Once someone decides to leave the military, there’s a whole host of decisions that need to be made. Decisions that include choosing a new career, how to manage finances, a change of lifestyle and more are part of the challenges facing soon-to-be veterans. All of these decisions may be overwhelming but veterans are not alone. The VA is accessible and a good resource. Utilizing the VA is to the veterans’ benefit. Not only does the service give help, it also gives veterans a sense of community. Regular, problem free access to the VA can be hard to achieve but not always. It can depend on your area. You should know that certain vets are seen as higher priorities in the VA system, including those with service-related disabilities. There are representatives to help you and guide you in any decision making. There are also several hundred non profit organizations related to reintroduction, public service workers among others there to help veterans in need. Veterans are entitled to benefits and different programs to ensure a safe exit and reintroduction into civilian life. Blake Bourne, the executive director of North Carolina's Charlotte Bridge Home, which is a non profit that guides that the process of reintroducing veterans to civilian life easier. One of the many issues is healthcare. Healthcare is a large, overreaching issue, in both civilian life and military life. It is complex but not impossible to navigate. Bourne explains it like this: "Healthcare is the best microcosm for the challenges of navigating life outside of military life," says Bourne, who is also a retired Army officer. "It's not something we ever had to contend with, within service." If veterans have a family, someone will speak with them to make immediate preparations and then guide them to make longer term decisions for both veterans and any dependents they may have. Veterans who retire after 20 years of service or who are medically retired because of injuries have health insurance available to themselves and their families at a low cost. Education is also something that veterans may be a new topic once they exit military life. It’s a choice that also feeds into the issue of managing finances. Even though these can be challenging issues to navigate, you don’t have to do it alone. Most veteran service organizations, like the Wounded Warrior Project, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and similar nonprofit groups have experience in navigating what can be a confusing system.
Veterans come from all different backgrounds. Brandon Heffinger is a Marine Corps officer, the Director of the Wake Forest Veterans Legal Clinic and a current MPA student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He shares his thoughts on why veterans sometimes have troubles when arriving home. Sometimes when you are on the battlefield and you begin to have experience challenges, it is hard to understand the suffering and pinpoint exact solutions. The following scenario does happen: They act out, struck with PTSD, the next person in the next chain of command is disappointed with them and they do receive less than honorable discharges, which implicates them in the post military life. The discharge prevents a large percentage of veterans being considered from being considered veterans which means they can't get help from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address their PTSD. It is a true blue Catch 22. This exact practice should not be in place, since it prohibits proper care for people that served which should be unlawful. This problem has existed for a long time, and Vietnam veterans are a strong case in point. The military granted 260,000 less than honorable discharges to Vietnam veterans. Meanwhile, 30% of Vietnam veterans have struggled with PTSD in their lifetimes, according to VA estimates. The issue did not stop them, it continued into 9/11 era. Efforts have been made to remedy this situation. Over the past three years, the Department of Defense and Congress have done some work to improve discharge upgrade policies, which has vastly helped this scenario. The House of Representatives has passed the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Health Care Act. The bill requires the VA to provide an initial mental health assessment and provide services if needed. This is substantive work that we should be proud of as it brings change to a new generation of veterans that will need care, of varying levels. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln called on the country "to care for him who shall have borne the battle . . ." It remains the official motto of the VA today and we should stand by that.
Life changes after becoming a veteran in profound, life changing ways. Veterans whom come back wounded feel the same way, but at an amplified level as they have to relearn so many things that were second nature to them. This can take a toll that is completely different than what serving entailed. The Star Tribune interviewed veterans who wanted to share their story. Veltri, who retired from active duty in 2003, came back and started college a few years later. His collegiate career ended when trying to assist someone during a fight and he ended up being paralyzed. Veltri was at a loss on what to do. As someone that was athletic prior to his injury, he was interested at the option of wheelchair adaptive sports. In 2009, he started his journey with Wisconsin Adaptive Sports Association. He now is on a lacrosse team with the Milwaukee Eagles, a team he helped become what it is today. He is not alone in his venture. Dr. Kenneth Lee, a founding member of the team, states that the point of the team isn’t merely to play, as rehab is a component as well. The team is generational, as the starting age is 14. Lee, 52, leads the lacrosse team and is a veteran. He was injured in combat. After he suffered several injuries, which included nerve damage and injuries related to shrapnel, he was also at a loss what to do. He eventually looked to adaptive sports and found a connection. "We're looking at it as rehab as well, post-hospitalization rehab back in the community. This gives them an avenue to shoot for every year," said Lee, an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, medical director for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and president of the Board of WASA. It became apparent to the players that the benefits were not just physical. "These guys kind of feed off each other, especially if they're still depressed or think they can't do anything like this," Lee said. "The other guys will come over and say, 'Yes you can, look what I can do.'" The camaraderie, the emotional connection of being on a team, the level of accountability really ensured a strong bond. The activity also boosted individual growth. It will be amazing to see this trend grow throughout the years. "It will actually activate your mind and your body, and it just makes you go," Lee said. "This is one of the best rehab or therapy there is."
Every veteran has a different experience serving our country depending on who they are, their position, gifts and talents. The Veterans’ gender does make it a different experience and for women it is very often a complex, varied experience. According to Department of Veterans Affairs, there are approximately two million women veterans in the United States and Puerto Rico serving. One of those million, Sarah Maples shares her story with The Atlantic. Maples is the director of National Security and Foreign Affairs at the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She previously served as an intelligence officer in the Air Force. She states that being a women is often inconvenient, both in military life and civilian life. In the article, Maples explains that the one of the military’s requirements is that women to assimilate to their male counterparts. The expectation is that women will act and behave the same way men do. Their performance is rated the same way men’s are and their achievements always are in relation to their male counterparts. If that isn’t challenging enough, women also are expected to tamp down their emotional responses to what they see.. The uniform also tends to downplay any feminine characteristics these women carry.   The message is clear: if you make your gender a noticeable feature, it can also be used as an undesirable feature as ammunition against you. Military women have said that they feel slighted in comparison to their male counterparts, that they don’t get the same promotion opportunities or the same recognition. This does happen outside military life, of course, but the implication is that even after putting in the work to appear less feminine, more like their male counterparts, they still aren’t regarded as highly. And that is a catastrophe with many layers. For example, women are often denied recognition for their military accomplishments. As you can see, women in the military do face an unfair stance. It truly is inconvenient. What makes it more inconvenient is that it does not end with removing women themselves from the military. Maples explains that, “The perceived invalidation of a woman’s service can also feel as if her experiences during or related to her service, to include combat, service-connected disabilities, and sexual harassment/assault, are also invalidated.” The military has work to do in this regard. Maples explains in the article that the successes of women like Senators Tammy Duckworth and Joni Ernst, Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Martha McSally who are among others that are helping to change the impressions people have of women who serve. Efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs, veteran service organizations, and others have decided to put focus on the needs of female veterans have helped improve their experience while transition into civilian life. It is truly amazing to have these women as role models due to the way they have stepped into their roles and proved to not be limited in serving their country. There will always be obstacles, but there is hope in changing the way females serving our country given what we’ve seen. Better outcomes and experiences are yet to come.
It is a well-known fact that PTSD is correlated to serving in our military. It is estimated by The National Center for PTSD that an approximate of 11 – 20 percent of the veterans that served in the Iraq and Afghanistan have developed PTSD. The estimated percentage from the Vietnam War veterans’ lifestyle that have developed PTSD is approximately 30 percent. It is a veteran requirement to have a complete Post Deployment Health Assessment, or PDHA, after come from their deployment stations. The assessment contains a maximum of 25 questions and a checklist of the symptoms of PTSD. After the veterans have self-disclosed the symptoms they have to the document, the information then goes to their record. It is believed that military veterans would be willing to talk about stress given the right settings and tools at their disposal, but the problem is that they have not found the right comfortable setting or confidantes where they can be freely share their experiences. Frontiers, came out with an emerging study that states that building rapport with a patient and having the interview kept anonymous, makes the task of getting someone to delve into deeper issues, is easier to outperform the PDHA by getting the veterans comfortable to open up and disclose the symptoms they may be having. Chris Malora, a former veteran created an equipment to help manage PTSD. Enter Neuroflow, which is a piece of equipment used for measuring neurological movements in the heart rate and the brain, it’s a great resource to observe PSTD symptoms of the patient in real time. This creation was overseen by Chief Clinical Officer Laurie Deckard at 5PALMS Ormond Beach residential facility that is specialized in the treatment of PSTD among women survivors of substance and sexual abuse in the military. The NeuroFlow is automated to operate using measurements that are heart rate and brain read to produce the measurements of a patients’ relaxation, stress and engagement level. The patient is though expected to be talking to the therapist while under the procedure because some patients might not be aware of what triggers their PSTD. The therapist then monitors the patient reactions as he or she talks and takes note of what causes uncomfortability in the patient. Patients often take a couple weeks to notice any significant change in their mental health when undergoing therapy. NeuroFlow on the other hand can easily prove if a patient is learning to cope up with the disorder by showing the improvements in their incremental levels. The motivation of the creation to be in existence was from the alarming rate Malora saw the fellow veterans were committing suicide. At least 20 veterans could die by suicide on a single day in 2014. Informational guides and videos are hosted on The National Center for PTSD’s website and anyone can view or access them from a computer or mobile phone. It is also confirmed by the Director of the Center’s Dissemination and Training Division in Palo Alto, California, Josef Ruzek, that there are 14 mobile phone apps that are PTSD oriented and have been created across platforms to be in use by veterans.
Amazon recently pledged to hire 25,000 people before or within 2021 by Amazon. Within the first 18 months of the pledge, the company is making great progress. From virtual customer service to communication and computing roles, military employees are filling the roles across the company. With an aim of hosting veteran workforce having professional conversations with business and policy leaders in the South and Chicago, the Amazon is teaming up with the George W. Bush institute for the success. Earlier this week, Amazon shared that the company has employed across the United States of America. At least 17,500 veterans and military spouses, with numbers almost doubling by 2021. The roles are both part time and full time positions, in various parts of the company. Amazon also treats their employers well with comprehensive benefits. Amazon’s Senior Vice President of HR., Beth Galetti remarked that the company is more than pleased and proud to have the remarkable military talent of 17,500 and more leaders employed in their company. In their efforts to advocate for hiring more veterans, Amazon has implemented an effective training program that lasts 16 weeks and is meant to equip the veterans with the necessary skills to work effectively at Amazon. Amazon has also partnered with some veteran NGOs that help in training the veterans with the technical skills. Some of these organizations are Camo2Commerce from the state of Washington State and the Maryland’s Corp. We can’t wait to see what Amazon does in the next five years.  
Arizona State University’s TRIO Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) is a program that offers free college-preparatory courses for veterans that either come from low-income backgrounds or are firs- generation college students. This program has been awarded federal funding for 44 years. The Pinal County Veterans in the new grant cycle have been offered the opportunity to participate in the VUB in an annual frequency. An approximate of 140 interested college bound veterans will have the provision of the programs’ services. The program currently has a sum of thirty people. The Director of the VUB, Veronica Hernandez, explains that the program gives excellent learning opportunities for veterans, most who transfer higher education from the military skills they possess. She continued to state the importance of the program that it gives step by step guide to the veterans and important support systems in their college accomplishments and success. The mission of the VUB is to give motivation, assistance and support to the Veterans in Maricopa County for higher education. The VUB program is free for all the veteran participants and supported by the U S Department of Education. It services four of ASU’s campuses that include individual online courses and academic coaching, one on one learning sessions that are focused on financial literacy and goal setting skills, help with the process of admission to ASU or any other colleges and having continued support the whole of their academic career life, even after they have completed the program. Other activities that are included, are attending a Broadway show in the ASU Gammage and attending or participation to football games. George Campbell, a 75 year old army veteran describes that the purpose of VUB is to give motivation to veterans in the pursuit of knowledge and camaraderie. Campbell served in the Air Force. He addressed that the bond of serving is one major part of why veterans spend time with each other. The bond is unbreakable. Esprit de corps.
John Smith is a veteran. He served his country for 16 years. In 1996, left the army. Since then, his lives had been marked by stints in jail. He is hopeful that he will be able to eventually break the cycle of incarceration in his life. This house is a proving to be a good step. Recently, Smith, who is 55, has moved to a new housing unit that is exclusively for veterans. The housing unit is at the Jefferson County detention facility and hosts 32 people. All of his housemates have been disciplined legally at some point in their lives, which is a point of bonding with the housemates.Smith realizes that being around other veterans who support each other, it is a positive way to regain the discipline to veterans and boosts the morale. Among the benefits offered by this particular housing unit arrangement is that there is quicker access to classes and training facilities, healthcare options, in addition to the housing. When interviewed via telephone, John Smith shared about his activities that he completes that make his schedule. They include his scheduled VA classes, yoga, anger management classes, conflict resolution and successful community re-entry. This arrangement is provided by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The Jefferson County jail is a second county lock up unit to house veterans in a single unit in the state. Each unit has a vision of being accessible to training and services that are aimed at preventing the veterans from returning to jail. This is a growing trend. A similar program was started in 2013 by El Paso County Criminal Justice Center. They house 71 prisoners. Jails in the Pinal Country, Ariz., Middlesex County, Mass., and other states have embraced the similar veteran-housing programs. It is our duty to protect and help serve our veterans.  
Almost one century ago, Armistice Day was established. The year was 1919 and world war I had just ended. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938.President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…" The Armed Forces has made a particular impression in our nation and have really cemented our reputation. So on November 11th, Americans honor those who have given their lives for our country, whether it be with their lives, time and careers. Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans, especially giving respect to veterans are living. Those who serve our country come from all different walks of life. The experience instills a sense of security and bonds them with experience. You become a part of family and devotion. Since America’s inception there have been several wars: Revolutionary War, world wars, the Civil War, Vietnam, just to name a few. With each war, we have changed and adapted to the consequences of war and we have learned to bond together, regardless of agreement of the nature of war. There are many ways to honor Veterans Day. Call or write a letter to a veteran. Serve a military family a meal. Listen to their stories, if you have the opportunity to hear them. Engage in commitment, whether it be financial or personal. Make sure you honor and respect those who have fought for your livelihood. Say thank you and mean it. Sources:
Bryan Jones is undergoing a rehabilitation and treatment program with the Veterans Treatment Court, and is in Phase 3, which is the last stage. He has just 3 months left. But how did Jones get here? In September 2016, Jones participated in a standoff with police According to a police report, he fired several shots towards the police at his home toward his former girlfriend. His former girlfriend had apparently broken up with him following an argument and looked to retrieve her things, but Jones didn’t want that to happen. What followed was that Jones called the Veterans Affairs suicide hotline to report that he was suicidal. After the tragic experience, he was treated at the Community Hospital in Munster later transferred to the VA psychiatric ward in Chicago and finally to Lake County Jail. Jones had previously finished an 18 month stint with the Veterans Treatment Court which helped a lot in getting him a second chance in the program late 2016. The court that is specialized for veterans has 64 participants, 12 will be graduating from the program come next week on November 15th. However, Jones is not in the list of the graduates. Jones has since started his own peer support program, IGY6 NWI, which has been designed to offer education, fellowship, and intervention for service personnel. The IGY6 stands for I Got Your 6 Back.  He feels a sense of purpose that was instilled in him by the military, and that’s why IGY6 is very important to him. The group welcomes all veterans, any age or gender. Jones is now a certified peer specialist.  He has his weekly meetings on Thursdays at 6 p.m. in the Crown Point area. (For more information, call Jones at 219-293-5795 or email at