US Army Master Sgt. Cedric King (Ret.) Receives Customized ELAN Smart Home from the Gary Sinise Foundation

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Master Sgt. Cedric King

PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA, June, 2017 — On July 25, 2012, during his third deployment in Afghanistan, US Army Master Sgt. Cedric King’s platoon conducted a reconnaissance of a possible explosive distributor in an Afghan village.

As they approached the target, they fell under machine gun fire. Once the firefight ended, Cedric proceeded forward, only to step on a pressure plate improvised explosive device (IED). The blast lifted him from his feet, resulting in the loss of both of his legs and disfigurement of his right hand.

When the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) learned about King’s service, they decided to honor his bravery with a newly built, completely customized specially adapted smart home. The residence, based in Atlanta, relies on an ELAN Entertainment & Control System to enable control and automation of the home’s audio, video, lighting, security, and more.

“Core Brands’ Regional Sales Manager Jason Davis asked us if we could provide our services to Gary Sinise Foundation for this project, and we were honored to do so,” said Phillip Ampel of Atlanta Audio and Automation, the integration firm responsible for the project. “We built a sophisticated smart home that is highly functional, and jam-packed with exciting entertainment features. It truly offers Cedric and his family an elevated level of freedom — and fun.”

One ELAN gSC10 controller serves as the brains of the system, and is accessible through two ELAN TP7 touch panels in the master suite and living room, as wellSmart Home as an ELAN HR200 remote which they use for controlling the home’s surround-sound audio system. King can also use the ELAN App on his smartphone device to easily and simply make any adjustments throughout the home.

Atlanta Audio and Automation integrated an extensive Lutron lighting and climate system into the ELAN platform, enabling the King family to control the lighting — or automate its functionality — instantly. “The Lutron system includes lighting control through 24 dimmers and two Lutron thermostats,” Atlanta Audio & Automation explained. “It is so much easier to access all of three systems from the easy-to-use ELAN interface. King does not need to physically walk into each room to turn the lights on or off. It’s as simple as a tap on a screen.”

Atlanta Audio & Automation also integrated a security system with 6 IP cameras placed throughout the property to be accessed instantly through ELAN. “It was important for King to be able to easily manage the residence’s indoor and outdoor security feeds,” AAA commented. “ELAN is the ideal platform for checking in on security from anywhere and anytime. He could be in the living room checking out video of his backyard on a centrally located touch panel, or out-and-about watching from the ELAN Mobile App.”

In addition to its customized convenience, AAA tricked out the home with an entertainment system for the King family to enjoy. They designed an extensive multi-room audio and video system, enabled through an ELAN S1616A Multi-Room Controller, that distributes music and video to six different locations throughout the home. The entertainment system includes a surround sound system including Niles DS7HD and DS7FX in-ceiling speakers and three Sunfire HRS10 subwoofers.

For the King family’s outdoor enjoyment Atlanta Audio & Automation installed a waterproof Séura television on the patio. “Séura’s Outdoor Waterproof TV is completely functional outside, in any weather,” AAA said. “It’s a fantastic addition to their entertainment system.”

Since King relies heavily on his home’s technology for independence, Smart HomeAAA made sure to protect the equipment with a Panamax M4315-PRO Power Power Conditioner with key components protected by a Furman F1500 Uninterruptible Power Supply. Both feature BlueBOLT remote energy management. “Aside from the danger of catastrophic surges, ‘dirty power’ can interrupt high-end electronics so they won’t work as they should,” Atlanta Audio & Automation commented. “The Furman and Panamax products ensure that we can guarantee clean power, and as an integrator, I can check in on it or troubleshoot it remotely.”

According to Judy Otter, Executive Director of the Gary Sinise Foundation, the home checks off all of the boxes for the King family. “We are honored to recognize Cedric’s service with this customized specially adapted smart home that really does give him a new level of independence,” she said. “Since his injury, Cedric has persevered, earning numerous medals and awards, he’s run marathons, and even climbed mountains. Cedric is a true inspiration and an American hero.”

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About ELAN

ELAN, from Core Brands, develops an award-winning line of whole-house entertainment and control solutions distributed through a comprehensive channel of select dealers throughout the United States, Canada, and countries worldwide. The new ELAN 8 update was honored with the “2017 Human Interface Product of the Year” award from the Consumer Technology Association’s Mark of Excellence Award Program Committee at CES 2017. To learn more, visit elanhomesystems.com.

 

About Core Brands

Anchored by the ELAN Smart Home Control Platform, Core Brands combines the strengths of its iconic control, audio, power management, connectivity and video distribution brands – ELAN®, SpeakerCraft®, Gefen®, Niles®, Panamax®, Proficient®, Furman®, Sunfire® and Xantech® – to deliver a portfolio of connected home and commercial solutions to its channel partners and end users. For further information, visit corebrands.com.

 

Navy Veteran Receives Financial Support from the Gary Sinise Foundation in face of Foreclosure and Cancer Battles

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Allyson Petersen sitting in a hospital bed

By Brandon Black of the Gary Sinise Foundation

The first time it happened caught Kimberly Petersen off guard when she was watching her daughter, Allyson’s softball game. Seconds had passed, yet Allyson still had a blank stare, if not, unconscious look on her freckled face. Episodes like this kept repeating on and off the softball field, with each instance lasting for between 20 to 30 seconds.

Allyson, 11-years-old with long brown hair that matched the color of her piercing hazel eyes — the spitting image of her mother at that age — had something wrong going on inside of her. From what her daughter was exhibiting, it appeared to Petersen to be a type of epilepsy known as absence seizures, which are common among children.

Petersen spent eight years in the Navy as a corpsman. Her grounding in medicine came from advanced placements at clinics and hospitals. She and her “Ally” thought nothing more of the seizures. Allyson, unsuspectingly thought she was merely spacing out.

Appointments were scheduled with her regular doctor but problems arose with her insurance provider, preventing necessary scans being done. The alarm bells slowly began to ring as the length of each seizure Allyson experienced began to intensify, and were now accompanied with facial grimacing and her right-hand curling inwards during each episode. The noise finally hit a crescendo one summer evening in June 2016, when Allyson experienced several prolonged seizures in the same day, including a terrifying moment unlike anything before.

“We were out on the front deck when she collapsed on the flowers,” Petersen said of the startling scene that took place at their home in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Allyson’s body draped over the broken pots.

“I rolled her over, and she had stroke-like symptoms on the right side of her face.”

Allyson needed immediate medical attention and was soon after taken to the emergency center at Regional Hospital in Rapid City, a 30-minute drive from their home. After undergoing several tests, including a CT scan, it revealed that a tumor had massed over a section of Allyson’s brain that controls for speech and motor functions. Scared and frightened by the revelatory news, Allyson looked at her mother and said, “Am I going to die?”

Nearly 5,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed each year with a brain tumor, according to the American Cancer Society. As the second most common form of cancer in children, very few drugs exist in the marketplace to treat brain tumors, making traditional methods of radiation, chemotherapy, and invasive surgery typical medical care options that supplement clinical trials.

Days after visiting the emergency room, Allyson was admitted to the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she underwent an open craniotomy to remove the brain tumor. The procedure didn’t go according to plan.

Allyson Petersen's headshot
Allyson Tedder was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 11 years old and continues treatment to this day.

During the surgery, the pediatric neurosurgeon recognized that the tumor had embedded itself deep in the brain. In the best interest of Allyson’s quality of life — ensuring she has full ability of speaking and motor functions — the decision was made to leave a fraction of the tumor in her brain to avoid any permanent damage.

In the three months that had passed since the procedure, it was discovered that the tumor had begun to regrow. With limited treatment options, Allyson was placed in a clinical trial to mitigate further growth of the tumor. The treatments didn’t work as Allyson developed complications that resulted in her leaving the trial. Chemotherapy became the next preventive measure to quash the tumor’s growth.

“She started developing cells behind her cornea which can cause blindness and irreversible damages,” explained Petersen about the dangerous side effects Allyson experienced from the cocktail of drugs that had been pumped into her body.

Several years had gone by since Petersen and her husband divorced. She wasn’t just taking care of her sick daughter and keeping her family afloat. She was also midway through a master’s degree program. The balancing act came at a high cost.

“Even though I have good insurance,” she said, “the out of pocket expenses, the food, the hotels, gas, time away from my other kids, putting the dog in the kennel, it felt like I was robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

She and Allyson frequently commuted more than 600 miles from Sturgis to Masonic Children’s Hospital so that Allyson was able to receive critical follow ups and MRI scans each phase of her cancer treatment. Depending on how much time Petersen was able to take off from the Meade School District, where she serves as a special educator, she wasn’t left with many options.

Flying to and from Minneapolis wasn’t in the cards. Petersen would either have to book it to Minneapolis in one day or spend the night at her parent’s home in Watertown, a six-hour drive from Sturgis, before spending the next four hours getting into the city.

Bills began piling up. Those that could be paid were done in piecemeal. Other bills weren’t paid at all. Downsizing expenses and making ends meet became the survivalist mentality she and her family adopted under the sole income she was bringing in. They had no other choice. It got to the point where she had to seriously ask herself, “do I pay the credit card bill, or do I pay the water bill?”

In the pecking order of priorities, Petersen was stretching every dollar she could to ensure her children had food on the table, a roof over their heads, and that she had gas in her car. She even picked up a summer job to supplement her salary by working nearby Black Hills National Forrest at an RV resort in Spearfish, South Dakota. Yet for all that she was doing to make ends meet, she was delinquent on her monthly mortgage payments.

Five months overdue, her home loan provider gave her notice that if she were unable to pay the balance and associated late fees in full, she would face foreclosure on her home.

“I have four kids looking up to me. I can’t quit, and I can’t sit there and wallow about it and have a pity party,” she said of finding any ways to deal with her financial circumstances.

While there were plenty of times, she admits, where she broke down and cried out of sight of her children, sometimes in the car or the backyard, she was resolved to seek help. Her mother, Linda, insisted she look into the Gary Sinise Foundation as a few years ago, the organization had helped her younger brother with the purchase of a new suit for his wedding. Perhaps the Foundation could help another veteran in financial need.

Through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Relief and Resiliency program, the urgent financial needs of those like Kimberly Petersen are addressed through an initiative called heal, overcome, persevere and excel or H.O.P.E.

Petersen was hesitant at first but eventually relented, and in early February of this year, she submitted an initial inquiry seeking mortgage assistance. Within days of her submission, the Foundation’s Outreach team contacted her, requesting additional information to supplement the initial application. Not long after, she received a phone call from the Foundation with an update on the status of her application.

“She was taken aback and almost relieved of her stress,” said Nick Wicksman, who handled Petersen’s application from the start, and who was on the phone with her as the bearer of good news.

The Gary Sinise Foundation was going to cover the last four months of her mortgage and associated late fees. Petersen, having struggled tooth and nail year after year supporting her family as a single mother, was overcome with gratitude.

“She’s able to no longer worry about what is owed but to focus on the present and future by focusing on the health of her family,” said Wicksman. Had she not received financial assistance from the Gary Sinise Foundation, Petersen said matter of factly, “We would’ve lost the house.”

familytrip
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Allyson, her three brothers, and Kimberly were able to take a family trip to London in June 2019.

While they’re not out of the tunnel just yet in Allyson’s cancer treatment, they can see the light. Despite setbacks in her regiment of treatments, Allyson was able to compete on the freshman girls’ volleyball and softball teams during the school year while also participating in the school newspaper as a photographer and journalist.

She fights the fight as oral chemotherapy treatments continue as do visits to Masonic Children’s Hospital. Looking back on the last four years and thinking about the question Allyson had asked her late in the night while at the emergency center, Petersen said, “In some ways, the tumor and her cancer diagnosis have brought us closer together because we’ve learned that you don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day.”

“Between Masonic Children’s Hospital and the Gary Sinise Foundation, I know I wouldn’t have my daughter.”

2 WWII veterans who are lifelong friends celebrate 96th and 97th birthdays together

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WWll veterans pictured smiling lifelong friends celebrate birthday together

World War II veterans and lifelong friends celebrated their 96th and 97th birthdays together in Whittier, California on Sunday. U.S. Army Veteran Randel “Randy” Zepeda Fernandez is turning 96 this week. His best friend of nearly 90 years, U.S. Coast Guard veteran Salvador “Sal” B. Guzman, just turned 97.

Fernandez’s son, Steve Fernandez, decided a major event was in order to mark the momentous occasion.

So he organized a massive celebration that drew a parade of community members, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and even mariachi musicians.

“This is amazing. I didn’t expect it to be this big,” Steve Fernandez said.

Both veterans said they were surprised by the outpouring of gratitude.

“I knew nothing about this,” Guzman said.

The men’s friendship dates back to childhood.

“We’ve known each other since the second grade,” Randy Fernandez said. The men attended elementary school and junior high together, before they both attended Garfield High School, they said.

Randy Fernandez helped liberate concentration camps and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which helped organize the event. Guzman patrolled the Northern California coastline on horseback from 1943 to 1944.

“Both veterans reunited in the 1950s and bought their first homes on the same street in Montebello, raising their families together,” the sheriff’s department said in a written statement.

Continue on to CBS News to read the complete article.

How the Gary Sinise Foundation Helped a National Guardsman and Special Education Teacher

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Renee Villareel holding her daughter, Natalie, above her head.

By Brandon Black of The Gary Sinise Foundation

At the start of the year, one semester separated Renne Villareal from earning a degree in Special Education. One semester stood between her and starting a career teaching kids and adolescents diagnosed with physical and mental learning needs.

Her years-long endeavor started in high school, fueled by what she saw as malicious attacks on the boys and girls whose impediments made them targets of harassment. They were teased and bullied because of how different they looked and spoke. Some were called “stupid,” while others were called “lazy.” Villarreal was not one to stand idle and watch. She felt the instinct to charge to their defense. It was the right thing to do, no doubt, and it came as second nature.

Both her parents served in the military, which is how Villarreal inherited their values and sense of duty. Standing up for the rights of others, and advocating for kids with disabilities became her mission ever since her time as a student at Lyman Hall High School.

“I realized this is what I’m going to be good at. I want to be a teacher,” she said. “I want to help and stick up for these kids that need me.”

At Southern Connecticut State University, where Villarreal is currently an undergraduate, her fieldwork in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy puts her side-by-side teaching children with autism. Under the guidance of an accredited therapist, she develops individualized lesson plans focused on improving her client’s interpersonal behavior and learning skills.

At the same time, for the last two years, Villarreal has been serving part-time in the Connecticut Army National Guard, attached to the aviation unit of the 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group. Joining the National Guard was her way of fulfilling her patriotic duty and honoring her parents’ service. The pay isn’t much, she admits, so to make ends meet, she supplements her income from the army and therapy by working a few days a week at the neighborhood PetSmart.

Up until the second week of March, she was living paycheck-to-paycheck. But the 23-year-old single mother, the sole breadwinner with a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, was unprepared for the public health pandemic sweeping across the country.

A crisis loomed on the horizon.

On March 8, Governor Ned Lamont announced the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. The dominos fell right after with COVID-19 infections popping up in counties throughout the state.

Southern Connecticut State University closed its campus, opting to deliver the curriculum online for the next semester, which pushed Villarreal’s fieldwork courses from the spring term to the fall. It also pushed back her graduation date to later in the year.

One by one, her primary sources of income started drying up. The National Guard reduced her service hours, and with that, a drop in her monthly paycheck. Parents of her clients canceled ABA therapy sessions for the foreseeable future. And a number of part-time employees at PetSmart, including Villarreal, were furloughed.

Her life was upended in a matter of weeks. “How am I going to pay rent?” she asked herself. “How am I going to put food on the table?”

Sleepless nights beget sleepness nights. Alone and caring for her daughter with limited resources at her disposal, Villarreal was overcome by a cruel mixture of stress and depression. Standing amongst the throngs of people waiting in line at the local food bank one day, Villarreal felt she had hit rock bottom.

“I felt like a bad mom because I wasn’t able to provide,” she said. “No mom wants to feel that way.” As her finances started dwindling, Villarreal had her reasons for hesitating in asking for help.

“In my mind, I’ve always done everything by myself,” she said while ticking off a list of life decisions she made independently of others from enlisting in the army and working multiple jobs to paying for her bills and education.

By the time she contacted the Gary Sinise Foundation at the end of March seeking financial assistance, Villarreal said her situation was making her “drown with worry.”

“I put in all my effort to try to make the best life for my daughter and me that I can. I felt like it was all about to go down.”

To keep her afloat, the Foundation paid two months of her rent through the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service fund. Villarreal also received a Walmart gift card to cover the costs of groceries and other out of pocket expenses, such as buying diapers.

“The foundation literally changed my life,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have made it without them.” In a matter of days after receiving help from the Foundation, Villarreal has experienced an about-face in her life.

No more waiting in line at the food bank with her fingers crossed that staples such as milk and eggs will be available, and more importantly, not past their expiration date. No more stressful days and sleepless nights that mired her for weeks on end.

Renee Villareal's daughter, Natalie, smiling up at the camera
Renee Villareel’s daughter, Natalie, who will be three in September.

“It’s scary to think that I could have lost everything I’ve worked so hard for,” she said about being embarrassed and afraid to ask for help. In short order, she and her daughter, Natalie, have become glued at the hip.

“I’m able to really take advantage of my time now and just catch up with myself,” she said about having time to relax and read a book or take Natalie outdoors to go fishing and to the park.

When Villarreal graduates this fall, she will be among a growing number of professionals nationwide who are entering an in-demand occupation. Projections from the Connecticut Department of Labor show a dearth of special education teachers at the primary and secondary school levels. Increasing numbers of children over the years have been diagnosed with a physical or mental disability that adversely affects their ability to learn in the classroom, explained Villarreal.

In the 2015-16 school year, more than 70,000 students in kindergarten to 12th grade in the state of Connecticut required special education. That number has since ballooned in the last five years to well over 79,000 students representing 15.6% of the state’s student population.

Despite the uncertainty of what lies ahead for her and Natalie with the state yet to see a bend in its curve of coronavirus cases, Villarreal remains focused on becoming a special education teacher.

Blue Water Navy Act Helps Veterans Achieve the American Dream

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Bryan Bergjans with his family at an awards ceremony

By Bryan Bergjans, Navy reservist officer

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 was passed in January, and with it came a lot of changes for military and veterans that they may not know about. As a Navy veteran, I am extremely thankful that this Act carries with it long-awaited benefits to those Navy Vietnam veterans.

The law also brings with it a host of other benefits that changes the landscape of the VA Home Loan benefit as we know it. The new law exempts Purple Heart recipients currently serving on active duty from the VA Home Loan Funding fee. In 2019, you couldn’t receive exemption status unless you were receiving VA disability, and as it stands today, we have a lot of active duty still serving but who were injured in combat and received Purple Hearts that would have had to wait until discharge to be exempt.

Prior to the Blue Water Navy Act, the VA Home Loan Benefit provided entitled military and veterans an opportunity to purchase a home up to, but not limited to, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) conforming loan limits with zero down payment.
For example, to buy a home in St Louis, Missouri, a qualified veteran or military member could purchase with no down payment up to the conforming loan limit, which in 2019 was $484,350. Now this sounds great, and it has been a great benefit no doubt, but what about the high cost areas? What about folks who live in the coastal regions where housing prices have sky rocketed over the last 5, 10, 15 years?

These folks would have to bring in sizable down payments in a market like today, where the supply is low, most options are new construction and the prices are extremely high. So, our military members were forced to rent, or even worse, settle for substandard housing options (we won’t get into those).

Then this little miracle showed up on January 1, 2020, and changed everything! VA Guaranteed Home Loans will no longer be ‘limited’ to the FHFA conforming loan limits. Military and veterans who are entitled to the benefit will now be able to obtain a no-down-payment home loan in all areas of the United States.

The caveat to this is that every lender has established specific caps or max loan amounts they are willing to lend on this program. This actually gives our men and women of the armed forces and veterans the opportunity to purchase their dream home, in their dream location, across the US without having to worry about a substantial down payment. The VA Home Loan is the best performing loan in the mortgage play book.

Every servicer would like to have these types of loans in their portfolios because they have very low default/foreclosure rates. This is a testament to the folks who get VA Loans, who have shown such as honor, courage and commitment! Those who are eligible for this program have all raised their right hands and said they are willing to give it their all for our freedom! This change was long overdue and an exciting new chapter for military and veteran home buyers.

Strange Days, Indeed

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Headshot of Scoba Rhoades

By Scoba Rhodes

Like you, I have been cooped up in my apartment for almost two weeks. For me, the lifestyle hasn’t changed all that much, except when I head outside, the experience is very different.

Since being confined to a wheelchair, I’ve had to adjust to working more from home. It took me over ten years to adjust to my situation, so to expect anyone to do it overnight is a really tall order. Everything is closed except for the huge lines waiting to get inside the grocery stores. No one is hanging out at the coffee shop, the malls are either empty or closed all together, and even the pool at my apartment complex is locked due to “an abundance of caution.” I agree with these measures since they are meant to save lives. But in the meantime, I can’t help but wonder if the lives the government is hoping to save aren’t going stir crazy wondering when this will all be over.

During my voluntary internment, I’ve been catching up on my reading. Much has been work-related, with some personal development mixed in, and quite a few have been articles advising us on how to best cope with the current crisis. My current book is titled, “How to break the habit of being yourself.” It’s quite a read.

I have read articles providing ideas on working out inside your home, new recipes to try, even ideas on making movie and music lists. There have been articles on the power of positive thinking during this crisis, and that may be the most misused concept yet. I’ve heard many state and federal government briefs stating over and over that this is a temporary condition, yet I’m pretty sure when this article is published, we may still be in our homes waiting out this wave.

I am part of a group of neighbors that get together every Wednesday and share some good wine and conversation and catch up with each other in our neighborhood clubhouse. It has been closed for a few weeks, so we decided to meet outside today, keeping our six-foot distance and each bringing our own wine. We were having a great time until one of the complex managers said we had to go back to our apartments. I complied, as did everyone else, and I cannot say the manager was wrong to do it. In fact, looking back, I can say it was the correct decision. I just felt like a 54-year-old man being told to go to his room.

I can’t help but wonder once this is all over, will everyone have adjusted to the new habits, and will shaking hands will have become a thing of the past? When these thoughts enter my mind, I immediately find a book I’ve been putting off reading, place a Blu-ray on I’ve been thinking about, or just sit down with my wife and have a cup of coffee together, something we haven’t done in a long time. Thanks to the current level of technology, I can meet with clients and friends using Zoom or Skype, something I am quite used to. I actually did my first year at USC from my hospital room, and it was the Skype application that allowed me to be in the classroom. This was in 2012, long before the schools went online. Necessity is always the mother of invention it may seem.

I am part of the population with compromised health issues. Being paralyzed, having bronchitis as a child has left me with scar tissue on my lungs, and being in my mid-fifties all means I cannot afford to be cavalier about the current situation. Now when my wife says to make sure I take a jacket, or don’t forget my hat, I no longer say “I’ll be fine.” Now my answer is “Thank you sweetheart. I got it.” I head out, collect what I need, and return home.

I am attempting to build relationships online, in the hopes that when we are allowed to congregate again, we will still be somewhat familiar with each other, and have a newfound appreciation for the joys of personal connection. There are networks on LinkedIn and Facebook for every group you can imagine. Nextdoor.com is also a great place to find and connect digitally with your neighbors. If you’re in Orange County, I relish the day when we can meet in person, share a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop, or grab a nice lunch (or martini) at my favorite hangout at the District Mall.

I can’t pretend the current situation is not happening (which it is), nor abandon hope that it is temporary (which I know). I realize by taking these steps now, I am participating in a practice that will benefit our nation, and possibly save a life. I remind myself that I am not being sent to my room, I am doing this willingly in support of a greater health effort. When I feel frustrated or cooped up, which happens more than I’d like to admit, I find a lesson online and learn something new, or take time to reconnect with my wife.

One thing is for sure: Our habits and attitudes will be forever altered. Some for the betterment of society, some for the safety of ourselves and our families. Let’s attempt to make those changes out of diligence, and not fear.

To quote author John Shedd, Admiral Grace Hopper, and Albert Einstein, “Ships are safest when in port. But that’s not what ships are for.”

Be safe and healthy everyone, and remember, “This too shall pass.”

How the Girl Scouts are Spreading Joy to a Navy Ship

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A man in a military uniform holding a stack of packages

People Magazine‘s Senior Graphics Operator, Nikki Smalls, and Live Graphics Operator, Lucas Walsh, began a conversation one day about Walsh’s sister, Caitlin Walsh. Caitlin is currently serving in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Truman.

The entire crew of the Truman tested negative for COVID-19, but have collectively agreed to isolate themselves rather than take deployment as an extra precaution.

When Nikki Smalls heard about Caitlin and the rest of her crew, she wanted to find a way to show her gratitude for their service while also spreading some extra joy. Teaming up with her daughters’ Brownie Scouts Troop, Troop 83340, she decided to lead the girls in creating care packages to send to those serving on the U.S.S. Truman.

Continue on to People Magazine’s website to read the complete article

Gary Sinise Foundation Launches Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service

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Gary Sinise Foundation Logo

While we are doing our part in fighting COVID-19 by social distancing and taking the necessary precautions, we are grateful to those on the frontline fighting the effects of the disease head on. But as we do our part to protect ourselves, how are those on the frontline being helped?

One of the programs striving to assist frontline workers is the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, created by the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF). We interviewed Elizabeth Fields, COO of GSF, to find out more.

When did the GSF decide to form the Emergency COVID 19 Combat Service Initiative?

On March 9, 2020, a few days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Gary Sinise Foundation made grants available across the country to first responders in need of personal protective equipment (PPE) when answering coronavirus-related service calls. We also moved quickly to make financial assistance available to any military service members, veterans, and first responders affected by COVID-19, as well as their families.

This was the very beginning of our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, officially launched on April 1, and since then – in addition to meeting the urgent needs of our first responders, service members, and veterans – the campaign has grown tremendously and expanded to provide critical support to health-care professionals and all of our frontline workers.

What prompted GSF to create it? What is the main purpose?

As COVID-19 spread rapidly across the nation, we at the Gary Sinise Foundation thought: Just as our first responders and all of those on the front lines are working so hard to protect us, we want to do everything we can to protect and support them. So, we launched the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, which is an extension of our mission to serve and protect those who so bravely protect our nation – our first responders, military, veterans, their families and those in need – which we do 365 days a year.

Have you already sent out grants? If so, how many, and where?

Since announcing, the availability of grants for first responders and those battling this pandemic, the Foundation has made significant strides through our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service. We’ve donated PPE and key decontamination equipment to 54 first responder departments across the country, provided 5,074 pieces of PPE and large-scale decontamination equipment to first responder departments on the front lines of COVID-19, and assisted 25 states in the fight against this pandemic.

What has the response been to this initiative?

Elizabeth Fields Headshot
Elizabeth Fields, COO of Gary Sinise Foundation

The Gary Sinise Foundation has received an outpouring of support from our partners, as well as the military, veteran, and first responder communities we proudly serve. The Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service launched with a video call-to-action from our founder and chairman, Gary Sinise, and this video has inspired people across the country to pitch into this collective effort on a grassroots level. In these uncertain times, it has been incredible to see our country come together to support those who so bravely defend our freedom and safety, 365 days a year.

Anything else you would like to add?
If you are interested in learning more about our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, or any of the Foundation’s programs, please visit us at garysinisefoundation.org.

U.S. Veterans Magazine would like to thank first responders, veterans, service members, medical professionals, and everyone on the frontline fighting COVID-19.

How Military Training Prepares Doctors for COVID-19

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American Soldiers Saluting US Flag

Dr. Alice F. Healey, a College Professor of Distinction at the University of Colorado Boulder, has studied and crafted her expertise in translatability in training—the transfer of knowledge from past experiences into new scenarios.

Through her studies, she has found that skills taught in one kind of context doesn’t usually transfer to a different scenario. However, Dr. Healey recently ran one test of this experiment that has shown otherwise.

In a study done in collaboration with NASA, Dr. Healey ran an experiment in motoric and perceptual aspects in which test subjects were called to use one hand to study a sequence of numbers and use the other hand to solve the sequence. The results proved that in, at least, motoric and perceptual aspects, knowledge can be transferable.

The ability to transfer knowledge between fields might not come across as surprising, but it does serve as evidence for COVID-19 medical workers who previously served as veterans. Military veterans fight to protect people every day knowing they are putting their lives at risk, while medical doctors are normally confident that the ailment that they treat their patients for will not be a danger to themselves. With the arrival of COVID-19, medical professionals are now fighting to save their patients while dealing with the new stress to protect themselves. Military veterans turned medical professionals, however, are believed to cope with the stress of possible infection more effectively than those without a military background.

Former veterans turned medical professionals Matthew Groth, Kevin Manusos, and Jason Wood expressed to Forbes magazine that they believe their military background has helped them to better manage time, make sacrifices, adhere to discipline, and think quickly and critically under stressful circumstances.

“Getting yelled at brings you to a stress level you’re not comfortable with. You actually get used to that stronger stress response,” Manusos told Forbes of his military experience. “I think if you did well in combat, if you could mentally handle the stress, you would transition well into stressful situations anywhere.”

Empowering Veterans to Address Mental Health Challenges

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America's Warrior Partnership Operation Deep Dive-team members stand together in front of poster board for support group

By Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while veterans and their families are leaders in navigating stressful situations, there are times when they can use some help to overcome a challenge. Whether the severity of a mental health issue ranges from mild to critical, there are programs and services tailored to help veterans navigate their unique situation.

During times like this, it is important to connect with resources that are available to help.

Accessing Mental Health Support

First and foremost, as I have, you should memorize the number to the Veterans Crisis Line. Any veteran who is experiencing an urgent crisis should call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255. The Veteran’s Crisis Line enables veterans to reach caring and qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. These counselors can help veterans who may be feeling anxious, lonely, or are thinking about suicide. Veterans in crisis or need of help can reach out to the hotline for connection and immediate support.

For situations that are less urgent but no less severe, there are physical and virtual resources that veterans may be able to use. For example, in your community, there could be a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, Community Based Outpatient Clinic, or Vet Center. In addition to these programs, there are community behavioral health and health centers that can address many less urgent stressors. A great point of contact in the local community would be your local County Veteran Service Officer. They likely know of local resources and can facilitate your connection. Lastly, you may seek peer support from local Veteran Serving Organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Team Red, White, and Blue, or the American Legion.  However, if you are unable to navigate your community resources, you can contact the America’s Warrior Partnership Network, who will reliably connect veterans with a service provider from outside of their community, such as Vets4Warriors or the Cohen Veterans Network that specialize in peer and mental health support.

Advocating for New Resources and Programs

In addition to raising awareness of existing resources, one of the most important things that veterans can do this month – and throughout the rest of the year – is to advocate for new policies that will better support their brothers- and sisters-in-arms who live with a mental illness. One of the most cutting-edge pieces of legislation is Senate Bill 785, also called Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019. This bill unanimously passed the Senate and is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to improve mental health and end veteran suicide. We strongly encourage a bipartisan and bicameral approach to make this bill law.

Advocacy is especially critical in the national fight to reduce suicide and self-harm among veterans. One of the initiatives contributing to this effort is Operation Deep Dive, a four-year study currently being conducted by America’s Warrior Partnership and researchers from The University of Alabama with support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. The project is examining community risk factors involved in suicide and non-natural deaths among veterans in 14 communities across the country. By the study’s completion, researchers will develop a methodology that any community can implement to identify the unique risk factors of suicide among their local veterans and then address those factors through a customized support program.

As part of this study, Operation Deep Dive researchers are currently interviewing individuals who have either lost a loved one, friend, or acquaintance who was a veteran to suicide or a non-natural cause of death. These interviews will enable researchers to examine how a veteran was engaged within their community before their death, and more importantly, what can be done to better support veterans in the future.

To participate in an interview, individuals must be 18 or older and live within one of the 14 communities where Operation Deep Dive is taking place (the veteran must also have lived in that same community before their death). More information about the interviews and details on how to participate are available online.

By advocating for new policies and supporting essential programs, veterans can ensure their fellow service members who struggle with mental health challenges can build the quality of life that they have earned through their service.

About the Author

Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national nonprofit that empowers communities to empower veterans. The organization’s mission starts with connecting community groups with local veterans to understand their unique situations. With this knowledge in mind, America’s Warrior Partnership connects local groups with the appropriate resources to proactively and holistically support veterans at every stage of their lives. Learn more about the organization at AmericasWarriorPartnership.org.

A Military Wife’s Guide to Suicide Prevention

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Depressed soldier leaning against the window covering his face with his arm

Aleha Landry is one of the many people who has a military spouse suffering from a form of mental illness from military experience.

Through her personal experiences tending to her husband’s mental health conditions and her knowledge of the rising suicide rate among military personnel, Landry does everything in her power to help those suffering from these conditions.

Through her husband’s struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, Landry has had a look at the various military-implemented mental health programs that help military personnel in these specific instances. Though in place for good reason, Landry has expressed her husband’s distaste for the programs, as they claim to be a solution for an issue that is as complicated and complex as mental health. To bring awareness to what veterans are actually feeling in times of mental health issues, Landry writes letters to Air Force leaders and members of Congress.

Though she is yet to receive a response to her letters, Landry does offer three helpful tips that she believes should be implemented into the mental health programs for military personnel.

  • Therapists working through these programs should either be stationed to stay in one place or at least have a five-year commitment to where they are currently located. Many of the therapists that Landry’s husband has seen have relocated in a short span of time, forcing him to retell his story and rebuild trust over and over again. Lancey believes that having one therapist who is guaranteed to stick around would allow for trust, understanding and healing to be better implemented.
  • Guarantee off-base counseling. This would allow for those seeking therapy to have a wider range of choice in finding the right counselor, rather than feeling the pressure to have to talk with a specific person.
  • Reduce the redundancy in progress questionnaires. Many questionnaires given to track the mental progress of military personnel are redundant and frustrating, according to Landry, who believes asking the questions once and having them answered to a therapist rather than on a sheet of paper would decrease frustration and give patients the sense of being cared for.

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