08 December 2015

Homeless Women Veterans: The Overlooked Statistic

Lately, we’ve heard a lot about the plight of homeless veterans. It’s about time! However, how often do you hear about homeless women vets? Sure, a vet is a vet…and in the interest of true equality, we shouldn’t have to use the word “women” in that phrase any more than we should have to use the word “black” or “disabled” or any other.  But we do. And this is the reason:  housing homeless women vets brings with it a whole new set of issues. “Can they be housed with male vets?” “What about shower/bathroom facilities?” “What if they have children?” “How do we keep them safe?” I know a woman veteran who, in 2010, packed up her 2 little kids and left her alcoholic, abusive husband of 5 years. She had a steady job, and her father lived nearby and offered to take care of the kids while she worked, because she couldn’t afford daycare. Six months later, her father had a heart attack while watching the kids. She couldn’t afford to pay the sitter and her rent so she lost her job, and soon after, her house. She and the kids spent the next year shuffling from place to place, mostly living out of her minivan. It’s very difficult to find a job when you have no permanent address and no way to pay for daycare. In 2012, she went to the VA to try to find help.
According to the Disabled Veterans Homeless Foundation, there were 1,700 homeless veteran women in Iraq/Afghanistan in 2011. That same year, 18% of homeless veterans assisted by the VA were women. Comparison studies conducted by HUD show that female veterans are two to three times more likely to be homeless than any other group in the US adult population. And these are just the ones we know about.
Below I’ve listed all the programs for homeless veterans that I was able to find:
- The VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans. This is a free hotline and you don’t have to be registered with the VA to use it. When my friend called them in 2012, they said they didn’t have anything for women vets with children in her very large metropolitan city. ·       
- Transitional Housing facilities. Most large VA hospitals will dedicate one wing (or a ward) on one floor of the hospital to house homeless vets. Unfortunately, these berths are generally for men only. There are very few, if any, VA facilities that provide spaces for women, and I know of exactly none that provide space for women with children.
- HUD/VASH vouchers. This is a great program! However, long waiting lists require the vet to find some sort of transitional housing while waiting for approval for these vouchers. There’s also a good chance the application will be denied. ·   
- The Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program. Though not a program for the veteran, per se, it provides funds to community-based agencies providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless veterans. The vet may be directed to one of these facilities, when s/he calls the hotline. One place I know that received this funding in 2012 and could, therefore, house women vets, also provided transitional housing for criminals in a halfway house type situation, as well as housing for women with children through the DCFS. The only way a woman vet with children could be housed there was through DCFS, not the VA, since the VA doesn’t pay for or help with children at all.
So, how does my friend’s story turn out?  The VA had no immediate assistance for her because she was a woman with 2 kids. The kids had to stay with her father for 2 weeks so the VA could get her into that GPD facility I mentioned. Then the facility helped her switch from the GPD program to the DCFS program so her kids could join her. She later received a HUD/VASH voucher, then a good job, and she and her kids are now doing just fine.
Women, like men, can become homeless for many reasons: escaping the sexual/physical abuse of a spouse or partner, becoming jobless, or due to mental health issues, among many others. Is there help available? Yes, if they can find it. Do they need to find a job and help themselves out of the situation? Absolutely! And most of them really want to. But they need a safe place to stay while they do so. The reason this is a dialogue we need to open is not because women should receive special treatment just because they’re women. We need to talk about this because there have been many strides taken in the way we treat, and the programs we offer to, homeless male veterans. But I think it’s high time we recognize that there are differences between the needs of homeless men and women, and there are still very few resources available specifically to address the special needs of the homeless female vet. We need to offer programs for both. After all, we all served.

07 December 2015

The Green Side

Being in the military is a different experience for men and women.   While most men find it very easy to find 'significant others’ outside of the service they are in, it’s not that easy for women.
Many civilian men are hesitant when it comes to dating a woman who is probably a better shot than they are. Then of course, there is the fact that the women will probably be called upon to serve in a war zone of some sort, while he would be stuck at home, sending care packages and worrying each time he turns on the news.
What this leads to is the fact that most men in the military will marry civilians, and most military women will marry military men. While this does simplify the explanations about upcoming deployments, it tends to leave many men with small children on a regular basis. This leads to thousands of men who develop a casual ease with childcare, and I think it’s time to let the secret out.
I state here and now, for women, a man who knows his way around diapers, formula, favorite toys and bedtime stories is more revered in some circles than Chesty Puller (forgive me Gen Puller!). There is just something about a big tough military man with a diaper bag draped over his shoulder, corralling an active year old child with casual ease in the commissary that make women's hearts flutter.
For a woman in uniform, who wants a child at some point, you know that the man you choose, will be Mr. Mom on a semi-regular basis during your career. The trick for us is telling which man will be up for the job, and which of them will run screaming for the hills the moment that first diaper comes off and the smell burns its way through your nose. I tell you this so that you will understand the doe-eyed smiles of women in uniform, should you make a fast trip to the PX or a commissary run with the kids. It’s not so much your masculine appeal, (which, I am sure is greatly to be admired,) but it’s the casual way you deal with missing shoes, dropped binkies, and the constant “whys” that drives any parent to near insanity at times.
So, there you have it.  Military women are a different breed. We not only want romance, affection, and love... we want a man who isn't going to quiver in terror the second a baby is shoved into his arms. Sure, we might be a bit more work than a civilian woman, but who else is ever going to understand your life choices as well as we can?

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01 December 2015

Musings of a 30 Year Career

Last month, I retired from the Army after serving 30 years as an officer.  Over those three decades, I was able to experience things and see places that would not have been possible were it not for the Army.  Along the way, I learned a lot based on what I experienced and observed, and I would like to share some of those key bits of wisdom.
1. Things do not always go according to plan, but that is not always a bad thing.  My initial career goal was to retire from active duty.  At my ten-year mark, I went before the Major promotion board.  When the list was released, my boss called me into his office and told me that I was not selected.  It was crushing news that took me years to get over.  So, I left active duty in 1996 and joined an Army Reserve unit in 1998.  As an Army Reserve officer, I was able to serve longer than I probably would have on active duty.
2.  Have a back-up plan.  Thinking that I was going to stay in for 20 years, I never had a back-up plan in case that did not happen.  So when I found myself taking the long road home from Alaska to Illinois, I really did not know what the future was going to hold for me.  Had I put more thought into it before it was that late in the game, I would have had a better plan instead of trying to figure out what I was going to do at the age of 33.
3. Be proactive in taking care of yourself.  I made it through 30 years including five mobilizations and four deployments and never once had a significant pay issue.  Yet some of my peers had issues that may not be resolved even today.  What was different is that I was not going to wait for someone to do something for me when I could do it myself.  I took responsibility for myself and it paid off.
4. No one is a perfect leader.  My career was impacted by raters and senior raters that failed to do their duty.  But I can also look back at times when I definitely failed as a leader.  No one is perfect and we are not promised that life will be fair.  People will sometimes make the wrong decisions but what matters is the subsequent actions we take.   Some of the most valuable things I learned came from leadership failures, both my own and of those senior to me.
5. LDRSHIP is more than an acronym.  I have heard and read discussions about the efficacy of the Army Values.  Some have argued that they are too simplistic and we need a more professional ethic.  I disagree with that. Throughout my career, I have tried to live these values, even before the Army formalized them in the late 1990’s.  DUTY is why I volunteered for three of my mobilizations as a reserve officer, even though it would hurt my promotion potential by not staying in the same reserve unit.  In my view, if all Soldiers truly lived by these words, many of the issues the Army faces these days would be less significant.  They need to be more than a tag we hang on a chain next to our ID tags.
6. Improve the profession by writing.  As an Infantry captain, I wrote five articles that were published by Infantry Magazine.  In 2010, upon my return from Baghdad where I served as a Human Terrain Team leader, I wrote another article for Infantry and one for Military Review.  I wrote for two reasons.  Foremost, I wanted to share my experiences so that others could hopefully learn from them.  I myself learned many TTPs from various magazine articles.  Second, I wrote to keep my writing skills fresh.  Written communication is important for a leader, and too many Army leaders, officers, and enlisted do a poor job of maintaining this skill.  The more we write, the better we become, and the better the Army will be.

It truly has been a great three decades of service for me and I will always look back and know I was part of a great team.  There is one more lesson that I learned as an ROTC cadet from a Vietnam Veteran Master Sergeant and Ranger Instructor.  It really is the only thing I remember from ROTC.  This final lesson is one that has paid off when I listened to it and caused me to pay a price when I did not.  Simply stated, that lesson is this: “Never pass up an opportunity to use the latrine.”

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30 November 2015

Playing Army: The Difficulties The Guard and Reserve Face

I recently read an article on Fox News (http://fxn.ws/1CFVZr8) regarding the difficulties the Guard and Reserve faced when being recalled to active duty service, and I was appalled at the treatment these service members faced from their superiors.
I was active duty my whole career, but I have worked side by side with many Guardsmen and Reservists from all five branches of the service and have never worked with a finer group of men and women.  I know the difficulties I faced when deploying months on end, going TDY for days, weeks, or months, and being locked down on base for long exercises, but what I dealt with is different from the same requirements that face those in the Guard and Reserve.  Yes, they go through the same separations that the active duty do, but depending on the unit and individual, they may not do it as frequently (or in some cases, more frequently). However, they also have to face disruption in their civilian work, volunteer, and school lives.
With this in mind, employers, both federal and civilian, need to support all members of the armed services, regardless of their status.  These individuals are not “playing war”, but are a cornerstone of our defensive services.  Excluding the National Guard’s state commitments, the Guard and Reserves make up a significant portion of our military forces, encompassing 38% of the total force personnel according to a DoD 2013 demographics report.  This significant force brings flexibility, adaptability, and strategic reach to our forces, allowing our government to adapt to changing situations and fight a war on more than one front.
Even with the protection provided by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), civilian and government employers are creating unneeded hardships for the Guard and Reservists.  A summary provided by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESRG) states: “USERRA provides that an employer must give you time off to perform military service and reemploy you following the service with status, seniority and rate of pay as though you never left. The employer cannot discriminate against you because of your military connection. This protection applies to employees who are full-time, part-time, or probationary, so long as the employment is not brief, non-recurring, and not expected to continue for a significant period.”
Without the sacrifices of our Guard and Reserve brothers and sisters, the stresses on the active duty forces would be enormous.  Our military would be much more selective in its operations, we would have reduced strike capability, less adaptability to battlefront conditions, and the physical toll on our service members would be unbearable.  Most likely, Congress and the DoD would have had to introduce the draft to support the post-Vietnam era instead of using the all-volunteer force that exists today.
While not all employers make their recalled employees’ lives difficult, those that do outweigh the benefits received from the supporters of our Guard and Reserves.  I believe we need to be vocal when we hear of these issues, bring them to light, and support those who are serving with pride.  We are a total force, Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve, and we need to stand together to support each other, on the battlefield, in garrison, and in the community.

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25 November 2015

Drive the Change

If you’ve watched any major sporting event on TV lately you’ve likely seen the Armed Forces newest commercial:  “The challenges facing the country never stop…  We train, adapt, and get smarter…  Not to keep up with change, but to drive it.”

Changing the direction of your professional career from military service to the civilian sector can be overwhelming.  The change itself, however, is inevitable.  It’s not about keeping up with this change, it’s about driving it.  Just like your time in the service, you train, adapt, and get smarter.  Part of getting smarter is keeping an open mind and exploring all opportunities available to you on the civilian side, before settling on the one that’s right for you.  One of these opportunities worth checking out is agency ownership with Farmers Insurance.

Farmers made the transition from my 10 year army career easy for me.  What I appreciate most about the 87 year old Fortune 500 Company is that their values aren’t much different than those we have in the military.  Not only does Farmers demonstrate values like leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage, they also value veterans.  Farmers doesn't just talk about supporting veterans like other companies; they know actions speak louder than words, and they know support and financial assistance speak loudest of all.

The top reasons I hear from veterans hesitant to explore this opportunity are that they have a lack of industry experience or they have a lack of capital.  Farmers removes both these obstacles from the equation.  The experience veterans bring to the table outweigh the importance of industry experience--Farmers' nationally recognized training program can teach product knowledge.  What it can't teach, and what veterans already have, is a train-to-task mentality, leadership that can recognize and mitigate roadblocks and challenges, and personal courage to step outside comfort zones and see the bigger picture.
The business ownership opportunity with Farmers isn't for everyone, but for the people who want to be their own bosses, build something for their children to inherit, and help people protect their homes and families, this is the perfect opportunity.  It’s a continuation of protecting others, very much what we were passionate about in the military, except as an agency owner where there's no risk of being deployed to a combat zone!  For more information about transitioning from service member to agency owner, I encourage you to watch and share Farmers Insurance Military Veteran Program:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-34d6d0-lo

Other than talking about the Farmers Opportunity with your battle buddies, please help us spread the word about Suits for Soldiers, an event happening in our mid-Atlantic states this year CT, MD. NY, PA, NJ and GA, with hopes to expand the event nationally next year.  Farmers is collecting new and gently used men’s and women’s business suits from November 11th through December 11th at your local Farmers agencies.  To learn more about donating suits, receiving a donated suit, or agency ownership opportunities, call 1.888.MILHIRE (1.888.645.4473).

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23 November 2015

#VetsRising: Veterans Day 2015

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have a social media tagline #VetsRising that you may have seen on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else the kids are using these days. To be honest, it seemed odd to me when I first saw it. I wondered from what depths we were supposedly rising and to what heights did we intend to go. I have been a veteran for over 11 years now, and I have worked with student veterans for close to seven. The past 18 months, however, have truly been transformative. In my work at Northeastern University, I have had the privilege of traveling about the country and meeting veterans from other cities. Through these other veterans, through their challenges and countless accomplishments, I have come to learn just how appropriate #VetsRising really is.

About once a week, I receive a phone call from my friend Josh out in Washington State. These have become my favorite calls of the week. Josh is an Army veteran who served in Iraq, and now he’s a fellow IAVA team leader. We both attended an IAVA regional leaders summit back in August and left feeling hyped up and enthusiastic about creating a sense of community among veterans in our area. He calls to share his success stories, to tell me about the veterans he meets and how happy they are to have found others who served. He does all of this in addition to his responsibilities as a father and full-time employee working with the homeless. Josh’s next venture is to start a program helping veterans in prison. He is an inspiration. He is also a man of great conviction. So distraught is he over their rate of suicide, that Josh has “22” tattooed on his finger to remind him of the 22 veterans who take their own lives each and every day.

Thanks to the leadership of Rebecca, a Field Associate at IAVA, and the work of other fantastic organizations that are truly serving this population, I continue to meet great veterans and civilian supporters. Here in Boston, the Home Base Program treats veterans and servicemembers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, deployment stress, and military sexual trauma. They do this in spite of a veteran’s discharge status or their ability to pay. Their outreach staff is comprised solely of veterans who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. This fall, Northeastern partnered with Home Base in order to host their New England Warrior Health and Fitness Program on campus. This free program is open to any Post-9/11 veteran and includes components such as strength and conditioning training, proper diet and sleep hygiene education, and mental skills training. Civilians would pay thousands of dollars a month for this type of experience, but it is free to us simply because we served.

The goal of programs like Warrior Health and Fitness and groups like Team RWB is to foster a sense of community in a healthy, positive environment. Organizations like Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues have similar goals, but they take things a step farther by empowering veterans to make a positive impact in their communities through their response to natural disasters and coordination of volunteer activities, respectively. Veterans aren’t simply returning to civilian life to shirk their civic responsibilities. They continue to serve other veterans and their fellow citizens. At our core is a shared belief in this wild and beautiful experiment called America.

The former military members I meet are shaping the veteran experience in their communities. They’ve taken up causes like veteran suicide, homelessness, unemployment, mental and physical health, educational improvements, and empowerment. Veterans like my friends Victor in Seattle, Rob here on the main campus, and civilians like Josie in Boston or Noel in Charlotte are helping us with outreach because they believe in the power of a Northeastern education and the impact it has on employability.

Until recently, I must have thought of myself as a lone gun working to help the veterans with whom I come in contact. The fact is, though, that I’m one of many, many veterans across the nation who are banding together to elevate their brothers and sisters. We do what we can to welcome them home, to prepare a place for them at the table, to invite them in from the margins and prove to them that they’re never alone. I’m intensely relieved and reassured when I see the number of these veterans and veteran supporters doing this important work.

In my opinion, this is the essence of #VetsRising. We emerge from the military undoubtedly changed by the things we experienced, some left to struggle more than others. As we succeed in our transition, we rise. It fills my heart to see so many veterans turning, extending their hands toward a brother or sister, and lifting them up.

My life has been forever changed by my decision to serve some 15 years ago. Northeastern University has continued to place their faith in me, to offer me the privilege of serving the veterans who call our campus home. Yesterday, they doubled down on that faith by appointing me the inaugural director of our new Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers (CAVS). I hope to follow the excellent example of the organizations and individuals around the country who are taking point and clearing the way for others.

This Veterans Day 2015, the outlook for those who serve and have served is getting better and better. We rise. We rise together.

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12 November 2015

Veterans Day and Looking Forward

Author Name:- GySgt George Vukovich

Veterans Day celebrates and honors those who selflessly served our great country as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The genesis of this day dates to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when major hostilities of World War I formally ended. The day links together a global community of veterans. Did you know that many European countries honor the day, but refer to it as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day? Did you know that Nov. 11 was not officially celebrated in the U.S. as Veterans Day until 1954? Prior recognition in the U.S. was the same as our European counterparts, which we previously honored as Armistice Day. Regardless of the name, it’s important to remember the significance of honoring those who served.

History of the Veteran Bond

During World War I, the U.S. Armed Forces fought alongside courageous European soldiers. We’ve witnessed similar courage in generations since during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and in the Middle East. Collectively, we have bonded to form a global community of veterans, and we all deserve the recognition affiliated with sacrifice for a greater good. This is our “thank you” for a job well done! 

How We’re Celebrating the Veteran Community

As we speak of a community of veterans, I want to share some local insights as well. Celebrating the legacy of the veteran community tends to focus on one day of the year in particular. Veterans Day comes and Veterans Day goes. I’m very fortunate in my adult life, as I’ve had the privilege of serving our country in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years. Since then, I’ve been equally fortunate to represent an institution of education, American Military University, which truly supports our military and veteran community on a daily basis. We’ve helped thousands of veterans and military students earn an academic degree, and we currently serve and support more than 50,000 such students in our program. Our pledge to our community of veteran learners is constant and consistent. Our willingness and desire to provide greater opportunities is unwavering. We think about the needs of our students daily—not just once a year.

With that, we look forward to celebrating in 2016 AMU’s 25th Anniversary since being established in 1991. We also look forward with great anticipation to the opening of our newest endeavor, the APUS Veterans Center on Campus, which will become the center point of our activities associated with our veteran students. Our Student Veterans of America Chapter, which currently consists of approximately 3,000 members, will also be headquartered within this resource center. Each chapter member is an AMU and U.S. Armed Forces member.

We intend to provide a variety of opportunities to aid our veteran students in their classroom environment and also with life in general. Details of the center will be announced during the opening, and just as the mission of the school is to provide education at a distance, the Veterans Center’s mission will follow suit to help support those who are not located in the same region. 

On November 11, we honor and proudly say “thank you” to all veterans, particularly our student body veterans. We want you to know, we’re thinking about you on this special day and on every day that comes before and after. We’re deeply committed to you and your academic success, and we strive daily to help provide more opportunities for you.

Happy Veterans Day!

About the Author

George Vukovich is a retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant and former President of the Virginia Advisory Council for Military Education (2010 & 2011). George is actively involved in educational opportunities for veterans in a variety of venues, and serves as staff advisor for American Military University’s Student Veterans of America Chapter.

If you're considering advanced education, don't hesitate to take a look at American Military University: http://rly.pt/Veterans-Day-Looking-Forward

We’ve always believed in giving veterans the green light.

Author Name:- Walmart
With 22 million veterans in this country, their contributions to our nation are immeasurable. Any effort to highlight their achievements and show our appreciation would be a display of loyalty that can’t be ignored.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to strive to do.

Walmart is proud to power Greenlight A Vet – a national campaign that will shine a light on the strengths and values that veterans bring to our communities. Together, we can recognize the important contributions they make for our nation and in our communities:

·      Hiring a veteran or helping a veteran find a job
·      Volunteering and serving with veteran groups in your local community
·      Raising awareness on social media using #GreenlightAVet
·      Changing a light in your home or on your porch to green to signal your support.

As part of this movement, Walmart has proudly greenlit the company’s 100,000th hire since 2013 as part of the Walmart Veterans Welcome Home Commitment. And we’re not done yet. By 2020, we’re committed to 250,000 veteran hires. Each and every new opportunity is a strong foundation for civilian transition – and it’s these paths to success that we’re going to brilliantly light up.  

A successful transition does take more than just a job opportunity – veterans face other challenges when returning to the civilian workforce. Recognizing this, the Walmart Foundation has committed an additional $20 million to support veteran job training, education and community-based initiatives. By investing in innovative public and private partnerships, we’re working toward giving every veteran a strong foundation to build their civilian careers.

It’ll take both big initiatives like those and small acts of support from everyday Americans to really make a difference. Greenlight A Vet is the start of a national movement spotlighting the contributions our veterans bring defending our way of life and the value they offer in our communities. Both are irreplaceable.

Learn more about how you can shine a light on veterans across the country. Visit greenlightavet.com.