Vietnam Vet says we have to take care of each other
A familiar face to Milwaukee-area Veterans and the Milwaukee VA is doing his part to make sure people get the COVID-19 vaccination.
John Ziegler, 74, is one of a handful of Milwaukee residents featured in the Healthy MKE multimedia outreach campaign designed to reach people reluctant to get the vaccine.
“I feel it’s doing my duty,” he says in one of the commercials. “The more we get vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to doing what we want to do. We have to take care of each other. That’s what life is about.”
A Navy Vietnam Veteran, Ziegler is the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ state representative to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. He has logged thousands of hours volunteering at the hospital and works tirelessly to raise funds and whatever else is necessary to help Veterans.
When he was approached to take part in the campaign, he didn’t hesitate.
Supports the science – vaccinations best path forward
“If it helps get the word out, it’s worth it,” he said. “The more people that get vaccinated, the quicker we get out of this thing, I hope.”
While he supports the vaccinations, he believes getting the shot is a personal choice and understands why some are hesitant. But he supports the science, saying vaccinations are the best path forward.
Ziegler got his shots as soon as possible earlier this year. Having been exposed to Agent Orange, he has diabetes and has “Only one working lung, and that’s at half capacity.”
That condition put him at high risk for COVID-19 and he responded by spending the past year being as safe as possible. He has limited outside interactions with others, dutifully wears a mask and keeps his distance among others.
Targeting residents who are still undecided
According to Healthy MKE, a coalition of local government, nonprofit, health care, public health and community organizations, the campaign targets residents of Milwaukee County who have been “disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are undecided about receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.”
“This campaign recognizes the importance of hearing authentic, relatable stories from local members of the community, from schoolteachers to retired Veterans, health-care workers, clergy, small business owners and more,” said Mara Lord, chairwoman of the Milwaukee area vaccine communications and community mobilization efforts. “It’s a way to both honor their unique perspectives and show how getting vaccinated is a way to express personal strength and commitment, so we can all get back to the people, places and things we love.”
“At least we tried.”
The campaign includes TV, radio, digital outdoor billboards, online digital outreach, and social media.
Ziegler realizes some people won’t get the vaccine. Though vaccine is plentiful and available for free to all who want it, clinics are having trouble filling time slots.
“We now have more vaccine than Vets who will take it,” Ziegler said. He added he hopes the ad campaign is successful but realizes some people won’t get the vaccine.
“I don’t know if this will change anybody’s mind. If it doesn’t, at least we tried.”
Cyber security is a booming industry with a plethora of opportunities for veterans. Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer for USAA Gary McAlum is trying to pair the two.
Prior to joining the USAA team, McAlum completed 25 years in the US Air Force. He entered the Air Force in 1983 as a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force ROTC program at The Citadel, Charleston, SC.
Throughout his career, McAlum worked in a variety of staff and leadership positions in the information technology career field. He’s done multiple deployments and his accolades are many. Perhaps most impressive? Gary was inducted into the Air Force Cyberspace Operations Hall of Fame in 2016. Now, he’s championing getting more veterans into the cyber security field. WATM had the chance to sit down with McAlum to find out more about why veterans are a good fit for this field… and why this field is a perfect fit for veterans.
WATM: USAA is ranked by Forbes as the 6th best employer for veterans. Why are veterans in such high demand for employment in the Cyber Security field?
First of all, we’re a company that is focused on serving veterans and the veteran community. We have a commitment to hiring military veterans and their spouses. I spent 45 years in the Air Force and that has made me very knowledgeable about bringing that talent into USAA. Our Cyber Security Team is a very diverse team, we have people who come from other entities from various companies. We have people who we bring in from internship programs but veterans also bring a lot of good qualities to the Cyber Security Team.
We hire anyone who served in Cyber Security in the military because it is a skillset that is highly desirable. There are other qualities that vets have that served them for a lifetime that work great for us too.
There are three things veterans bring that are of great interest to us:
One, they already understand that they’re coming into a purpose driven company like USAA. It resonates with them that they serve the veteran community in Cyber Security. We’re in the trust and confidence business, so, that’s a natural fit from a culture perspective.
Two, every veteran I know is team oriented. They come in and adapt to the environment they work well with the team and that’s important for Cyber Security. It’s a team sport.
Finally, I think, which they don’t often think of – they bring speed to the company. I spent my entire career moving around every two to three years between assignments. They have to learn new organization, new processes, perhaps a new mission area to become very knowledgeable quickly.
When they come to an environment like USAA they’re going to be focused on picking it up quickly. Which is value added. Those are three qualities among many that should attract and hire veterans.
WATM: What about veterans or active duty who have a different Military Occupational Specialty than Cyber Security, what certifications can they attain that will help them transition into this career path?
We do get veterans who have done something totally different, although it’s not a lot. They sort of took a backroad way to get into Cyber Security.
Some people for example, they get out, separate, or retire and use their G.I. Bill to get a technology degree with a focus on Cyber Security.
To any veteran who is starting from scratch, I would say get a technical degree and technical training and really understand technology, networks and how they’re built and implemented.
I really do think there is a technical foundation you need to have.
It’s not impossible.
Usually people who come in after doing something else adapt quickly and professionally after they get the foundation training that they need.
Once we get that, plus any experience would help, but a certification by itself is nice but it’s only part of the journey to get there.
WATM: What kind of mentorship training do you offer for veterans who are close to separating?
Almost every veteran that I know that has gotten out they’re committed to paying back. What I mean by that is helping other veterans make the transition. Whether it’s separating after a four-year tour or, like me, 20+ year career – I’ve spent my last ten years, after getting out, helping Senior NCOs and Officers transition out.
I do think that military veterans, regardless of going into Cyber Security, or anything – retirement is easy. All the processes, the pay and paperwork is going to sort itself out. It’s a big machine. All of that is going to come your way, the one day magically it’s your last day, and you’re going to retire.
Retirement is easy, transition is hard.
What I really mean is, you have to think about what’s next? What am I good at? There are all sorts of other variables: where am I going to live? What is my personal situation? Family issues? Am I looking for a job or a career? When I work with transitioning members we take all of that into consideration.
When we talk about a job, it’s sort of the last thing you go through. We focus on, especially after 25+ years, once you start over – you startover. We talk about the need to reinvent yourself in a world that you haven’t been in for a long period of time. It’s more about the actual transition than the magical process of just retiring in my mind.
WATM: Since USAA is one of the best employers for veterans, especially in this field, what can veterans expect from USAA?
We’re committed to hiring veterans.
We aim to make sure that at least 25% of our workforce is a veteran, spouse, or a family member. We’re committed to bringing them into our company and we’re committed to lots of external organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Hiring Our Heroes Program which helps train and place service members who are transitioning out of the military.
That’s really important.
We participate with the military and their training programs and education within the industry. We host some active duty military members here. Sometimes they get out and we look at the opportunity to bring them back.
Our culture at USAA is focused on embracing the veteran and helping him be successful in corporate America at USAA. WATM: USAA was listed on November 9th, 2020 on Forbes’ list of best employers for veterans. See for yourselves that the juice is worth the squeeze.
The war in Afghanistan began in October of 2001 following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Since then, approximately 2,300 American service men and women have fallen in the line of duty while protecting their great country.
The memories of those who died have existed mostly in the hearts of their friends and family — until now.
Navy veteran and two-time USA memory champion Ron White decided to put his unique talents to good use and pay a special tribute to those who died while serving in Afghanistan.
After returning home from Afghanistan in 2007, White began to form the idea of creating a unique tribute as his way to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The general public has no idea the scope of the sacrifice that so many families and heroes made,” White patriotically states.
On Feb. 28, 2013, White began handwriting every single troop’s name he had memorized (including rank, first and last name) in chronological order of their untimely deaths using a white marker — accumulating over 7,000 words.
“Every few hours, somebody will walk by that wall and remind me, this is just not 7,000 words,” White admits. “This is their son or daughter.”
The Texas native’s primary reason for him paying this special tribute is to honor the memories of fallen which he states has made him a better person by learning about all the various stories behind the names — the selfless acts of heroism.
Two years ago, Air Force veteran Derek Blumke wound up staying in a sketchy neighborhood in Houston while on the road working for his first tech startup that had little money to spend on accommodations. After finding the external side door to his hotel ajar, he got to his room and saw — from the shoddy repairs to the hinges and the door frame — that the door had previously been kicked in “breach-style,” as he put it.
“I was texting my brother letting him know where I was in case he didn’t hear from me the next day,” Blumke said. At the same time, he quickly searched his phone for security apps and found none that fit what he needed. And so TripSafe was born.
“If you have a security system at home, why wouldn’t you have a smaller system that protects you when you’re away from your familiar surroundings?” Blumke asked.
With home security system functionality in mind, he set out to design something that was much more than what he called a “panic button app” on a phone. He wanted something that would cover all the undesirable contingencies surrounding a hotel stay — intrusion, theft, fire, whatever.
So he formed a team to make the product, drawing on the network of veterans he’d acquired while working in the entrepreneurial space. Joining him were former U.S. Army infantryman James McGuirk (Chief Hardware Officer and Co-Founder), former U.S. Navy diver and bomb technician Kathy Borkoski (Chief Operating Officer), and U.S. Marine Corps veterans Brian Alden (Technology Advisor and Co-Founder) and Adam Healy (Chief Technology Officer).
The TripSafe is basically two electronic door-stoppers magnetically attached to a base unit that has a video monitor, motion and sound sensors, and smoke and gas detectors. The user can tailor Smartphone alerts and a 24/7 emergency response. The system easily fits into a computer bag or purse.
“We can’t trust that everything will be fine everywhere we travel,” Blumke said. “And if I have these concerns as a 6-foot-tall former military guy, what does my girlfriend have in those sort of situations?”
Even before troops enlist, they see their civilian buddies off to college as their life takes another path. Many years later, they’ll finish up their contract and trade the rucksack for a backpack.
Regardless of what veterans want to do with their lives after leaving the service, attending a college, trade school, or university is the smartest option. After all, if you’ve spent this long earning the benefits of the GI Bill, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot by not using them.
Chances are that college life is a little different from what a veteran pictures in their head. Unfortunately, it’s not just barracks-like parties and classes starting at 11AM that you can simply sleep through to get to the next party. I mean, that may be true for the very lucky few, but don’t expect anything like that. Here’s what you can expect:
You just need to juice up like it you did on deployment.
You will move slower.
The military instills a certain rhythm on its troops. Move here. Do this. Get that done. Hurry up and wait. Once you get to college, you’ll realize that there’s none of that. The very first time you show up late to class, the professor won’t even chew your ass out. You’ll just find your seat and carry on with your day.
This sounds like fun at first — until you notice all of your drive and motivation begin to slip away…
If you want to be an underwater basket weaver, then you be the best damn underwater basket weaver of all f*cking time!
Getting that sweet college tuition paid for is amazing — but what they don’t tell you is that you need to pass all of your classes with a C+ average in order to qualify for more GI Bill money.
Let’s say you flunk out of Underwater Basket Weaving 101. You’ll have to repay the VA for that class because Uncle Sam won’t pay for your dumb ass. This gets worse with each class you fail.
I know it’s tempting to take them out for extra cash… Just be smart about it.
You may still have student loans (depending on the college).
The GI Bill is amazing and it is, hands down, the greatest thing the U.S. military has ever done for its veterans. But just because you served four years in the military doesn’t mean you can immediately get a full-ride to Harvard.
If you go to a community college, trade school, or take classes at a university with a lower tuition rate because it’s matched with the Yellow Ribbon Program, then you’re good. Just be sure to contact the school’s veterans’ affairs office while you’re applying and find out if you’re fully covered.
Do what I did: Sign in and sleep in the back of the classroom.
You need to show up regularly.
The first few years of college classes are kind of a joke. Those first few semesters are spent trying to catch everyone up to speed before getting started on your actual degree. You may even have to take high-school level math classes just to fill the general education requirements. But even if these easy classes bore you to freakin’ death, you still need to show up.
If you miss too many classes, the VA office will be forced to suspend your BAH payments. Any more classes after that and you’re dropped from role — which then falls on your lap to repay.
After rent and bills, you’ll have to make all of 0 float you until next month.
Your BAH checks probably aren’t going to be enough.
Enjoy getting those paychecks every first and fifteenth while it lasts. College students only get their BAH payments on the first of the month. If you can’t learn to ration what little you get each month, be prepared to pick up a side hustle.
Oddly enough, if your school offers any sort of dormitory living accommodations, laugh your way out of the door. Taking the college dorm negates the need for your own BAH to pay for an apartment elsewhere. Then you’d really need to get a side hustle to have enough money to live.
Since you’re probably the only one over 21…. Well, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do to pay rent, if you see where I’m going.
In college, you’ll probably be the babysitter to younger classmates
Remember how stupid you were when you were a fresh eighteen year old in the military? You may have gotten into a lot of trouble just doing dumb stuff in the barracks. Now take away the safety net of NCOs babysitting you and you’re left with what happens when underage college freshmen discover alcohol.
The thrill of partying with the younger kids goes away the moment you have to help someone to the bathroom because they start hurling after one shot. If you still want to hang out with your classmates, prepare to babysit.
In Greek mythology, there’s a long-told story about Sisyphus, a king who twice cheated death only to be handed a terrible eternal punishment. For all of time, he was forced to roll a boulder up a hill without ever cresting the top. Each day was the same. Push the boulder up, up, up, straining against its weight. Then, watch the boulder near the hill’s highest point before slowly rolling back to the bottom. Repeat again, and again, and again.
Shelly understands the lesson in this story perhaps more than she ever wanted to.
The daughter of two young parents, Shelly grew up in Alabama during the 1970s and was athletic and adventurous from an early age.
She loved superheroes and idolized them for their exceptional strength and abilities, not knowing that she would later rely on herself for these very same traits. Throughout her adolescence and teenage years, she craved to do great things with a sense of purpose, dreaming of making an impact on the big, wide world in front of her.
“Joining the military seemed to be the best fit. [It was] a path to help me cultivate a deeper sense of direction, focus, and a sense of duty and honor while belonging to a greater cause,” Shelly said.
After enlisting during the Gulf War, she served in the US Navy for eight years (two years active-duty and six years reserve). Shelly was stationed at a small base detachment in the dry, low desert of California, assigned to a specialized Naval Supply Group. She logged many hours in a supply warehouse, spending 12 hours a day, six days a week in the same enclosed environment. It was here that her narrative would shift and Shelly’s sense of purpose would take on new meaning. It was here where she started rolling her proverbial boulder.
A big part of Shelly’s role involved cataloging aircraft parts and materials, including incoming hazardous materials coated with anti-corrosives and degreasing agents.
Unbeknownst to her, the many hours she spent meticulously retrieving parts for shipping and receiving — ensuring that her fellow servicemen and women could perform at the highest level — were also slowly making her sick.
Over the next several months, Shelly repeatedly experienced excessive and atypical fatigue, nauseousness, dizziness, breathing issues, and a host of other unusual symptoms. Despite these numerous physical setbacks, and under conditions where weaker-minded people would have given up, Shelly continued to do what Shelly does. She showed up. She pushed forward. She continued rolling her boulder.
Like the superheroes she revered in her childhood, Shelly showed exceptional strength and ability. She maintained a rigorous six days a week, 12-hour schedule throughout her tenure with the Navy, all while battling chronic fatigue and respiratory challenges in the very environment that changed the trajectory of her life forever.
Though she initially pursued traditional medical options, she knew it wasn’t the best long-term plan. Later, she turned to more holistic, lesser-known treatments that led to marginal improvements in her health, but they came at a cost. These treatments were expensive and never provided complete relief from her symptoms. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Immune Dysfunction, Reactive Airway Disease, and more. Yet, she continued rolling her boulder.
Through these trials and tribulations, Shelly was focused on her dream of becoming the first member of her family to obtain a college degree. It didn’t matter that she was oftentimes bedridden for hours of the day, or that she would become winded and fatigued performing the simplest tasks, Shelly knew what she wanted and she was going to get it.
She was accepted into her local university, attending two classes each semester that left her exhausted and physically spent. After 14 years, Shelly graduated with her college degree – the first in her family to do so. Think about that – 14 years of heading to class each day, fighting to take a full breath and battling through increasing fatigue, all because the dream was bigger than the struggle. Remarkable strength and tenacity became her modus operandi. She continued rolling her boulder.
Now, with a military career behind her and a college degree in-hand, Shelly had earned the right to take a much-needed break. But that’s not Shelly. She has her sights set on a new goal, one that seems challenging for the most active of people, and one that seems nearly impossible for her. After all, tenacity and willpower can only take you so far when your body is physically keeping you down. Imagine, a once active lifestyle fraught with the demands of chronic and debilitating disease. Could you keep going? Would you? For Shelly to accomplish her lofty goals, there has to be a better way. Lucky for her, Chive Charities donors answered the call.
With your help, Shelly received a $23,760 grant for a hyperbaric chamber and Nidek Oxygen Concentrator. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a powerful medical therapy that produces phenomenal results for a wide range of health conditions, including those that have so greatly impacted Shelly’s life. Through this unique and generous grant item, she will have a better quality of life. Because of you, she can truly breathe easier.
Better yet, she hopes it will one day allow her to pursue her latest ambition: the famous El Tour de Tuscon, Arizona’s longest-running bicycle event, and one of the longest rides in the United States. Exceptional strength and ability. A superhero.
The consequences of COVID-19 are not lost on her, either. Before the global pandemic hit, Shelly was able to seek treatment within her community, and her subsequent lack of access to those facilities has caused a noticeable decline in her overall health and wellbeing. This grant item will allow her to safely and effectively treat her illnesses from home, which is especially impactful given her susceptibility to COVID-19-related issues.
“The hyperbaric at-home medical equipment is a far more sustainable solution to effectively manage my ongoing health challenges and greatly improve my overall quality of life more permanently,” Shelly said.
“While my condition is expected to become exacerbated with age, the at-home hyperbaric treatment equipment is a long-term approach to help slowly quell this chronic disease.”
Yet again, she continues rolling her boulder.
Ultimately, Shelly, like Sisyphus, has found meaning in the struggle and exudes grit and determination through every obstacle thrown at her. Despite the numerous challenges she has faced, Shelly consistently looks for small ways to keep moving forward, inching that boulder up the hill one day at a time. Our donors are a lot like that, too. One dollar here, 20 dollars there, it all makes a difference in moving us forward inch-by-inch.
What can you do to help us move the boulder? As always, you can DONATE HERE to support future recipients like Shelly. And now, if you’re active duty or a federal employee, you can donate to Chive Charities through payroll with the Combined Federal Campaign.
Chive Charities is committed to supporting the veteran community. Like We Are the Mighty, serving those who serve is core to who they are. If you or someone you know could benefit from one of Chive Charities’ life-changing grants, CLICK HERE to learn more + apply.
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.”
When men and women around the globe enlist in the Navy with a contract to become Corpsmen, it’s a pretty good feeling.
Good recruiters can make chipping paint and shining brass sound bad ass (“think of the adventure!”), but let’s be honest: they have quotas to fill each month, people.
For the most part, they’ll tell you the truth about what will be asked of you while you serve, but there are some details that don’t make it into the recruiting pamphlets.
As a “Doc,” you’ll get to work alongside and assist Doctors, nurses, and IDCs (Independent Duty Corpsmen), gaining knowledge from them to support your career moving forward; but that’s not all you’ll have to do.
Check out these unusual tasks Corpsmen never saw coming.
Probably the most popular slang “medical” term in any branch. Typically, temperature is taken orally, but if someone falls out of a hike or PT because of heat exhaustion…standby for the bullet.
Feared by all
2. Having sick call in your barracks room
When Corpsmen get stationed with the Marines (also known as the Greenside), you typically live with them in the barracks. This also means a lot of your medical gear is right there in the room with you.
If your Marines love you, which most of them do, they tend to show up at your barracks door at 0400 for an I.V. treatment to “rehydrate” them an hour before mandatory PT.
The B.A.S. or Battalion Aid Station isn’t open on nights, weekends, or early mornings — just normal office hours.
3. Bore punching
Working sick call as a boot Corpsman, you’ll get exposed to some interesting on-job-training. Bore punching is a euphemism for swabbing male genitals for an STD with a 6 inch Q-tip. Yup! Right down the pee hole.
If your Chief or Lieutenant are “too busy” and they say you need to do it for a patient — you need to do it.
Welcome to the Navy, baby!
4. Finger waving
No, this isn’t the newest break dancing move or a classy way to hit on someone at the bar — it’s the alternative name for a rectal exam. It is shocking what the Navy allows Corpsman to do after only 12-16 weeks of training.
Don’t forget the lube! Can you think of any more? Comment below. And don’t forget to include all the slang terms for Corpsmen.
The Census Bureau says there are 3.8 million wounded veterans living in America today. That’s as many wounded veterans as there are people living in the states of New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Maine combined.
What’s even more heartbreaking, though, is that many of these veterans feel ignored and misunderstood by the country they gave their blood and bodies to serve.
Working Pictures, an independent film company dedicated to producing content with purpose, wants to help change that with the release of Wise Endurance, a documentary profiling two brave veterans — and the collective of stem-cell physicians providing them with cutting-edge treatment for their combat injuries.
One of these veterans is Roger Sparks, a former Air Force Pararescueman and Silver Star recipient who served during the bloody Operation Bulldog Bite in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. Sparks is now a veteran advocate who is seeking stem-cell treatments for his and his fellow combat veteran’s blast-induced, traumatic brain injuries.
This specific treatment is called autologous stem cell therapy, where stem cells are harvested directly from the patient’s own fat tissue. The removed stem cells are separated from the fat and reintroduced intravenously to boost healing.
During the film, both Sparks and his 14-year-old son, Oz (who has Cerebral Palsy and type 1 diabetes), experienced noticeable results from their stem cell treatments. Oz’s results are visible — the show follows Oz as he moves from non-verbal to speaking. The results, captured on film, lead the collective to encourage other doctors to offer the same service to veterans, with a plan to use the findings as part of a national study and database to further the treatment of concussive injuries using adipose derived stem cells.
Sparks introduces Pararescueman team member Jimmy Settle, who was shot in the head during Bullbog Bite (Settle’s memoir, Never Quit, is a national best-seller). The treatment was so effective for Settle that he began to heal his inability to freely touch his face. The former track champion also was able to resume running again, which he had previously been unable to do.
These successes in autologous stem cell therapy have inspired Sparks to become an advocate for his fellow combat servicemen. As a result, Sparks, Cell Surgical Network’s doctors, including Dr. Kyle Bergquist, Dr. Mark Berman, Dr. Elliot Lander, and Dr. Larry Miggins, and the filmmakers have established Healing Our Heroes Foundation — a non-profit organization whose goals are to treat combat veterans with adipose-derived stem cells and study the initial, promising results.
Because there are no medical treatments for TBI, stem cells could be a real game-changer in the health of our wounded warriors.
A national network of providers have already committed to treating a significant portion of the population of former combat veterans through the efforts of the Wise Endurance team, and further fundraising is being planned through the sale of the documentary and donations.
The film is available online for purchase on the film’s website. Proceeds will go to fund the Healing Our Heroes Foundation, which will provide treatment, travel, and accommodation for the veterans, as well as cover the costs of studying the outcomes.
There’s increased incidence of ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — among veterans of all wars, from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
This week, Marine Corps veteran Roger Brannon reached the two-year anniversary of a life-altering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis, a milestone that many in his position will not live to see. ALS is an incurable, neurodegenerative disease that progresses rapidly.
(Courtesy of the Brannon Family)
Over 80 percent of those diagnosed die within two to five years. Military veterans are two times more likely to develop ALS than those who’ve never served. It was once thought that increased incidence of ALS was limited to veterans of Vietnam and the first Gulf War, but it’s now striking Enduring Freedom vets who served in Afghanistan at the same rates. Despite this, there’s a surprisingly low amount of awareness of the disease among the veteran community.
Roger Brannon and his wife Pam are on a mission to change this. Up to to 95 percent of veterans who develop the disease are diagnosed with sporadic ALS — which means there is no family history of the disease and doctors unable to precisely pinpoint a cause.
(Courtest of the Brannon Family)
“They can’t tell us why we have it, what we did to get it, and that’s very unnerving because you can’t tell any other veteran or friend what to do to not get ALS,” Roger says.
What Roger and Pam are doing is sharing what they know: resources, coping strategies, and VA benefits. Veterans actually have far greater available to them than the average ALS patient in America. For example, Radicava, the first drug treatment specifically for ALS approved since 1995, was made available to VA hospitals before more widespread distribution – and the Department of Veterans Affairs has automatically assumed, since 2008, that a veteran’s ALS is service-connected.
ALS is a terminal disease but early diagnosis can slow its progression and knowing about it increases the likelihood of identifying it quickly. All veterans and their families can do is arm themselves with the best information on how to deal with what lies ahead. With a pre-teen and teen at home, the hardest thing for Pam Brannon is not knowing if they will ever live out the family’s dreams.
“Will there be a next birthday? A next anniversary? Will Roger live to see a graduation?” Pam asks. “At the end of the day, there’s no book for when you’re diagnosed with a terminal disease.”
Many of the side effects of war go unaddressed by those outside the military and veteran community. Recent veterans have been exposed to deadly chemicals released from burn pits. Vietnam War veterans fought for decades to get recognition of the impacts of exposure to Agent Orange. But finally, there can be some solace for veterans who have been exposed to nuclear radiation.
The first sort of federal acknowledgement of the unfathomable health concerns involved with being in close contact with nuclear waste, radioactive elements, and even nuclear blast testing came in 1990 with the establishment of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). Now, with the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, radiation-exposed veterans will be honored with the colloquially named “Atomic Veterans Medal.”
It means that the government is finally saying that being this close to a nuclear explosion is, apparently, “bad for your health”
H.Amdt.648 to the H.R.5515 requires the Secretary of Defense to design and produce a military service medal to honor retired and former members of the Armed Forces who were exposed to radiation — or, as the amendment calls them, “atomic veterans.”
At first glance, this seems like a paltry concession for someone who has lived a lifetime of hardships stemming from irradiation. It is, in essence, a ribbon, a piece of metal, and a paper that says, “that sucks — we’re sorry that happened!” That sort of thing is of little importance in the minds of atomic vets.
But it means far more in the bigger picture.
One fire screwed over 16 million vets well over 45 years later.
(Department of Defense)
Federal acknowledgement is paramount. The fact that, according to the House voting record, 408 congressmen agree that this amendment should be included and that the government should do more for atomic veterans is huge.
Care for atomic vets has been an issue swept under the rug for years. That care was made even more questionable after the National Archives Fire of 1973, which saw the destruction of military personnel files for over 16-18 million veterans in a single night. Because of that fire, many cancer-stricken veterans were denied healthcare as it was impossible to prove that they were, in fact, within the proximity of a nuclear blast.
One hill at a time.
(United States Air Force photo)
The first radiation exposure act gave atomic veterans the ability to receive special, priority enrollment for healthcare services from the VA for radiation-related conditions. The amendment in 2013 allowed even more veterans to be covered by RECA by including veterans who were downwind of nuclear tests. The wording of the medal seems to allow for all veterans who’ve been affected by radiation in some manner.
This alone is a huge win as it now gives treatment for the veterans who’ve long been denied access to medical care. With legislation like this receiving overwhelming support, it’s only a matter of time before Agent Orange veterans and the Burn Pit veterans also get their acknowledgement.
When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.
Neall Ellis isn’t most people.
After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.
With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.
Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.
In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.
But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”
His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”
Ellis’ response was epic.
Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.
Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”
And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.
Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.
His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.
In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.
Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.
Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.
From the day the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was erected in 1982, it has brought closure and healing to veterans who visit the solemn site. And millions of people visit “The Wall” each year.
How can a memorial bring the same feeling of remembrance and gratitude to those who can’t make the trip to Washington every year? The answer is to bring the wall to them.
Now, the Virtual Wall, a website that archives the names of the 58,300 Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War — the names depicted on The Wall — gives veterans and curious visitors the chance to search for specific people from anywhere in the world.
There’s more to the Virtual Wall than searching for veterans by name, though. To safeguard American history and preserve local history, the Virtual Wall allows people to browse and search the names by state and city. More importantly, visitors can read about each individual’s death, often see a photo, and read more about their awards and decorations.
The Virtual Wall allows visitors to leave photos, memories, poems — basically anything to remember the fallen. It also allows others to see and read those personal memorials.
Each name on the pages of The Virtual Wall leads to a memorial, written by someone who had a personal connection to the man or woman remembered.
While The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on Washington’s National Mall is operated by the National Parks Service, the Virtual Wall is a creation of private citizens who thought a virtual version of the memorial was a good idea.
It looks a little dated (it was first launched in 1997), but the site is maintained for free, by Integration, Incorporated, a Batavia, N.Y.-based corporation and from “the pockets of three veteran volunteers.”