If you can imagine believing that your own strength is what keeps others alive, even at the expense of your own well-being, you might be close to imagining what it’s like to live inside the mind of a veteran.
But who gives strength to the heroes who support us should they need it? This catch-22 is exactly the conundrum so many veterans face.
What should happen first is this: Someone dials the number 800-273-8255, and presses 1.
It’s hard to reach these heroes. And it’s hard to give them the power to realize that there’s so much strength in putting yourself first and taking care of yourself.
“You know when you hit a baseball and you … get that crack? It’s like that when you’re able to hear a person smile. And make a difference.“
Each of us has the power to reach out to a veteran. If a veteran gets help, things can get better.
I’m sharing because I want every veteran to know about this. It might save that person’s life.
If you or anyone you know needs support, pick up the phone, dial 800-273-8255, and press 1 or visit the Veterans Crisis Line website to reach a caring, trained responder for a confidential online chat and to connect with other resources.
Everybody who works for a living deserves to make a living wage.
But the words of Derrell Odom, a Marine and veteran of two tours in Iraq, bring it home even more when he talks about life at minimum wage.
“I don’t want my son to look at me like I’m something less because I have to work for $7.25 and I bust my butt every day and I take pride in what I do we have a voice and we want it to be heard.”
Don’t we owe it to people like Derrell that good jobs with benefits and a decent paycheck are part of the deal when they come back home?
I’ll say it again: Good jobs with benefits and a decent paycheck should be part of the deal of living here.
On Veterans Day, rather than only posting well wishes to vets on Facebook, how about getting the word out that there are people like Derrell who came back from the bowels of hell to make $7.25 an hour?
It’s a national disgrace that needs to change.
I came across some interesting things when I started researching this, and I’d like to pass them along.
“Someone needed help and they felt privileged to be given the opportunity.” UPDATE: The VA also sent Michael Sulsona a brand new wheelchair.
1. Michael Sulsona is a Vietnam veteran who has been waiting for a new wheelchair for the last two years. He says the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) has denied his requests for a replacement.
2. Last week, his wheelchair finally fell apart as he was shopping at Lowe’s. A few employees saw what happened and Sulsona was shocked at how quickly they were ready to help. He wrote a beautiful letter to his local paper about the experience:
“In 1971, I stepped on a land mine in Vietnam and lost both legs above the knee.
For the past two years, I have been waiting to receive a new wheelchair from the Veterans Administration. In addition, I have been told that I am not entitled to a spare wheelchair.
On the evening of July 7, my wheelchair fell apart again, while shopping at Lowe’s Home Improvement Center in on Forest Avenue in Mariners Harbor.
Three employees, David, Marcus and Souleyman jumped to my assistance immediately. They placed me in another chair while they went to work. They took the wheelchair apart and replaced the broken parts and told me, “We’re going to make this chair like new.”
I left 45 minutes after closing hours in my wheelchair that was like new.
I kept thanking them and all they could say was, “It was our honor.”
The actions of these three employees at Lowe’s showed me there are some who still believe in stepping to the plate.
They didn’t ask any questions, didn’t feel the need to fill out any forms or make phone calls. Someone needed help and they felt privileged to be given the opportunity.”
According to VA Spokesperson, VA New York/New Jersey Healthcare Network, Sulsona received a custom wheelchair and have pledged to service his chair when he needs it:
“We were very sorry to hear about the reported circumstances surrounding Mr. Sulsona’s request for a new wheelchair. We quickly investigated and can report the Veteran’s new custom wheelchair was delivered to him today and it along with his back up will be serviced by the VA as needed.
Too many Veterans wait too long to receive their care and benefits, and this has never been acceptable. Providing Veterans like Mr. Sulsona the quality care and benefits they have earned through their service is our most important mission at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Chris DiMaria, the store manager at the Lowe’s wear Sulsona’s chair was rebuilt, told BuzzFeed via a Lowe’s spokesperson that he was incredibly proud to have helped the veteran.
“Whether a customer needs assistance repairing their home or a wheelchair, our employees are ready to spring into action to help,” DiMaria said. “Marcus, David and Souleymane are a perfect example of the culture we embody here at Lowe’s, and I could not be more proud of my team or our company.”
WASHINGTON — President Obama praised several Republican lawmakers at a press event in Virginia Thursday, congratulating them for crossing the aisle and helping create legislation reforming the Veterans Administration he then sat down and signed into law.
It was a rare sight in modern Washington, and it sounded, well, bizarre. Obama himself noted the strangeness of the moment, quipping while signing the bill into law that he’s “out of practice” when it comes to signing legislation.
“This feels good,” Obama said. “You know, I don’t get enough practice at this.”
In an alternate universe, more Obama events would sound like the one the president hosted at Fort Belvoir, an Army base in suburban Virginia. In recent weeks, Obama’s public appearances have featured the president openly mocking Republicans for the gridlock that’s helped produce the least-productive Congress in generations.
At Fort Belvoir, Obama was markedly more friendly to the Republicans in the room who helped craft the bipartisan Veteran’s Administration reform package, which was spurred on by the lingering wait list scandal at the agency in charge of delivering health care to former members of the armed services.
“I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here today, and I especially want to thank those who led the fight to give [new VA Secretary Robert McDonald] and the VA more of the resources and flexibility that they need to make sure every veteran has access to the care and benefits that they’ve earned,” Obama said.
Obama called the bill “a good deal,” and noted it “passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan majorities, and that doesn’t happen often in Congress.”
While he was using the multiple pens to sign his name to the legislation typical of a bill singing, Obama commented further on how extraordinary the moment was — and ribbed the Republicans just a little.
Over 2,500 U.S. service members have been killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and over 20,000 more have been injured. A new study has revealed that IED blasts leave lasting signatures on the brains of combatveterans who survive the attack. The regions of the brain most effected by the blast control memory, decision making, and reasoning. Vassilis Koliatsos from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is senior author of the paper, which was published in Acta Neuropathologica Communications.
During World War I, many soldiers who had been subjected to constant bombardment on the front lines suffered from what was then known as ‘shell shock’: a disorder which manifested as a variety of psychological conditions that were never fully explained. While the term ‘shell shock’ is no longer used in favor of more descriptive diagnoses, today’s combattroops face similar blast stresses from IEDs, mortar fire, rocket propelled grenades, car bombs, and suicide bombers. Koliatsos and his team sought to understand the extent of the damage these explosions leave.
“This is the first time the tools of modern pathology have been used to look at a 100-year-old problem: the lingering effect of blasts on the brain,” Koliatsos said in a press release. “We identified a pattern of tiny wounds, or lesions, that we think may be the signature of blast injury. The location and extent of these lesions may help explain why some veterans who survive IED attacks have problems putting their lives back together.”
In order to find out how an IED blast compared to other types of neurotrauma, the team obtained the brains of five male combatveterans who had survived IED attacks but later died from unrelated causes. The bodies had been donated to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. These were compared to the brains of 24 other individuals who had died from other reasons, including heart attacks and car crashes.
(Left) Lesions of a brain involved in a car crash (Center) Lesions from IED blast injury (Right) Lesions from drug overdose. Image credit: Vassilis Koliatsos
The brains were treated with a biomarker which causes swelling where there are breaks in the neurons. Four of the troops who had survived IED blasts produced honeycomb-shaped swelling, distinct from any other cause of death analyzed in the study. While there weren’t signs of concussion in the brain, there were signs of brain inflammation.
These areas with damaged neurons were found in many areas of the brain including the frontal lobe; responsible for executive functions such as memory, speech, and decision making. It was not clear, however, if the damage was caused by the blast, or if the explosion compromised the neurons and made them more susceptible to damage from other causes.
”When you look at a brain, you are looking at the lifehistory of an individual, who may have a history of blasts, fighting, substance abuse or all of those,” Koliatsos explained. “If researchers could study survivors’ brains at different times after a blast—a week, a month, six months, one year, three years—that would be a significant step forward in figuring out what actually happens over time after a blast.”
Troops coming home from war often experience PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders, which could be playing a role in the number of veteran suicides. Having a better understanding of the physical damage caused by IEDs could lead to new treatments for these individuals, improving their quality of life.
The online kit will instruct veterans on best practices for reporting abuses and potentially leaking documents. The tools are critical now, organizers say, when veterans face a health care system they say is in crisis and an Obama administration that has had a “chilling effect” on whistleblowing. The White House says it values and protects whistleblowers.
Asking VA employees to go outside the system and straight to the public with problems is in keeping with the military traditions veterans are taught to uphold, said IAVA Chief of Staff Derek Bennett, a former Army Captain and Special Assistant to General David Petraeus.
“As a veteran myself, I recognize the importance of the chain of command,” he said. “But as a former company commander, I know that my soldiers always had the opportunity to circumvent the chain of command if my work or my staff were part of the problem.”
The ongoing VA hospital scandal, which has seen top officials subpoenaed by Congress amid allegations that VA hospitals have covered up long wait times, has infuriated veterans’ groups, including the IAVA, which deals specifically with veterans of post-9/11 conflicts.
After delays at the Phoenix VA hospital went on so long that some veterans allegedly died while waiting for care, complaints about the overloaded VA hospital system have emerged all over the country. Veterans and congressional investigators have complained that it has been tough to get straight answers from inside the VA and its embattled leadership.
To combat the problem, the IAVA is joining with the Project On Government Oversight to launch VAOversight.org, a site specifically designed to help VA employees leak to POGO investigators and the media. POGO, which has long helped whistleblowers and other leakers get their information out, says the collaboration is the first of its kind in the group’s history.
The website and the whistleblower campaign will be announced at a Thursday press conference featuring IAVA leaders, POGO officials, and veterans. BuzzFeed was given an early look at the site and how the program works.
Even with the help provided by POGO, Newman said leaking remains a dangerous business, especially in the Obama era.
“Certainly the fear of reprisal is real,” he said. “We don’t have any personal knowledge of reprisals in the VA at the moment… but in general it’s the norm not the exception.”
The site offers detailed training in how to circumvent the stringent anti-leak efforts put in place across the government by the Obama administration, which has made cracking down on unauthorized leaks a priority.
“What we’ve seen with the Obama administration is the lengths they will go to try to keep things in house,” said Joe Newman, communications director at POGO.
Newman, a former journalist, said the Obama administration has for the most part carried over intense anti-leak programs launched in the George W. Bush administration. Changing technology and a changing emphasis on national security have focused attention on whistleblowers and investigating leaks, he said.
Still, Newman added, the Obama administration’s zeal to track down and punish leakers is well-documented.
“The thing that makes the Obama administration really stand out is the use of the Espionage Act. They’ve invoked it seven times [against leakers] and that’s more than every other administration combined when it comes to going after people who have leaked to the media,” he said. “That really puts the Obama administration in a different category as far the extent they’ll go to keep things secret.”
Bennett said Obama’s prosecutions have had the desired effect when it comes to leaks.
“If you just look at the number of whistleblower prosecutions, this administration is significantly higher than the previous administration,” he said. “I can imagine that post-Snowden, there is even more concern about that. So, yeah, I can imagine there’s a chilling effect.”
But the VA is not an intelligence agency, where even speaking to the mediaon any topic without authorization is strictly, forbidden. And successful whistleblowing has played a major role in the unfolding VA scandal. On Monday, employees at the Durham, North Carolina VA hospital were put on leave after a fellow employee alleged they falsified records to hide wait times.
While there are built-in reporting systems for problems, IAVA says internal systems aren’t working fast enough to fix the VA and more employees need to be encouraged to come forward. Bennett said veterans can’t wait for the problems inside the VA to be fixed.
“Our members are outraged and flabbergasted about the allegations that are coming out,” he said. “As somebody’s who’s not in the system, I don’t know their exact process [at the VA.] But clearly there is something about the culture or the structure that these employees…do not feel comfortable sharing internally.”
The White House says it appreciates and welcomes whistleblowing.
“The Obama administration has demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting whistleblowers,” an administration official said. “The president appointed strong advocates to the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board who have been widely praised. The President also signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, which improves whistleblower protections for Federal employees.”
Beyond the high-tech tools, Newman added, sometimes the simplest advice is the best when it comes to avoiding being caught as a leaker.
“FOR YOUR PROTECTION, DO NOT USE A GOVERNMENT OR CONTRACTOR PHONE, FAX, OR COMPUTER TO CONTACT POGO,” the IAVA-POGO site reads.
I was stuck in rush hour traffic when my engine sputtered and my car came to a stop. I’ve always hated driving in the city, but there I was, halfway through a four-way stop, blocking traffic. I immediately began to panic.
He was small, thin and rugged, clothed in torn jeans and a black leather jacket. His hair was long and silver, covered by a bandana that looked like the American flag.
If he hadn’t offered to help me that day, I might not have noticed the dog tags around his neck or the pain his eyes.
As children, we’re taught to be cautious of strangers. As women, we’re taught that this idea applies especially to men we don’t know. So, it was easy to ignore him before, as I often passed him standing on the side of the road.
I had seen him. I even read the sign he was holding. It said:
Anything you have to give. God bless you.
I did my best not to give my attention so I wouldn’t feel guilty for not helping. But, when he approached my window and softly knocked to get my attention, guilty was exactly how I felt.
His name was Ron. “But all my friends call me Lieutenant,”he said as he introduced himself and diverted the oncoming traffic.
At first, I wanted to tell him I was sorry that I hadn’t stopped when I saw him before. But I didn’t.
I greeted him warmly and thanked him for coming to help me. Then, we began to move my vehicle to a more convenient location. He pushed and I steered. He insisted. Soon, I was safely parked at a nearby McDonald’s.
As I shook his hand and thanked him again, I noticed he didn’t have his sign anymore — he must have left it. I asked if I could buy him some dinner. It was the least I could do for his help.
At first, he declined: “It’s okay, ma’am. I stay here some nights. They’re good to me at this one,” he said as he looked toward the ground.
I insisted. I didn’t expect to sit and eat with him, but I did. He insisted. As we sat together that day, I learned a different side of war.
He Was Married
“Nineteen years!” he said proudly as he reflected. His wife died six years ago while he was deployed. I listened quietly as he told me what happened.
His voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears as he came to the end of his story by saying,
A soldier isn’t supposed to lose a wife; a wife loses her soldier in war. It kills me every single day.
Lt. Ron was honorably discharged two years later. He has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was living with his only son after he returned home from his service, but 10 months before I met the Lieutenant, he lost his son, too.
He has no family and has been living on the street for eight months.
As I left McDonald’s that day, I didn’t ignore the opportunity to give back to someone who gave and sacrificed so much for so many. I opened my wallet, and I gave all that was in it. I wish I could have given him more.
Do you know how many of those veterans are receiving benefits and help through the government and country they served to protect? 8,493,700. In other words, less than half of the men and women who have sacrificed, suffered and served our country get benefits.
Remember our veterans. Remember them as you sit down to your holiday feasts, hang your lights and adorn your trees. All of our veterans have sacrificed and all of our soldiers who are still serving will be veterans one day. Many have served, many have given and many are still fighting.
Remember our children. Remember them as you sip your coffee, zip your jacket and tighten your scarf. Remember them as you warm your hands by the fire this winter and watch your children’s faces light up as they open their gifts on Christmas morning.
We do not do enough. We do not give enough. This holiday season, may we rise together to change it.
Today is Veterans Day. To a lot of us, it means no school, lots of doorbuster sales and, hopefully, a day off of work. The meaning of Veterans Day can be of little insight to those who have no family members or friends who have served time in the service. But, those who do may see the importance of today a little clearer.
We have supported our loved ones through their times of self-sacrifice and loyalty, as well as the most demanding, dangerous, terrifying and noble times. Their acts of valor trickle into their civilian lives, and we dedicate this day to them.
Today takes us away from our daily protests and brings into focus whom we should thank for all of our freedom.
In honor of the veterans, with a very special recognition to my father and brother who sacrificed their years and served proudly in the US Army, here are five valuable lessons only a strong-willed veteran can teach us civilians about life:
The 3 D’s: determination, discipline and dedication
There are few, if any, jobs in which ability alone is sufficient.
Those words, spoken by William B. Given Jr., help emphasize the need for the three D’s for a successful life.
To be determined is to know you are capable of doing the task at hand. Regardless of a soldier’s insecurity, he or she is determined to be of value and of service to America.
Regardless of the pain, sweat and tears that come to a soldier in order to serve and survive in the harshest circumstances, discipline is what drives him or her forward.
Lastly, dedication is what gives meaning to the reason solders do what they vowed to do. A soldier is dedicated to serving his or her country through thick and thin; a soldier is dedicated to freedom. With the three D’s, your journey through wherever you have found yourself becomes more meaningful and successful.
Work as a team.
There have been many circumstances in which, in order to suffice and sometimes live, soldiers have had to appreciate diversity and assemble a team of very diverse individuals.
They have gone through very traumatic and life-changing experiences together, which has taught them the importance of a team. When it comes to life-and-death situations, external issues take the backburner, and people must come together to accomplish whatever needs to be done.
Team work is a building block to a successful life in the professional, personal or educational level.
Learn to work under stress.
A veteran is someone who, at one point, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount up to and including his or her life.
Imagine the stresses of a battlefield and making quick decisions with incomplete information with enemies at every corner hunting for a quick victory. There is no time to stress over these life or death situations.
Soldiers learn to analyze, plan for the best result and execute it. Take this lesson into your daily life when you are up to your ears in debt, or when you feel there’s not enough time in the day to finish your work. It could be worse; stop agonizing over it and make a plan.
The value of our freedom
Not everyone in this world has the luxury of living without fear. Imagine the fear and anguish people feel where bombs are flying overhead, close to their homes.
Or, how about the countries in which the desire for education is reprimanded and confiscated from those who seek it?
There are people out there who don’t have the right to make the simple decisions we take for granted and make for ourselves. We overlook our blessings as Americans, sometimes, and hearing it from a veteran is the most valuable wake-up call.
Veterans sacrifice everything to ensure our country continues to be “The Land of the Free.”
Embrace change; it’s not the worst thing in the world.
Change is inevitable in the militaryworld; vets learn to cope with it and learn from it.
Embrace change, even if it is outside of your comfort zone. The most successful people have learned to overcome this obstacle and actually use it to their advantage.
Soldiers are constantly learning to cope with change of plan in missions. Instead of obsessing over change and trying to resist it, they learn how to change gears quickly and respond to change in an effective way.
We will all face drastic change throughout our entire lives. The way we respond to change is what makes the difference.
The hardest part in a soldier’s life is leaving his or her life and family behind to do what he or she vowed to do as part of the US military. Soldiers have left behind unborn babies, unfinished business, responsibilities and spouses to protect and serve our country.
Some will return; others will not. That dire uncertainty fills the air with uncertainty and sadness for their families.
The best thing you can learn from a veteran is to appreciate where you are at this moment in life. You have the ability to determine where life takes you. Most of that freedom wouldn’t be ours if it wasn’t for the men and women who devote their lives to make America what it is.
All of the above lessons come from the men and women I have met who have taught me how precious life is and how important it is to handle things in the most positive and effective way.
I’ve listened to their stories, followed their pictures on social media and seen what they left behind to fight. I’ve been inspired to live my life with the mindset of a soldier, a marine, an airmen or a seaman. This day is for you; we salute you for your bravery, your perseverance and your passion for our country.
Again, a very special “thank you” is due to my own father and brother who devoted many years of their lives to the US Army. You are my heroes, and I thank you for all you have done for this country.
Exactly 96 years ago today, World War I came to an end. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on November 11, 1918, the war was officially over. It culminated on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Hence, Veterans Day is observed every year on November 11. It is the day upon which we commemorate the brave individuals who have served our country. Likewise, as President Abraham Lincoln once stated:
Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.
Veterans Day is meant to embody these sentiments, and rightfully so.
Yet, the sad truth is that this country has habitually failed its veterans. Thus, while President Lincoln’s words will always be appropriate, the tweet below more accurately encapsulates the current relationship between this country and its veterans.
Dear veterans: Thank you. It’s disgraceful that we, as a nation, don’t take better care of you after you’ve served our country.
The United States was born out of conflict, and has been at war throughout much of its existence. It has a strong military tradition. Indeed, we should be proud of the selfless individuals who have risked life and limb to perpetuate our privileges and safety. At the same time, we should be ashamed of the way we have repaid their sacrifice.
Thus, it’s time for this country to be honest about the disgraceful way it treats its veterans. We have no right to call ourselves “the greatest country in the world” when we don’t fight for those who fight for us.
A large part of the reason so many veterans are homeless is due to the physical and mental health problems they’ve acquired as a consequence of war. Concurrently, due to the economic constraints that veterans face, they often experience severe mental stress when attempting to adjust back to civilian life.
Imagine coming home from war and having to deal with the trauma of that experience while also struggling to pay the bills. Around 77 percent of veterans have faced unemployment, and more than one out of four have faced job searches that last over a year.
This is perhaps the most tragic and disheartening statistic surrounding those who have served. Furthermore, the detrimental impact this devastating trend is having on the families of these veterans is often overlooked.
Indeed, the US military is exceptionally impressive, and an extremely formidable force.
Yet, in spite of all the money this country spends on war, nearly 350,000 veterans of the War on Terror still have outstanding appeals on benefits they are entitled to. These benefits include everything from direct compensation, to pensions, to education.
If America is going to spend billions of dollars on the military every year, it goes without saying that a large portion of this money should be allocated to support the nation’s veterans.
Firstly, we need to pressure the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve and expand its services. We can do this, in part, by reaching out to politicians and calling on them to continue to address this issue.
Likewise, it’s important that we provide support to the families of veterans within our communities. Additionally, we can volunteer with various veterans programs, such as TAPS and the Jericho Project, to name a few.
Veterans are very often stereotyped into two stock characters: the crying wounded or the guy who jumps the White House fence to get to the president.
Don’t treat us like victims. We’re not broken. We’ve been through a lot, but we’re rising out of it.
It’s true that veterans face a number of serious challenges, but it would be wrong to assume that they don’t possess the grit and optimism to overcome them. After all, many of these individuals have survived combat. If you can live through war, you can accomplish anything.
Thus, on this Veterans Day, remember the sacrifice of the countless men and women who have served this country.
Simultaneously, work toward spreading awareness of the many ways we can improve our treatment and reception of these courageous individuals. Start the conversation, this is the first step toward change.