An Illinois VFW member arranges proper military funerals as one aspect in his quest to serve the homeless Jack Picciolo has been working for nearly a decade to help homeless veterans receive proper burials. That work, along with other projects in his Illinois community, earned the Vietnam veteran the Illinois Veterans’ Patriotic Volunteer and Appreciation Award. For Picciolo, the recognition meant more because of who it came from. “It was from veterans — from groups that I work with, peers, veterans groups, not just a general award from the city or the state,” said Picciolo, who was drafted in 1964 and spent the last eight months of his two years of service in Vietnam as a specialist 4 with the 2nd Bn., 17th FA. Every veteran, according to Picciolo, deserves to be buried with military honors. “We have a national cemetery right in our backyard,” said Picciolo, a member of VFW Post 5788 in Lockport, Ill., about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. “Why couldn’t we arrange to act as family and get these guys their military honors?” Picciolo said the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., roughly 15 miles south of Lockport, had a policy of quarterly burials. “I was basically the only person there,” Picciolo said. “There was just no participation by any groups anywhere. I decided right then I’d start advertising [and] working with the memorial squad.” The cemetery instituted its all-volunteer memorial squad in 2003 to help with military honors. “When requested, a detail consisting of at least two uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the veteran’s branch of service provide folding and presentation of the U.S. flag and can also play ‘Taps,’ either by a high-quality recording or a bugler,” according to the National Cemetery Administration. In his efforts, Picciolo aimed to involve VFW and American Legion Posts. Patriot Guard riders now are participating as well. In 2007, Picciolo said, he began working with the Chicago Homeless Sandwich Run after hearing about it from Illinois VFW Homeless Chairman Paul Bezazian at the state convention. The run was started by Marine Corps veteran Jim Proffitt in 1989. A few years ago, Picciolo brought that effort to his own county. “It was very eye-opening,” Picciolo said. “We had a truck and sandwiches and food and everything … Maybe four or five out of 10 [homeless that we spoke to] could be a vet. Then we started finding out the problems they had.” Their concerns included lack of employment and medical problems. So Picciolo and others started connecting veterans with the VA. Picciolo also said most of the veterans “just wanted someone to talk to.” Even though he was “just a draftee for two years,” Picciolo said being there for other veterans to talk to “really opens them up.” One veteran Picciolo and Proffitt assisted in the Chicago area was Harold Lewis, a resident at a men’s hotel. When Lewis died, Proffitt was contacted about providing Lewis a proper burial at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. “We’ve buried probably some 80 more homeless vets since then,” Picciolo said. Those efforts have been the most impactful for Picciolo. “[It’s nice] to provide a veteran with a last salute and some kind of going off … It really helps me to work on something like that, to make it possible and do as many as we can,” Picciolo said. Picciolo also served as Post 5788 commander from 2013 to 2015 and has been a member of the Will County (Ill.) Veterans Affairs Commission for three years.
The American Legion Legacy Scholarship for 2018 is awarding $744,436 in financial aid to 41 children of the fallen and disabled. The announcement was made by the Americanism Commission on May 10, to the National Executive Committee (NEC) during the organization's Spring Meetings in Indianapolis. The Legacy Scholarship is available for children of veterans who died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, or post-9/11 veterans who have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher. Recipients of the needs-based scholarship can receive up to $20,000 for six years for the expense of graduate or post-graduate tuition, books, room and board, meal plans and other supplies needed to achieve a higher education. The grant amount each scholarship recipient receives is based on his or her financial need after all federal and state aid is exhausted. Recipients will have a year to use the grant and may reapply to the scholarship up to six times. Starting in 2017, The American Legion expanded eligibility and aid amount for the Legacy Scholarship following the NEC's passing of Resolution 1 during the 2016 Spring Meetings. In 2017, $671,892 was awarded to 55 children of the fallen and disabled. Read testimonials here. The number of scholarships awarded and the amount of financial aid granted to each awardee (this includes returning applicants) will be determined on donations to the scholarship fund and one's financial needs. The American Legion Riders have been the most dedicated fundraiser and supporter of the Legacy Scholarship through their annual Legacy Run. The Run has raised more than $1 million for the Legacy Scholarship Fund for the past three years. For more information about the Legacy Scholarship or to make a donation to the Legacy Scholarship Fund, visit www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy.
The VFW and Ace collaborate to distribute 1 million American flags nationwide this Memorial Day KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In the true spirit of Memorial Day, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) is collaborating with Ace Hardware to honor veterans by pledging to give out 1 million American-made flags nationwide. On Saturday, May 26, consumers are encouraged to visit participating Ace stores to receive a free 8” x 12” American flag*, while a second flag is donated to a local VFW Post to be used for marking and honoring veteran graves this Memorial Day. “We are thrilled to continue our long-standing history of honoring veterans by supporting VFW Posts and local communities this Memorial Day,” said John Surane, Executive Vice President for Ace Hardware. “The sacrifices that these men and women have made for their country is something that should be recognized every day, and we at Ace want to make this Memorial Day even more meaningful. We applaud the VFW for the incredible support they’ve provided veterans nationwide for nearly 119 years and are grateful to be able to work together with our loyal customers and show our support this Memorial Day.” “Working alongside Ace to support our veterans is a natural fit – their stores are located in communities across the country, just like our local Posts,” said VFW National Commander Keith Harman. “We are grateful to receive this donation from Ace Hardware and their consumers, and we look forward to honoring our veterans in a big way this Memorial Day.” The 1 million American flag giveaway aligns with Ace Hardware’s long history of supporting veterans nationwide. Ace’s very name is a commemoration of the “Flying Aces,” the courageous fighter pilots from the First World War. Ace’s patriotism continues through the support of its veteran retailers, and the sincere appreciation for all the veterans and active-duty military who work in Ace stores, distribution centers and its corporate offices. *Flags will be available in participating Ace stores, while quantities last. In-store only. Limit one 8” x 12” flag per customer. No purchase necessary. About Ace HardwareFor more than 90 years, Ace Hardware has been known as the place with the helpful hardware folks in thousands of neighborhoods across America, providing customers with a more personal kind of helpful. With more than 5,000 hardware stores locally owned and operated across the globe, Ace is the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the world. Headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., Ace and its subsidiaries operate an expansive network of distribution centers in the U.S. and also have distribution capabilities in Ningbo, China; Colon, Panama; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Its retailers' stores are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and approximately 55 countries. For more information on Ace, visit acehardware.com or the company newsroom at newsroom.acehardware.com.
‘The VA is in turmoil again’. For years, the US Department of Veterans Affairs had been roiled by mishaps, setbacks and controversies. But recently, several veterans and their family members told CNN, they believed the department was finally improving. What Veterans Affairs needs to fix its deeper issues. The most obvious problem at the Veterans Affairs Department is that it doesn’t have a secretary. But that leadership vacuum only compounds the deeper issues the VA has spent years trying to overcome. Medicating in Wartime: The Cannabis Legacy of Vietnam Veterans. April 30th marks the 43rd anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the end of the War in Vietnam. About three million Vietnamese, and more than 58,000 Americans, were killed during the war. Durbin says VA would pay 65 percent for new Veterans Home facilities. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says he is pleased to see progress being made to protect Illinois Veterans Home residents against outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, but he believes new facilities are needed to prevent future problems. Michigan Students Unveil Inventions for Veterans. College students have created devices they say will improve the quality of life for disabled veterans and others with impairments. Called on Veterans’ grass-roots movement shares health benefits of marijuana. To get away from the memories of war in Afghanistan — the violence, the unexpected danger, the rush of adrenaline and the hypervigilance that can come with post-traumatic stress disorder — Aaron Newsom started gardening. Veterans Affairs In Limbo After Jackson Withdraws As Nominee. The collapse of Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson’s nomination to lead the Veterans Affairs Department leaves the VA rudderless, and awaiting its fourth secretary in four years. OH veterans concerned over possible privatization of the VA. Army veteran Keith Stevens spent a year in Vietnam and retired from the military as a Specialist. Veterans Fight To Get Rare Form Of Cancer Covered By VA. It took decades for the Veterans Administration to acknowledge the connection between Agent Orange and the illnesses of hundreds of Vietnam veterans. Now some vets are fighting to get help for another deadly killer that they believe is connected to their years of service. Mid-South veterans are turning to horses for healing. Southern Reins Equine Therapy in Collierville is working to teach our veterans how to cope.
Veterans and veteran groups have concerns over who the next VA secretary will be. The frustration has people worried. Here's a breakdown of some of the potential replacements, as reported in Stars and Stripes. WASHINGTON — Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, a White House physician, withdrew Thursday from consideration as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, leaving the big question: Who’s next? Though President Donald Trump is notoriously difficult to predict, here are some possible contenders. Jeff Miller Jeff Miller’s name has been floated as a potential VA secretary nominee since Trump became president, and it emerged again Thursday quickly after Jackson withdrew. Miller, 58, a former Republican representative from Florida, retired from Congress in 2016 after eight terms. He was chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for six years during former President Barack Obama’s administration, and in that role became known as a harsh critic of the VA who despised wrongdoing by the agency’s employees. Miller’s portrait now hangs in the committee room – the site of numerous tense exchanges between him and former VA Secretary Bob McDonald. Trump is seriously considering Miller for the job of VA secretary, multiple news outlets reported Thursday, citing a senior White House official. He already has one strong tie to the department – his former spokesman, Curt Cashour, is the VA press secretary. Robert Wilkie At an event arranged by the Wounded Warrior Project on Thursday, Trump praised Robert Wilkie, whom he tapped in March to lead the VA until the Senate confirms a permanent secretary. Wilkie, 55, came to the VA from the Pentagon, where he worked as undersecretary of personnel and readiness. There were initially doubts about whether Trump had the authority to appoint Wilkie as acting secretary, bypassing VA Deputy Secretary Tom Bowman, who was next in the chain-of-command. But critics appear to have retreated on the issue. Wilkie walked into an agency reeling from the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin and the chaos and infighting that led up to it. “Wilkie has stabilized things at the central office,” said Garry Augustine, director of Disabled American Veterans. Joe Chenelly, director of AMVETS, initially called on Trump to remove Wilkie amid the confusion about whether Wilkie should legally be running the agency. In an apparent turnaround Thursday, Chenelly said: “We like Wilkie.” “We’re happy Wilkie has kept Bowman on,” he said. “If it’s going to be Wilkie, then nominate Wilkie.” It’s possible Trump could decide to make him the nominee. If he does, it creates the new question of who would take over Wilkie’s duties at the Defense Department. Pete Hegseth Like Miller, Pete Hegseth was a contender for VA secretary when Trump was making his first selection. Hegseth, 37, is an Iraq War veteran, a weekend co-host on Fox & Friends, and the former CEO of the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America, part of the Koch brothers’ political network. CVA has gained influence and access since Trump took office, and the president has reportedly taken Hegseth’s opinion on VA matters into consideration. The Washington Post reported last month that Trump called Hegseth during a meeting with Shulkin to ask his input on legislation that would reform how the VA handles private-sector medical care. Hegseth addressed the possibility of his nomination Thursday on Fox News. “If the president asks me to serve, great. But he hasn’t until this point, so we’ll see,” he said. A woman? In a public statement Thursday, Chenelly implored the White House to include women in its search for the next nominee. Since the VA became a Cabinet-level department in 1989, there have been nine secretaries and four acting secretaries, none of whom were women. “It’s important that he considers women in this position,” Chenelly said. “There are really good candidates out there who are women.” According to the latest VA data, women veterans comprise almost 10 percent of the veteran population in the United States, and that number is growing. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shed light on cultural barriers keeping women veterans from accessing the VA, including that they’re often mistaken for spouses or cat-called in waiting rooms. Last year, the veterans community saw a rise of women veterans into leadership positions – two of the largest veterans service organizations are now led by women. During Trump’s transition into the presidency, at least one woman was under consideration for job of VA secretary – Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.
The Trump administration this month will begin proactively reaching out to disabled veterans eligible for federal student loan discharge. Disabled veterans are eligible to have their federal student loans forgiven through the total and permanent disability (TPD) application. The Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs will reach out to veterans who may be eligible for the benefit to provide them with an application for loan forgiveness. Veterans will still have to fill out the application and return it themselves. “Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed much for our country. It is important that, in return, we do all we can to give them the support and care they deserve,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement. “Simplifying the loan forgiveness process and proactively identifying veterans with federal student loans who may be eligible for a discharge is a small but critical way we can show our gratitude for veterans’ service.” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Senate education committee, praised the new step by the department and said she hoped the government would eventually further streamline the process by making student loan discharge automatic for eligible borrowers. “The men and women serving in the military sacrifice so much to keep us safe, and those injured in the line of duty should not be saddled with the burden of paying back student loans if they are unable to work,” she said in a statement.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States sought a significant military achievement against Japan. On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders demonstrated that Japan was vulnerable to America’s air power and boosted morale in the U.S. The air raid was planned and led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle. Sixteen B-25 bombers, each with five men aboard, set out unescorted to bomb military targets in Japan, then land in China. Two of the crew members were born and raised in Lincoln, Neb. Thanks to Daniel Robertson, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, their legacies will be remembered, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. The monument will honor Lincoln natives Lt. Richard O. Joyce, who piloted one of the bombers, and Cpl. Donald E. Fitzmaurice, who died during the raid. It will be dedicated Wednesday in the Veterans Memorial Garden. “Our biggest fear as a family has been that his sacrifice would be forgotten, but knowing that you have taken the time to ensure that his legacy lives on brings tears to our eyes,” Kelly Estes, great-niece of Fitzmaurice, wrote in a letter that will be read at the ceremony. Lt. Col. Dick Cole is the last remaining Doolittle Raider. Cole, co-pilot of Aircraft No. 1, recalled in 2013 that their mission was something that had to be done. “We all shared the same risks and had no realization of the positive effect our efforts had on the morale of America at the time,” he told The American Legion during an interview. “We are grateful we had the opportunity to serve and are mindful that our nation benefitted from our service.”
'Hats off to the VFW ... I don’t think I would have made it without them' Michael Ward, 39, of Sacramento, Calif., has lived a full life with the military. He’s been a part of the Marine Corps, Army and Army National Guard. He gives high praise to his family for supporting the military lifestyle. “My wife Elaina has also done more than her part to serve in her own way,” he said. “She has always gone the extra mile in supporting the armed forces by planning events on bases and actively supporting other spouses.” They are proud parents of four; Stephen (13), Malcolm (9), Justice (7) and Michael (2). In 2004, before his first child was born, Ward was serving as a sergeant in Iraq. After being briefed at a command station, he and his group came under enemy fire. “I was blown from my truck, and hit my head on a rock. The attack was surreal … it felt like I was in a movie,” Ward said. Upon returning to the states, Ward faced a homecoming all too familiar for many troops. After serving his country with pride for 16 years, he suddenly felt isolated and unsupported. Ward has a disability rating of 100%, and after mistreatment by a property manager, the fear of not being able to adequately house his family became a serious reality. Ward initially joined the military to better his life and provide for his family. He had been a dedicated recruiter, sergeant and manager of aviation supply, transportation and logistics. After completing two tours and devoting so much of his life to serving his country, Ward was shocked by the injustice of the situation. He said, “I simply couldn’t believe my family and I were facing homelessness. It wasn’t right." Ward visited his local Veterans Resource Center where representatives informed him he may qualify for a VFW Unmet Needs grant. He filled out the information online, and soon received a phone call from the VFW. “They called everyday and were really supportive. It felt really good to find veterans who assist other veterans. The staff member I worked with was a real lifesaver, and a blessing to my family and me,” he said. The Wards received a grant which covered hotel costs while they found a suitable home for their family. Ward witnesses a lot of homeless service men and women in his area, and stresses the importance of funding the VFW, who provided his family with the services they so greatly needed. “Hats off to the VFW. They were so patient and helpful. I don’t think I would have made it without them.”
Researchers help Vets at risk of suicide build mutual support network By Mitch Mirkin VA Research Communications When Jesse Brown thinks back on his life, there’s a sharp dividing line around that grim day in September 2001 when terror struck the U.S. “Before 9-11, I was happy. I was good.” Brown, then with the New York Army National Guard’s 145th Maintenance Company out of Staten Island, took part in search and rescue at ground zero. He took in nightmarish scenes of victims in the rubble. Then came his deployments to Iraq, three in all. “Two of my guys getting killed. Hearing voices in your sleep. Going through the PTSD, the anger.” Brown, now 58, received an honorable discharge in 2012, after 32 years of service, with deep wounds no one could see. The storm raging inside was more than he could bear. He eventually tried to take his own life. "Veterans no longer feel alone. They feel someone understands their impulses and urges." “I’ve been going through a lot of trials and tribulations. I was on a suicide ward.” That’s when things began to turn around, just enough to give him some hope. “They came and saved me. It’s been excellent.” The “they” he refers to is Dr. Marianne Goodman and her team. Goodman is a psychiatrist and researcher who’s co-leading a suite of suicide-prevention projects at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. The work is part of the Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center at the site. ‘Project Life Force’ treads new ground with a group format One study is Project Life Force. The idea is to bring together a cadre of Vets who all have a recent history of suicidal thinking and a completed suicide plan, provide them with group psychotherapy, and have them revise their safety plans as they incorporate the new skills they are learning. While group sessions for those with issues like PTSD or anger are commonplace at VA hospitals, clinics, and Vet Centers, Goodman’s crew is doing relatively pioneering work by running a group for suicidal Veterans. “This is new ground,” says Goodman, who is also with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “This is the only manualized group therapy that specifically targets suicide. In the literature, there is a one-session inpatient safety planning group and an unstructured psychotherapy group, but otherwise, people have been reluctant to place suicidal individuals in a group together, for fear of contagion. Even DBT discourages discussion about active suicidal feelings.” In other words, therapists have feared that allowing suicidal patients to mix with other suicidal patients and talk about their thoughts and feelings could actually increase risk. Goodman and her team are finding otherwise, at least with their Veterans cohort. She says the very power of the intervention appears to be the group. “Veterans no longer feel alone,” says Goodman. “They feel someone understands their impulses and urges.” The study was originally funded by VA’s Rehabilitation Research and Development Service, and now the Clinical Science R&D Service is supporting its expansion to a multisite trial. It uses elements from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This form of psychotherapy helps people cope with painful emotions and improve their relationships by teaching skills in mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Goodman’s 10-session manualized version is slightly modified from classic DBT. It does not use the mindfulness component. It emphasizes friendship-building, and improving ties to family and the treatment team, as part of the interpersonal work. It adds education on gun safety, and minimizing access to other lethal means. And it shows the Vets how to use a mobile app to help them stick to their safety plan. ‘I go to the group and lay it out on the table’ Jesse Brown started attending the group in 2016. He completed 12 sessions as a research participant but has continued attending, almost every week. He’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s making progress. “If I’ve had a bad week, if something’s going on, instead of me trying to hurt myself, I go to the group and lay it out on the table. I let them know how I’m feeling. I get their feedback. I’ve got a great bunch of guys who are working with me. They help me, and I help them too.” Brown says it’s important to him that the other men in the group are also Veterans. “They are going through the same stuff I’m going through. You come back from the war, and you ask yourself, where do I fit in now?” Goodman says it’s almost like the participants are back in the military, in terms of how they bond. “The group cohesion, much to my surprise, has been an incredibly powerful factor in the intervention’s success. The Veterans recreate ‘units’ and come to group to make sure their ‘brothers and sisters stay alive.’ Just like in the military, their actions toward each other can save lives.” Related project involves families The psychiatrist points out that many of the men and women in her groups lack family support—that can be part of the problem in the first place. In another clinical trial, called SAFER (Safe Actions for Families to Encourage Recovery), her team is involving families in suicide safety planning. Though it might seem surprising, families are typically not part of the process. “Exactly how to communicate distress around suicidal feelings is very problematic for Veterans,” explains Goodman. “We were surprised to learn how difficult it is for Veterans to ask for help, and the fears about appearing vulnerable and ‘weak.’” She adds: “Sometimes, family members are part of the stress leading to suicidal feelings. Learning to resolve these conflicts is important.” Through SAFER, the researchers hope to learn more about how families can be part of the solution for Vets at risk for suicide. “There is very little information on how family members can support their Veteran who is suicidal,” says Goodman. “Most of the information is on how to recognize suicide risk, but not how best to handle it.” VA RESEARCH TOPIC PAGES Mental health Suicide prevention Chris Murray, 33, a participant in Project Life Force, is perhaps lucky on that point. It was his wife who reached out to the friends of the former Marine and National Guardsman when he tried to take his life in 2016. Those friends, mainly from Murray’s military days, would form a potent support network. “After my suicide attempt, my wife had reached out to a bunch of my friends,” says Murray, who had two combat deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. “A lot of them came from all around New York State to visit me in Westchester Presbyterian Hospital. Some of them came multiple times during the two weeks I was there. A lot of them came or called as often as they could.” One of the things Murray says he has learned in Project Life Force is to carry his suicide safety plan with him at all times, along with a crisis line number. Another is to call on his friends when he needs them. He says he learned it is a powerful way to combat isolation. “In the [Project Life Force] group, everyone admitted to some form of isolation. I picked up on that. And so one thing I started to do is, whenever I feel depressed, or am not feeling all there, I’ll reach out to one of my friends. And we’ll have a conversation for an hour or two, just about random things. And it will get me out of that funk. I’ll completely forget about why I was in that mood, and what I wanted to do. I’ll start to feel normal again.” He says friends will also text him on a regular basis. “They’ll check in on me. They’ll text, Hey, how’s everything going? How you feeling? I’ve got a really good support network.” Bonding between Vets crosses generations But it’s also his buddies at the Bronx VA who keep him going strong. He made one friend in particular, a Vietnam Veteran, who he says helped him through tough times. “He is closer to my Dad’s age. But some of the stuff he experienced in combat, I experienced. When I was talking about certain things, he could relate, and when he was talking about certain things, I could relate. He would talk about ways he would help himself, and I was like, I never tried that. I would try it and it would work for me. I thought, this is awesome. And I would tell him about certain things, and he would say, let me try that, and it would help him as well. To this day, when I see him at the VA, we’ll stop and get coffee and talk.” Murray says that’s what he likes best about Project Life Force: having the support of other Veterans. “There are other Veterans there to help you, regardless of what you’ve been going through. They’ll be there for you, even though they’re going through stuff as well.” More MIRECC work on suicide prevention Below is a brief rundown of other suicide-prevention research at the Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center at the Bronx VA. Biomarkers for suicide risk— Lead investigator Dr. Vic Haghighi says her six-month study is looking at how “stress gets under the skin.” Through blood draws from 450 Veterans—350 with varying degrees of suicide risk, and 100 healthy in that regard—the team will look at levels of proteins and other substances in the blood, some linked to inflammation and stress, and see how they differ in suicidal Veterans. “Understanding the biological basis [of] the experience of combat stress is mission-critical toward the goal of zero Veteran suicides,” says Haghighi. Brain imaging and emotion processing—Is there a faulty circuit in the brain of people who turn suicidal? Dr. Erin Hazlett’s team aims to find out through two types of MRI brain scans. “The theory is that decreased connectivity between the amygdala and frontal brain regions is associated with ‘affective instability,’” explains Hazlett. That means “people’s emotions are more easily triggered, are of higher sensitivity, and take longer to simmer back down. We are trying to see if affective instability and altered amygdala-frontal connectivity are related to suicide risk.” Telehealth for at-risk Vets—Forty Veterans who were recently hospitalized for suicidal thinking are completing daily brief surveys via an interactive voice response system. The responses are sent to a central site at the Pittsburgh VA, where daily monitoring occurs. Any worrisome responses are then relayed to study clinicians, who reach out to the Veteran’s providers—and directly to the Veteran, if the concern is more urgent. Goodman, study lead at the Bronx VA, says the project “was initially designed to help augment treatment for those at highest risk and with hopes of facilitating improved connection with VA clinical staff.”
By Dorie Clark When Toby Johnson was 24 years old, the Army pilot was in charge of eight $30 million Apache helicopters, plus the 30 people who managed them — more responsibility than any of her friends in the private sector. But when she decided to leave the Army and get a civilian job, she realized she had a challenge: most hiring managers weren’t veterans, and they struggled to understand how her military experience might translate to the corporate realm. Transitioning from a military career to the corporate world can be a fraught process for the nearly 360,000 U.S. veterans who leave the service each year. In addition to networking their way into new professional circles and learning new cultural mores, veterans have to face down the even more fundamental questions: what career will best suit them? And once they know what they want, how can they convince hiring managers that their skills will translate — especially if they’re not quite sure they will? Since 2013, I’ve keynoted talks to groups of transitioning military veterans nearly 20 times as part of Deloitte’s CORE Leadership program, which helps vets reinvent themselves into civilian careers. In the process, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of veterans and heard their stories of entering the corporate world – including what they wish they had known when they began their transitions. The first lesson they’ve shared with me: control your narrative. Toby Johnson, who I interviewed for my book Reinventing You, taught me this one. She ultimately realized she had to take control of how she told her story, and make those hiring managers understand she wasn’t marketing her flying abilities — it was about the leadership skills she’d developed. Those leadership abilities, she knew, could be applied inside a corporation — and she was ultimately able to make that case successfully. Today, she’s a VP and General Manager for a prominent Fortune 500 corporation. To make that kind of case, though, you first have to recognize the value of your experience. For some veterans, that can be tough. Chris Robinette served in the Army for 11 years, first as an armor officer, then in Army Special Forces (also called the Green Berets). But despite his prodigious experience — which included a stint in Eastern Europe working with NATO partners — when it came time to transition to a civilian career, he doubted himself. “I felt very intimidated by undergraduate classmates who had gone into more traditional corporate careers,” he told me. “I felt like they had this decade of totally unique, impressive experience that I couldn’t match.” Over time, though, he came to realize that direct corporate experience wasn’t really necessary. “It’s very much, ‘Can you learn? Do you have a strong work ethic?’” Today, Chris is leveraging his military and leadership experience running a startup operation within a larger company that specializes in security consulting for major sports arenas and convention centers. Veterans often place an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves to identify the “perfect job” after they leave the service. But recognize that your first job may not be a fit. Of course, we all want to make good decisions, and it makes for an appealing can-do story to identify the job you want and land it. But the truth is, even with planning and preparation, there are some things we just can’t know in advance about whether we’ll thrive in a given job or industry or workplace. Indeed, close to half of veterans leave their first civilian job within a year. John Lee Dumas (I profiled him in another book) went through a string of jobs after leaving the Army. He tried tech, finance, and real estate — all to no avail. But instead of beating himself up about his failure to succeed in those industries, he did something important: he noticed what he actually cared about. Through his work in real estate, where he’d spend hours each day driving, he started listening to podcasts, and eventually decided to start his own. It’s important to recognize that your first hypothesis about “the right job” may not pan out. That isn’t failure — it’s data. Learning to listen to it, as Dumas did, enables you to find the avenue where you can ultimately succeed. Today, he’s one of the most successful business podcasters, earning seven figures a year. His experience highlights another piece of retrospective wisdom I’ve heard from many of the veterans I teach: you don’t have to take the straight path. When I met TJ Wagner at the CORE program, he had a plan — he just wasn’t sure it was a good one. He intended to enter business school in the fall, but he had nine months between his separation from the Army and the start of school. His plan for that time was to take sailing lessons and qualify to become a skipper for Yacht Week along the Croatian coast over the summer. On the surface, it might seem like a frivolous pursuit — what did sailing have to do with business school or a future corporate career? But he was excited by the prospect and decided to do it. Over the ensuing months, TJ took sailing theory classes in the Philippines and attended sailing school in Malaysia. To pass one of his final skipper exams, he told me, “one night the instructors untied the five yachts from the raft, and woke us up screaming and yelling, ‘The raft is collapsing!’ I felt like I was back in the Army.” TJ took control of the situation and passed his exam with a perfect score, and spent Yacht Week as skipper serving “Lebanese, Australians, Europeans, members of the American military, South Americans, and many more. It was the best job in the world.” He originally worried that recruiters would look askance at the gap on his resume, and his nontraditional choice of how to fill the time. But he’s no longer concerned. He’s leveraged his maritime skills as a networking asset, becoming president of the sailing club at his business school. Indeed, doing something out of the ordinary can often increase your professional status, making you an object of interest and giving you an entry point to connect to others on a human level. TJ is still considering his plans once he graduates. He may take a corporate job, he says — or he may open a sailing company. It’s comforting to assume that our career transitions will be linear and orderly. But that’s rarely the case, whether you’re shifting between corporate roles or from the military to civilian life. By recognizing that there’s no one “perfect transition,” it becomes easier to do the deep work necessary to find the right job and career for you over the long term. Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You,and Stand Out. You can receive her free Entrepreneurial You self-assessment.