Veterans to help plant 10 million trees - We Are The Mighty
Veterans

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Corey Read said conservation and military service share common values. The Marine veteran and farmer is part of a new initiative to reduce pollution in Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams by planting 10 million trees across the state by 2025.  

The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, brings together a variety of nonprofit organizations, individuals, and agencies to address polluted water. The goal is to stabilize stream banks, improve soil quality, reduce flooding, and provide habitat for wildlife. 

“You go overseas and serve in a combat zone and then you come home and see there are other ways to serve your country and community,” Read said.  

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

Read and his wife, Esther, are the owners of Shupp Hill Farms, a 100-acre cattle farm located in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. Since taking over the family business in 2019, Read continues to explore innovative solutions to keep his family’s third-generation farm successful. 

One of those solutions is conservation. His approach is to bring farming “back to the basics” through regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming methods.  

“As part of our approach, we wanted to do the right thing on our farm, such as fencing off trees and waterways that are part of the Chesapeake,” Read said. 

The Chesapeake Bay watershed spans more than 64,000 square miles. It encompasses parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and contains more than 100,000 streams and waterways and impacts 18 million people. 

The program is a great fit for members of the state’s Veteran Farming Project, says Director Mimi Thomas-Brooker. The organization is a grassroots network made up of veterans, military members, and spouses who farm and operate agribusinesses. 

“Veterans and military members who farm in Pennsylvania strive to be good stewards of their land. They respect soil health, clean air, and clean water — this effort will provide a resource to them to conserve the natural resources on their farms.”

“A lot of our farms want to plant more trees . . . because it’s the right thing to do but there is a cost factor there. That’s why this is a great match,” Thomas-Brooker said.  

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

According to Read, farming is something that veterans like and sustainability appeals to this new generation of veteran-farmers. 

“It’s a very close community; there’s a huge support network there and you kind of feel like you have a purpose. And I think, serving overseas you have a purpose. Farming gives you that community purpose again,” Read said.  

There are many reasons to plant 10 million trees but Thomas-Brooker says the top goal is to provide healthy soil and clean water for everyone. 

“Trees are instrumental in an urban setting for cooling things off . . . They help clean the air but their root systems, especially near streams are super important to keeping drinking water clean and keeping sediment out of the stream,” she said.  

According to the project’s founders, planting 10 million trees will reduce 4.6 million pounds of nitrogen, 22.2 million pounds of sediment, and 43,000 pounds of phosphorus across the state. These changes will help boost recreational activities, increase farm activity, and make the region healthier. 

Back on Read’s farm, these initiatives will come to fruition in the spring once the ground thaws. He’s currently working with a consultant to determine the best tree species for his property. In the meantime, he’s taken land out of use, including wetland areas, ponds, and a stream traditionally used to water animals.  

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

Working with the 10 Million Trees Project, a 35-50 foot buffer will be created with what he is calling a “natural park setting along the water.” The trees will be a natural filtration system that will prevent the animals from polluting the waterways with waste. Taking this land out of use comes at a cost to the farm, but Read believes it is worth it in the long run for the farm’s sustainability, the health of the region, and the watershed.  

“When I was going through officer training with the Guard, they asked me, ‘Where did you get your values from?’ I always go back to farming. I’ve always been drawn to the hard work aspect of it.

“There’s no more central tie to the community than farms,” he said. “Farms are such an integral part; they are the life force of a community. I want to continue to give back and I think the way to continue to do that is through the farm,” Read concluded.  

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

Veterans

5 reasons birds make the best support animals

Birds make excellent support animals because they have advantages that dogs and cats do not have. They’re fun to raise and they’re fun to play with – especially if you’ve taught them a few tricks. Birds can be affectionate, loyal and goofy. An investment in a bird as an Emotional Support Animal can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

1. Birds are low maintenance

They love cleaning themselves. Unlike a cat or a dog, birds like to take baths or showers under faucet. Set it to a slow, steady stream and they’ll hop around and splash away. Clean feathers are essential for them to fly. Cage cleaning is simple too. Take out the tray, dump out the detritus, wipe the tray down with hot soapy water or disinfectant, rinse thoroughly, replace, done!

2. You can teach them songs and tricks

One of the birds I owned was a Gold Parakeet named Frank. He used to sit on chairs like a person to which I reacted with ‘aww he thinks he’s people’. Birds train with repetition and positive reinforcement. They cannot learn with negative reinforcement, so, you have to be patient.

You can train a bird to not squawk and sing instead when it wants attention. Frank would scream when he wanted attention. You ignore them. When he would whistle, I would come into the room and give him positive attention and treats. He would scream and I would leave. I did this repeatedly until it clicked in his tiny brain that, ‘oh, only beautiful sounds attract humans.’

When giving them positive attention whistle or sing to them for them to learn a new song. I tried teaching Frank the Marine Corps Hymn but he didn’t like it. He did learn the whistle from Pumped Up Kicks. I guess the Corps don’t get one.

3. Birds are unbearably cute

cute bird
Just look at his little face!

Birds puff up, dance, fall over and get into mischief. Discovering their unique personalities is a lot of fun. Also, if you have guests over, after the pandemic, they’ll fawn over your little friend.

4. They’re really smart

According to scientific research, birds are the only animals who are able to replicate human speech. Birds are really intelligent creatures. This is the best reason to get a bird as your emotional support animal. Especially, parrots. If you teach your parrot how to speak, you will always have a communication partner with you. Your bird will be there for you to respond to you and talk to you using the words you taught it.

realesaletter.com

This is very true. Tried to teach my little sister’s bird, a lovebird named Rose, a bad word and it didn’t take. Rose did learn how to sit down, play hide and seek, not to bite, call commands and more. We can call our pets individually from another room and they would arrive to perch on our shoulders. It’s an awesome party trick.

You can teach them to play with objects like little soccer balls or place a tiny basketball in a hoop.

5. Birds are sensitive to emotions

When I’m feeling not my best, my little buddy knows it. They’ll flutter over and give all the love you require. You’re happy, they’re happy. You’re more than a source of food, you’re their flock. Birds, when cared for correctly, have long lifespans ensuring your sidekick will be there for the long haul.

Here’s a tip!

My favorite trick is teaching them how not to bite. Remember the ‘no negative reinforcement’ from earlier? When a new bird is biting you, do not yell to it or you will give it what it wants – a reaction. They are acutely aware of emotions and will sense fear. You have two options.

Option one, my go to: stare right at it as it’s biting showing no pain and the bird will think ‘damn, nothing I do is going to hurt this thing.’ They will give up on biting completely. You’re a warrior and it’s a tiny, frightened bird in a new home. Suck it up. It doesn’t hurt.

Option two: put them down and walk away. Do not acknowledge them and try to pick them up again later. When they feel lonely, they’ll stop pushing you away on their own. Also give them safe toys to bite instead.

Articles

This is what happens when you give a Marine and a Ranger motorcycles

Sponsored by PenFed Credit Union


Wil Willis knows a thing or two about weapons. He was born into a military family, served as an Army Ranger for four years, then transferred to the Air Force to become a pararescueman for another ten years. Since his time in service, he’s found ways to utilize the skills he learned on active duty as both an entertainer and an instructor.

Now an actor and writer, Willis is perhaps best known for his work on Forged in Fire, a competition series where world-class bladesmiths compete to create iconic edged weapons from history. He also teaches veterans and members of the first responder community about tactical combat casualty care.

So, yeah, he’s kind of bad ass.

U.S. Marine Weston Scott met up with Willis to connect over a past-time they both love: hitting the road on two wheels.

In this episode of “Paving the Way,” Willis and Scott hang out in their favorite Los Angeles garage working on their bikes and chatting about what it means for them to ride.

“I don’t do anything illegal. It’s not out of control. But I definitely am more aggressive than a lot of other riders. I ride every day.”

His riding style might be “fast and loose” but Willis insists it helps him slow down.

“I think being left alone with your thoughts can be scary sometimes, especially when you’re talking about a transitional period. I’ve got through it a bunch of times. Everybody’s had rough times. For me, getting back on the back was a way of slowing everything down in my mind. I do believe there’s something spiritual I get out of riding.”

Check out the episode above to find out more about why Willis rides every day, but Scott sums it up nicely: “It’s just good for the soul.”

Articles

Combat Marine and double amputee just became a Long Island cop

Matias Ferreira is a combat Marine who graduated from the Suffolk County Police Academy on March 24, 2017. Prior to the graduation, he was elected as president of his academy class, and a recruit platoon leader. All of this while walking on two prosthetic legs.


You read that right. Matias Ferreira is a double-amputee.

According to a report by Newsday, Ferreira lost both of his legs after he was wounded by an improvised explosive device during the fighting in Musa Qala, Afghanistan.

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees
Ferreira recovering after losing both his legs in an IED blast in Afghanistan (Screenshot from PIX11.com video).

Ferreira is not the only double amputee serving in law enforcement — PIX11.com reported that one other is serving as a state trooper in the western United States.

Ferreira’s roundabout journey to being a police officer involved playing on a select softball team with other amputees, and a moment of heroism in October 2015.

According to the New York Daily News, the ex-Marine leapt into action with his brother and future father-in-law while leaving his wedding rehearsal to rescue an infant from a burning car.

“Instinctively you just react, you don’t freeze, and thankfully we were able to make a difference,” Ferreira said at the time.

Now, he will do so again. After 29 weeks of intensive training in the gym, the classroom, and the swimming pool, during which Ferreira refused offers of special treatment.

Below is an interview that he did with Fox and Friends. Semper Fi.

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 to help plant 10 million trees
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 to help plant 10 million trees
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.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how the tobacco industry goes after young vets

According to truth, the smoking rate for military servicemen and women is higher than the average smoking rate – and it’s not a coincidence.


The tobacco industry specifically targets young service members — with a particular concentration on enlistees over officers — because they considered the military to be “less educated,” “part of the wrong crowd,” and having “limited job prospects.”

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees
According to a U.S. Department of Defense memo, once they become smokers, members of the military face unique challenges in their battle against tobacco use, including prolonged deployments, cultural pressures, and access to cheap tobacco products. (Image via truth)

In other words, the tobacco industry takes advantage of young troops’ willingness to serve their country, targets them when they’re most vulnerable, and then locks them in to a destructive addiction that not only threatens their mission, but their lives.

The Department of Defense spends more than $1.6 billion each year on tobacco-related medical care, increased hospitalization, and lost days of work.  And it has been estimated that $2.7 billion in Veterans Health Administration health care expenditures are due to the health effects of smoking.

Truth teamed up with Navy SEAL Kaj Larsen and other veterans to fight back by arming smokers and non-smokers with factsand ways to quit. Check out the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6H34Um6-RI
 

If you want to quit smoking, there are many options for you, including a smoking cessation program from TRICARE or this very, very unofficial military manual for quitting smoking and dipping.

Articles

This soldier fought off a German tank with his pistol

On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes Forest that caught the Allies off guard. As the Battle of the Bulge erupted, depleted American forces were rushed into the lines to shore up the defense. One of those units was the 1st Infantry Division’s 26th Infantry Regiment.


One of the veterans of the battalion, Henry Warner, was assigned to lead a 57mm anti-tank gun section in the battalion’s anti-tank company.

Warner had joined the Army at the age of 19 in January of 1943. After being assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, he fought through northern Europe with the 26th Infantry Regiment and received a promotion to Corporal.

When the Germans launched their major offensive, known to them as Operation Watch on the Rhine, Warner and the rest of his outfit were regrouping in Belgium after bitter fighting.

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees
U.S. troops of the 26th infantry at Butgenbach positioning an anti-tank gun. (U.S. Army Center for Military History)

The 26th Infantry Regiment had been engaged in the brutal fighting in the Hürtgen Forest. The second battalion had been particularly hard hit. The unit had been so depleted that nine out of every ten men in the battalion were green replacements — and they were still understrength. At the outset of the Battle of the Bulge, only seven officers in the entire unit had been with the battalion the previous month.

While the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions blunted the initial German thrust at Elsenborn Ridge, the 1st Infantry Division went south to shore up the defenses and stop any attempts of an encirclement by the Germans. Linking up with the 99th Infantry Division was the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. The battalion commander dispersed his understrength unit to hold the Belgian town of Butgenbach.

The defenders at Butgenbach just happened to be right in the way of the planned German assault.

Although the 2nd Battalion was short on many things, including men, machine guns, and grenades, they were determined to hold the line.

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees
U.S. troops defend their position near Luxembourg in Jan. 1945. (U.S. National Archives)

Stationed along a pivotal roadway was Warner’s anti-tank gun section. Thanks to the valiant efforts of the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions, Warner and his men had ample time to dig in and prepare their positions.

The first German attacks came on Dec. 19, but were beaten back by the American forces. The Germans then continued to probe American lines throughout the night.

On the morning of Dec. 20, the Germans came hard down the road manned by Warner and his men. At least ten German tanks supported by infantry fought their way into the American position. All along the line Americans and Germans engaged in close combat.

Anti-tank gunners and bazookas blasted the German tanks at point blank range as they tried to drive through the lines.

On that morning, three German tanks approached Warner’s position. Manning his 57mm gun, he promptly knocked out the first tank with a well-placed shot.

As the tanks continued to advance, Warner skillfully lined up another shot and put a second German tank out of action.

As the third tank neared his position, Warner’s gun jammed. He fought to clear the jam until the German tank was within only a few yards. Then, in a move that can only be deemed crazy, Warner jumped from his gun pit brandishing his .45 caliber 1911 pistol.

With the German tank right on top of him — and disregarding the intense fire all around from the attacking German infantry — Warner engaged the commander of the German tank in a pistol duel. Warner outgunned the German, killing him, and forcing his now leaderless tank to withdraw from the fight.

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees
U.S. troops march a German prisoner past a burning Nazi tank. (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo | Dec. 17, 1944)

Supporting American artillery broke up the German infantry assault and, along with Warner’s heroics, had repelled the German attack.

Warner and the rest of the battalion continued to resist the German onslaught, turning back numerous infantry advances. The Germans rained down mortar and artillery fire throughout the rest of the day and that night, as well.

The next morning the Germans came in force once again. And once again Warner was manning his 57mm gun. As a Panzer Mark IV emerged into Warner’s view, he engaged it with precision fire. He set the tanks engine on fire but paid for it with a blast from a German machinegun.

Not out of the fight, Warner ignored his injuries and struggled to reload his gun and finish off the German tank. A second burst from a German machine gun cut him down before he could complete his task.

For his actions in stopping the German attacks, Cpl. Warner was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The rest of the 26th Infantry Regiment, spurred on by the bravery of soldiers like Warner, held its position against repeated German attacks.

The 1st Infantry Division, along with the 2nd, 9th, and 99th Infantry Divisions, now made up the northern shoulder of “the Bulge” and the strict time table for the attack was severely behind schedule.

Articles

These vets opened a coffee cafe — and found community

If you’ve ever worked a job that you hate, you know how unfulfilling it can be spending hour after hour trying to stop day-dreaming scenarios in which your life hadn’t led you to this point.


A couple of years ago, Ben Owen and Brolen Jourdan found themselves in just this situation. Both veterans with history in the food service and hospitality industries, the office job life just wasn’t providing the stimulation or reward they were used to. Together, they decided to do something about it, and in July 2016, they opened the doors to their cafe, Liberation Coffee Co. in Coppell, Texas.

“We liberated ourselves from lives we were unhappy with and followed our dreams to open a shop,” says Owen, who in addition to needing a career change, saw a need within his community as well. “I live in the area and was always on the hunt for a craft shop that was convenient. It was a tough ticket to fill, so we built one.”

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

Our shop is pretty straightforward, with no frills, doing our best to do a few things well.

Like many veterans, Owen’s experiences in the armed forces — he served both in the Army and the Air Force — have informed much of his worldview, including his philosophies on running a business.

“I think that my years in the service come through in our model quite a bit,” he says. “Our shop is pretty straightforward, with no frills, doing our best to do a few things well.”

The craft coffee industry can feel a little over-the-top, Owen says, sometimes sacrificing form for fashion. While latte art and trendy aprons can do plenty to garner the attention of consumers, they can act as a deterrent to people seeking a plain cup of coffee. He hopes he can bridge the disconnect he perceives between craft coffee and vets.

“I can’t speak for all vets, but I think there is definitely a disconnect between the veteran community and craft coffee shops,” Owen says. “We’re used to function over form, so a lot of folks don’t know what they’re missing. Using my veteran status, I hope to alleviate that disconnect and bring other vets some quality coffee they might not otherwise seek out. We offer a military discount, and I’m always up for talking shop with my fellow servicemen and women.”

This philosophy of function over form is evident upon entering the space. Absent are the forests-worth of wood, exposed brick walls, and upcycled furniture composing the aesthetics of many DFW specialty cafes. In their place are comfy armchairs, tasteful light fixtures and Ed Sheeran on the sound-system.

Despite these “second-wave” aesthetics, the underlying care for the craft of coffee is apparent from the Kalita Wave pour-over drippers on the shelves to the coffee taster’s flavor wheel poster displayed prominently on the wall.

Also read: A brief history of coffee in the US military

Liberation’s coffee is courtesy of Eiland Coffee Roaster’s, which, as one of DFW’s oldest specialty roasting companies, has been producing traditionally roasted coffees in Richardson since 1998. A variety of blends and single-origin offerings are available as both drip and pour-over, and while the espresso is dialed in, the milk could use some work.

In addition to coffee, a variety of pastries like a rosemary-provolone scone ($3.50) and blueberry bread ($2.59) are available from Zenzero Kitchen Bakery, as well as macarons in flavors like espresso, strawberry and honey (all $2) from Joe the Baker.

The food and coffee menus cover all the necessary bases for coffee-house expectations without complicating things too much, making decisions quick and easy. Drinks come out quickly as well, so if you’re in need of a commuter-cup in the morning, don’t let the absence of a drive-thru fool you into thinking you don’t have time to pop in and out.

Establishing a specialty coffee presence in an area like Coppell can be challenging, but Liberation Coffee’s lack of pretension, cozy and casual environment and friendly staff all bode well for their success in the area.

“We want to make coffee accessible,” Owen says. “The community here is very locally focused, so for us, it’s important to do right by these folks. We try to offer the very best we can to continue to support that local mentality.”

The brand has plans for a small expansion within Coppell, in addition to simply growing their business in their current space. They may have forgotten about Zenzero when writing their Facebook bio claiming the title of “first specialty shop in Coppell,” but it’s great to see the coffee community growing in the area all the same.

Articles

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

President Donald Trump signed a bill April 19 to temporarily extend a program that lets some veterans seek medical care in the private sector, part of an effort by the president to deliver on a campaign promise.


The extension will give Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin time to develop a more comprehensive plan to allow veterans to more easily go outside the VA health system for care. Under the bill Trump signed into law, the VA will be allowed to continue operating its Choice Program until the funding runs out, which is expected early 2018.

The program was scheduled to expire on Aug. 7 with nearly $1 billion left over.

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees
(Photo: VA)

Trump said veterans have “not been taken care of properly” and that the program will continue to be able to see “the doctor of their choice.”

“You got it? The doctor of their choice,” he repeated for emphasis.

Shulkin, who attended the bill signing, has said the money is needed to pay for stopgap services while he works on the longer-term plan. He said April 19 that the plan is due in the fall. Congress would have to approve any changes to the VA health system.

Shulkin said the extension is important because it gives veterans another avenue for care.

“It’s this approach where veterans can get care wherever they need it that really is the way that we’re going to address all the needs and honor our commitments to our veterans,” he said after Trump signed the bill.

The Choice Program was put in place after a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months to be scheduled for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center.

The program is intended to provide more timely care by allowing veterans to go outside the VA network only in cases where they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Yet the program itself often encountered long wait times of its own.

Also read: The VA might actually be getting its act together

The new law also calls for changes to alleviate some problems by speeding up VA payments and promoting greater sharing of medical records.

Major veterans’ organizations and Democrats support a temporary extension of the Choice Program, but are closely watching the coming VA revamp of the program for signs that the Trump administration may seek greater privatization. Those groups generally oppose privatization as a threat to the viability of VA medical centers.

Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to give veterans freedom to seek care “at a private service provider of their own choice.”

Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, commended Trump for upholding a campaign promise to make veterans a priority, but said more needed to be done. Lucas said the Choice Program was a well-intentioned “quick fix” to the Phoenix scandal, but that it remains flawed and has forced too many veterans to seek care at what he termed failing VA facilities.

“Congress now has some time to work with Secretary Shulkin on broader, more permanent choice reforms that will truly put the veteran at the center of their health care and remove VA bureaucrats as the middlemen,” Lucas said. “We look forward to supporting legislation that will let veterans go outside the VA for care when they want or need to.”

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., said more than 1 million veterans have made 7 million appointments with health care providers in their communities under the Choice Program. He said those appointments would have otherwise “lagged” in the VA scheduling system.

More than 1 million out of 9 million veterans in the VA system use some Choice care, with agency data pointing to even greater use this year.

McCain, a Navy veteran, said the extension “sends an important message that we will not send our veterans back to the status quo of unending wait-times for appointments and substandard care.” He said more work is needed, but called the legislation “an important first step.”

Shulkin has said he would like to expand veterans’ access to private care by eliminating the Choice Program’s current 30-day, 40-mile restrictions. At the same time, he wants the VA to work in partnership by handling all the scheduling and “customer service,” something that congressional auditors say could be unwieldy and expensive.

Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

MIGHTY SPORTS

How one of the NFL’s greats honors fellow Cardinal Pat Tillman

It was a big weekend for the Arizona Cardinals. The team has been struggling this season and they were looking to roll into Green Bay and hand the vaunted Packers their first loss at home. It was a special game for a number of reasons, but for Larry Fitzgerald, it allowed him to participate in the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign.

The star wideout is one of the greatest players in the NFL today, and his cleats bore the name and likeness of one of the NFL’s legends – Pat Tillman.


NFL uniform wear is incredibly strict, and the league is known to hand down steep fines to players who step onto the field out of regs. But during the “My Cause, My Cleats” weekend, 800 select players get to sport customized cleats that raise awareness and funds for their personal causes, from fighting colon cancer to ending sex trafficking. Larry Fitzgerald wanted to honor the men and women who serve in the U.S. military.

As an Arizona Cardinal, that meant honoring the legacy of Pat Tillman.

Fitzgerald’s cleats were custom-made by Miami, Florida-based Marcus Rivero of Soles by Sir. He incorporated an image of Pat Tillman himself, as well as the name of former Arizona Senator, John McCain, who died earlier in 2018. The designer also added the name of Fitzgerald’s grandfather, who served in the Korean War.

Beyond simply making and wearing the custom cleats, the Cardinals wide receiver gave a special experience to two U.S. Army veterans and Pat Tillman scholars, Joseph Wheaton and Jameson Lopez. Wheaton is a native of northern Maine who joined the military after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Lopez is member of the Quechan Tribe from Arizona’s Colorado River Valley.

The Cardinals wide receiver gave the two scholars a tour of the Cardinals facility, a chance to meet the trainers and staff, and presented them each with a Pat Tillman Cardinals jersey.

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

Fitzgerald’s custom “My Cause, My Cleats” wear, honoring Pat Tillman, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and his own grandfather, a Korean War veteran.

The mission of the Tillman Foundation is to empower military veterans and military spouses to become the next generation of great American leaders. More than 580 Tillman Scholars around the country are tackling the widespread issues surrounding national security, healthcare, technology, civil rights, and education.

“I’ve always just had so much respect for everything the organization and foundation has done,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald and the Cardinals improved to 3-9 with a win over Green Bay at home as Fitzgerald caught three passes for 48 yards wearing his custom Pat Tillman-inspired cleats.

Veterans

VA can help with those holiday blues

Holiday traditions and family get-togethers are a source of comfort for many. But the holidays can also act as anniversaries of unpleasant events or remind us of difficult changes that have happened in the last year. Veterans may also have memories of being deployed over a holiday during their service and could experience challenges with returning to civilian norms.

For Veterans diagnosed with PTSD, the holidays can be even more difficult to manage. While there are often bright spots, the unique struggles that trauma survivors can face as the year ends can often overshadow the joy of the season.

Helping you manage over the holiday season

If you know someone with PTSD, there are things you can do to make sure the holiday season is pleasant and enjoyable for everyone.

There are ways to cope and manage these feelings and stressful events. Here are some tips from our clinicians that can help you manage your symptoms over this holiday season:

  • Don’t overschedule. Leave time for yourself.
  • Make a plan to get things done. Set small, doable goals.
  • When stressed, remind yourself what has helped in the past.
  • Use the tools from PTSD Coach app or PTSD Coach Online to help you manage stress.
  • Reach out for support if you need it. Know who you can rely on for help. If your symptoms are getting worse or you feel down, reach out to your provider or
  • Call the Crisis Line.

If you know someone with PTSD, there are things you can do to make sure the holiday season is pleasant and enjoyable for everyone.

  • Educate yourself: Download and read Understand PTSD and PTSD Treatment (PDF) to learn more about how PTSD affects your loved one.
  • Talk to your family member about what they need to feel comfortable during the holidays. If your loved one needs services, call Coaching into Care for advice on talking to them about treatment.
  • Keep important resources at hand, such as the Veterans Crisis Line, a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The holiday season can be difficult for people with PTSD, but there are healthy ways to cope and manage stress and have positive mental health throughout the holidays.

Here’s more information about PTSD.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA transitioning urgent care network managers

VA’s goal is to give eligible Veterans who need same-day urgent care for minor illnesses or injuries as many avenues as possible at the right time, right place and right provider.

VA is transitioning its urgent care network managers on Sept. 1, 2020, from TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest) to Optum Public Sector Solutions, Inc. (Optum), which is part of UnitedHealth Group, Inc.


The changes will take place in Community Care Network (CCN) Regions 2 and 3.

VA’s goal is for the transition to be seamless for Veterans. However, the change will result in new urgent care providers being added to its contracted networks while others may be removed.

Minor illnesses at in-network non-VA urgent care providers

Veterans have the option for urgent care treatment of minor injuries and illnesses such as colds, sore throats and minor skin infections at in-network, non-VA, urgent care providers. In addition, Veterans can receive same-day, urgent care treatment at VA medical centers.

Veterans who need urgent care may have the option to use telehealth (phone- or video-based visits) instead of in-person visits at VA or in-network community clinics. Telehealth allows Veterans to conveniently access health care at home while reducing their exposure to COVID-19.

“VA is committed to providing the safest and highest quality health care to Veterans, whether they are receiving their care within VA or in the community,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care, Dr. Kameron Matthews.

Veterans required to pay for out-of-network providers

VA can only pay for urgent care if the provider is part of VA’s contracted network. Veterans who go to an out-of-network urgent care provider must pay the full cost of care.

The change in network management will also affect pharmacies. Veterans who require urgent care prescriptions of 14 days or less can find an authorized in-network provider or contact their local VA medical facility to identify a VA network pharmacy to avoid paying out-of-pocket costs.

States where changes will impact Veterans

The change will impact Veterans in the following locations: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Veterans in these states or U.S. territories who need urgent care should use VA’s facility locator or contact their local VA medical facility for help identifying in-network urgent care providers.

Through this unified system, VA continues to deliver care for Veterans at VA and in the community.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Veterans experience hope and healing through partnerships

It’s possible for Veterans speaking about their experiences — and working toward self-forgiveness — to heal their emotional wounds.

A Veteran’s Health Administration initiative is facilitating this process. The Atlanta VA Health Care System Veteran Community Partnership (VCP) collaborates with VITAS Healthcare, a palliative care and hospice services company, to offer healing and hope for Veterans with other than honorable (OTH) discharges.

This collaboration is an effort of We Honor Veterans. The program, part of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, is in collaboration with VA. We Honor Veterans helps care for Veterans at the end of life.

VITAS, part of We Honor Veterans, is a partner agency within the Atlanta VCP.


VCPs are coalitions that bring community entities together to foster Veterans’ access to care and supportive services at VA and beyond. Each VCP in the United States is part of the national VCP initiative. There are 41 VCPs as of December 2019.

The VCP initiative is a joint project of VHA’s Offices of Community Engagement (OCE), Geriatrics and Extended Care, Rural Health and Caregiver Support.

Veterans to help plant 10 million trees

Veteran Service Organizations can help.

Requesting a change in OTH discharge

A Veteran with an OTH military discharge is ineligible for most VA benefits. This can cause significant obstacles as they approach the end of life.

Larry Robert is a chaplain who provides supportive counseling to Veterans in this position. He also is the bereavement services manager and Veteran liaison for VITAS. VITAS helps Veterans talk through their reasons for OTH military discharges. It helps them file a request for a change in their discharge status with the Department of Defense (DoD).

Robert also helps Veterans understand their benefit options. The most important part of this process, he said, is encouraging Veterans to tell their stories. An OTH discharge may be a result of a Veteran not having the proper support for a mental health issue, for example.

“They are trying to forgive themselves and they’re making peace with something that brought them a lot of pain.”

Veteran Service Organizations can help

Veterans — even those not in hospice care — and caregivers or loved ones of Veterans should be aware of the process of requesting a change to their discharge status, as well as the palliative care services of We Honor Veterans.

Veterans should apply for a change in their discharge status and enroll for benefits when they’re well. They should have a Veteran service officer work with them on this process. A representative from one of the Veteran Service Organizations listed at the link above could also help fill out paperwork for a correction of their military record

Even if their status and record is not changed, Robert explained, the process of this work is transformative for many Veterans.

“It adds a voice to their pain. It makes it real. They’re able to then see their pain and discuss it. In becoming real, it becomes something than can be overcome.”

OCE supports the VCP initiative and partnerships throughout VHA. For more information on OCE’s work, visit: https://www.va.gov/healthpartnerships/.

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

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