of hilly terrain that remained between them and the finish line.
Nine hours and 27 minutes after first plunging into the cold Pacific, the pair walked under the Recon Challenge banner and hung Lt. Col. Kevin Michael Shea’s dog tags on a battle cross staged there. The Marines’ loved ones, fellow service members, and the honored Gold Star family members cheered wildly.
With a combined age of 84, Paskvan and Jordan were the oldest team in the challenge, competing against Marines as young as 25.
“There’s not a lot of competitors coming out to run it this late in their career,” Jordan said.
Scott Gardner, a retired Force Recon Marine, was the oldest competitor in the challenge at 47. Gardner and his teammate, Staff Sgt. Gabe Gillespie, finished the event toward the middle of the pack.
Among the competitors’ many impressive feats was the 3rd place finish of Gunnery Sgt. Joshua Kovar and Marine Recon veteran George Briones of Team 10.
Kovar, who serves as a Ranger Instructor at the Army’s Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, finished third in the Recon Challenge just two weeks after finishing second overall in the 2021 Best Ranger Competition, an annual US Army competition that’s comparable to the Recon Challenge and considered one of the most physically rigorous endurance events in the military. Competitors are tested in a nonstop series of events that are meant to push them both physically and mentally while judging their ability to execute a variety of military skills.
“Gunnery Sgt. Kovar embodies the Recon Creed by forever striving ‘to maintain the tremendous reputation of those who went before’ him and ‘exceeding beyond the limitations set down by others,’” Simmons said, praising Kovar’s performance in the challenge.
As senior leaders of RTC, Paskvan and Jordan took on the challenge as an opportunity for them to lead by example and “defy the odds.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Paskvan said. “I’ve been coming out here since 2015 trying to win one of these. I’ve gotten a fair amount of second places, but this is the first time I’ve actually won.”
Paskvan said he’s served with many of the fallen Marines whose ID tags competitors carried during this year’s challenge and in challenges past.
“It’s very humbling,” he said.
Even more humbling was knowing Shea’s widow was waiting at the finish line. After completing the challenge, Paskvan and Jordan were able to give her the flag they carried throughout the race in remembrance of her husband.
“It’s not every year that you get out, make a relationship with a family that you’re running on behalf of,” Jordan said. “Really, we do it for them.”
The topic of combat-related trauma is finally being addressed in mainstream medicine across the United States. After seventeen consecutive years in overseas conflicts, trauma is both a reality and a devastation for our troops. As the stigma previously attached to mental health challenges fades, we’re finally coming together collectively to help support the men and women who serve in our military.
Luckily, there are many forms of treatment. Throttle therapy happens to be one of them — and a high octane one at that.
“Throttle therapy” is the term for time spent on a motorized bike with the intent to enjoy feelings of euphoria that may exceed the capabilities of prescription or illegal drugs. According to the nonprofit Veteran Motocross Foundation, or VetMX, “Research has shown that physical experiences which are thrilling and physically demanding can re-center human brain chemistry.”
In other words, sports like Motocross can help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress, especially for veterans.
“It’s not something radical we’ve come up with,” said Dustin Blankenship, an Air Force veteran with a paralyzed left thigh. “There’s proof that riding a motorcycle helps people. It’s almost like you’re in a trance state on a motorcycle. It’s like meditation.”
Blankenship discovered that his injury doesn’t hold him back when he rides.
He’s not the only veteran to experience a transformation when he rides. Then-2nd Lt. Michael Reardon told the Air Force that motocross racing was the ultimate stress reliever and the perfect adrenaline rush — within reason: “[Motocross] is only dangerous if you let it be dangerous. The sport is much safer if you don’t exceed your own limits.”
Brothers Greg Oswald and Eli Tomac, a C-17 pilot and a Supercross champ respectively, know a thing or two about getting in a machine and letting everything else fade away. Check out the video below to hear about how they support each other on the ground, in the air, or on a racetrack:
Veterans denied basic mental health care service benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs because of an “other than honorable” discharge may soon be able to receive the care they need.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, spearheaded by Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican and Marine Corps combat veteran.
“Today, this House sent a critical message to our men and women in uniform,” Coffman said in a release. “That message is that you are not alone. We are here to help those suffering from the ‘invisible’ wounds of war.
“The passage of [this bill] is an important bipartisan effort to ensure that our combat veterans receive the mental health care services they need. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line,” he said.
The legislation, H.R. 918, would require the VA to provide initial mental health assessments and services deemed necessary, including for those at risk of suicide and or of harming others, regardless of whether the individual has an “other than honorable” discharge.
Currently, individuals who have such discharges, known as “bad paper,” are not eligible for veteran benefits beyond some emergency mental health services. Veterans who received a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge would still be ineligible to access the services.
“It’s important that we give all of our combat veterans, irrespective of the discharges they receive, access to mental health care through the Veterans [Affairs Department],” Coffman told Military.com during an interview in February, when he reintroduced the bill.
He is the only House member to serve in both the first Iraq War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At the time, Coffman said of the “bad-paper” separations, “I question the nature of the discharges in the first place, and I’m exploring that.”
The bill applies to those with other-than-honorable discharges who served in a combat zone or area of hostilities; piloted unmanned aircraft; or experienced a military sexual trauma.
The VA secretary can sign off on outside care if specific care at a VA facility is clinically inadvisable; or if the VA is unable to provide necessary mental health care due to geographic location barriers.
H.R. 918 also requires the VA to establish a formal “character of service” determination process, triggering reviews of the “character of discharge” for potential eligibility of VA benefits.
High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a grassroots organization training veterans to become leaders and activists in their local communities, has advocated for the move.
“There are some veterans out there who’ve been waiting for this day for decades — but there’s still a fight ahead of us,” said High Ground founder and chairman Kristofer Goldsmith.
“Until the Senate passes this bill, and the president signs it — some of our nation’s most vulnerable veterans, who served between Vietnam and today’s Forever Wars, are being denied the holistic care that they deserve from the VA,” he said in an email.
Goldsmith continued, “Today, the House recognized that the United States has failed to care for hundreds of thousands of veterans in the way that they deserve — veterans who were administratively discharged and stripped of a lifetime of essential benefits without the right to due process.
“But the problem isn’t yet fixed. Until Congress holds hearings dedicated to looking at the problem of bad-paper discharges, we won’t have all available solutions on the table,” he said.
Holiday traditions and family get-togethers are a source of comfort for many. But the holidays can also act as anniversaries of unpleasant events or remind us of difficult changes that have happened in the last year. Veterans may also have memories of being deployed over a holiday during their service and could experience challenges with returning to civilian norms.
For Veterans diagnosed with PTSD, the holidays can be even more difficult to manage. While there are often bright spots, the unique struggles that trauma survivors can face as the year ends can often overshadow the joy of the season.
Helping you manage over the holiday season
If you know someone with PTSD, there are things you can do to make sure the holiday season is pleasant and enjoyable for everyone.
There are ways to cope and manage these feelings and stressful events. Here are some tips from our clinicians that can help you manage your symptoms over this holiday season:
Don’t overschedule. Leave time for yourself.
Make a plan to get things done. Set small, doable goals.
When stressed, remind yourself what has helped in the past.
Talk to your family member about what they need to feel comfortable during the holidays. If your loved one needs services, call Coaching into Care for advice on talking to them about treatment.
Keep important resources at hand, such as the Veterans Crisis Line, a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
The holiday season can be difficult for people with PTSD, but there are healthy ways to cope and manage stress and have positive mental health throughout the holidays.