Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker - We Are The Mighty
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Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

Social workers at VA are a vital part of the team, pulling together treatment plans and providing comprehensive, personalized care to Veterans


Social workers are an integral part of mental health care teams at VA.

These versatile professionals seem to do it all, pulling together treatment plans and providing comprehensive, personalized care to Veterans.

Did you know that VA is the largest employer of social workers in the nation? It’s true. And this month, we’re turning the spotlight on this rewarding career as part of our monthly effort to recognize a different critical-need occupation in celebration of VHA’s 75th anniversary.

A unique role

Elizabeth Kleeman is one of our licensed clinical social workers, supervising the suicide prevention team at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center.

In her final year of graduate school, Elizabeth accepted a social work internship at VA. She’s now been a social worker here for more than a decade.

“By happenstance, I got into VA and I have never felt limited here,” said Kleeman. “The opportunities that we have, creativity and positions that you can take, the services that you can offer and the training that you can get are state of the art.”

She supervises the suicide prevention and Veterans justice outreach teams. These teams of social workers provide the VAMC with suicide prevention expertise and serve as liaisons between the legal system and VA.

“There is just so much you can do in the social work realm that is unique to this particular discipline,” she said.

Versatile career

As a VA social worker, you’ll be essential to our mission of helping Veterans and their families heal. Your role on a mental health care team is extensive and dynamic, including responsibilities such as:

  • Developing specialized treatment plans that consider social, environmental, psychological and economic factors.
  • Providing clinical and case management for Veterans dealing with PTSD, substance abuse, bereavement and more.
  • Providing therapy.
  • Managing crisis intervention and high-risk screenings.
  • Delivering family education and providing educational materials.
  • Acting as a patient advocate.
  • Developing discharge plans and coordinating outpatient care.

“We are often consultants to the other disciplines on what impacts people’s well-being and their experience – like their marriage, their past, their childhood, their current family, their work, etc. Social justice is truly what drives us; this helps the entire team function because it calls out the blind spots,” Kleeman said.

Social workers across VA serve in a variety of settings, including primary care clinics, specialty clinics, hospitals and emergency departments, and mental health and rehabilitation units.

With more than 1,200 VA facilities across the nation, you’re sure to find a social work role that suits your skills and expertise.

Work at VA

Consider becoming part of the social work team at VA, where you can play a vital role in improving Veterans’ lives.

NOTE: Positions listed in this post were open at the time of publication. All current available positions are listed at USAJobs.gov.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

6 reasons why vets are the best to go on vacation with

As the summer months come rolling around, families all over the nation will get together and begin planning trips. From hitting sunny beaches to visiting majestic national parks, there are tons of great places to visit this summer. After compiling a list of exciting locations, the next most important part aspect of a vacation is to consider the company you’ll keep.


When coming up with a list of potential vacationers, you’ll need to make sure you well mesh with everyone invited. For the best trip, you’ll want to bring people with a wide variety of characteristics and talents. Here’s a quirky idea: Make sure you invite one of your buddies who served in the military.

Why? We’re glad you asked!

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You’ll always have someone to drink with

Veterans love to drink; it’s no secret. Some of us are beer drinkers while others like to pound a glass of whiskey. While you might have to bribe a veteran to get them to try a new type of food, you can simply put a tasty drink in front of them and watch that f*cker disappear.

It’s like a magic trick — but better.

They’ll have plan ‘b’ through ‘z’ in mind — just in case

Troops are trained to always have contingency plans and that characteristic invariably follows them when they reenter civilian life. Even if you and your buddies are simply visiting a new pub or restaurant, the veteran is going to first locate the exits and identify any potential threats — just in case.

It’s just our way.

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They will always ask for a veteran discount

Who doesn’t like saving money? Having a veteran in the group could knock a few dollars off the bill at the end of the night. If you’re okay with paying full price for everything, then we don’t want to go on vacation with you.

They don’t have a problem waiting in lines

In the military, we often do this crappy thing called, “hurry up and wait.” It’s a sh*tty aspect of military service, sure, but it’s a realistic one. If your group wants to get into a club, the veteran among you is the best candidate for waiting out the long line.

Don’t exclusively use your veteran for waiting in lines, though — that’s just plain mean. But it is plus to have a vet who is willing to wait it out for the good of the group.

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They will always find their way

Troops are trained to find their way around to finish their mission. In the civilian world, that mission might be locating a specific pub or a way out of the camping grounds.

Regardless of the situation, the vet will pull their skills together and find their way — especially if there’s alcohol at their destination.

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Taking one for the team

The military instills in its troops the importance of the team in every way, shape, and form. It’s just how we get sh*t done.

So, if one of your fellow vacationers wants to hook up with someone who has a lonely friend, you can rest assured that the vet is going to step in and take one for the team.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Community providers: How to submit medical documentation to VA

VA strives to provide Veterans with seamless care and encourages community providers to support these efforts by the timely submission of medical documentation within 30 days of providing services.

One of the best ways for community providers to submit medical documentation is to use HealthShare Referral Manager (HSRM), the main system VA uses for managing referrals, authorizations and medical documentation exchange.


Dr. Megan Stauffer, a community provider at In-Home Care Connection in Sterling, Ill., shares her positive experience with HSRM. “It has drastically cut down phone calls and faxes that I’m having to receive daily, because now all the information I need is there at my fingertips.”

In addition to HSRM, VA offers more options for community providers to submit Veteran medical documentation. Community providers can:

Using convenient electronic options to send medical documents to VA enables you to comply with the 30-day requirement for medical documentation submission.

Visit our care coordination page and review our Medical Submission Requirements Fact Sheet for details on what documentation should be submitted for care coordination purposes based on the type of service provided.

Thank you for your commitment to caring for our nation’s Veterans.

Resources

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient directed a counterattack his first time in combat

Soon after graduating high school, Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. joined the Marine Corp Platoon Leaders Course, where he learned various military infantry tactics. Once Barnum earned his degree, he was given an officer’s commission in the Marine Corps Reserves and sent to the gritty jungles of Vietnam in 1965.

On December 18, Barnum and the rest of the Marines were patrolling in the Quảng Tín Province of South Vietnam. Unbeknownst to Barnum and his men, as the Marines moved deep into the enemy territory, they were walking into a vicious trap. The Vietnamese troops had dug themselves into the nearby terrain and waiting as nearly three companies of Marines walked by, headed toward a small village.

Then, a firefight broke out, first striking the Marine’s rear position and moving to the front of the patrol as the grunts entered the enemy-infested village. What happened next, no first-timer would ever expect.


Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker
Barnum takes a moment for a quick photo op while stationed in Vietnam.

The initial attack severely injured the company commander and the radio operator. This deadly wave was Barnum’s first taste of real combat — and his training kicked in immediately. He went and retrieved the radio, calling for heavy fire support.

Barnum also dashed out of his position to recover the company commander and move him to safety. Moments later, Barnum’s commanding officer died in his arms. With all the men looking for guidance, the young Marine knew it was up to him to assume control and direct a counterattack.

After passing out orders, the Marines laid a curtain of gunfire onto the trench line from which the enemy had so much success earlier. Barnum picked up a rocket launcher and fired it three times at the enemy position. That was the signal the attack Hueys needed.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker
U.S. troops load up on a Huey during the Vietnam War.

After running out of rockets, the Marine officer directed the Hueys above towards targets to nail — and that’s just what they did. This airborne attack freed up some terrain, allowing the wounded and the dead to be transported out. Although still surrounded by enemy troops, Barnum choreographed each squad as they moved from the hot zone.

In roughly 45 minutes, the men found safety.

1st Lt. Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. was presented with the Medal of Honor on February 27, 1967, surrounded by his fellow Marines at the barracks.

MIGHTY CULTURE

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

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


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

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

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

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

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

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

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

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

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

No one will stand the heat like a soldier in the kitchen

 

Consider the values that military service instills. Honor. Purpose. Prestige. Service members wake up with a daily mission to embody those values and while on active duty, they are provided the means and the circumstances to do so.


But when they leave the service, does the drive to live by military values diminish? Veterans across the country will assure you, it does not. That’s why the transition back to civilian life is such a hot topic. Finding a new outlet for warrior values is a bear that every veteran has to wrestle and tame.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker
From fighting Fascism to fighting Fast Food: veteran chefs of the Culinary Institute of America. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

So what if there was a school whose founding mission was to teach returning veterans the skills necessary to put those values to work? As it turns out, that school exists. It’s the Culinary Institute of America and it was founded to teach returning WWII vets the fighting arts of gourmet cooking.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker
The troops, lined up for inspection. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl visited Hyde Park, NY, to get a first hand taste of daily operations at CIA.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker
It sure beats latrine duty. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

What he found there was an atmosphere of rigor, discipline, and sky high expectations — in other words, a culinary boot camp. And why not? A busy kitchen is its own kind of battlefield and cooks are the troops who serve there. At CIA, students, including notable veterans, learn what it takes to become a new generation of American chefs.

 

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

These military chefs will make you want to re-enlist

This veteran farmer will make you celebrate your meat

What happens when a firefighter’s secret identity is revealed

This Galley Girl will make you want to join the Coast Guard

This is the food Japanese chefs invented after their nation surrendered to the Allies

Veterans

National World War I Memorial honors 4.7 million Veterans


Visitors to Washington, D.C., pass many memorials during their trips, including those dedicated to wars throughout the nation’s history. The black granite of the Vietnam War Memorial. The fountains and columns of the World War II Memorial. The 19 stainless steel statues of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. One war—dubbed “The Great War”—has been the only one missing. That changes April 16, 2021, with the First Colors ceremony unveiling the National WWI Memorial.

Army Veteran Terry Hamby is commission chair for the World War I Centennial Commission. He hopes the unveiling will be an important milestone for Americans to remember those who fought.

“It’s significant to America,” he said. “For 103 years, 4.7 million men and women who served in World War I have not been recognized here in our nation’s capital for their service.”

Hamby said this group of Veterans blazed a path future generations would follow.

“This group of Americans were the first to deploy overseas to Europe and fight in a war they didn’t start,” he said. “They were willing to die for peace and liberty for people they never met.”

Hamby’s grandfather served during World War I. While working on the project, he also learned his great uncle served. He died in battle on the fifth day in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel.

“From that point forward, it’s personal because you’re a Veteran,” the Vietnam Veteran said. “But it’s really personal when one of your family members is one of those 116,516 people who gave not only the life at the moment, but the life that they would live, to the country.”

The lead designer for the memorial, Joe Weishaar, said the new memorial was a difficult task to tell the Veteran stories and honor their service.

“Weaving all of those things together has not been an easy task, but hopefully I’ve done it and it comes across when people visit,” he said. “It’s really about the men and women who served.”

Even though he doesn’t have a personal family connection to World War I, Weishaar said he felt a personal connection looking at photos and reading through diary entries of Veterans. He said the words of 20- to 25-year-old service members struck him. Weishaar was 25 when he submitted his design.

“I always felt a real connection with them,” the Arkansas native said. “Seventy thousand men and women from Arkansas served in World War I. For most of them, it was the first time they left their towns and villages. That really changes a person.”

About the memorial

Weishaar worked with the existing site and memorial, incorporating the stories of men and women who served during World War I. The memorial stands at the site of the former Pershing Park at the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., southeast of the White House.

People can watch the First Colors ceremony at https://firstcolors.worldwar1centennial.org/. People can explore the memorial online at https://firstcolors.worldwar1centennial.org/explore/.


Interview conducted by VA Digital Media Engagement team’s videographers Ben Pekannen and Tass Mimikos.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This nonprofit charity helps veterans and their spouses find great careers

This article is sponsored by Disabled American Veterans.

In the wake of World War I, hundreds of thousands of returning and separating American troops came home to a nation ill-prepared to support them. In 1920, DAV (Disabled American Veterans) was founded with the goal of helping these service members transition comfortably back into civilian life. Since then, DAV has been providing a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families by helping them access benefits they earned—like health care, education and disability—and connecting them to meaningful employment opportunities.


The nonprofit charity was founded by an injured infantryman who rose to become a judge in the Superior Court of Ohio after The Great War. The organization was originally known as the Disabled American Veterans of the World War and, as its name suggests, it was focused on helping those who were disabled by the War.

Now, in addition to helping veterans receive their earned benefits, providing outreach to families of disabled veterans, and representing veteran interests to the government, they run an employment program that, in 2017, supported 140 traditional and virtual career fairs that helped over 43,000 attendees — and they’re setting higher goals with each passing year.

DAV established the National Employment Program in 2014, which focuses on connecting veterans and their spouses with employers. Their goal is to improve the lives of veterans and their families by finding meaningful employment.

Today, DAV hosts a job board that has as many as 250,000 active job openings listed at once. They also help represent veterans to employers, explaining to decision-makers why it’s best to target veterans for open positions.

If you’re a veteran or military spouse looking for new or improved employment, check out DAV’s employment resources, specifically their comprehensive hiring guide. And if you’re well-employed and looking to help veterans, consider giving to DAV by donating your time, money, or used vehicles.

This article is sponsored by Disabled American Veterans.

MIGHTY MOVIES

10 awesome celebrities who served in the military

There are many famous people who served in the United States Military. Some were drafted, some had the choice between jail or service, and some felt the call and volunteered.

From World War II to 9/11 and beyond, these celebrities served their country before they became famous — except for Elvis. Elvis was always a star.

Note: There are some celebrities who are already well known for their military service (like everyone’s favorite Gunny, R. Lee Ermey). You won’t see them on this list, since our goal was to point out celebrities whose military service isn’t as well known.


In no particular order, these are ten awesome celebrities who served in the U.S. Armed Forces:

Rob Riggle Is Golfing For Veterans

www.youtube.com

1. Rob Riggle, United States Marine Corps

Rob Riggle served in the United States Marine Corps for over 20 years. After graduating from the University of Kansas, he went through Officer Candidate School. Though he originally had the intention of becoming a pilot, he realized that he wanted to pursue comedy, so he became a Public Affairs Officer instead. After his Active Duty service commitment was complete, he transitioned into the reserves, where he served for 14 more while doing comedy and acting full time.

Riggle served in Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan during his time in service. Now retired, he continues to help the veteran community through initiatives like his Rob Riggle InVETational Golf Classic, a veteran-celebrity golf tournament that raises money and awareness for veteran non-profits, like Semper Fi Fund, an organization that assists service members and their families.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

(Photo by Bob Sandberg)

2. Jackie Robinson, United States Army

Jackie Robinson was drafted to the United States Army in 1942, where he was assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit before applying to Officer Candidate School. His application was delayed due to the color of his skin, but, after protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, he was accepted. He commissioned as a second lieutenant in January, 1943.

In August, 1944, he faced court-martial for refusing to give up his seat on a bus near Camp Hood, Texas, a segregated location known for its racism.

On July 6, 1944, Robinson took a seat on a civilian bus next to a white woman on Camp Hood and the driver ordered him to move to the back of the bus. Robinson refused and the military police were called to arrest him. Angry from the way he was treated and frustrated at the rampant discrimination on the post, Robinson refused to wait for the MPs in the provost marshal’s office and was escorted to the hospital under guard and under protest.

He was charged with two accounts of insubordination. His defense would win out, however, and Robinson was freed. He medically retired from service due to a bone chip in his ankle and went on to become the first African American to play Major League Baseball.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

It looks like a mug shot, but that’s an OG CAC picture on the left.

3. Bea Arthur, United States Marine Corps

The late Bea Arthur served as a truck driver in the U.S. Marine Corps. She enlisted into the Women’s Reservists during World War II at the age of 21 under her maiden name, Bernice Frankel. A handwritten letter of hers states,

I was supposed to start work yesterday, but heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was join.

She was stationed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. She was honorably discharged after the war at the rank of Staff Sergeant. She would marry a fellow Marine, Private Robert Aurthur, and go on to have a successful career in the arts.

Any fan of Arthur’s incisive Dorothy on Golden Girls won’t be surprised to hear that Arthur’s enlistment interviewer described her as “argumentative” and “officious — but probably a good worker — if she has her own way!”

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

4. Bob Ross, United States Air Force

Robert Norman Ross, better known as the friendly painter Bob Ross, enlisted in the Air Force at age 18 and went on to serve for 20 years. While stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, Florida-native Ross saw snow and mountains for the first time, which would influence his serene landscape choices as he began his prolific painting career.

It might be surprising to know that while in the Air Force, Ross became a Drill Instructor.

I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.

True to his word, he developed The Joy of Painting, his famous program where he taught others to paint with an uplifting and soft-spoken demeanor that has become famous around the world.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

Semper Fi,​

5. Adam Driver, U.S. Marine Corps

Adam Driver, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Kylo Ren in the Star Wars franchise, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and became an infantry mortarman after the 9/11 attacks. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton with 81s (eighty-ones) Platoon, Weapons Co. 1st Battalion 1st Marines and was training for his first deployment when he sustained an injury that would result in a medical discharge.

After his service, Driver founded a non-profit organization called Arts in the Armed Forces, which brings high-quality arts programming to active duty service members, veterans, military support staff, and their families around the world free of charge with the intention of bridging the divide between civilians and the military.

Of his military career, Driver once said, “In the military, you learn the essence of people. You see so many examples of self-sacrifice and moral courage. In the rest of life you don’t get that many opportunities to be sure of your friends.”

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

Montel Williams at the premiere of ‘War, Inc.’

(Photo by David Shankbone)

6. Montel Williams, United States Marine Corps and United States Navy

Talk show host Montel Williams enlisted in the United States Marines Corps after high school and completed basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, before going to the Desert Warfare Training Center at Twentynine Palms, California. After impressing his superiors with his leadership skills, he was recommended for the Naval Academy Preparatory School at Newport, Rhode Island. He was then accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Upon graduation, he became a cryptologic officer for the United States Navy. He served in Guam before transferring to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where he studied Russian for a year before putting his linguistic skills to use for the National Security Agency. He served aboard submarines for three years before he decided to separate from the military and pursue public and motivational speaking full time.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

Elvis Presley inventing ‘Blue Steel’ during his military service in Germany.

7. Elvis Presley, United States Army

After one deferment to complete the film King Creole, Elvis Aron Presley reported for U.S. Army basic training at Fort Hood on March 24, 1958, where he was assigned to the Second Armored Division’s ‘Hell on Wheels’ unit. His induction was a major event that attracted fans and media attention.

After basic, Presley sailed to Europe aboard the USS General Randall to serve with the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany. By March, 1960, Sergeant Presley finished his military commitment and received an honorable discharge from active duty.

Reflecting on his service, Presley once told Armed Forces Radio and Television that he was determined to go to any limits to prove himself — and he did, though his career as an artist was never too far from reach. Shortly after returning to the United States, he shot the film G-I Blues, a musical comedy where Presley played a tank crewman with a singing career.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

8. Jimi Hendrix, United States Army

Jimi Hendrix, one of rock’s greatest guitar players, served a brief, thirteen-month stint with the famed U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division — nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles” — just a few years before his epic rise to rockstardom in the late 60s. Hendrix wanted to enlist as a musician but had no formal music training, so he opted for the 101st Airborne Division.

Months after joining the Screaming Eagles, life as a paratrooper began to wear on Hendrix’s morale. He was constantly reprimanded for dereliction of duties.

Jimi just wanted to play his guitar. His days as a paratrooper came to an end on his 26th jump when he broke his ankle.

Hendrix began exploring the Fort Campbell area nightlife before venturing down to nearby Nashville where he began jamming with local bluesmen. It was in that vibrant music scene that he met fellow service member and bassist Billy Cox. In September, 1963, after Cox was discharged from the Army, Hendrix and Cox formed a band called the King Kasuals, but it was later in New York City where Hendrix would catch the break that would help him become the rockstar he’s remembered as today.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

9. Kurt Vonnegut,  United States Army

Kurt Vonnegut enlisted in the United States Army during World War II. In 1944, then-Private First Class Kurt Vonnegut was captured by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge. He, along with boxcars full of fellow POWs, were taken to the German city of Dresden and forced to work – until the city was firebombed by the Allies. Vonnegut and a few others survived the devastation, in what looked like a different, horrifying new world.

Slaughterhouse Five is named after the underground bunker in which he waited out the bombing. The book is the story of a man who became “unstuck in time,” floating back to the past at seemingly random times. It has become one of the most famous PTSD flashback stories and one of the most banned books of all-time.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

10. Kris Kristofferson, U.S. Army

Before he was a recording artist, Kris Kristofferson, under pressure from his family and following in the footsteps of his Air Force General father before him, joined the U.S. Army.

Kristofferson trained as a Ranger and a helicopter pilot, eventually reaching the rank of Captain while stationed in Germany. But then he received orders to West Point to teach English.

He chose to separate from the Army to pursue a music career instead, but served in the Tennessee National Guard when he needed to make ends meet. It was during that time when he infamously stole a helicopter and landed it on Johnny Cash’s lawn, a bold move that would pay off when Cash, a fellow veteran, recorded Kristofferson’s song and began an epic musical friendship.

In 2003, he was presented with the “Veteran of the Year” Award at the 8th Annual American Veterans Awards.

Veterans

Veteran shares story of hope, thanks to K9s for Warriors

Dogs have long been known as “man’s best friend” but it wasn’t until recently we knew how vital the connection and companionship would be. K9s for Warriors is saving lives because of it. 

When retired Army National Guard Master Sergeant David Crenshaw enlisted in 2000, it was a lifelong dream realized. He was in the middle of Army Basic Training when the planes hit the World Trade Center and life was forever changed, for everyone. When he wasn’t drilling, Crenshaw was a volunteer firefighter.

He was deployed to Iraq in 2004, which had been invaded by U.S. troops the year before. Crenshaw was Military Police and assigned to Personal Protective Detail. Although he returned home 15 months later thinking he was fine, he wasn’t. 2005 began a slow decline, one which he never anticipated. 

crenshaw

“I’m from the northeast right outside of New York so 9/11 had a huge impact on me,” Crenshaw shared. “It’s just one of those stories of a kid in America who wanted to go do his job. You do your job and what’s asked of you over there…I remember someone telling me if I ever wanted to do anything else not to tell them [the Army] I was having any mental problems.”

So he stayed quiet. Once he returned home, he became a 911 dispatch operator until he left to become a firefighter in 2006. A year later he went to the academy and became a police officer. It was a role he’d hold for seven years. In 2010 he began his new job as an instructor for the Army’s Officer Candidate School. 

crenshaw

In 2014 he made a move from the police department to the prosecutor’s office in order to do special investigative work. Crenshaw spent almost a year undercover with the gang and narcotic operations. It took its toll. 

“It started to play on me. Morally, it wasn’t who I was as a person. It also started to affect things that were happening around me. All the symptoms that come about with PTSD like the hyper vigilance, paranoia, always on guard – all that stuff was being amplified,” Crenshaw explained. His mother was also diagnosed with stage IV cancer during this time. “I didn’t realize this was PTSD, I thought it was just the stress of the job and my sick mother.”

It was toward the end of the investigation when Crenshaw began to realize something was wrong. A VA appointment would lead to being labeled with PTSD, but highly functioning. Unfortunately, all he heard was the past part of the diagnosis.  “About a year to the day, I had what I like to call my fall from grace,” he shared. 

During this time he became his mother’s hospice caretaker and watched her pass away. Simultaneously, he was in the middle of a divorce and a contentious custody battle. “The day she passed, that’s when my PTSD skyrocketed,” Crenshaw shared. “ I know of the process of how they remove the body. All I kept thinking about was Iraq and the two bodies we put on the helicopter.”

This would lead to thinking about death every time he knocked on a door with SWAT to execute a search warrant. With Crensaw always being first in, he knew the risk. “I kept saying, ‘Is this going to be the day I catch it?” but I was saying it almost with a sense of relief,” he said. Things got progressively worse, leading to an altercation with his now ex-wife. 

His fall, as he called it, led to losing his job with the prosecutor’s office. “It was actually a load off my shoulders but it was short lived because then it became a fight for my life,” Crenshaw shared. He credits K9s for Warriors helping to save his life, thanks to his service dog, Doc.

From the moment they were paired, Crenshaw felt the connection. He realized it that first night by watching how Doc calmed him before he even knew he was becoming anxious. His life was forever changed. “He’s wearing all of my stuff. My burdens, worries and anxiety,” Crenshaw shared. “PTSD was a weight at my ankle holding me down. It’s no different than a drug or an addiction, it really does sit there and lie in wait.”

Crenshaw is open in sharing he’ll never be cured from his PTSD, however, Doc’s continuous presence manages it and allows him to lead a new and fulfilling life. But the path to getting a service animal isn’t easy and often comes with long wait times. It’s something K9s for Warriors is hoping to change. 

The PAWS Act (Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers) was reintroduced into Congress on March 3, 2021. K9s for Warriors, the largest provider of service animals to veterans, is backing it. If passed, it would require the VA to provide grants to pay for service dogs for eligible veterans. “I hope the PAWS Act is just the first leg…We need to find a way to come together and make one loud unified voice on this,” he said.

Although Crenshaw was quick to point out his incredible mental health team at the VA, he was also open about the problems and continued barriers. Namely, the unending prescription pills fostered onto him for his symptoms. All of which he no longer has to take, thanks to Doc. 

The endless bureaucratic red tape and fight Crenshaw endured for his medical retirement, mental health support and to get Doc was exhausting, he said. Although he made it out the other side, he wasn’t unscathed from the experience of seeking help. It’s a fight many veterans give up on. 

“My main goal in life now is to just be here for veterans and cops, too,” Crenshaw said. “It’s amazing how many cracks there are and how many barriers there are from the military to the VA and even in the civilian world with the understanding. So, wherever and however I can advocate for them… I will.”

Veterans

Here’s the best time and place to pull the ‘veteran card’

Not everyone can call themselves a Veteran or knows how it feels to serve his country.


But for those who have, you’ve officially earned the veteran card. Congrats brother, you made it!

Not the so-called “veteran card” isn’t technically referring to the ID card the Department of Veterans Affairs issues you when you register — although you could use that too.

It’s the earned benefits you get when your non-serving compatriots respect the sacrifices you’ve made for your country, then decides to hook you up.

If you’re wondering where you can maybe cash in on these earned royalties, then check these out.

1. Dive Bars…

…especially with ones that have American flags decorating the walls. Dive bars aren’t usually a franchised company and commonly have that homey feeling that treats its customers more personally. What better way to be rewarded than a cold beer on the house?

That’s not such a bad idea.

2. Mom and Pop Shops

You know the businesses that greet you as soon as you walk in and are usually family run, right? With roughly 28 million small businesses located throughout the U.S., and making up approximately 44 percent of the nation’s payroll small businesses thrive on repeat local business.

With 22 million veterans that still call America home, keeping us happy and returning is big business for those little shops.

3. The Police

No one is saying to use this as your only line of defense if you catch a case, but it couldn’t hurt. A lot of policemen patrolling the streets are veterans themselves, so finding a little common ground could humanize you in their eyes.

 

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

4.  Employers

Plaster the fact that you served on your resume. Add in all the juicy key words like leadership, dedication and goal orientated. You may not have earned the Medal of Honor, but most civilians think having a National Defense ribbon and a Global War on Terrorism sounds pretty badass.

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

 

5. Strip Clubs

Here’s a fun fact. Strippers are just like you and me! Except they probably get paid more.

We’re not saying you should go, but if you do, the closer the location to a military base, the better. Having been all over, I’ve heard you can enjoy discounts on the cover charge, shots and drinks specials, and reserved tables.

 

Help Veterans improve their mental health as a VA social worker

 

WATM author Tim Kirkpatrick entered the Navy in 2007 as a Hospital Corpsman and deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in the fall of 2010.  Tim now has degrees in both Film Production and Screenwriting. tim0kirkpatrick@gmail.com

Articles

That time James Howard took on 30 German fighters

Long before that fateful day in January 1944, James Howard was a man of action. After graduating college in 1937 with the intention of becoming a doctor he instead joined the Navy and became a pilot.


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Colonel James H. Howard, Jan. 1945. (U.S. Army Air Forces)

After just two years in the fleet Howard left the Navy and joined many other American aviators in Asia to become a part of the famed Flying Tigers. While fighting in Asia Howard flew 56 combat missions becoming a squadron commander and being credited with the destruction of six Japanese planes.

Howard then left the Flying Tigers in July 1942 when the unit was disbanded and returned to the United States. Wanting to get back in the war he joined the United States Army Air Corps and was commissioned as a Captain.

By 1943, he had been promoted to Major and put in command of the 356th Fighter Squadron based in England. His unit flew its first mission on Dec. 1, 1943, escorting bombers over Europe. Armed with the new P-51B Mustangs, this was an entirely different mission than Howard had ever flown, but his previous experiences would soon prove useful.

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P-51B Mustang. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

During the winter of 1943-44, the Eighth Air Force was working hard to establish air superiority over Europe before the upcoming invasion in the summer. This meant that heavy bombers had to strike aircraft manufacturing deep inside German territory.

For most of 1943, this had been accomplished without fighter escort over the target. Heavy losses had scaled back the number of bombing raids to Germany. But the arrival of Howard’s 356th Fighter Squadron and other Mustang outfits meant the missions could resume.

On Jan. 11, 1944, Howard was flight lead for his entire fighter group, the 354th, leading his own squadron as well as two others to protect bombers striking aircraft factories at Oschersleben and Halberstadt.

The plan called for Howard’s P-51’s to pick up the Eighth Air Forces bombers — 525 B-17’s and 138 B-24’s — after their initial escort of P-47’s and P-38’s had to turn back. They would then cover the bombers over the target and again hand off the escort to a new group of short range fighters as the P-51’s returned to base.

Also read: The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

When the 354th Fighter Group rendezvoused with the bombers they had already completed their bombing run. However, they were being swarmed by some 500 German fighters according to an Eighth Air Force estimate.

Approaching from the rear of the formation, Howard directed fighters to different parts of the formation as his element made its way towards the lead bombers.

Almost immediately, Howard’s fighters found themselves attacked, and as they engaged the Germans, Howard soon found himself all alone heading towards the lead bomber group.

That group, the 401st, was on its 14th combat mission and had seen plenty of action. None of them, however, had ever seen anything like the display Howard was about to put on.

As Howard approached the group, he saw that they were heavily engaged by some 30 German fighters. Although only a lone fighter, Howard was undeterred; as he put it, “I seen my duty and I done it.”

Howard quickly jumped a German twin-engine fighter and sent it earthward. He then spotted an FW 190 coming up underneath him and dispatched it too. “I nearly ran into his canopy,” Howard said, “as he threw it off to bail out.”

After two quick kills, Howard started to circle back to find the rest of his formation. As he did so, he spotted an Me 109 moving in on the bombers. The German spotted him too and took evasive action.

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A captured Fw 190A. (Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

A turning dogfight ensued. The German tried to dive away but Howard’s P-51 was up for the challenge. A short burst from his .50 caliber machine guns sent the Messerschmitt down in flames.

As Howard returned to altitude with the bombers he engaged more fighters. According to his own reports he probably destroyed two further fighters. According to the bomber crews that number was more like four or five.

Howard was “all over the wing, across it and around it,” the lead bomber pilot reported “for sheer guts and determination, it was the greatest exhibition I’ve ever seen. They can’t give that boy a big enough award.”

Indeed Howard was determined. For over half an hour he fought alone against the swarm of German fighters. When his ammunition was exhausted he simply dove at the Germans in the hopes of driving them off — often times it worked.

Finally, low on fuel, Howard waved his wings to the bombers and departed with a few straggling P-51’s that were still in the area.

The thankful bomber crews had dubbed Howard a “One-man Air Force” while war correspondent Andy Rooney called his feat “the greatest fighter pilot story of World War II.”

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Howard receives the Medal of Honor. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Forces)

For his efforts that day, Howard received the Medal of Honor, the only fighter pilot in the European theatre to be so awarded. He was officially credited with four enemy aircraft shot down that day. He would later add two more, becoming an ace.

In 1945 he was promoted to Colonel and would eventually retire as a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve in 1966.

Articles

Gary Sinise Foundation announces Air Force veteran as new CEO

The Gary Sinise Foundation announced that Dr. Mike Thirtle has been named as the organization’s next chief executive officer. Established in 2011 by award-winning actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise, the Gary Sinise Foundation’s mission is to serve our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. The Foundation achieves its mission through programs and initiatives designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities.

Gary Sinise has been leading the Foundation since its inception 10 years ago, growing the organization exponentially and consistently exceeding its annual goals. As the Foundation’s chairman, Sinise and the Board of Directors selected Thirtle to lead the Gary Sinise Foundation as the organization expands and ascends to new levels of delivering on Sinise’s commitment to serve and honor our nation’s heroes and their loved ones.

“As the Gary Sinise Foundation enters our second decade, it is my great pleasure to announce our new Chief Executive Officer, Mike Thirtle,” said Sinise. “With over 20 years of military service, 12 years at the RAND Corporation, and 7 years as president and CEO of the nonprofit Bethesda Lutheran Communities, Mike brings tremendous experience to GSF, and I am looking forward to working with him on the GSF mission of service for our defenders and their families.”

Thirtle — who will officially assume the role on July 12 — joins the Foundation with a passion for serving others and a broad background in philanthropy, non-profit leadership, strategy and policy analysis, business consulting, higher education, and military service. He will report directly to the Board of Directors and will lead the day-to-day programs of the Foundation.

“I am deeply honored to serve Gary, the Board, and the staff at the Gary Sinise Foundation as we support the millions of defenders, veterans, first responders, and their families across our nation — the true heroes and guardians of our freedom,” said Thirtle, an Air Force veteran. “It is because of their sacrifices that we enjoy the fruits of freedom and for which we are all grateful. My wife, Juli, and I look forward to being part of the Gary Sinise Foundation family and supporting Gary and this amazing cause.”

Retired Air Force Gen. Robin Rand will continue to serve as CEO until Thirtle assumes the position of CEO on July 12. Sinise recruited Rand in 2018 for the position of CEO after he ended a long career of active-duty service in the Air Force, retiring as a four-star general. He was selected by Sinise for the role given his deep understanding of the needs of the military and veteran community and his passionate desire to give back, which Sinise felt were crucial to elevate the Foundation and further its mission.

Sinise praised Rand’s contributions saying, “I am extremely grateful to Gen. Robin Rand for his leadership of the Foundation these past 2-and-a-half years beginning in October of 2018. We have certainly faced tremendous challenges during this time, especially with the 2020 global pandemic, yet under Robin’s leadership, the Foundation has continued to excel, sailing full speed ahead with tremendous growth throughout this period. He is a gifted leader and a good friend. On behalf of all of us at the Foundation, I thank him for his dedication and time with GSF, and especially for his 40 years of service to our country in the United States Air Force.”

Rand shared his reflections, saying, “The mission of the Gary Sinise Foundation is so noble, and it has been a tremendous honor to serve at the GSF for the past 33 months. I’m forever grateful.”


This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

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