According to a listing maintained by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan 19 times from 2006 to his retirement from the Air Force Reserve in 2015. Senator Graham’s deployments were often coordinated with Congressional recesses – enabling him to balance his duties as a United States Senator with his reserve duties.
Graham would often head over as part of a Congressional delegation, spend one or two days as a civilian, then he’d stay behind and serve for about a week (sometimes more) as a Judge Advocate General in the United States Air Force Reserve.
In a release by his Presidential campaign in 2015 after a Washington Post hit piece, some details of Graham’s service in both Iraq and Afghanistan came to light. Army General David Petraeus and Marine General John Allen both noted that much of Graham’s work was done on detainee policy. Both a former Judge Advocate General and Deputy Judge Advocate General praised Graham’s service in the release.
The deployments came about because Senator Graham had to be transferred from an assignment to the Air Force’s Court of Criminal Appeals — an assignment given in 2003, according to a release from Senator Graham’s office — due to a claim made by an airman fighting charges of wrongfully using cocaine.
Senator Graham was also a veteran of Desert Storm prior to winning election to the House of Representatives in 1994. He was first elected to the Senate in 2002, replacing Strom Thurmond. Graham retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2015 as a colonel, shortly before running for President, ending a combined total of 33 years of active-duty, reserve, and National Guard service.
Bobby Fair had seen his share of danger while serving as a U.S. Marine. The former infantryman who also served on AAV-7A1 amphibious assault vehicles, though, never imagined that his warrior training would come in handy at college.
When a suspected Somali-born jihadist used a car and knife to carry out his attack at Ohio State University, the college’s Buckeye Alert system sent out the warning very quickly. Fair would recall his training kicking in.
“A light bulb clicked in my head and I said, ‘Hey this room needs to be secured right now. We need to get a barricade up. All the students that are not being used in the barricade need to get off to the side of the classroom, completely away from all the windows,’ ” Fair told ABC News.
Fair lead other classmates in barricading the door – which had no lock – with chairs and desks. Once that was done, he ensured that the students in that classroom stuck together.
“You could just see on my fellow students’ faces the tension, the stress and everything while it was going on. It was so confusing. We didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on out there,” Fair told ABC, noting that in this situation, staying put was the best course of action.
“Every situation is going to be different, but in my best opinion the best route to go is to hide, remain out of sight, out of mind,” he told Fox 28 in Columbus. “I hope this actually gets people thinking ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter where you are. Terrorist attacks can happen.’ We are in a very pivotal time in the day and age we live in and you can’t rule out that there is always somebody out there that wants to hurt you. Unfortunately, it is just the world we live in.”
One of the biggest drawbacks of being in the combat arms is a perceived lack of post-service opportunities out here in the civilian world. A recently released grunt might take a look through job listings, see a laundry list of requirements, become convinced that applying is a pointless effort, and send themselves into a downward spiral. We’ve seen it happen too many times — we all know a brother- or sister-in-arms who has fallen down this hole.
This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is, there really isn’t much of advantage to being a former POG over being former infantry when it comes time to find a job. Unless that guy who was a computer analyst in the Army is specifically going into a civilian computer analyst job, you’re both on even footing.
In fact, when you cut away the military jargon from your resume and translate your skills into something a civilian employer can read, the grunts actually have the upper hand, based solely on the day-to-day lifestyle of combat arms troops.
This article isn’t meant to discredit a support troop’s career path. All troops can pull useful information out of this article, but it’s intended mostly for the grunts who don’t realize their true potential.
It’s best if you let your resume do the talking…
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
Your awards are proof for all the “fluff” in your resume
Let’s be honest; everyone is going to add some decorative fluff their resume. Employers expect this and have to weed through said fluff to get the heart of the issue. Even if you don’t embellish a little on your resume, prospective employers will assume you’re fluffing it up. It’s just how these things go.
Typically, grunts don’t have awards tossed to them like candy, so when they get one, it means something. So, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Go ahead and mention why you were given the award; that’s the real impressive part.
Deployment stories usually do well with civilians who have no idea what life in the military is actually like.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
Your deployment history can solidify your communication skills
Writing about your deployment history is, in a word, complicated. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma associated with veterans of combat zones. Some employers unjustly see veterans as unqualified because they assume we all have post-traumatic stress and are difficult to work with — despite the fact that that’s discrimination clearly forbidden by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Still, civilian employers, no matter the industry, are looking for three key traits in an employee: Communication skills, leadership potential, and management ability. There’s no question that a deployment checks these three boxes. If you’ve deployed, then you have a proven ability to “communicate with a team and higher-ups under extremely stressful conditions.”
They don’t need to know about your salty attitude until you’ve been on board for several months.
(Meme via CONUS Battle Drills)
Your leadership skills are needed for promotion in civilian workplace
Employers want a new hire for one of two reasons: They’re either looking to fill a vacancy to complete a specific task or they’re trying to bring someone on for the long-haul, someone who will rise within the ranks and remain loyal to the employer.
Support guys, like that Army computer analyst from the earlier example, might be a shoe-in for that one entry-level position, but it’s the grunt they’ll be looking at for the long-term. Grunts take on leadership roles from the first moment they’re assigned a boot private to babysit watch over. What the civilian employer wants to hear is that you “oversaw and aided in the growth of subordinates over the course of several years.”
Civilians won’t know that you were volun-told or needed to make rank. It just sounds extremely impressive to the uninformed.
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
Your military schooling is tangible proof of management skills
In every complete resume, the final portion is reserved for educational history. Typically, this is where an applicant lists their high school diploma and college degrees, but it’s also used for technical schools and any kind of additional education. Good news, grunts: this is also where you put those random schools you were sent to.
Officer Candidate School and NCO Academies definitely count. Put those on there. Plus, most NCO schools are given overly “hooah” names. Go ahead and tell me what sounds better: “Warrior Leader Course” or “Los Angeles City College?”
Follow wherever your heart takes you. You’ll find someone out there willing to pay you money to do it.
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
Your college degree will cover down on anything else missing on the resume
At the end of the day, your military experience looks good and it makes for a great topic of discussion during the interview, but you can’t expect anything more than a foot in the door if you don’t meet the required qualifications.
Thankfully, using that GI Bill that you earned can help boost your odds in any field you’re pursuing. Once you’ve finished your degree, the job market is ripe for the picking, and your military service will give you an edge over the competition.
For further instruction on how to best translate your military history into a fantastic civilian resume, please check out this article by the folks over at Zety. They’re professionals who dedicate themselves to this very subject. It’s a great read.
The trenches and battlefields of World War I are some of the last places one would expect to read about women who were decorated for valor. Yet, in the “War to End All Wars,” six women received medals for valor. Three received the Citation Star, the forerunner to the Silver Star, and three others received the Distinguished Service Cross – second only to the Medal of Honor in recognizing valor in action.
All were with the Army Nurse Corps at the time, one of the very few outlets women had to serve in the military. While medical units weren’t supposed to come under fire, these six women were among the nurses who did come under fire – and would distinguish themselves.
According to Military Medical, the first woman to earn a Silver Star (known as the Citation Star in World War I), was Jane I. Rignel. At 7:30 AM on July 15, 1918, Mobile Hospital 2 came under attack. Rignel aided in the evacuation of the patients while under artillery fire – and kept going until the hospital itself was shelled by the Germans.
5. 6. Linnie E. Lecknore Irene Robel
Military Medical reports that these two nurses received the Citation Star for their actions while part of an ad hoc unit known as Shock 134, attached to Field Hospital 127. When the hospital came under fire on July 29, 1918, they continued to treat wounded soldiers who were brought in.
The tale of the Silver Star recipients takes an ironic turn. While the recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross got recognition at the time in publications like the Journal of Nursing, the Citation Star recipients slipped through the cracks. The Silver Stars were eventually presented to the families of Jane Rignel and Linnie Lecknore.
No relatives of Irene Robel have come forward – and her Silver Star remains unclaimed.
You’ve probably come across the term “Veterans preference” at some point during your job search. But what does that mean exactly — and how can it help you land a job at VA?
Veterans preference means that, as a Veteran, you may move ahead of non-Veterans in the federal hiring process. Veterans who qualify for disability receive greater preference.
“Approximately 40% of our employees hold Veteran status, so we’re really proud of that fact and we encourage Veterans to apply,” said Dave Aragon, VA recruitment consultant, in a video on applying to VA.
However, Veterans preference is not a guarantee you’ll be hired. There are other groups — like military spouses and returning Peace Corps volunteers — who also receive preference for federal jobs. In addition, some jobs are open only to current federal employees.
Getting in the door
Because there are so many applicants – including other Veterans, for VA jobs – make sure you apply for jobs that are the best match for your skills.
“There are millions of Veterans in the U.S. and many of them want to work at VA, so there is a lot of competition for these jobs. You have the best chance of success if you apply for a job for which you are highly qualified,” said Darren Sherrard, associate director of VA recruitment marketing.
If most or all of your work experience is in the military, you may not feel you are highly qualified right out of the gate.
“One difficult thing for Veterans is to convert valuable military skills into those valued in the private sector as well,” Sherrard wrote in a blog post. “I encourage everyone to take the same winning steps and attitude that made us successful as warriors and apply them into our daily lives and our job searches.”
With a combination of a military health background and Veterans preference, there are a number of positions at VA for which you could meet the requirements straight out of the military.
Learn about these civilian careers — like intermediate care technicians (ICTs) or nursing assistants — through our Transitioning Military Personnel initiative. This program connects former service members with civilian careers at VA, the nation’s largest integrated health care organization.
But what if you don’t have military health experience? Consider applying for support service positions, such as housekeeper, transportation clerk or engineering technician. Veterans preference commonly gives you a boost in applying for one of these jobs.
We offer several scholarships that can help you begin or continue your health care education without piling up debt, as well as the VA National Education for Employees Program (VANEEP) that pays your full salary and up to ,117 toward the cost of higher education.
Some VA medical centers pay for courses from nearby colleges and universities, while the VA Talent Management System provides access to thousands of online courses, learning activities and training. Mentoring and on-the-job training are also baked into our DNA.
Work at VA
Interested in a future helping your fellow Veterans? Use your Veteran status to secure a VA career.
When Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Ray Drowley arrived alone at an American camp on the Solomon Islands with a gaping wound in his chest, a missing eye, and a shredded uniform, a junior officer threatened to court-martial him for abandoning his defense post.
Instead, Drowley was put on the path to history.
On Jan. 30, 1944, Drowley was a rifle squad leader with B Company, 132nd Infantry Regiment, Americal Division, when he displayed the bravery that would earn him the Medal of Honor.
The Americal Division arrived on Bougainville on Dec. 25, 1943, as part of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea campaigns. The division was unique in World War II as it carried a name and not a numerical designation.
It got its name from “American, New Caledonia,” the South Pacific island on which the unit was provisionally formed for defense in May 1942. Though officially known later as the 23rd Infantry Division, the Americal name remained.
A month after the unit’s arrival, Drowley was assigned a defensive role with his company as a neighboring unit launched an attack against Japanese defensive positions.
The staff sergeant witnessed three wounded soldiers from the neighboring company collapse. Intense enemy fire prevented their rescue. That’s when Drowley made a fateful decision.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, Drowley “fearlessly rushed forward to carry the wounded” one-by-one to cover.
After moving two of the men to safety amid a hail of gunfire, Drowley discovered an enemy pillbox that American assault tanks had missed. The enemy fighters within were “inflicting heavy casualties upon the attacking force and…a chief obstacle to the success of the advance.”
The dire situation didn’t deter him.
Drowley directed another soldier to complete the rescue of the third wounded soldier. Meanwhile, he darted out across open terrain to one of the American tanks. Drowley climbed the turret and signaled the crew.
He exchanged his weapon for a submachine gun and rode the deck of the tank while firing toward the pillbox with tracer fire.
As the tank ambled closer to the enemy position, Drowley received a severe wound to the chest. He refused to leave his position for medical treatment, instead continuing to direct the tank’s driver to the pillbox.
He was shot again — losing his left eye — and knocked to the ground.
But Drowley remained undaunted. Despite his injuries, he continued to walk alongside the tank until it was able to open fire on the enemy pillbox and destroy it. In the process, American forces discovered another pillbox behind the first and destroyed it as well.
With his mission finally completed, Drowley returned to camp for medical treatment.
When he reached the safety of the American outpost, his platoon leader admonished him for leaving his post. But the reason he left was quickly learned, and he was eventually recommended for the nation’s highest military honor.
After receiving the accolade, he was offered a commission and a chance to speak at war rallies, but Drowley declined and eventually left the service. He lived a quiet life for the rest of his years.
In 1991, he told The Spokesman Review of Spokane, Washington, that he shied away from the title of hero.
‘What Did You Do?’
“People say, ‘What did you do to get the Medal of Honor?’ You were only doing your job,” Drowley said. “You’re fearless, all right. You’re so damned scared you’re past fearless. But you’re going to get killed if you don’t do anything.”
Along with the Medal of Honor, Drowley was also awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Clusters and two Bronze Stars.
He was the first Americal soldier to be awarded the medal and the division’s lone recipient for action in World War II.
While recovering from his wounds at a hospital in Spokane, he met his future wife, Kathleen McAvoy. He returned to Washington after the war from his native St. Charles, Michigan. He operated a service station before working as a civilian employee at Fairchild Air Force Base. He retired in 1980.
Drowley died May 20, 1996. He was 76. He was buried at Fairmount Memorial Park in Spokane.
He became a military intelligence soldier and was sent to Europe for two years. During his deployment, he collected a number of German weapons and metal detectors. Once he finished studying the metal detectors the Germans were using, he began turning them into radios for his friends. The 18 tons of small arms he collected were sent back to the states to become museum pieces.
Baer returned to America after the war and went to school on the G.I. Bill. While working as a engineer on guided weapons for a defense contractor, Baer conceived of a box that would plug into a normal T.V. and let people play games together. One of his bosses liked the idea and gave Baer some money and two engineers to work with.
They called their device the “Brown Box” until Magnavox bought it and named it the Odyssey. The Odyssey was the first true video game console and allowed two players to play card, board, and other games on their home T.V.
A number of companies would go on to make more marketable and successful consoles. The popular game Pong, along with many others, was ruled to be infringing on Baer’s patent after Baer’s employer bought it and sued other companies.
For most airmen going on leave for the holidays, the time off means an escape from their everyday Air Force career. After all, when is someone going to need a loadmaster at the liquor store (unless there’s a huge bourbon shortage at an egg nog festival and Costco is planning a relief drop from a C-17)?
An Air Force pilot on a United Airlines flight, however, is another story.
Like a scene out of a movie, Captain Mike Gongol was on a flight to see his extended family in Denver from Des Moines in 2013 when the B1-B Lancer pilot noticed the Boeing 737’s engine begin to idle — something only another pilot would realize. When the plane began to descend and drift to the right, he knew something was up.
He was right. A nurse on board the flight, Linda Alweiss, entered the cockpit, and found the pilot slumped over in his seat.
The rest of the plane knew something was up when a flight attendant asked the passengers if there was a doctor aboard the plane. They were asked to remain seated as the crew ran up to first class with a medical kit. When the attendants again addressed the passengers, they asked if there were any “non-revenue pilots” aboard the plane.
Gongol realized the pilot was probably the patient – and his Air Force specialty was needed. The first officer must have been the only other pilot aboard. He “looked to his wife as she gave him a nod, and Gongol pressed his button and headed toward the flight deck.”
“He was sick and mumbling and was just incoherent,” the nurse told KTLA.
A Rockwell B-1 Lancer is a very different craft from a Boeing 737. Differences in weight, crew, engine number and thrust, top speeds and ceilings are all significant factors. The moment Gongol entered the cockpit, he and the first officer sized one another up – he opted to support her as her first officer.
The Air Force captain decided to let her take the lead. He backed up her checklists, used the radio, and kept an eye out for anything going wrong.
“She was calm, but you could tell she was a little stressed, who wouldn’t be,” Gongol told Air Force Space Command. It was only when they moved to land in Omaha that Gongol took the lead. The first officer had never landed in Omaha, but Capt. Gongol knew the airfield well, landing there many times in training. Still, he talked her through it.
The pilot, as well as the other 157 people aboard the flight, survived the trip.
He’s had triple bypass surgery, two leg amputations, gallbladder removal and eye surgery.
So how does Jim Jacobi feel?
“I feel healthier now at (age) 75 than I did at 50,” said the U.S. Army Veteran. “I’ve had a lot of things done to me, but I feel healthier now (because of) my attitude and the (Milwaukee) VA.
“I just have a positive attitude about everything.”
For many, the ravages of disease and age take their toll mentally as well as physically. But Jacobi, a Milwaukee native who served one year in Vietnam after being drafted in 1965, has chosen a different path.
“It’s better to be happy and friendly,” he said. “When I was 50, I said, ‘You gotta be happy. Don’t let things bother you.'”
And he has stuck by that philosophy, tackling his various physical ailments with determination and fortitude that belie his age.
“He’s unique, he’s an outlier,” said Milwaukee VA prosthetist Justin Heck. “He’s an inspiring guy.”
Sarah Mikesell, Jacobi’s physical therapist at the Milwaukee VA, agreed.
“Statistically, he’s an anomaly, being as old as he is and being able to walk with bilateral prostheses. That’s definitely against the odds.
“Jim is really super motivated. He does a good job taking care of himself and following through on recommendations. And he tries to share his good, positive attitude with everybody else.”
Jim Jacobi, a U.S. Army Veteran, stands with the help of physical therapist Sarah Mikesell at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center after putting on his new prosthetic leg.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Jacobi was just a few months out of high school when his number came up.
His job in the Army was ordering food for the troops — 150,000 when he arrived and 200,000 by the time he was discharged.
“Me and the captain were the two people that ordered all the food for the II Corps,” he said. “When I left, the captain and I got replaced by a whole company.”
His job took him to the front lines, and he remembers being shelled by mortar fire his very first day in the country.
Somewhere along the way – he’s not sure when or how – he was exposed to Agent Orange. And that is what led to the disease that has gnawed away at him – diabetes.
Exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides has been linked to the disease. And while heredity is also associated with diabetes, Jacobi said he’s the only member of his family to develop it.
After Vietnam, Jacobi worked in manufacturing for a number of years before opening a gas station. That eventually led to a job with a company that oversaw 13 convenience stores.
The work played to Jacobi’s strengths of being friendly and outgoing.
“I realized that in a factory, you see the same people every day,” he said. “When I was working for the convenience stores, I would be going to different stores. I had a lot of people working for me, and I got to know some of the customers. I’m more of a people-oriented person.”
It wasn’t long after Jacobi’s retirement when the diabetes began to take its toll.
He remembers getting an infection in the big toe on his right leg. A month later, all of his toes on his right foot had to be amputated.
“Since I’ve had this, I’ve downhill skied, curled and went sailing on Lake Michigan, all through SCI recreation. We play bocce ball, we bowl, we do air rifles, archery, kayaking, bicycling — I do all of that.”
— Jim Jacobi, talking about how his life changed after losing his first leg.
Three years later, the leg had to be amputated. Jacobi was fitted with a prosthetic, and within months he was walking again. But that wasn’t all. Besides hooking up with the Walk a Mile or More group of Veterans at the Milwaukee VA, Jacobi also became involved with recreation groups through the Spinal Cord Injury center.
“Since I’ve had this,” he said, pointing to his first prosthesis, “I’ve downhill skied, curled and went sailing on Lake Michigan, all through SCI recreation. “We play bocce ball, we bowl, we do air rifles, archery, kayaking, bicycling – I do all of that.”
He found a “great bunch of guys” at the SCI and WAMM, which gathers three days a week at Lake Wheeler on the Milwaukee VA campus not only to walk for exercise but also to socialize.
“You meet such wonderful people,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he also went on outings to Harley-Davidson and organized bicycle rides on the Hank Aaron Trail. He and his buddies would also serve free coffee once a week at the hospital’s South Entrance.
But diabetes wasn’t done with Jacobi yet.
A familiar scenario began last summer when the little toe on Jacobi’s left leg had to be amputated. The remaining toes were taken in succession within months.
In February, he was back in the hospital, having his remaining leg amputated.
During his recovery, his friends would drop by his room every day, doing what they could and bringing him anything he needed.
“The nurses on the seventh floor, they were amazed I would have about 10 guys visiting me before the virus shut it down,” he said. “They’re great buddies… They’re always there to help you. And I’m the same way – I’ll do anything I can to help them.”
In June, Jacobi was fitted with his new prosthesis, and physical therapy began again.
He hasn’t been able to take it home yet – it’s still being tweaked. Meanwhile, the remainder of his left leg continues to heal after the amputation.
As is his nature, Jacobi has not seen this latest amputation as a roadblock, but merely a hurdle to get over.
“My goal is to walk without any device – no walker, no cane – by the end of the summer,” he said.
And according to the experts, he’s likely to do it.
“I think he’s on track,” Mikesell said.
“It’s all him. He wants to do it,” Heck said. “How positive he is – that’s the hardest part.
“Physically, we know people can walk or stand with the prosthetics. That’s fairly simple. To do it well and stay positive and work at it every day – that’s the hard part.”
Diabetes threw Jacobi another curveball in June.
He woke up one Sunday morning and noticed his vision was impaired.
“I think everybody at the VA hospital is so caring. I have a lot of buddies, a lot of Veterans, and I’ve not heard one person complaint about VA.”
— Jim Jacobi talks about the care he receives at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
“It was like hair was hanging in my eye,” he said. “But I don’t have any hair.”
After talking with his primary care physician’s nurse on Monday, Jacobi walked into the eye clinic at the Milwaukee VA the next day and had laser surgery on the spot.
As Jacobi explained it, the diabetes led to the formation of blood vessels in the back of his eye.
“It looks like hair, but it’s actually blood,” he said.
Jacobi has one more procedure for the eye, scheduled in August.
Through all of this, Jacobi has continued to maintain his positive, upbeat attitude while lauding the care he has received at the Milwaukee VA.
“I think everybody at the VA hospital is so caring,” he said. “I have a lot of buddies, a lot of Veterans, and I’ve not heard one person complain about the VA.”
His health care providers at the Milwaukee VA are equally as appreciative of Jacobi.
“Jim’s a really good advocate for himself and other amputees,” Mikesell said, noting that Jacobi annually volunteers to work with students in training to be physical therapists. “He’s willing to share his knowledge and wisdom.”
“He has been an advocate for other Veterans as well as for the workers here,” Heck said.
Jacobi has a theory about people, saying 25% have “wonderful attitudes,” 50% have “normal” attitudes and the remaining 25% have “negative” attitudes.
“That’s just the way it is,” he said. “I wish we could get to that 25% who are angry.
“I see patients when I’m in the hospital, and some guys are so grumpy and negative. That’s a shame to see,” he said.
“It’s better to have a positive attitude. You make everybody else feel positive too.”
When things get squirrely, military vets have several advantages over career civilians. Vets, of course, have the benefit of combat and tactical training, but they’ve also learned to develop a formidable mental game.
Former Green Beret Mike Glover used this notion as inspiration and a jumping off point when he founded Fieldcraft Survival, his school for disaster preparedness.
With 18 years of deep operational experience, certifications out the wazoo (just check his founder’s bio), and a doomsday sense of humor that would make Mad Max proud, Glover is uniquely qualified to teach civilians to keep their heads and preserve their lives as the worst case scenario unfolds.
“At Fieldcraft, our whole basic motto is we’re teaching mindset over hard skills.”
Things, of course, got extra squirrely when Oscar Mike host Ryan Curtis dropped in for a visit.
Glover hustled Curtis right into training, first in the classroom to reinforce the importance of developing a strong mental game and then in the field, where the two ran through the O.P.S. Course, which stands for Observe, Prepare, Survive.
And just as the word “challenge” was leaving Curtis’ mouth a distant cry of distress told our heroes it was time to oil up for action.
What happened next pretty much sums up the whole series.
Watch as Glover teaches this wannabe Martin Riggs the real meaning of the word “squirrely”, in the video embedded at the top.
It should come as a surprise to no one that the men and women who fought for the United States are the ones who care most about how it’s run — and the people who run it. For the third year in a row, American military veterans are shown to volunteer, assist neighbors, join civic groups, vote, and engage public officials at rates higher than non-veterans.
The finding comes as a result of the 2017 Veterans Civic Health Index, a study conducted in cooperation with Got Your 6, a veteran’s empowerment nonprofit designed to encourage and enable veterans to continue serving in their local communities while fostering greater cultural changes in the United States, and the National Conference on Citizenship, a Congressionally-chartered national service project dedicated to strengthening civic life.
Civic health, defined as a community’s capacity to work together to resolve collective problems, has been shown to positively impact local GDP, public health, upward income mobility, and has other benefits that strengthen communities. By releasing this annual study, Got Your 6 and its partners aim to eliminate common misconceptions about veterans, while highlighting the civic strength of America’s returning servicemen and women.
The study found that veterans are what it calls “the strongest pillar of civic health” in the United States and calls on the country to adjust the way it frames veteran reintegration. Consistent with Got Your 6’s mission, the study aims to help in changing the perception of veteran transition from one of a series of challenges to the opening of a potential source of leadership and training.
Significant findings from the study include:
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
73.8 percent of veterans always or sometimes vote in local elections versus 57.2 percent of non-veterans.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Veteran volunteers serve an average of 177 hours annually – more than four full work weeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25% fewer hours annually. Delivering critical services to a community without regard for wages or reward is a vital service to local areas in the United States.
In this, specifically, the female veteran population goes above and beyond the call of duty.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
In terms of involvement, 11.5 percent of veterans have attended a public meeting in the last year versus 8.3 percent of non-veterans. The rate at which veterans belong to a local or national civic association was significantly higher as well. These groups can have a large collective impact on American communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Some 10.5 percent of veterans worked with their neighbors to fix community problems, compared to 7.7 percent of non-veterans. But engagement goes beyond fixing problems, it’s also about stopping them before they start — something veterans are proactive in doing.
More than that, engaging one’s community forms the bonds that can bring people together in good times and in bad. Veterans who transition from the military tends to miss the closeness and brotherhood aspects of their service, leading them to more often reach out within communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
It should also come as no surprise that the youngest generation of veterans (23.4 percent of all veterans are younger than 50) is a diverse one, inclusive of more females (one in six) and ethnic minority groups. The United States, as a whole, is becoming more diverse and the veteran population is a reflection of that diversity.
As a subset of U.S. population (just nine percent of Americans are veterans), vets are more likely to lend a hand to their neighbors and fellow citizens, leading the charge in recovery operations for the multitude of natural disasters that affected the U.S. in 2017.
With these numbers, we can reasonably expect veterans to continue being at the forefront of civic action in American communities. This is the country veterans earned through hard work and, in some cases, sacrifice. The maintenance of the nation understandably means a great deal to this relatively small group of Americans.
If the result of this study predict a trend for the future, the country is in good hands.
The new, free ID card was ordered by Congress in 2015 as a way to give veterans proof of service at businesses without carrying a copy of their DD-214 forms. The VA, a week ago, rolled out the online application for the card for all honorably discharged veterans, but the system appeared to immediately face technical problems.
Tests by at least two Military.com reporters accessing the site with their own VA logins and military service credentials encountered repeated errors. One was able to successfully complete the process despite multiple rejections and system timeouts.
Currently, however, veterans who look to apply for the card are instead told they need to come back later.
Thank you for your interest in the Veteran Identification Card! Currently, we are experiencing a high volume of traffic. We apologize, and want you to know we’re working to fix the problem,” the notice states. “In the meantime, please enter your email address and we’ll send an update when the Veteran Identification Card application is back online.
Officials with the VA did not respond to requests for information on when the application will be reopened, how many users successfully applied for the ID card before applications were suspended, or how many users started but did not complete the application process.
“We are aware some veterans have experienced issues with the application process, but leaders of VA’s Office of Information and Technology are actively engaged in fixing them,” Curtis Cashour, the agency’s press secretary, said in a statement.
“Still, many Veterans have successfully registered for the card since the program was announced, and we are excited finally to begin providing this resource to Veterans, fulfilling a promise that was made to them more than two years ago under the previous administration,” he added.
To apply for a card, users had to log in to the VA website using either a DS login or the ID.me system, provide a variety of personal information, and upload a copy of a government-issued ID. They also needed to provide a shoulders-up photo to be displayed on the ID card. VA officials said Nov. 29 that users could expect to receive their new ID cards within 60 days of application.
Some veterans, such as those who receive health benefits from the VA and military retirees, already have IDs that can provide proof of service. The new IDs will not qualify as official government-issued identification for air travel or other uses. The ID card program is voluntary.
Joyce Casey is all smiles while trying out adaptive skis at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
Mom. Big sister. Teacher. Therapist. Psychologist. Friend.
Those are some of the ways Milwaukee VA recreation therapist Joyce Casey has been described.
But Dr. Ken Lee, head of the Spinal Cord Injury Center, probably had the best description: “She’s the Mother Teresa of recreation therapy,” Lee said.
But Mother Teresa has retired.
Casey, 62, who has been at the Milwaukee VA for 15 years, called it quits Feb. 26. The 62-year-old and her husband are set to become Wisconsin snowbirds starting in March.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “It’s like a family here, and I’ll miss Veterans and all the fun times we had.”
Casey broke a lot of ground at the Milwaukee VA, gaining national prominence in the push to get paralyzed Veterans up and moving through adaptive sports. She pushed them to try just about everything, from fishing to downhill skiing.
And the Veterans are glad she did.
“She’s the greatest recreation therapist I’ve met,” said Noah Currier, the founder of OscarMike, the Veteran apparel company that supports adaptive sports.
“Over a decade of being involved in the VA system and wheelchair games, I’ve met recreation therapists all over the country,” he said. “Everyone knows Joyce, and her team always does the best.”
Currier’s story – injured in a freak truck accident in the U.S. after surviving the first forays of the Gulf War, he was on the verge of suicide before discovering adaptive sports – shows how Casey set him and many other bitter and despondent paralyzed Veterans on the road to a better life.
“I might have been a young punk when I met her, and she did a great job of dealing with me,” Currier said. “She struck that perfect balance of patience and impatience, making me accountable and also making me excited to do things in adaptive sports.
“I’m a totally different person now. When I met her, I wasn’t involved in adaptive sports at all, and now I run an organization devoted to it. She connected me with a great group of people to help push me along the way.”
“She has touched so many Veterans’ lives,” said Erinn Kulba, a fellow recreation therapist in SCI. “You can see Veterans light up when they are around her. She’s the reason they have the ability to maintain the quality of life they want.”
Casey knew early on that helping people was one of her strong points.
During school, she spent summers working at a swimming pool where she taught swim lessons to kids and adults who had a fear of water or other problems.
“She’s been like a mom to me. She takes you under her wing, and she gets you to feel like you’re a normal person, and you learn to do things differently.”
— Veteran Randy Riek
“I would always take the heavy hitters. That didn’t bother me,” she said.
One of her jobs at the camp was providing leisure-time programming for the campers, which included organizing a talent show.
“It was just really cool,” she said. “One thing just kind of led to another, and rec therapy just seemed like a good fit.”
That led her to the University of Iowa and its recreation therapy program. While in college, she spent time in a program that helped children and young adults with self-care and also assisted at a camp for boys who stuttered.
She interned in Omaha, Neb., and worked at a number of hospitals in Nebraska, Texas and Virginia before coming to Milwaukee in 2006.
At that time, SCI was on the 10th floor of the hospital, which was not ideal.
“I hated it,” she said. “I was just dropped off on the 10th floor and had to figure it out. I didn’t even know what a handcycle was.”
But by talking with Veterans and corresponding with other recreation therapists across the country, she soon figured it out.
BraveHearts, a therapeutic horse-riding program, was her first foray for the Veterans, but others soon followed, including Guitars 4 Vets and Team River Runner.
Before long, Casey’s Veterans were involved in all manner of adaptive sports.
Those involved became a team, and the positive reactions reverberated through the community of paralyzed Vets. As more Vets became involved, they encouraged others. The outings became commonplace.
“There was a big influx (of paralyzed Veterans) at the time, from the Iraq and Afghanistan generation, and we were a difficult group to deal with,” Currier said. “She did a great job. She was more like a friend. We all looked up to her, and the way she dealt with us was pretty spectacular.”
Fellow Veteran Terrence “T-Bone” Green agreed.
“You have to have good communication skills with the guys, and she would talk to you like a big sister, a mom, a friend – sometimes a psychologist,” he said. “She knew how to talk with people.”
“She’s been like a mom to me,” said Veteran Randy Riek. “She takes you under her wing, and she gets you to feel like you’re a normal person, and you learn to do things differently.”
Blazing a trail
Casey found a kindred spirit in Lee, also a believer in adaptive sports.
“We clicked from the very get-go,” he said. “She could read my mind. Whatever needed to be done, she got it done, and it was done right.
“The Vets really benefited from her, and she started a lot of stuff at the national level. She started a movement.”
“When I think about how this program really took off, I feel like the stars were aligned,” Casey said. “Dr. Lee was very supportive and very instrumental.”
Before long, a new facility was built for SCI, which gave the recreation therapy program more resources in addition to the groups and organizations Casey connected with in the community.
“My job was just connecting the dots between the Veterans, the community and whatever that Veteran liked to do, whether it was golf, fishing or trapshooting,” she said.
Those outpatient programs blended with the work other therapists do with inpatients, because the goal of therapy is to get patients out of the hospital and back in their homes.
But keeping the Veterans active once the return home is key, Casey said.
“A big part of what we do is seeing that rehab process out in the community, so that when they get discharged, they get involved in some sort of activity, rather than go home and put on weight or make some unhealthy lifestyle choices,” she said.
Making the hard look easy
Recreation therapy is easily misunderstood, Casey said, because it looks like people out having fun. But the outings require meticulous planning, help from volunteers, and a variety of special equipment and transportation.
In addition to the logistics, the therapists have to meet the physical and mental needs of the Veterans, many of whom are doing something well outside their comfort zone.
“She has brought such awareness to spinal cord and adaptive sports. Everyone knows her as being the therapist who gets Vets up and on the move after their injuries.”
— Milwaukee VA Recreation Therapist Erinn Kulba
“You really need to know your equipment and the level of injury of your Veterans because you want to set them up to have a successful experience,” she said.
“There’s a learning curve for the Veterans… but when they get it figured out, it’s amazing. That spark comes back, and they find that little flame in their soul to pursue something that gives them enjoyment… It’s priceless.”
Kulba said Casey has taken scores of interns under her wing, and many have flourished as recreation therapists. In fact Casey is the reason Kulba became a recreation therapist.
“I volunteered in SCI 11 years ago, and after meeting the team, I decided to pursue my master’s so I could do what she does,” Kulba said.
“She has brought such awareness to spinal cord and adaptive sports. Everyone knows her as being the therapist who gets Vets up and on the move after their injuries.”
The COVID-19 pandemic effectively quashed all the outings the adaptive sports Veterans enjoy.
It hurt Casey as well – being cooped up in a building is not her strong suit. And she admitted the past year helped push her toward retirement.
“I can’t just sit around. I can’t,” she said. “We’ve done some virtual stuff… but it’s not the same.”
“It’s been so hard to not be able to come in and do things,” he said. “We used to tie flies, do woodworking, play bocce ball, go bowling.”
That programming will come back eventually, but Casey said the restart may be difficult.
“It’s going to take quite a bit of work, energy and creativity,” she said. “It’s doable, but it will be different, and it will take some time.”
Kulba lauded Casey for being innovative during the lockdown, using virtual interactions to keep Veterans engaged.
And she said the groundwork Casey has laid will endure.
“That will carry on well beyond my years and anyone else’s,” she said. “She has established such a strong, strong program.”
If the Veterans had their way, Casey wouldn’t be going anywhere.
“We’re going to kidnap her and chain her to the deck,” Green joked. “If they can clone her, then it’s fine. But she will leave some really big shoes to fill – bigger than Shaq’s.
“She’s a saint. Joyce is the pin that holds everything together. It hurts that she’s leaving. The bottom line is you cannot replace Joyce.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” Currier said. “I’m happy she gets to retire, but nobody can replace her.”
Her colleagues feel the same.
“I’m so sad to see her go,” Lee said. “She is truly the heartbeat of recreation therapy.”