Celebrating their 1st anniversary this month, Spouse-ly is “Etsy meets Angie’s List” – an aggregate site where veterans and milspouses can share and market their small businesses. Since its initial launch with 30 vendors, the site has grown to a platform that represents more than 300 businesses. What makes the Spouse-ly website unique is that it combines serviced-based brands and products. The only requirement? Having a military affiliation, whether as a spouse or a current or former service member.
It’s a passion project that was brought to life by Monica Fullerton. She said she saw the need for such a venue and made it her focus to fill that gap.
“I saw Facebook groups recommending a different business or service. I wanted to create a central location where they could all come together,” she said.
Fullerton, an Air Force spouse, decided to take a leap of faith in putting this platform together. Spouse-ly = online marketplace for all veteran and spouse-owned brands.
There is a wide variety of industries covered: handmade items, crafts and trinkets, to ads and reviews for services, such as local realtors or plumbers.
Spouse-ly launched in February of 2020, right before the onset of the pandemic.
“I was devastated, I thought it wasn’t something that could grow during challenging times.” However, Fullerton saw just the opposite take place. “We’ve continued to push forward and create a space for our community to grow and shine in,” she said.
From marketing all areas of companies, to helping others accomplish their dreams, Fullerton has a natural motivation for the job. In fact, months into the launch, she quit her full-time career as an Executive Director for the Northwest. Working with Fortune 500 companies, she handled shipping logistics for brands with large budgets. After seven years in corporate logistics, her heart was no longer in the game, it was with Spouse-ly.
For months, Fullerton balanced her full-time job, her side gig, and her 4.5 year old twins. That is, her second side gig – she also co-owns and runs a t-shirt venue with her mother-in-law, an experience which she said gave her insider insight to selling on Etsy.
With the growing stress of kids at home, and a thriving platform that needed more of her attention, Fullerton and her husband decided to make the adjustment to Spouse-ly as her full-time gig. And while the transition was a financial adjustment for the family, she said they’re better off for the change.
“When you do something that you truly love and are passionate about, there’s no better feeling.This has really provided [military business owners] with a new sense of hope and something fun. It’s a community where we can all relate and support one another.”
Spouse-ly is free for shoppers to browse or seek out recommendations. For businesses, an annual slot is $35 for service-based brands, while retailers give 10% of each sale, with platform options that start at $1 a month for hosting their online store.
“My goal is for Spously to be a household name,” she said. “I cannot wait for the day when people can log in and see all these businesses that they can support. There was such a proven need for something like this – it’s an amazing way to support the veteran community.”
Members of the military who have long been barred by law from collecting damages from the federal government for injuries off the battlefield will finally be able to do so after Congress stepped in to amend the law.
The legislation represents progress for injured service members – but still limits who among them may press for damages.
Up until the end of World War II, the U.S. government enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” a vestige of British rule when “the king could do no wrong” and the government could not be sued.
But in 1946, faced with the prospect of World War II veterans returning from the front only to be hit and killed in an accident on base, Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act. Congress felt that it was only fair to allow people to recover damages for personal injury from the government when the government was negligent or irresponsible about caring for people’s safety.
There were exceptions. Certainly Congress could not allow a soldier – or his family – to sue the government if, due to the orders of a superior officer, he were wounded or killed in battle. So the Federal Tort Claims Act prohibited suits by soldiers or sailors injured due to wartime combatant activities.
But later rulings limited servicemembers’ rights even more, in ways not suggested by the language of the act.
The first of these was a case filed by the surviving family members of a soldier. Lt. Rudolph Feres was a decorated World War II veteran who had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He survived that battle and others through the end of the war only to return to the U.S. and die in a barracks fire caused, according to his wife, by the explosion of a boiler known to be faulty.
Feres’ widow also claimed that no fire guard had been posted on the fateful night. Joined to the case were two soldiers who claimed malpractice by army surgeons.
The court decided that the existing benefits scheme for military deaths and injuries was ample and denied the claims. To the further chagrin of the Feres family, the controversial ruling took on the name the “Feres Doctrine.”
Cases sustaining Feres expressed the concern that allowing civilian courts to intervene in cases of this type would interfere with military discipline. Thus, the court declared that soldiers could not sue the government for damages for negligently caused injuries “incident to service,” even if they did not involve combat.
All of these rulings meant that anyone who had the misfortune of getting hurt while on active duty, even if it wasn’t in combat, could never sue for damages – while if the same person had gotten hurt on the job as a civilian, they would have had that right.
This disfavored treatment for servicemen was underscored in the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, during which families of civilian crew members were able to file lawsuits against the government, but the family of the pilot who was a Navy captain on active duty could not.
The Feres Doctrine were therefore seen by many as unfair. Others, like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, criticized Feres because of its departure from the plain language of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which limits the exclusion to wartime “combatant activities.” Still others believe that Feres fails to hold the military accountable for the kind of mistakes for which others are required to pay damages.
The Feres Doctrine nevertheless has continued to hold sway, with the Supreme Court refusing to reconsider the doctrine as recently as May 2019. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the court’s denial of certiorari in that case, Daniel v. United States, paraphrased Justice Scalia in stating that “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.”
In 1950, speaking for the Supreme Court in the Feres case, Justice Robert Jackson admitted, “If we misinterpret the Act, at least Congress possesses a ready remedy.” That “ready remedy” finally came almost seventy years later, due to the persistence of a soldier suffering from terminal cancer.
Green Beret goes to Congress
Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal is a former Green Beret and wounded Iraq veteran whose military health providers missed a 3-centimeter mass in one of his lungs on a CT scan.
After military physicians repeatedly attributed his health problems to asthma or pneumonia, Sgt. Stayskal learned from a civilian pulmonologist that he actually had stage 4 lung cancer. Sgt. Stayskal continues to receive treatment for his cancer, although he says it is deemed incurable.
But Sgt. Stayskal was barred by Feres from pursuing a malpractice case in court.
So Stayskal enlisted the support of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat, who introduced a bill to allow current and former service personnel to bring medical malpractice claims against government health providers.
A compromise version of the bill was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020. Adding the bill into a “must-pass” piece of defense legislation assured its passage. It was passed by both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Trump signed the measure into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
Cup only half-full
The new law does not cover everyone. A lawsuit like the original Feres case, by the survivors of someone who perished in a barracks fire, would still not be allowed. That’s because the legislation only allows claims by those who allege to have been victims of medical malpractice by military health care providers.
And claims cannot be brought in federal court, as is normally the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Rather, they must be pursued through a Defense Department administrative procedure under regulations that the Department of Defense is required to draft.
Research suggests that most claimants don’t care whether their cases are decided through a court, an administrative procedure or even mediation. Rather, they care about having a respectful hearing in which a third party has carefully considered their views, concerns and evidence.
Those who worked to pass this legislation will likely scrutinize the Defense Department’s regulations and procedures to see whether such a forum has been provided.
In 2017, I left the military after 14 years of service as an Army military policeman. I came to Texas with a debilitating back injury, PTSD, little financial security and Hurricane Harvey was looming in my future. Like so many that are in pain, I started to abuse alcohol and prescription drugs.
Then Hurricane Harvey hit: the catalyst that tipped the scales. With my savings already gone and no assistance from FEMA, my family was left living in a hotel room. Feeling like I couldn’t provide for my family only worsened my PTSD. But I couldn’t go to anybody – I told myself that other people need help more than I do and that my problems weren’t “that” bad. So I tried to deal with it on my own, but I was in too deep.
(Military Families Magazine)
So deep, that in October 2017, I drove to the hotel I was living in, parked the car and pulled my pistol out of the glove compartment. I didn’t see any other options. At that moment, my fiancée came outside. I couldn’t let her see what I was about to do, so I put the gun away and followed her inside. There she handed me a check and I learned that somebody applied for a grant for me from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). It wasn’t necessarily the money that brought my head above water so that I could reanalyze the situation and take the next step forward — It was the fact that somebody cared enough about me to notice I was struggling and offer help.
From that point on, I knew that I wanted to help others. For those that know somebody who needs help, don’t sit by. Everybody has the power to make one small action that can change somebody else’s life, and in a time with so much uncertainty and fear in the world, we should all aim for that.
How can you help those in need?
So here are five small things that you can do today to help somebody in your life that may be struggling.
(Military Families Magazine)
1. Notice changes.
In our fast-pace culture, its common to rush by people, even those you love, and not really notice how they are doing. Have they become quieter and more withdrawn or perpetually angry? That is often a big signal that they are struggling with something. Other top signals include changes to their hygiene, sleep, appetite and focus. But did you know that even positive changes are often indicators of mental or emotional turmoil?
Trust your gut. If somebody has become more social all of a sudden and they seem “fine” now, they probably aren’t really fine. Really taking the time to notice people in your life and be aware of any personality changes is the first step to being there for somebody.
2. Avoid giving advice and silver linings.
Once you start noticing the people in your life that may be struggling, it’s tempting to want to talk to them. But avoid giving advice and silver linings, as it can tend to make somebody shut down even more. You want to create space where they can open up to you, so check in often and just be there to listen – even if they don’t want to talk.
If they do want to open up to you, make an effort to hear the story from their perspective. Even if their struggle doesn’t make sense to you, avoid saying “it could be worse” or listing the reasons why they should be happy. Fight the urge to try and “fix” their problems. Sometimes, the best fix is to just lend a listening ear and to know when to refer your loved one to a professional.
3. Be proactive.
If you notice that somebody in your life could use a little tangible help, be proactive and offer it, rather than saying “let me know if you need anything.” While that may be a socially acceptable phrase, it puts all the pressure on the other person to reach out to you. We are often conditioned to see asking for help as a weakness, so the odds that they take you up on the offer are small. So if you notice a mom on your kid’s soccer team is constantly late for pickup, offer to drive her child home. If your sister’s health is poor, but she can’t afford to eat well, drop off a healthy meal once in a while. Apply for that financial aid for somebody. Your gesture doesn’t need to be big — It’s often the little things that help people the most.
4. Suggest volunteering.
Today, I travel around speaking and advocating for PTSD and suicide awareness. While sharing my story provides hope to others, it also continues to heal me. I have found that each time I recount my experiences, I release more of the burden of these stories. That’s why I continue to serve, and because of my service I have been named a spokesperson for the VFW’s newest campaign, #StillServing, which aims to bring to light the continued service of America’s veterans.
Remind your loved one that volunteering and serving others is a great way to foster their own healing. Invite them to go with you to a food bank or animal shelter as a way to get out of your head for a few hours.
5. Remember to care for yourself as well.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure to take care of yourself as well. Do not blame yourself for not “doing enough” or not feeling comfortable talking to somebody about their experiences. Even following just one of the tips above can mean the world to somebody. It did for me.
I still don’t know who applied for that grant for me, but it changed my life. Today, I am in school working toward becoming a family law attorney, I speak on and advocate for PTSD and suicide awareness and I am a spokesperson for the VFW’s #StillServing campaign.
Chris Blevins is a veteran of the US Army, serving 14 years as a military police officer with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, he is an advocate for post traumatic stress disorder awareness and suicide awareness. He attends the University of Texas San Antonio where he is pursuing a degree in politics and law with the goal of becoming a family lawyer. He is a spokesperson for the VFW’s newest campaign, #StillServing and lives in San Antonio with his wife and four children.
As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to provide the best mental health care access possible, VA is reminding veterans that it offers all veterans same-day access to emergency mental health care at any VA health care facility across the country.
“Providing same-day 24/7 access to mental health crisis intervention and support for veterans, service members and their families is our top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s important that all veterans, their family and friends know that help is easily available.”
VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is the national leader in making high-quality mental health care and suicide prevention resources available to Veterans through a full spectrum of outpatient, inpatient and telemental health services.
Additionally, VA has developed the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which reflects the department’s vision for a coordinated effort to prevent suicide among all service members and veterans. This strategy maintains VA’s focus on high-risk individuals in health care settings, while also adopting a broad public health approach to suicide prevention.
VA has supported numerous veterans and has the capacity to assist more. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, 1.7 million veterans received Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health services. These patients received more than 84,000 psychiatric hospital stays, about 41,700 residential stays and more than 21 million outpatient encounters.
Nationally, in the first quarter of FY 2019, 90% of new patients completed an appointment in a mental health clinic within 30 days of scheduling an appointment, and 96.8% of established patients completed a mental health appointment within 30 days of the day they requested. For FY 2018, 48% of initial, in-person Primary Care — Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter. During the first quarter of FY 2019, 51% of initial, in-person PC-MHI encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter.
Veterans in crisis – or those concerned about one – should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
You know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”? That’s precisely what you should remember when you meet singer-songwriter, Brandon Mills.
The six-foot-tall dirty blonde haired blue-eyed Mills isn’t just another pretty face; behind those blue eyes, there is a bad ass who was once known as Sergeant Brandon Lanham, Marine Corps reconnaissance scout sniper.
He goes by Mills because, as he puts it, “Mills is my middle name, all my favorite singer songwriter’s names are 3 syllables, not sure why but I think there is a method to their madness.”
Mills joined the Marine Corps with his brother and they attended boot camp together and were later reunited in the Recon community.
Mills served his first tour in Afghanistan with Golf Co. 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines out of Hawaii. After some continued motivation from his brother, he took the leap, passed the requirements and indoctrination process, and got to 1st Recon Battalion, with whom he would deploy to his second tour in Iraq.
All along the way, Mills was writing lyrics and honing his craft as a musician.
“I just wanted to travel and play music for everyone,” Mills said about his desire to perform.
“My youngest memory of recorded music is a Beach Boys greatest hits tape that I spent my lawn mowing money on,” reflects Mills as he explains his earliest passion for music that has stuck with him since playing the saxophone in school.
The love of music and the desire to create it has been a lifelong aspiration for Mills even before he joined, so it would make sense that he leave the Marine Corps and become a musician. Right?
Even after all his success and accolades in the Corps, Mills was not ready to aimlessly jump straight into the music scene when he left the Marines. He admits he was nervous — even scared — to chase the dream without a safety net, so he did what many Veterans do: he became a contractor.
Eventually, the bug bit harder and he found it impossible to not take the risk and pursue his true first love.
Now managing his own gigs, website, and social media, Mills has made his transition from Marine to musician rather successfully.
He has played shows all over the country, supporting non-profits like Intersections International, Force Blue, and Society of Artistic Veterans. He has recorded several tracks and even shot a few music videos of himself performing.
Recently Mills finished a residency at Umami burger in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “That was just me hustling, literally going from business to business asking, do you guys do live music? If not, why? If you do, how do I get involved?”
That’s the work ethic and resolve all warriors take to their tasks.
(Brandon Mills | YouTube)It might go without saying that the persistence, determination, and even stubbornness are strong character traits in most, if not all, of our elite warriors.
You don’t make it into our military’s special units without being resilient, steadfast, and dedicated — Mills without a doubt carries those same values and characteristics into his music career.
I asked Mills if the transition was hard, going from stone cold warrior to writing and performing love songs. I wondered if there was any identity crisis there and how he dealt with it.
He explained that it was difficult dealing with other ideas of masculinity and letting that warrior machismo block his flow, but he has learned to temper those instincts and allow himself to feel the positive vibes and let his creativity through, not worrying about what others think and only focusing on great storytelling through song.
I don’t think Brandon would mind the comparison of his sound being somewhere between John Mayer in his vocal delivery and Jack Johnson in his light-hearted muted acoustic. Mills’ vocals have that bluesy, gravely register that urges the listener to lean in and feel the lyrics, while his guitar style is playful and rhythmic like a campfire sing-a-long.
Mills isn’t commercially successful yet, or famous for that matter; however, he understands that it’s a long road in the music industry, requiring a ton of work — but he feels he has all that in him.
He wants to help veterans tell their stories through music and let them know that it’s okay to express themselves through art, using himself as an example. Brandon’s music is all about spreading positivity, uplifting spirits, and connecting people with passion.
“I hope that I can give some people what they need,” Mills said, when discussing his forthcoming album. “I’m so critical of myself, I know what I want — if it’s not good enough I will do it again.”
It’s relentless drive and focus like this that will push Mills into the spotlight, eventually.
The strength, tenacity, and perseverance saturated in his warrior spirit will undoubtedly meld with his passion and creativity to help Brandon Mills become a renowned singer-songwriter for years to come.
Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.
“Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel,” said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.
Gina Elise, Founder
Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over ,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans’ healthcare program expansion across the United States.
The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you…he really nailed it.
Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran
From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).
Julie Noyes, Army veteran
Army veteran Julie Noyes says, “It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring.”
Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran
“I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master’s Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization.”
Patti Gomez, Army veteran
Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
“Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn’t pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!”
Check out that cover image!
The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.
David Burnett was a U.S. Army Special Operations Crew Chief with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. You might know it better as the “Night Stalkers.” He even wrote a book about his time with the Night Stalkers. His latest project isn’t about the Army, however. It’s for the Army, for the military. It’s an invention borne of necessity – as all great inventions are – and could save lives.
In short, David Burnett wants you out of his helicopter as soon as possible.
While he was in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, troops would board his Chinook for the ride, normally hanging their go bags and other gear inside with carabiners and bungee cord. These are the usual, practical things with which American troops deploy to combat zones. While sitting in a brightly-lit flightline with the cabin lights on, this was no big deal. But U.S. troops, especially special operators, don’t fly to the enemy with the cabin lights on. They’re usually flying in at night, blacked out. It was in those situations David Burnett realized he and his Chinook were spending a lot more time on the ground than they wanted.
The good guys were having trouble releasing their stowed gear. It was still connected to the aircraft. All the old methods of fixing their gear didn’t offer quick-release functionality. David Burnett decided he was going to do something about that.
The Tac Clamp was born.
Burnett’s creation isn’t just a metal clamp. It can be hooked and fastened for quick release, or it can be placed on a tactical track for movement in a ready room, a hangar, arms room, or even the back of an aircraft. With the push of a button, the Tac Clamp will release its iron grip and let the special operator free to bring the fight to the enemy – and it works. It works really well. Burnett’s clamp has been submitted to aircrews at MacDill Air Force Base for review and is currently being field-tested by Navy Search and Rescue teams.
“I deployed with the 160th five times as a crew chief, and I saw this problem constantly on the aircraft and on vehicles too,” Burnett says. ” The reason was because all of these outdated methods they were using don’t offer quick release and is not very intuitive. This is something you clamp inside the aircraft but is not exclusive to the aircraft. If they were doing a ground assault and they can hook the Tac Clamp in their gear and just push a button to release it.”
Burnett even created a Tac Clamp for aerial photography.
Currently, Burnett is working on getting one of the military branches to accept the Tac Clamp for consideration for small-business contracting programs. He currently has two proposals submitted, one for the Air Force and two for the Army. It’s been a long road for Burnett, but he hasn’t given up. What he’s offering is something he’s seen a need for in the military, one that could potentially save American lives. He’s already getting feedback on his aluminum clamp from troops in the field.
“Troops tell me they need a small version, made of hard plastic, one they can attach to their kit,” says Burnett, who enjoys the innovation. “All branches of service, they’re realizing they can streamline innovation process by allowing small businesses to propose their technologies and get new products and innovative technologies fielded within 18 months.”
Appearing May 3 before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Shulkin told lawmakers the VA had compiled a list of 1,165 vacant or underused buildings that could be closed, saving the federal government $25 million annually.
Shulkin didn’t specify which facilities would close and local VA officials didn’t return messages seeking comment that afternoon.
Shulkin, a deputy holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration whom Congress then unanimously approved to run the VA earlier this year, said Congress needs to determine how the facilities would be closed. He suggested the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure — or BRAC — process might be a good model.
But Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R- Nebraska, urged him to never “use the term BRAC because it brings up a lot of bad memories” and sets up the VA “for a lot of controversy.”
President Donald Trump seeks $78.9 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, a 6 percent increase from the 2017 fiscal year level. Trump’s budget plan requests $3.5 billion to expand the Veterans Choice Program, which enables veterans to receive certain kinds of treatment outside of the VA system.
If enacted, Trump’s proposal also would add $4.6 billion in funding to spur better patient access and greater timeliness of medical services for the agency’s more than 9 million patients.
Shulkin said the VA authorized 3.6 million patient visits at private-sector health-care facilities between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — a 23 percent boost compared to the previous year.
With more than 370,000 employees, the VA has the second-largest workforce in the federal government. Shulkin said it must become more efficient at delivering services to veterans. Some of the most entrenched problems are in the appeals process for veterans who have lodged disability claims following their military service.
Currently, the VA has nearly 470,000 such cases pending appeal. For cases awaiting action by the Board of Veterans Appeals, the typical wait time is six years for a decision. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that hosted Shulkin on May 3, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, termed the appellate system an “absolute mess.”
Shulkin conceded that it “undoubtedly needs further improvements” and urged Congress to legislate reforms and streamline the process into a “modernized” system. The longer Capitol Hill waits to fix the process, he said, “the more appeals will enter the current broken system.”
Coming from a retired Army Noncommissioned Officer who wore a green beret and a drill sergeant hat, it may seem weird, but I don’t look forward to Veterans Day. However, there was a time that I got excited about this holiday.
Growing up in small town USA certain holidays were big deals, it meant we’d have a parade. Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day brought the community together and honored our nation and its heroes. Not growing up in a military family, my parents made sure we attended these events. I believe it was a large part of my desire to be a soldier from a young age. I would see the old American Legion veterans marching in their uniforms and standing proud through speeches made by local leaders. I’m certain these old veteran’s dedication had an impact on many youth, not just me.
Nov. 11 was a special day for me when I didn’t understand the cost of freedom and service. I was too young to realize that we were honoring these veterans because they chose to put themselves through hardship on our behalf. It was more than a cool factor and an aura of professionalism.
Now, I don’t have the same sentiment toward Veterans Day. It’s one of those days that makes me feel uncomfortable. Memorial Day, the official day to remember our fallen, is another one.
While well-meaning Americans reach out to shake my hand and say thank you for my service, I feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure what they’re thanking me for. Additionally, I don’t feel a need to be thanked for my service. It was my choice to serve and I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. Aside from being a father, serving this great nation is the biggest honor I’ve ever had.
Yes, this may get uncomfortable. With this discomfort we can grow. I wonder what people are thanking me for. For following my dreams? Again, it’s what I always wanted to do. I got to live out my dreams. For signing up when they didn’t? It’s okay, I made my choices and they made theirs, no animosity. The military isn’t for everybody. For making it home when others didn’t? We don’t get to pick and choose who survives. I’m lucky to have served with the most outstanding people on earth who sacrificed their lives so that we may live ours. Are they thanking me because they feel societal pressure to acknowledge my service? I always assume positive intent, but I’m a realist that knows the world isn’t all roses and rainbows.
The reality is I think of my service every day of the year. Sometimes with a smile and other days with tears for brothers who are no longer with us. I’m proud to have served and not a day will go by that changes that feeling.
I appreciate the recognition of my service on this special day and I’ll answer like I normally do when I’m thanked. “No need to thank me. It was my privilege to serve and if I had a choice, I’d do it all over again.” However, like a lot of veterans, this day will give me mixed emotions.
Objective Zero is a mission-driven tech start-up that leads the pack in the fight against veteran suicide, connecting every veteran in America to suicide prevention support and resources. Their arsenal just got a powerful, new weapon.
The Objective Zero Foundation just launched a new mobile app that offers tools and resources to reduce the number of suicides within the military and veteran community. Research shows that social connectedness and access to resources are important factors in preventing suicide, both of which users can find within the Objective Zero app.
The nonprofit organization is comprised entirely of unpaid volunteers and leverages the latest technology and a crowd-sourced model to deliver services on a massive scale at a fraction of the cost. Roughly 92 cents of every dollar is put toward the Program Fund, used to sustain and improve the Objective Zero mobile app and train peer supporters.
The app connects veterans, current military members, their families, and caregivers to a nationwide support network of trained listeners via voice, video, and text message at the touch of a button.
(Blake Bassett | YouTube)The mobile app also connects its users to military and veteran-centric resources, as well as yoga provided by Comeback Yoga and meditation content through Headspace, to enhance user wellness.
“The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I thought putting that round in the chamber was going to wake my wife up,” says co-founder Justin Miller on his struggle with suicidal ideations. “I’m living proof that Objective Zero is going to work. When I was suicidal, a brother contacted me, and that conversation saved my life. With the Objective Zero app, we’ve built a platform where veterans can hit one button and be anonymously connected to other veterans who have lived and breathed the same things.”
Since then, the organization built a staff of veterans and an advisory board of clinical psychologists and counselors to launch their tech-driven strategy to help their community with what is arguably its biggest problem.
Objective Zero is built to save lives and empower veterans by connecting them and building camaraderie and solidarity.
You can sign up for the app as a user with an anonymous username or as an Ambassador. OZ Ambassadors receive calls, texts, and video chats from veterans and are there to be their pillar of support. You don’t need to be a veteran or behavioral health specialist to become an Ambassador.
Ambassadors spend time training to help veterans in need and they continue their learning after achieving the title. It requires dedication to the community but is a very rewarding process. Imagine fighting veteran suicide every day, just by using your phone to communicate as you would with a good friend or relative.
The Objective Zero app is now available to download for free in the United States on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Please visit www.objectivezero.org for more information about the Objective Zero Foundation, the Objective Zero App, and the mission of preventing suicide within the military community.
The government sent John Barbazon’s next of kin two telegrams in 1966. The first regretted to inform them that their son had been killed in action. The second said he was improving.
A member of the 101st Airborne, Barbazon (pictured above) was part of a squad that spent most of their time on the move, up and down mountains – and rarely in the company of other units.
“We just got orders and kept going from one place to another,” he said, sitting at a workbench in a shop at the back of his four-acre property.
Barbazon isn’t entirely still. He continues to move from one place to the next as he recalls his experience in Vietnam.
“I got shot and I was lying on the ground, my right arm mostly gone. I stick this finger in a sucking chest wound right here to stop the bleeding,” he said, holding up a thick index finger and jamming it into a space just below his right shoulder.
Each time he repeats the motion, the finger hits the same spot, to the same wound.
“I was on the ground,” he continued. “My cousin called out to me, told me to crawl to him. I crawled thirty to forty feet to a medic. I found out later my cousin had died in a car wreck. He wasn’t even there but if I hadn’t seen him call to me, I would have died right there, bled to death.”
Cussed out medic in Cajun
Soon after reaching the medic, he was placed in a body bag being mistaken as having been killed in action. The medics carrying him dropped him.
Later, one of the medics visited Barbazon in the field hospital.
“He (the medic) said that if I had died, I’d have gone to hell because I called him things he’d never heard of, in Cajun. I was cussing him out for dropping me.”
Barbazon laughs at the memory now, but he spent a month in the field hospital before being shipped to California, where surgeries saved his arm and leg. Now he walks with a slight limp, but he doesn’t let it do more than slow his walking speed.
Happy and busy
“I hadn’t talked about Vietnam until eight or 10 years ago. I was in Ocala, Florida, at the VA hospital, and I was talking to a doctor I’d been seeing. She said, ‘John, I need you to talk to a friend of mine.’ So she takes me to a psychiatrist. And I’m glad.
“A lot of Veterans need to do this. I found out things I was doing that I was doing in Vietnam, like carrying a knife in my pocket for protection and going to the top row in a movie theater with my back against the wall. I was on guard too much and needed to relax.
“Talking to the psychiatrist was the best thing I’ve done, and I talked to him for about four years. Now I know I was really dysfunctional and didn’t realize it. Veterans today, they need to get out and find out. They need to talk to somebody and they have to listen.
“He told me, you’re not cured. I’m not going to cure you. I’m just going to make you aware of what you’re doing so you can be more relaxed. That’s why I enjoy doing this woodworking and that’s why I say Veterans need to talk to somebody – and they need to get a hobby.”
There’s something they can do
“If they are sitting home disabled, there’s something they can do. I don’t care if it’s going fishing. You’ve got to do something,” Barbazon said.
Barbazon’s sister has the telegrams, and he has a house full of delicately cut artwork that will soon include a dome clock that he’s spent the last six months working on for six hours a day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Together Rising is a non-profit organization that raises quick funds through “love flash mobs” — time-limited fundraisers where thousands of strangers give a maximum of $25 to meet a particular need in a matter of hours.
From the California and Australia fires to emergency relief in Puerto Rico to COVID-19, Together Rising donates 100% of every personal donation directly to an individual or a cause in need.
For Veterans Day 2019, Together Rising teamed up with the Kline Veterans Fund and gave back to more than fifty veterans, helping them find housing, buy food, pay bills, make vital repairs to their homes, and get counseling and other services. From elderly and disabled veterans to single mothers, the community came through.
When “A” (names are changed for privacy reasons) was evicted from her rental home with little notice, Together Rising and the Kline Veterans Fund stepped in to help her find a new place to live “so that she could move forward with safety and stability.”
A’s displacement came shortly on the heels of saying goodbye to her service dog, a devastating loss for any pet owner, but one that could be even more troubling for a disabled veteran who relies on her service dog for assistance and companionship.
Small donations were able to help Together Rising transform “heartbreak into action,” one of their mottos.
“L” lost her husband earlier in 2019 and struggled to care for her 12 year-old son. After receiving a shutoff notice for her power bill, Together Rising contributors stepped in to pay her bill and support her as she sought more affordable housing.
The Kline Fund reported that, after an initial investment, less than three percent of the veterans need additional help. Sometimes we all just need a little support from our community to get back on our feet.
“S” is a decorated Navy veteran who suffered severe PTSD and depression — not from war, but from surviving a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Her daughter was shot twice and though she survived, S was traumatized; she missed work and lost her job and then was given a five-day eviction notice.
Because her suffering wasn’t service connected, she was ineligible for Veterans Affairs benefits. Within 48 hours, Together Rising and their supporters were able to “hire movers, secure a truck, rent a storage unit for S’s belongings, and settle her into a safe and secure temporary apartment. One week later, [Together Rising] secured a zero-deposit arrangement and paid for two months of rent to allow S time to get back on her feet.
“Incredibly — because of her heroic determination — S secured employment within one month, and is now able to pay her rent and utilities without assistance. She is also working with a mental health counselor.”
From helping a soldier find a place to live after being homeless to securing transportation for a Lt. Col. starting a new job to paying vehicle registration and finding transitional VA housing for a Marine, these are just a few of the lives touched by a community of support.