Tips on How to Obtain VA Benefits

LinkedIn

By Catherine Cornell, Attorney – The Veterans Practice, Ltd.

Let’s take things back to basics: what makes a good VA disability compensation claim? VA disability is like worker’s compensation for veterans.  When hurt on active duty, veterans can get VA compensation, just as a civilian worker could get worker’s compensation if hurt on the job.

This sounds simple, but the process can be trickier than you might think.

If not handled correctly from the outset, a compensation claim could be denied, possibly leaving the veteran mired in the appeals process for years. Yes, that’s right. Years.

The following tips can help veterans avoid the delay and frustration of a denial and have a better chance of obtaining VA benefits from the outset.

  1. Understand what’s required for the claim. Basically, VA compensation requires the veteran to show he has the condition he is claiming, usually through a doctor’s diagnosis. The veteran must also prove an in-service incident or injury caused the condition or that it showed up for the first time in service. That’s usually done with the help of a medical professional. Finally, in most cases the veteran needs to prove the incident, injury, or the manifestation of the condition actually occurred by using service records, buddy statements, newspaper articles or other proof. Other VA benefits, such as unemployability, have different requirements. There can also be other proof required depending on the time period and location of service. Veterans should carefully research what’s needed for a specific benefit, or get help from a veterans service officer. Many of those officers can be found in each state’s VA regional office.
  2. Don’t claim un-winnable conditions. After veterans nail down requirements for specific claims, they may realize a certain condition is not worth claiming. For example, a back injury from a car accident after service will not lead to VA compensation. Veterans should save time and possible frustration by not claiming disabilities that are clearly not service connected.
  3. Be proactive. The VA has a duty to assist veterans in obtaining information that might establish compensation claims. However, the reality is that the VA is overwhelmed, so it’s in the veteran’s best interests to gather as much evidence as possible for the claim herself.
  4. Use the correct forms. For example, the form for a new claim is different than the one needed to appeal a claim that was denied. The same goes for a veteran seeking unemployability benefits. The VA has forms for almost everything and they can generally be found on the Internet. If the correct form isn’t used, a claim can be delayed or rejected.
  5. Get military records. If a veteran doesn’t already have a complete copy of his Official Military Personnel File, he should request it, usually from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The military file might contain helpful evidence to prove claims. Again, the VA has a duty to help obtain records to establish claims, but the veteran is best served by taking an active role in this process.
  6. Send in evidence with the claim. After a veteran gathers all the evidence and information possible, it should be sent in with the claim.  Helpful evidence may include: service and medical records; witness statements; private doctor statements; and any additional information or documentation that might help the VA make a favorable decision faster.
  7. Show up to VA exams. If the claim has merit, the VA will likely schedule a Compensation and Pension exam. That’s when a VA examiner meets with the veteran and renders an opinion on the likelihood that the claimed condition did stem from service, and the degree to which the condition is disabling. If a veteran doesn’t show up for the exam without re-scheduling it, the VA may deny the claim.
  8. Know what the VA exam is about. Often veterans submit claims for many conditions but are then scheduled for just one exam. Don’t go in blind. Contact the VA to ask what the exam will cover. That way the veteran can be prepared to explain the condition and how it resulted from service.
  9. Don’t miss deadlines or fail to respond. After getting a claim, the VA might send additional forms for the veteran to fill out or ask for clarification of a claim and set a deadline to respond. If a veteran lets these forms go or misses a deadline the VA might issue a denial.
  10. Don’t give up. The VA process can be wildly confusing and frustrating. Despite best efforts to send in correct forms and supportive evidence, compensation claims are often still denied. Veterans shouldn’t be afraid to seek help from knowledgeable people if necessary and, above all, shouldn’t give up on the benefits they deserve.

U.S. Air Force starts effort to buy a ‘flying car’

LinkedIn
Helicopter like flying car is pictured on a runway

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has officially started its search for a “flying car” able to speedily shuttle troops and equipment into war zones.

On Feb. 25, the service released a solicitation for Agility Prime, its effort to explore commercial advances in electronic vertical-takeoff-and-landing technologies, otherwise known as eVTOL.

“Now’s the perfect time to make ‘Jetsons’ cars real,” Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper told reporters during a briefing last Friday.

But Agility Prime won’t be a typical program where companies compete for funds for development, he said. Instead, it will be structured as a challenge where companies race toward getting airworthiness certifications that can benefit companies in the commercial market.

“We see numerous companies that are pushing really cool technology that has a chance to really change the world, but their challenge is getting certification,” Roper said. “The value proposition we have with those companies isn’t our R&D money. They’re flush with cash from private investors. Our value proposition is our test ranges, our safety and airworthiness certifications.”

The Air Force isn’t dictating strict requirements for proposed Agility Prime aircraft. According to the solicitation, the service is interested in eVTOL and urban/advanced air mobility aircraft that could incorporate electric or hybrid propulsion and be controlled by an onboard pilot, a remote pilot or autonomously. However, it also notes that the service is open to alternative technologies.

The Air Force is especially interested in air vehicles that can carry three to eight troops more than 100 miles at a speed of greater than 100 mph for periods of an hour or more, the solicitation said. Companies also have to fly their aircraft prior to Dec. 17, 2020, in order to move on to later phases of the program.

Pictured:The U.S. Air Force is interested in nontraditional electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing technologies, like this Joby Aviation aircraft, that are being pioneered by commercial companies. (Joby Aviation)

According to the solicitations, companies must first submit data about their eVTOL technologies in the hopes of scoring a contract from the Air Force to produce a “prototype test report.” Those reports will include test data for verifying aircraft performance, outline a plan for certification of the aircraft, and show the technology’s utility and cost-effectiveness — paving the way for initial procurement.

The hope is to buy a “handful-plus” vehicles by fiscal 2023 for an initial operating capability, said Col. Nathan Diller, Agility Prime integrated product team lead, according to Aviation Week.

The air vehicles tested throughout the program could be used for a variety of operations, including quickly shuttling security forces across missile fields as well as search-and-rescue and logistics missions, Roper said.

Continue on to Defense News to read the complete article.

Okinawa Marine saves drowning pregnant woman by fighting up to 10-foot swells for nearly 1 hour

LinkedIn
Marine Maj. William Easter stands in front of the color guard flags at his award ceremony

On the morning of Dec. 8, 2018, Marine Maj. William Easter was getting ready for a physical fitness run along the Sunabe Seawall and the East China Sea in Okinawa, Japan, when he suddenly heard calls for help.

A local man had swam to shore and desperately was looking for someone to rescue his pregnant wife, stranded in the ocean where the waves started to break.

Easter quickly directed two other service members to call for help and a flotation device. With a life ring, he rushed 300 meters into the water, first attempting to bring the woman to shore, and then fighting up to 35 mph winds and 10-foot high swells for nearly an hour waiting for rescue boats to arrive.

For his swift action and disregard for personal safety, Easter, the theater security cooperation officer for the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan, received a letter of appreciation from the Chatan, Okinawa, Japan, mayor in January 2019. He was then bestowed the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Corps’ highest award for noncombat heroism, on Feb. 14.

Cpl. Timothy Watson (right) is presented the Navy and Marine Corps Medal by Maj. Gen. Karsten Heckl (left), commanding general, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, January 28, 2020. (Staff Sgt. William L. Holdaway/Marine Corps)

Easter’s first reaction to the desperate calls from the exhausted husband ― separated from his wife by a rip current after bad weather quickly approached ― was to help the husband search for help, he told Marine Corps Times in an email Thursday.

But the Marine quickly realized he was the only one capable and willing to rescue the pregnant woman from drowning, he said.

“I didn’t know what the victim’s state was, but I felt like I had a moral obligation to do something,” Easter said in the email. “The water was dangerous, but I was confident in my skills and training.”

The Marine first attempted to get ashore, but when the woman was overcome by exhaustion and could no longer help him swim Easter focused on keeping her afloat until rescuers arrived, according to the Navy and Marine Corps Medal citation.

After staying afloat for almost an hour, the first rescue craft arrived. Because of the choppy sea and the size of the craft the boat capsized, sending Easter and the pregnant woman back in the water until a larger boat finally arrived and rescued them.

“By his courageous and prompt actions in the face of great personal risk, Major Easter reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps,” his award citation said.

Easter said he does not see himself as a hero ― just an ordinary Marine who did what was needed.

“I am just a conduit for the training that my parents and my nation have invested in me,” he said in the email to Marine Corps Times. “Any member of the military or public safety service would have done the same.”

Continue on to the Marine Times to read the complete article.

Service Dogs: A Solution to The Veteran Suicide Crisis

LinkedIn
Man with his service and trainer outside at training facility

By Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO, American Humane

The number of military service members and veterans in the United States is declining, but their suicide rates are increasing.

It’s clear that addressing the military and veteran suicide epidemic will take bold new solutions beyond marginal improvements to the status quo. All ideas to protect these brave men and women off the battlefield should be on the table.

One low-risk, high-reward potential solution is pairing combat vets with service dogs who are specially trained to mitigate post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, which commonly affect ex service members and contribute to suicide.

About 1 veteran in 6 suffers from PTSD. According to research in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety, 28 percent of those who reported a past traumatic event had attempted suicide. Another study found that those with TBI, which affects about the same portion of veterans, are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide.

There’s long been anecdotal evidence that service dogs can help treat these mental health afflictions.

Service dogs can be trained to perform countless tasks that mitigate these conditions, including retrieving medication, searching homes for perceived threats, grounding handlers during a stressful episode, aiding with memory-related tasks, and even turning on lights during a night terror.

Now emerging scientific research is also pointing to the promise that service dogs offer. A Purdue University study released last year found that veterans coping with PTSD performed better on a variety of mental health and emotional well-being metrics, including reduced symptoms of PTSD and depression if they were paired with a service dog. Veterans with service dogs also missed work less and performed better while there than their dogless counterparts.

A separate Purdue study also released last year measured the stress-mitigating hormone cortisol in PTSD veterans with and without service dogs. Those with service dogs produced more cortisol than those without, mimicking the amount expected in adults without PTSD. Those in the service dog group also reported less anger, less anxiety, and better sleep.

While these studies didn’t directly test those with TBI, its similar symptoms suggest significant promise for suicidal vets with this condition as well. Unfortunately, waiting lists for veterans in need of service dogs are long. The process is time-consuming and expensive, costing as much as $30,000 per dog. With the VA refusing to endorse service dogs as a PTSD and TBI treatment–while awaiting the results of its own in-depth study – funding is scarce.

In the meantime, nonprofit groups are doing what they can to fill the void. For instance, American Humane’s Pups4Patriots program finds dogs in need of homes and trains them to become service animals for military veterans struggling with the invisible wounds of war, potentially saving lives at both ends of the leash.

Dogs have always boosted emotional well-being. Now studies are confirming what veterans have been saying for years: Service dogs can have an even greater impact. With the veteran suicide rate rising unabated, it’s time to stop tinkering and pursue creative new solutions to this crisis.

Nothing has so much potential lifesaving impact as greater access to service dogs.

Source: American Humane

Suicides among U.S. Special Operations Command tripled in 2018 while suicides among active duty Marine Corps and the Navy reached a 10-year high. The veteran suicide rate is 50% higher than the general population, adjusting for age and gender.

The veteran suicide rate increased by 26% between 2005 and 2016, the latest year that data is available.

More than 6,000 veterans commit suicide each year.
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs

Treatments for PTSD

LinkedIn
Soldier sitting and talking to his therapist

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.

It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.

If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.

If thoughts and feelings from a life-threatening event are upsetting you or causing problems in your life, you may have PTSD.

Here’s the good news: you can get treatment for PTSD—and it works. For some people, treatment can get rid of PTSD altogether. For others, it can make symptoms less intense. Treatment also gives you the tools to manage symptoms so they don’t keep you from living your life. PTSD treatment can turn your life around—even if you’ve been struggling for years.

Therapy

PTSD therapy has three main goals:

  • Improve your symptoms
  • Teach you skills to deal with it
  • Restore your self-esteem

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Teaches you to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. It involves talking with your provider about your negative thoughts and doing short writing assignments.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Teaches you how to gain control by facing your negative feelings. It involves talking about your trauma with a provider and doing some of the things you have avoided since the trauma.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Helps you process and make sense of your trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone).

Stress Inoculation Training

Talk therapy that can help you recognize and change incorrect and/or negative thoughts that have been influencing your behavior. Coping skills are also used such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation training and role playing.

Alternative Treatments for Veterans With PTSD

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health programs offer alternative techniques with conventional therapies while many non-profit organizations throughout the country have seen improvement in vets through alternative measures.

These six alternative treatments are showing increased popularity for veterans with PTSD:

  1. Acupuncture—A 2014 study of 55 service members concluded that acupuncture “was effective for reducing PTSD symptoms.” Patients using acupuncture with traditional treatment “showed significantly greater improvements” over patients who had usual care only, the Healthcare Medicine Institute reported. Acupuncture appears to be a safe treatment to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, the researchers noted.
  1. Yoga and meditation—These practices have been used in the military and at VA medical centers, according to Social Work Today. Yoga helps to relieve pain and bring comfort throughout the body. Yoga and meditation need to fit the needs of patients who have experienced trauma, including the creation of a safe space to provide relaxation for an overactive nervous system.
  1. Service dogs—Bonding with animals provides benefits for veterans with PTSD. A program under Warrior Canine Connection has vets with the disorder training service dogs for fellow vets afflicted with physical injuries. It provides veterans with companionship but also results in stress reduction, reduced blood pressure, and improved relationships.
  1. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)—A self-healing method, it combines cognitive therapy and exposure therapy, which exposes patients to anxiety sources without causing any danger, with acupressure on points throughout the body. One controlled trial found more than 85 percent of veterans with PTSD had no obvious symptoms after six sessions of EFT, according to the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.
  1. Swimming with sea creatures—Dolphin swims are enjoyable for the population at large, but they are also used as alternative treatments for vets with PTSD. At the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, veterans swim with whale sharks and are accompanied by dive masters in a huge tank, The New York Times The sharks get their name from their immense size and mainly eat plankton. The quiet underwater environment helps vets forget bad memories.
  1. Outdoor therapies—Horseback riding, hiking, and rafting are among activities that can help vets overcome symptoms of PTSD. The Rites of Passage Ranch Long Term Care Program in Washington state combines cognitive behavioral therapy with relaxation exercises, physical activity, and healthy food.

You’re not alone

Going through a traumatic event is not rare. At least half of Americans have had a traumatic event in their lives. Of people who have had trauma, about 1 in 10 men and 2 in 10 women will develop PTSD. There are some things that make it more likely you’ll develop PTSD — for example, having very intense or long-lasting trauma, getting hurt, or having a strong reaction to the event (like shaking, throwing up, or feeling distant from your surroundings). It’s also more common to develop PTSD after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault. But there’s no way to know for sure who will develop PTSD.

Where can I go to get help?

If you’re a Veteran, check with the VA about whether you can get treatment there. Visit va.gov/directory/guide/PTSD.asp to find a VA PTSD program near you. If you’re looking for care outside the VA, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health care provider who specializes in PTSD treatment, or visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ to search for providers in your area.

Get Help If You’re in Crisis
If you feel like you might hurt yourself or someone else:
• Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) anytime to talk to a crisis counselor. Press “1” if you are a Veteran. The call is confidential (private) and free.
• Chat online with a crisis counselor anytime at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
You can also call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

For more information and resources visit the National Center for PTSD website at: ptsd.va.gov

Find out about PTSD and PTSD treatment from Veterans who’ve been there at: ptsd.va.gov/aboutface

The National WWII Museum Commemorates the 75th Anniversary of the End of World War II with a Year of Events

LinkedIn
World War II Museum

On May 8, 1945, World War II in Europe came to an end. As the news of Germany’s surrender reached the rest of the world, joyous crowds gathered to celebrate in the streets, clutching newspapers that declared Victory in Europe (V-E Day). Later that year, U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II. The news spread quickly and celebrations erupted across the United States. On September 2, 1945, formal surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri, designating the day as the official Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day).

V-J Day was especially momentous—the gruesome and exhausting war was officially over—but the day was also bittersweet for the many Americans whose loved ones would not be returning home. “More than 400,000 Americans gave their lives to secure our nation’s freedom, and in the midst of exultation, there was recognition that the true meaning of the day was best represented by those who were not present to celebrate,” said Robert Citino, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum.

Seventy five years later, The National WWII Museum will pay tribute to the historic anniversaries, as well as the myriad servicemembers and Home Front workers who helped preserve freedom and democracy. Through a number of events throughout the year—including educational travel tours taking place throughout Europe and the Pacific, distance-learning programs that will broadcast live from the Museum’s new Hall of Democracy, conferences and symposia examining the war’s lasting impact on the world, and a special exhibit that will travel to institutions across the nation—the Museum will reflect on the legacy and meaning of the end of World War II.

See below for a list of The National WWII Museum’s 2020 commemorative initiatives: 

January 31, 2020: 

The Museum’s traveling exhibit So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope launches a national tour at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio. So Ready for Laughter tells the story of Hope’s unique place in the history of World War II and beyond, and the contributions he made that still reverberate 75 years later.

February 4, 2020:  

The Manhattan Project Electronic Field Trip, produced by the Museum’s WWII Media and Education Center, will take students nationwide on a virtual, interactive journey to discover the science, sites and stories of the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb, which ultimately brought about the end of the war.

February 8, 2020:  

Museum symposium Yalta at 75: From World War to Cold War will feature leading scholars in a daylong discussion about the Yalta Conference—a series of extended strategy sessions between Soviet Union Dictator Josef Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The symposium will examine this crucial moment of World War II in detail: the days leading to the conference, the proceedings themselves and the legacies of Yalta for the postwar world, for the Cold War and for today.

February 19, 2020:

The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima Commemoration Ceremony will take place in the Museum’s US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The short ceremony will feature the Marine Band Quintet and Marine Color Guard, as well as a special guest speaker.
March 20-30, 2020:

The Museum is honored to offer the Victory in the Pacific travel program, which provides guests with the unique opportunity to explore Pacific island battlefields and landing beaches in the company of expert historians and WWII veterans. From March 20 through March 30, Victory in the Pacific journeys from Pearl Harbor—where it all started for the Americans—to the islands of Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima and Tinian, from where the Enola Gay departed to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

May 2020: 

May 8, 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of V-E Day. The Museum will commemorate the milestone anniversary by hosting a series of public events at its campus in New Orleans, as well as five educational travel programs throughout Europe, including England, France and Germany. So Ready for Laughter will also open at the New-York Historical Society.

September 2020: 

On September 2, 2020, the Museum will commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day with a number of celebratory events in New Orleans, including a panel discussion featuring WWII veterans, as well as a featured presentation by Clifton Truman Daniel, the oldest grandson of former US President Harry Truman.

September 10-12, 2020:

The Museum’s global conference Memory Wars: World War II at 75 will explore the war’s place in public memory through a global prism, examining how museums, filmmakers, media, memorials and historians (both academic and public) help shape memories of the conflict.

November 2020: 

The Museum’s year of commemorative events will culminate with a celebration in New Orleans featuring 40 WWII veterans and 40 students who will visit the Museum as part of Gary Sinise Foundation’s Soaring Valor program. Museum staff will host the group along with an annual Veterans Day public programming event and Victory Ball, a lavish reception that salutes the men and women who dedicate their lives to freedom.

In addition to commemorating historical anniversaries, the Museum is on the cusp of a major institutional milestone: the 20th anniversary of opening its doors as The National D-Day Museum on June 6, 2000. This coming June, the institution will host a weeklong celebration that will include the annual Dr. Hal Baumgarten D-Day Commemoration Ceremony and will culminate with the Museum’s annual American Spirit Awards gala. WWII veterans and longtime Museum champions and volunteers will also be present.

For ongoing historical content related to the 75th anniversaries and additional information on Museum programs, please visit http://www.nationalww2museum.org

The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that future generations will know the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. The 2018 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards ranks the Museum No. 3 in the nation and No. 8 in the world. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org.

Sailor Spotlight! San Antonio Native Serves with Helicopter Squadron in San Diego

LinkedIn
US Navy sailor standing in front of helicopter

Airman Shunia Barnett-Johnson, a native of San Antonio, TX., joined the Navy to seek better opportunities and to do something different with her life. Now, three years later, Barnett-Johnson serves with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, working with one of the Navy’s most advanced helicopters at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego.

Barnett-Johnson is an aviation ordnanceman who is responsible for handling and maintaining bombs and missiles to ensure they’re ready for the mission.

“I enjoy meeting different people from many different backgrounds and the pride we take in our job,” said Barnett-Johnson.

Barnett-Johnson is a 2015 George Gervin Academy graduate.

According to Barnett-Johnson, the values required to succeed in the Navy are similar to those found in San Antonio.

“I learned to make better decisions and to accomplish more than what I thought was possible,” said Barnett-Johnson.

With more than 90 percent of all trade traveling by sea, and 95 percent of the world’s international phone and internet traffic carried through fiber optic cables lying on the ocean floor, Navy officials continue to emphasize that the prosperity and security of the United States is directly linked to a strong and ready Navy.

Pilots and aircrew are trained in the squadron to fly MH-60S “Seahawk” helicopters to ensure they are prepared for peacetime and warfighting missions.

Helicopters are equipped with the ability to conduct replenishments at sea, search and rescue missions and support other operations as needed.

According to Admiral Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, the focus of today’s Navy is squarely on warfighting, warfighters and the capabilities needed for the Navy of the future.

“I am confident we will maximize the Navy we have today while delivering the Navy that our nation will rely upon tomorrow,” said Gilday. “And we will do so with urgency. Our fleet will be a potent, formidable force that competes around the world every day, deterring those who would challenge us while reassuring our allies and partners.”

There are many opportunities for sailors to earn recognition in their command, community and careers. Barnett-Johnson is most proud of earning her air warfare qualification.

“It required a lot of studying and applying myself,” said Barnett-Johnson. “It was important to not give up or get discouraged.”

As a member of the U.S. Navy, Barnett-Johnson, as well as other sailors, know they are a part of a service tradition providing unforgettable experiences through leadership development, world affairs and humanitarian assistance. Their efforts will have a lasting effect around the globe and for generations of sailors who will follow.

“I love the opportunities to travel and the educational benefits that are available while I am serving my country,” said Barnett-Johnson.

Source: Navy Office Of Community Outreach

Gary Sinise awarded Congressional Medal of Honor Society award for supporting veterans

LinkedIn
Gary Sinise Cover of U.S. Veterans Magazine

The Patriot Award was awarded to the veteran advocate and Forrest Gump actor recently at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA. It’s the highest honor given out by the organization, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Sinise is known for several memorable roles. These include George Milton in Of Mice and Men, Lieutenant Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Harry S. Truman in Truman (for which he won a Golden Globe), Ken Mattingly in Apollo 13, Detective Jimmy Shaker in Ransom, and Detective Mac Taylor in the CBS series CSI: NY(2004–13).

Sinise started off as a rebel and a musician. His parents bought him a guitar when he was a boy, but he noticed everyone was playing guitar, so he switched to bass, which he still plays today.

The hugely popular Lt. Dan Band, which plays mostly rock’n’ roll and country covers that are favorites among troops, has played for service members all over the world. He has spent countless hours raising money to support veterans.

He stresses that veterans are everywhere. You don’t have to put on concerts for thousands; you can support one veteran, and that’s a big deal. “Look within your own neighborhood, your town, your state.”

Read his story here!

100-year-old Tuskegee Airman from Bethesda flips the coin at Super Bowl LIV

LinkedIn
Veteran Charles McGee speaking in to Fox News microphone during Superbowl interview

Col. Charles McGee is still living large at 100 years old. The retired Tuskegee Airman, of Bethesda, helped to flip the coin at Super Bowl LIV on Sunday.

McGee joined three other 100-year-old veterans in the ceremony, which was part of the NFL’s centennial celebration.

McGee is believed to be the oldest living Tuskegee Airman, and also flew two private jets the week of his 100th birthday.

McGee was 22 when he became a part of history in the making.

“I took the exams and passed and all I can say was when I got a call after that first flight I was hooked,” McGee recalled back on his 100th birthday in December. “Back then we didn’t realize what was taking place. We were doing something supporting the country.”

McGee went on to command a squadron and set a record after completing a total of 409 combat missions during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He said his squads all had one goal.

“Our role moving into bomber escort was to save American lives,” he said. “I don’t see myself as a hero. I see myself as one little American that did accomplish something that was helpful.”

McGee’s home in Bethesda is filled with awards, including a Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush and another honor waits in the wings. In July, the Senate passed a bill pushed by Sen. Chris Van Hollen to give McGee an honorary promotion to brigadier general. It now sits before the House for approval for the president’s signature.

His recognition instills pride in his three children, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

Continue on to Fox News to read the complete article.

Married couple originally from Brazil graduates U.S. Navy Bootcamp with honors

LinkedIn
Silvia and Rafael Gonclaves pose in U.S. Navy Uniforms

Silvia Ribeiro anxiously waited at the finish line of the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Her hand grasped a ring. Her thoughts held a marriage proposal.

“Você quer se casar comigo?’ she asked in her native Portuguese, moments after Rafael Ribeiro Goncalves completed the race.

With post-race fatigue briefly giving way to the realization of spending a lifetime with the woman he loved, Ribeiro Goncalves replied yes, between a few exhausted breaths. Their wedding ceremony was presided over by a judge, who also was a runner. Wedding guests, some of whom had just a day’s notice of the hastily arranged ceremony, showed up wearing swim parkas and cycling gear during a break in their tight training schedules.

The Brazilian couple, who moved to the United States in 2015 and resided in Los Angeles, have seldom done things in a conventional way and never have they done them halfway. That, in part, explains their decision to enlist in the U.S. Navy.

Ribeiro Goncalves and Ribeiro were among 1,073 graduates participating in the Jan. 24, 2020 Pass-In-Review graduation ceremony at Recruit Training Command. Graduating was never going to be enough for these two motivated, high-achieving, former professional athletes who were recognized as honor graduates.

As the top graduate in his training group, Ribeiro Goncalves, 39, was awarded the Navy Club of the United States Military Excellence Award (MEA). The MEA is awarded to the recruit that best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military bearing and teamwork. Ribeiro, 40, earned the United Service Organization Shipmate Award for best exemplifying the spirit and intent of the word ‘shipmate.’

“Seaman Recruit Ribeiro had given her E-2 collar device to another recruit that advanced, but did not have one,” said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Jenise Collier, one of Ribeiro’s Recruit Division Commanders. “I had brought her out to the middle of the compartment and presented her with new collar devices. She continuously exemplifies the highest standard of honor courage and commitment. She is well on her way to being a superb Sailor in the fleet.”

Joining the Navy is the latest example of how the couple took an idea and, as they had with so much of their civilian lives, ran with it

“I spent my whole life competing or being part of projects that require really high performance, but it was always for myself,” Ribeiro Goncalves said. “I figured late in life what really gets me going is when I’m part of something bigger than myself. Once I realized that, the military was the obvious choice.”

When the couple began entertaining the idea of enlisting in the military, they believed they did not qualify, as they were not U.S. citizens. However, a close friend, U.S. Air Force Maj. Linda Mansolillo, informed them that they could indeed join and apply for naturalization after six months of service.

“A story like ours just goes to show how representative and inclusive the Navy is of the values that created the United States,” Ribeiro Goncalves said. “I want to give back to the U.S. and what it represents.”

Both husband and wife were born in Rio de Janeiro, but they didn’t meet until much later in life.

He became a member of the Brazilian national swim team for 10 years, earning Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) 400-meter individual medley World Cup medals in 1998 and 2000. FINA is the sport’s international governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee. He also was a member of the bid committee that brought the Summer Olympics to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

She became a professional volleyball player, and later a professional triathlete who moved to the United States in 2010. Two years later, she was offered a job opportunity for a one-year contract back in Brazil.

“I started training with the same team Rafael was a part of and we became super good friends as we were both dating others at the time,” said Ribeiro. “We both eventually became single and because we spent long periods training on the bike, and running and swimming, we started getting closer.”

As their budding friendship soon blossomed into a loving relationship, Ribeiro’s contract was about to expire. Seeking better training and sponsorship opportunities in the United States, they agreed to leave Brazil and moved to Boulder, Colorado.

“It was so hard in the beginning as we literally arrived with two boxes of belongings, our bikes, a couple of suitcases and only $3,000-$4,000,” she said. “It was rough in the beginning but we went for it and competed professionally in triathlons.”

In 2017, they moved to Los Angeles and Ribeiro Goncalves became employed as an ocean lifeguard for the Los Angeles Fire Department. He was assigned to Zuma Beach, where lifeguards rescue swimmers at an average rate of one every 10 minutes, according to a story published in the Los Angeles Times.

With their athletic careers nearly finished, they sought fresh challenges and a way to honor their new homeland. Their journey to becoming Navy Seaman Recruits began exactly one year before they stood before friends, family, and several thousand guests as honor graduates.

At a birthday party for their close friend Jim Garfield, who was Ribeiro’s sports agent, Maj. Mansolillo first talked to them about joining the military.

“Those two, particularly, are really great examples of the kind of citizens we want,” said Garfield, who attended their boot camp graduation ceremony. “We want people who are engaged, who recognize the blessing of being an American, who are proactively American — not by birth — but by actual action in what they do, what they believe, and how they act and conduct themselves. That, to me, says a lot. We should all be so lucky to have folks like that protecting us.”

Assigned to separate divisions, the couple did not see each other for nearly two months though their recruit barracks are located less than 1,000 yards apart. Unlike other recruits who can update loved ones with letters and phone calls home, they could not write to or call each other, which would have violated recruit interaction directives.

“The toughest part was to be away from him and not knowing how he was doing,” Ribeiro said. “We’re married and we love to be together all the time. We were training together and doing everything together, so it was very hard not having him by my side doing things together. He is everything for me.”

Fortunately, they found a way to indirectly communicate through Garfield. During their infrequent phone calls home, each would update their friend, who in turn, would pass on the information to the recruit’s spouse.

Though the couple arrived to boot camp about a week apart, they wound up having the same graduation date. For those close to the couple, the news about their success in boot camp was expected.

“Myself, Linda and other people that know them are not surprised,” Garfield said. “For them, it’s go hard or go home. It’s 110 percent for them and they are also so appreciative of the opportunity to be here, to be citizens, and to be together. They are a good example of people who have created their own hope, and they are definitely people who are appreciative of the blessing of the place where they are at.”

The couple’s vast experience as professional athletes seemed to give them a leg up in boot camp as they applied it to their training.

“The main thing they teach us in boot camp is how to work under stress,” Ribeiro said. “Even when you’re tired, you’re still under stress. I had no problems dealing with this because being professional athletes, we’re always under stress and we’re always tired. There was no single day where we were both not moaning about how tired we were when we used to train for the triathlons, so that helped us a lot.”

Ribeiro unexpectedly spotted her husband for the first time in a hallway as they both prepared to go before the award board. Having just completed a 3-mile pride run with her division, she was instructed by her RDCs to quickly shower, dress and head to the board.

“They told me my uniform would be inspected too, so when I turned the corner into the hallway, I was busy looking over my uniform and when I looked up — he was in front of me! I almost had a heart attack!” Ribeiro said. “I looked at him, he looked at me, I was thinking what should I say, what should I do? So, I kind of winked to him and he winked back. We talked with our eyes, ‘I’m so proud of you. I love you so much.’ It was so hard not to cry.”

The following day their RDCs arranged a brief meeting at Captain’s Cup.

“We first found out at the awards board; we didn’t even know his wife was here,” said Aviation Machinist’s Mate Cody Kasian, one of Ribeiro Goncalves’ Recruit Division Commanders. “The fact that she is an award winner as well is truly amazing. They were able to interact at Captain’s Cup, as Sailors, and that was a good thing to see.”

Ribeiro Goncalves, who was assigned the rate of Damage Controlman, will remain at Great Lakes Naval Station for approximately 10 weeks to attend his “A” School. His wife will be in San Antonio, Texas to begin approximately 19 weeks of “A” School training as a reservist Hospital Corpsman. They plan to reunite at Ribeiro Goncalves’ first duty station once their training is complete.

What advice do they have for future couples headed to Navy boot camp?

“A strong relationship makes everything better,” Ribeiro Goncalves said. “I was looking forward to the day I would see her again. I had full confidence that she would be doing well and I’m sure she felt the same. We know each other’s potential.”

“Trust in each other, because it’s hard,” Ribeiro said. “It’s really hard not knowing what’s going on outside of your barracks. Respect each other and realize it’s only temporary; it’s only eight weeks and that’s nothing compared to your whole life.”

Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 35,000 recruits are trained annually at RTC and begin their Navy careers.

Source: Navyoutreach.com

Military Makeover with Montel Williams Renovates Family Home of Late Chris Hixon, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Athletic Director in Parkland, FL, and 27 Year Navy Veteran.

LinkedIn
Military Makeover logo Montel Williams and Chris and Debra Hixon

U.S. Navy veteran Chris Hixon, a 27-year veteran (5 active, 22 reserve) who served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, sacrificed his life on February 14, 2018, when the Athletic Director ran into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and tried to save the lives of students by disarming an active shooter.

Hixon is survived by his wife Debra and their two sons, Thomas and Corey.

Debra, also the  daughter of a Navy veteran, has been a teacher for 29 years, serving as a Magnet Coordinator at South Broward High School’s Marine Science Maritime Magnet Program and cares for her special needs son, Cory, who was a big part of the makeover. Cory’s room was inspired by his love for prayer and church.

“He loved being American and serving his country, and he instilled it in his students,” Debra said. Chris Hixon received Military Funeral Honors before he was laid to rest at the age of 49 at the South Florida VA National Cemetery in Lake Worth, FL, on Feb. 21, 2018.

In partnership with major national and local brands, the Military Makeover team comes prepared with building supplies, designs, furniture, gifts and much more from the generous partnerships cultivated by the show.

Additionally, volunteers will be invited to participate and lend a hand in support of the Hixon Family during the renovation of the home they shared for 28 years.

The first episode airs on February 14th at 7:30am EST, the second year anniversary of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stone Douglas High School.

All aired episodes can be found at militarymakeover.tv/