Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop - We Are The Mighty
Veterans

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop

Norman Jones, Juan Reyes, Yvette Marie Wilson, Guill Garcia, and Matt Bellina all once fought for our country. Now they are fighting for their lives because of a terminal disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).


They are not alone. If you served in the military, you are much more likely to develop ALS. The numbers are stunning–1 in 6 ALS patients have served in the military. It doesn’t matter which branch you come from, or if you served in combat–and we have no idea why.

ALS is a disease that attacks cells in the body that control movement. It makes the brain stop talking to the muscles, causing increased paralysis over time. Ultimately, ALS patients become prisoners within their own bodies, unable to eat, breathe, or move on their own. In every case, ALS is fatal.

The disease can affect anyone, and 90 percent of patients have no family history, so when Jones, Reyes, Wilson, Garcia, and Bellina were all told they had ALS they were blindsided. Anyone who has ever put on the uniform knows that, when you serve, your family serves, too. You can’t do it alone. Fighting ALS is the same. They knew that as their condition progressed and they began to lose control of their bodies, the support from the people around them would have to grow.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop

No one needs to tell a veteran that you don’t stop serving just because you take off the uniform–once in the military, always in the military. Tapping into their sisters and brothers in arms, these five veterans are activating their community not only for their own personal support but for the bigger fight — to build an army of advocates that can change how the ALS story ends.

One of the biggest hurdles faced in the fight against ALS is awareness. Earlier this year an I AM ALS/Ipsos poll uncovered that, even in the aftermath of 2014’s viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, awareness about the disease remains very low. The majority of Americans, including members of the military, still know nothing about ALS.

Instead of retreating after receiving devastating news, these advocates banded together with veterans from across the ALS community to launch a campaign with the patient-led, patient-centric organization I AM ALS to raise awareness about the thousands of men and women who serve or have served our country affected by ALS every year.

I AM ALS, founded by ALS patient Brian Wallach and his wife, Sandra Abrevaya, was born out of a similar desire to change the future for all ALS patients by activating people and building a movement that empowers and mobilizes patients to lead the fight for cures. Since its launch in January 2019, I AM ALS has already built a community of 25,000 people including patients, advocates, organizations and scientists to deliver critical and innovative resources.

They are fighting for patients every day, including the veterans community. The organization is leading an advocacy effort that this year resulted in the House of Representatives and Senate Appropriations Committees voting to double Department of Defense funding for ALS research from million to million. These funds will help us finally understand why those who serve are so much more likely to be afflicted by ALS, and understanding is a giant step towards finding a cure.

This is an incredible win for all ALS patients. Especially given that recent acceleration of research has ensured that it is no longer a question of if, but when there will be a significant treatment breakthrough that brings a cure within reach.

Even with the recent successes, there is still a necessary urgency to expand and accelerate this progress. ALS patients typically live two to five years after diagnosis, so time is always of the essence. Your help is needed to support members of the military community fighting this disease today.

We need you in this battle because it will only be won if we work as one.

You can start pitching in today by joining with these brave men and women to spread the word about ALS. If you have a story about a teammate affected by ALS, reach out and let us know. These may sound like small actions, but spreading the word is a fundamental step towards finding a cure. Share this video using #VetsFightALS, talk to your colleagues and neighbors, and get engaged at iamals.org/action. We need you in this fight.
MIGHTY FIT

This Army vet started a supplement company dedicated to education

Before John Klipstein joined the Army, he smoked a pack a day and his PT test run time was roughly 23 minutes — which accounts for the time spent throwing up on the side of the track. The military turned that around. The newly-minted 13B found a love for fitness and pushing his body to the limit. After leaving the military, he developed a line of supplements to help others do the same — safely.


During his first deployment, Klipstein and his friends handled the stress by working out. In his time at the gym, he noticed a lot of soldiers taking a lot of different supplements — some of which could be found on the military’s banned supplement list. Klipstein was interested in why those expensive jugs of pre-workout were confiscated — what exactly their ingredients were.

By the time his second deployment rolled around, he was making his own pre-workout using ingredients he ordered himself. Now that he was in the role of squad leader, it was his job to confiscate banned substances. He used the opportunity to educate his troops on the dangers of those banned ingredients. Sadly, shortly after his deployment ended, an NCO in their unit died during a five-mile run. The cause was cardiac arrest — caused by a pre-workout supplement.

“This happens all the time in the military,” Klipstein says. “Heavy stimulants mixed with extreme heat and intense training can be very dangerous and soldiers end up dying from it.”

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
Klipstein and his platoon. He’s the one smiling in the center.
(Courtesy of John Klipstein)

“Sometimes, supplements may be effective but have questionable safety profiles.” says Jennifer Campbell, an Army veteran, Certified Personal Trainer, and Master of Science in Nutrition Education. “Remember Hydroxycut back in the early 2000s? Its active ingredient was Ephedra, which was banned by the FDA in 2004.”

So, when Klipstein started UXO Supplements after leaving the Army, he made it UXO’s mission and vision to provide safe and effective formulas for supplements while educating people on how to use them the right way.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
Klipstein in one of many educational videos on the UXO blog.

“With UXO you get clean energy with clinical amounts of researched and proven ingredients” he says. “All products are manufactured in an FDA approved lab, so you will not find any banned substances. In fact, we have all products 3rd-party tested before they hit the shelves to ensure they are safe for our consumers.”

“Knowledge of a supplement’s legality, safety, purity, and effectiveness is critical,” Campbell says. “Unlike food, the FDA does not review supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. The manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe before they go to market.”

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
UXO has developed a full line of safe supplements.

Klipstein left the Army as an E6 promotable after herniating two discs and banging up his knee but UXO’s other business partner remains in the service, keeping up with the fitness trends that affect the military the most. Even though John Klipstein isn’t rucking up and down mountains and patrolling villages on maneuver missions anymore, he’s still working to keep himself — and his veteran-owned business — in shape and taking care of his brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

“The most important thing about being a vet-owned business is giving back to the veteran community,” Klipstein says. “We do it with a quality product and solid education. We also offer them a 25 percent discount.”

Just use the coupon code MILSUPPS25 at when checking out at UXOSupplements.com. He also invites the military-veteran community to tell him what they think of his products.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
Klipstein talks about pros and cons of multivitamins on the UXO blog

Fitness and Nutrition expert Jennifer Campbell also adds that some supplement manufacturers aim to pursue the most inexpensive raw material from suppliers that will pass under the given certificate of analysis to minimize the cost of goods. She backs Klipstein’s insistence on supplement education.

“Do your research,” she says.

John Klipstein isn’t about to let another soldier fall to poor or unethical supplements. He’s happy to post his ingredients — and explain how lesser supplements are trying to be deceptive with their ingredient lists. He, like Campbell, warns of things like “proprietary blends” and implores supplement seekers to find third-party reviewed ingredients in the products they purchase.

UXO products are tasty and provide the energy and recovery they promise. The military discount is great because it makes the products extremely affordable. On top of that, before purchasing, UXO Supplements tells you everything you need to know about the type of product you’re buying as well as the formulation and purpose of the specific item you’re interested in. It’s a great intro to workout supplements, from start to finish.

Klipstein wants all his clients to be healthy, happy, and of course, repeat customers. The UXO Blog says it all.

“There is nothing better than receiving positive feedback from veterans and athletes alike. Our goal is to deliver a great product with an amazing taste. We will never sacrifice our values or our quality to try and make a quick dollar.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is why it’s awkward to thank veterans on Memorial Day

Thanking those who served is always appreciated. Nearly every single veteran signed on the dotted line to contribute to something bigger than themselves and, when civilians extend their gratitude, the good will is reciprocated — that is, on any day outside of the last Monday in May.

Yes, the gratitude is always welcomed, but Memorial Day isn’t the time. If prompted, nearly every veteran will give a polite response along the lines of, “thank you for your sentiment, but today is not my day.”


Memorial Day is a day that’s often confused with Veteran’s Day (November 11th) and Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May). While most countries around the world remember their fallen troops on Armistice Day (which commemorates the signing of the treaty that ended World War I — also November 11th), the United States of America began its tradition of taking a day to remember the fallen shortly after the end of the American Civil War.

In its infancy, the holiday was also called “Decoration Day” and generally fell on or around May 30th — depending on where you lived. It was a time when troops, civilians, family, friends, and loved ones would visit the graves of fallen Civil War troops and decorate them with flowers in remembrance.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
It was expanded after WWI to include all fallen troops from all wars.

The date was chosen because no major battles had taken place on that day — instead of honoring those died in a single battle, mourners could remember all who fell. It was also around the time most flowers started to bloom in North America.

After World War I, the country gradually transitioned to using Memorial Day as a way to honor fallen troops from every conflict. The celebration was kept around the same date and, on this day, the nation still decorates the graves of fallen troops with flags and flowers.

The final Monday in May became a federal holiday with the creation of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and was chosen out of convenience. It gave every American a federally recognized, three-day weekend in order to continue the tradition of honoring those who sacrificed everything for our freedoms.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
As pleasant as it is to enjoyu00a0time off and au00a0cookouts are, it turned into a double-edged sword.
(Photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

The convenience of this three-day weekend was noted in a 2002 speech by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who said the change undermined the meaning of the day to the general public. To many, it also marks the unofficial beginning of summer, a time filled with barbecues and trips to the lake.

Now, that’s not to say that these pleasantries should ever stop — Americans enjoying their freedoms is what many troops fought to uphold. It’s important to remember, however, that day has, and always will be, in remembrance of the fallen. It’s a day of solemn reflection most troops and veterans spend thinking of their fallen brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
If a veteran can make it there, this is generally how they spend their three-day weekend. If they can’t, this is where their head is at.
(Photo by Senior Airman Phillip Houk)

To properly thank a veteran this Memorial Day, visit one of the many national cemeteries and join them in placing flags, flowers, and wreaths on the graves of those who deserve our thanks. To find a national cemetery near you, please click here.

Articles

How an aspiring sergeant major became a stand-up comedian


Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Tim, and O.V. speak with Mitch Burrow, a funny burly-guy who went from being a Marine to becoming a stand-up comedian.

When we join the military all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we have sort of an idea of what we want to do with our lives — but we change our minds dozens of times before landing a career that we hopefully love.

Related: This is how drunken shenanigans influence pilot callsigns

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
Mitch Burrow doing his monthly workout. (Source: Mitch Burrow)

Mitch is a Marine Corps veteran that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He then started a career in manufacturing before realizing that it sucked. Now, Mitch has found his true calling in acting silly on a stage in front of strangers on a nightly basis.

So why did Mitch decide to jump on stage and be a comedian after getting out of the Marines?

“I love stand up comedy, so I was like you know what? If this is working at a party or a social group, let me try it on stage,” Mitch humorously recalls. “So I drove down to San Diego to the Comedy Store in La Jolla and had three shots of tequila, and I drank a couple of Budweisers then I got on stage. I’ve been told it went pretty good.”

Also Read: Dale Dye wants to make this epic World War II movie with veterans

To follow Mitch or check out one of his shows visit his website: Mitchburrow.com.

Hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (AKA O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Articles

Watch Army special forces vet Tyler Grey talk music

Army Special Forces veteran Tyler Grey is definitely what you would call an “operator.”


A Ranger, a sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and a combat veteran, Grey has served his country well.

He knows the meaning of sacrifice, perhaps more than most. In 2005, he was blown up in a raid in Sadr City, Iraq, which nearly cost him his arm. But the experience gave Grey an evolved sense of perspective.

We Are The Mighty sat down to talk with him about how music had an impact on his career and his life, and what he had to say was pretty insightful.

“The journey isn’t that you never have a problem. The journey is overcoming problems. The music I like is about people who are honest and open enough to share a problem, to share a weakness, to share an experience that affected them, and then how they overcome it.”

We also asked Grey to make a Battle Mix — a playlist of power anthems — with songs that held significant meaning throughout his life. He didn’t disappoint.

Check out his interview here, and then hit up the Battle Mix for your own dose of inspiration:

(We Are The Mighty | YouTube)

The Grey Battle Mix (you’re welcome):

Articles

War-hardened vet: How accepting death made me a better soldier

The 2006 battle for Ramadi was one of the fiercest fights during the Iraq War.


Fear and grief were never an option for the soldiers, Marines, and Navy SEALs putting their lives on the line for control of the Al Anbar provincial capital. The fighting was intense; every troop had to remain focused and alert to stay alive.

Related: Beware of the 19-year-old pissed off Marine

For Army rookie Perfecto Sanchez, that meant becoming a better soldier by coming to terms with his mortality.

“I fully, fully accepted that I was going to die,” said Sanchez in the video below. “Once I came to terms with that, everything else was easy.”

The only thing Sanchez could not accept was letting his platoon down.

Watch Sanchez recall the moment he became a better warrior when it counted most:

American Heroes Channel, YouTube

It’s tough to understand the physical, mental, and emotional stress combat places on our service members unless you’ve experienced it.

Sanchez’s story reveals a glimpse into the high costs of war: trauma, severe injury, and death.

He is the embodiment of the Seven Core Army Values, and a reminder that it’s not just mental and physical strength that troops need to survive war — it’s the men and women who have their backs.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Disabled veterans can now get free lifetime access to national parks

It’s never too soon to start planning an epic spring or summer vacation. For disabled veterans living stateside, 2020 could be the best year yet for outdoor recreation. This is because the National Parks Service offers disabled veterans an amazing deal on their next visit. From Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to Dry Tortugas National Park and the Mt. Zion and the Smokey Mountains in between, they’re all at our fingertips – and it’s now totally free.


More than 330 million people visit America’s most beautiful parks every year, and the parks are about to see a huge influx from American veterans due to this partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Disabled veterans can get free access with an Access Pass on their cars, granting free access to anyone in that vehicle. On top of access, the access pass gives holders a discount on expanded amenity fees at many National Parks sites, which can include campsite fees, swimming, boat launches, and group tours.

All a veteran has to do to be one of those who enter the parks for free is submit proper documentation of his or her service-connected disability, along with proof of identification and a processing fee. A Veterans Administration letter of service connection is enough to satisfy this requirement, and the passes can even be ordered online.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop

This could be you.

(Emily Ogden/National Parks Service)

On top of the disability award letter from the VA, qualified veterans can also use a VA summary of benefits, or proof of SSDI income to prove their disability status. Once proof of residency is also established, and the processing fee is paid, all the veteran has to do is wait. Their new lifetime access pass will arrive 3-5 weeks after sending the application. If online payments aren’t available to the veteran, the passes can also be acquired by paper mail or by stopping into an access pass-issuing facility. The documentation is still required, but getting the pass is a breeze.

The National Parks Service really is full of amazing natural wonders, which make this lifetime pass one of the biggest benefits of having served. The NPS is full of places you’ve always heard about, but likely have never seen: Big Bend, Arches, Denali, Sequoia, Crater Lake, Petrified Forest, Glacier Bay, Hot Springs, and so much more. Summer vacations will never be the same.

Articles

VA may close 1,100 underused facilities nationwide

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is mulling whether to shutter more than 1,100 facilities nationwide as the agency moves more of its health programs to the private sector.


Appearing May 3 before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Shulkin told lawmakers the VA had compiled a list of 1,165 vacant or underused buildings that could be closed, saving the federal government $25 million annually.

Shulkin didn’t specify which facilities would close and local VA officials didn’t return messages seeking comment that afternoon.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
Dr. David J. Shulkin, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (VA Photo/ Robert Turtil)

Shulkin, a deputy holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration whom Congress then unanimously approved to run the VA earlier this year, said Congress needs to determine how the facilities would be closed. He suggested the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure — or BRAC — process might be a good model.

But Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R- Nebraska, urged him to never “use the term BRAC because it brings up a lot of bad memories” and sets up the VA “for a lot of controversy.”

Also read: The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

President Donald Trump seeks $78.9 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, a 6 percent increase from the 2017 fiscal year level. Trump’s budget plan requests $3.5 billion to expand the Veterans Choice Program, which enables veterans to receive certain kinds of treatment outside of the VA system.

If enacted, Trump’s proposal also would add $4.6 billion in funding to spur better patient access and greater timeliness of medical services for the agency’s more than 9 million patients.

Shulkin said the VA authorized 3.6 million patient visits at private-sector health-care facilities between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — a 23 percent boost compared to the previous year.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
A quote from Abraham Lincoln on a sign at the Department of Veterans Affairs Building in Washington, DC. | Photo via Flickr

With more than 370,000 employees, the VA has the second-largest workforce in the federal government. Shulkin said it must become more efficient at delivering services to veterans. Some of the most entrenched problems are in the appeals process for veterans who have lodged disability claims following their military service.

Currently, the VA has nearly 470,000 such cases pending appeal. For cases awaiting action by the Board of Veterans Appeals, the typical wait time is six years for a decision. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that hosted Shulkin on May 3, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, termed the appellate system an “absolute mess.”

Shulkin conceded that it “undoubtedly needs further improvements” and urged Congress to legislate reforms and streamline the process into a “modernized” system. The longer Capitol Hill waits to fix the process, he said, “the more appeals will enter the current broken system.”

Articles

ALS is attacking military veterans in increasing numbers

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.


Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
Roger Brannon deployed as part ofu00a0Operation Enduring Freedom. He now suffers from ALS.
(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.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
(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.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
(Courtesy of the Brannon Family)

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.”

Articles

This city ended veteran homelessness in just 100 days

The La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness (Collaborative) announced today [Monday, Dec. 19, 2016] that it met the ambitious goal they set in September of this year: to end homelessness for veterans in the City within 100 days (by Christmas Day). This makes La Crosse the first city in Wisconsin to end homelessness among veterans.


Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
First, La Crosse. Next, the country? (Photo: Tomah VA Medical Center)

Over the 100 days, the Collaborative increased its monthly housing placement rate for veterans by 400%, demonstrating what’s possible when multiple agencies join forces and focus on clear, measurable goals.

This goal was not accomplished by doing business as usual. It was accomplished by unprecedented cross-agency collaboration between over thirty agencies, including: the Tomah VA Medical Center, Couleecap, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, La Crosse Police Department, and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (full list of Design and Leadership Team members).

This effort elevated action-oriented problem-solving over traditional planning.

Also read: This is an easy way to help homeless veterans this holiday season

With the support of Gundersen Health System’s Office of Population Health, the Collaborative is using a proven innovation and improvement model (adapted from one developed by Community Solutions and the Rapid Results Institute for the 100,000 Homes Campaign) to accelerate housing placements and profoundly improve system performance.

“The key to our success has been the amazing collaboration within our initiative and a strong shared focus from everyone on the team”, said Kim Cable, Design Team member and Housing and Community Services Director at Couleecap). “This is just the beginning of our journey to end all homelessness in the City of La Crosse. We are excited and inspired by our initial success and the support from the community.”

“I am so proud of the La Crosse Collaborative’s incredible efforts to end veteran homelessness here in our community”, said Mayor Tim Kabat, a Leadership Team member.

“La Crosse signed on to the national effort, as part of the Mayor’s Challenge, to work together and provide permanent housing for our homeless veterans and it is awe-inspiring to see this dream realized.  We are so fortunate to live in such a caring, compassionate, and hard-working community.”

“This is a tremendous achievement and milestone for our community,” said Victoria Brahm, Acting Director of the Tomah VA Medical Center. “I am extremely proud of our staff members who worked with the Collaborative. This is the result of a lot of hard work – getting to functional zero was a tough challenge, but one that we were never going to give up on.”

“Gunderson’s Office of Population Health is focusing on elevating the health of the community by engaging beyond the health system walls, and partnering with organizations in communities who are going upstream to prevent illness, disease, injury, and crisis”, said Sandy Brekke, Senior Consultant, Office of Population Health, Gundersen Health System.

“It’s hard to be healthy when you go to sleep hungry, homeless, or in substandard housing. As an institution, GHS recognizes that safe, secure housing is foundational to the health of individuals and families in our community and are proud to support the effort to end homelessness in La Crosse. We are grateful to the Design Team of the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness, they have brought the community together and have worked incredibly hard to make sure that our Veterans have a warm place to call home.”

Related: 5 ways to support veterans all year long

The Collaborative will celebrate its success tomorrow afternoon, December 20th, at the Waterfront Banquet Room, hosted by Don Weber, CEO of LHI and Leadership Team member, who said: “Veteran homelessness is our nation’s silent shame. It goes without saying that any who has served and protected our nation should not have to worry whether they will have a roof over their heads. In dedicating ourselves to ending Veteran homelessness in our region, our community has proven that the story does not have to end here. Our Veterans deserve our lifelong commitment to returning to them the same comfort and safety they’ve so selflessly secured for us through their service.”

For more information on what it means to end homelessness (defined nationally as reaching “functional zero”), visit the FAQ section on the Collaborative’s website. On the website, you can also donate to ongoing efforts to end homelessness, sign up to volunteer or—if you are a landlord­—offer housing to others who are homeless in La Crosse.

For more information on the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness, contact Kim Cable, Design Team Member, Housing and Community Services Director, Couleecap, at kim.cable@couleecap.org or  608-787-9890. See more here.

Veterans

Helping Veterans with therapeutic exercise and holistic interventions

Kinesiotherapy (KT) is a rehab profession that provides therapeutic exercise and holistic interventions to improve well-being and functional abilities. It has been used to help Veterans on an ongoing basis since WWII. Today, VA is the single largest employer of kinesiotherapists (KTs), treating more than 100,000 Veterans in Fiscal Year 2019.

During recent challenges, KTs quickly shifted necessary outpatient evaluations and treatments to virtual care. This ensured Veterans’ safety while also providing specialized rehabilitation for inpatient Veterans requiring extended physical reconditioning.

KTs across the VA health care system today are educated and specialty trained at the undergraduate and graduate level. They support the complex needs of the Veteran population by focusing on skilled rehabilitation, improved function and quality of life.

Todd Keanan, registered kinesiotherapist and certified driver rehabilitation specialist, uses VA Video Connect (VVC) virtual technology to evaluate Veterans living in Jacksonville to recommend adaptive driving equipment for a new vehicle. It saves Veterans costly travel time. (2019 photo)

Their unique holistic approach involves the Veteran as well as their family and caregivers. They emphasize the psychological, as well as physical, benefits of therapeutic exercise within acute, post-acute, outpatient and home-based rehabilitation services. They also provide health and wellness coaching, disease prevention and comprehensive whole health practices.

In use since World War II

KT first was used during WWII when KTs implemented whole health therapy to accelerate the return of soldiers to active duty within physical reconditioning units established by the U.S. Armed Forces.

Pictured above, Abraham Hancock, registered KT and certified driver rehabilitation specialist at the Tampa VA, oversees the KT driver rehabilitation clinic’s simulator. It provides the Veteran and the clinician feedback before progressing to on-the-road instruction with adaptive driving equipment. (2019 photo)

Determination for appropriateness for driver rehabilitation evaluations utilizing VA Video Connect (VVC) technology is always made on case-by-case basis. When the Veteran is well known to the therapist from previous on-road assessments and the Veteran’s Primary Care Physician has documented medical clearance with no cognitive, visual or physical changes that would require a face to face evaluation, the Veteran is a good candidate for VVC.

Observing drivers with Video Connect

Using VVC, Keanan can observe Veterans transfer safely into their vehicles. He sees them stow their wheelchairs and demonstrate basic operational controls (such as making turns and using gas/brake) in a parked position.

The Veteran does not have to come in-person to the VA hospital for the KT Driver Rehabilitation Clinic outpatient appointment to make recommendations for the same adaptive equipment to be placed in a new vehicle. This also applies to the final fittings and inspections once the adaptive equipment was installed.

VA celebrates the profession of Kinesiotherapy and the KTs who are dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our service members and Veterans.

For more information on VA KT, please visit www.rehab.va.gov/KT/ and inquire about KT services within your local VA facility Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service.

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

Articles

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

December 7, 1941, is a heartrending day for Americans — even 75 years later.


Despite the solemn reminder that over 2,000 individuals perished that day, the instances of self-sacrifice and valor offer a source of inspiration to Americans.

Captain Bennion of the USS West Virginia is one of those men, immortalized forever for his stubborn refusal to give up his ship or abandon his men during one of America’s darkest hours.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
Medal of Honor Recipient Captain Mervyn Sharp Bennion. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Historical Center)

Mervyn Sharp Bennion was born in Utah Territory in May of 1887. He successfully graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910, ranked third in his class. His roommate, Earl C. Metz, recalled the Mormon farmer’s sharp mind during his academic years. “He was able to concentrate mentally to a degree I have never seen equalled. He could read over a thing once and he had it. He had a perfectly marvellous brain and mental processes,” Metz recollected.

After graduation, Bennion served aboard the USS North Dakota as a lieutenant during the First World War. He methodically rose in the ranks of the Navy until he received command of the USS Bernadou in 1932. He returned to the Naval War College for a short time, and served as an instructor. On July 2, 1941, Bennion assumed command of the USS West Virginia of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. A little over five months after receiving the command he would be dead.

His brother, Howard Sharp Bennion, published an account of his deeds in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Captain Bennion was casually shaving in his cabin on the morning of December 7 before heading out to church service. This stillness in his cabin was disrupted when one of his sailors burst through the door and alerted him that a wave of Japanese aircraft was headed directly toward the vessel.

Bennion rushed to the deck and issued a series of orders to prepare for the imminent attack. It was not long before a low flying Japanese torpedo bomber dumped three bombs on the West Virginia, causing severe damage and tearing a hole in its side.

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
A rescue operation underway from the burning USS West Virginia after the Japanese attacks. (U.S. Navy, December 7, 1941)

On his way to the Flag Bridge a fragment of metal tore through the air and gashed Bennion in the abdomen. The projectile nearly decapitated him, tearing his torso to shreds and damaging his spine and left hip. He was unable to move his legs and his entrails protruded from his stomach.

A pharmacist’s mate came to his aid and placed a makeshift bandage over the mortal wound. Bennion demanded that the man go attend to other wounded sailors and continued to issue orders amid the chaos.

Bennion refused to be moved an inch from his location until the first Japanese attack ended. During the lull before the second wave arrived, he finally permitted himself to be placed on a cot under a sheltered position on the deck.

As he lay protracted and in agony, he resumed issuing commands and receiving reports when the second wave struck an hour later.

Due to the combination of the loss of blood and shock, he began to lose consciousness. A few of his men tied him on a ladder and carried the makeshift stretcher to the navigation bridge out of the way of flames and smoke engulfing the vessel.

Barley coherent and somehow still clinging to life, Bennion again ordered his men to leave him and look after themselves. Roughly 20 minutes later he passed away, one of the thousands of Americans to perish that day.

One officer who remained alongside Bennion to the end proudly proclaimed that “the noble conduct of Capt. Bennion before and after being wounded met the highest traditions of the naval service and justified the high esteem in which he was universally held. I consider it my great good fortune to have served under him.”

Veterans campaign to end ALS, a disease they are twice as likely to develop
The USS West Virginia continued to serve as an active battleship throughout the Pacific, and was present for the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Bennion’s body was transported home and buried with honor in Utah. He was afterward awarded the Medal of Honor for his inspirational leadership. His citation read: “For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”

Despite being incapacitated early in the action at Pearl Harbor, Bennion refused to abandon his ship and nobly encouraged his men until the bitter end.

Veterans

Cyber security is a multi-billion dollar industry. Here’s how to get your foot in the door

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 start over. 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.