Mission Roll Call Launches Social Media Campaign for Military Veterans to Connect During COVID-19 Crisis

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woman veteran searching online with her laptop on table

Crowd-sourced video series will empower veterans to maintain supportive communities as social distancing practices continue

Mission Roll Call recently announced the launch of “Be A Leader,” a new crowd-sourced social media video series that will empower veterans, their families and caregivers to virtually connect with each other and share their experiences during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. Content shared using the #MRCBeALeader hashtag on social media will highlight stories and advice from veterans to encourage personal growth, optimistic communities and responsible behavior in the months to come.

“With a wealth of experience handling critical and stressful situations in a calm, positive manner, military veterans are ready to lead by example in this time of uncertainty,” said Garrett Cathcart, executive director of Mission Roll Call. “This campaign will give all veterans an opportunity to share how they are checking in on their buddies, entertaining their families, and staying active so others will be inspired to do the same as the nation continues to practice social distancing.”

In addition to videos created and shared by followers of Mission Roll Call’s social media channels, the series will feature insights and words of encouragement from individuals such as Medal of Honor recipients Sal Giunta and Clint Romesha, as well as retired NFL player and U.S. Army veteran Nate Boyer.

The “Be A Leader” campaign is an extension of Mission Roll Call’s goal to provide veterans with a platform where they can make their voices heard on the key issues impacting their lives. Mission Roll Call is a program of national nonprofit America’s Warrior Partnership that has connected with more than 535,000 veterans, family members, caregivers and advocates since launching in 2019.

Veterans and community members who wish to participate can post content and follow the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by using the #MRCBeALeader hashtag and tagging @MissionRollCall.

About Mission Roll Call

Mission Roll Call is the first-ever movement of its kind — one dedicated to giving every veteran a voice in advocating for the issues that are important to them. The program created a digital community where veterans, their families and caregivers can make their voices heard. Veterans can share their stories through comments on our social media pages and respond to online polls about the most urgent issues facing veteran communities. These messages, views and insights are delivered directly to policymakers and civic leaders with the goal of enacting lasting, positive change.

For more information, visit MissionRollCall.org. Mission Roll Call is a program of America’s Warrior Partnership. America’s Warrior Partnership is a nationally recognized nonprofit with a Platinum Guidestar Seal of Transparency.

Source: America’s Warrior Partnership

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.

Remembering America’s Military

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Memorial Day

Throughout American history, men and women have loved our country so deeply that they were willing to give their all to preserve its safety and freedom. On the last Monday in May, our nation honors the selfless heroes who gave their lives to defend the land we love and the freedoms we believe everyone deserves.

Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. People visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries. Often people decorate the graves of the Civil War soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

The custom of honoring ancestors by cleaning cemeteries and decorating graves is an ancient and worldwide tradition.

Ways to Honor Our Fallen Heroes
This tradition continues on Memorial Day when we reflect on the courage of service members who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. Here’s what you and your family can do to remember these heroes this Memorial Day:

✪✪Display the flag—The U.S. flag is flown at half-staff from dawn until noon on Memorial Day. Some people also choose to fly the POW/MIA flag to honor prisoners of war and those missing in.

✪✪Visit a cemetery—Honor the memory of a family member or another veteran by putting flowers on their grave.

✪✪Join the national moment of silence—Pause wherever you are at 3 p.m. for a moment of silence to remember and honor the fallen.

✪✪Attend local parades—Many cities and towns have Memorial Day parades to remember those who gave their lives for our country.

✪✪Wear red poppies—Red poppies are worn on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war.

Source: militaryonesource.mil

How to Land a Government Contract

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A headshot of Katie Bigelow

By Katie Bigelow, founder, Mettle Ops

Government contracting is not for the faint of heart. The barriers to entry are high and the regulations are complicated and overwhelming. If easy money is the goal, government contracting is not the way to get it. We lose 99 bids out of 100. Can you take that kind of beating and keep going?

The first steps to government contracting are pretty simple. Register with Dun & Bradstreet. Don’t pay them or anyone else to do it. Regardless, of how it seems, it is a free service. They will give you a DUNS number. Use that to register in Sam.Gov where you will get a CAGE code. Don’t skip the opportunity in Sam.gov to complete the SBA Dynamic Small Business search. Read all the regulations that you are committed to follow. Next, register with Beta.sam.gov and look for opportunities to bid. When you find something that looks good, read the whole thing. That’s right. Read all 76 pages paying particular attention to the Performance Work Statement, Section L, and Section M. Submit your bid per their instructions. That’s it. Too easy.

I don’t actually know anyone that has made any real money doing it this way. No doubt there are people out there that simply followed the prescribed path and struck it big. More often, there are people that followed the path and ended up in the pokey, too.

The hard truth is that nobody in this business is rooting for you. I have never found a Government Small Business office that did anything other than put your name on a list and provide a PowerPoint presentation.

Government Contracting Officers, as a general rule, don’t want to do lots of small contracting actions for small businesses. They want to execute fewer contracting actions for big businesses with big dollar amounts. One of my first customers tried to offer me a $14 million contract. The contracting command gave us all a giant “NO!” We were too small, too new, too much of a nuisance.

“Go work for a prime for 5 years,” is the verbatim advice we’ve received from contracting officers. Large government primes have lots of attorneys, lots of money, and lots of shareholders to please. They use small businesses, strip the name of the small business off the work and offer it as your own. It’s not illegal. If you don’t mind, this may be the route for you. It’s not the route for me.

Here’s my secret sauce: Work really hard. Do all the things I mentioned in paragraph 2 and then work hard. We take every opportunity we can afford to meet people, to shake hands, to share what we’ve learned. We don’t shy away from making referrals, even if we get nothing in return. We wear our character on our sleeves, our business cards, and our websites. We were warfighters and always will be at heart. There is a standard of values that comes with that.

We are students of our industry. Take DAU classes. We read and connect and learn. We reach out personally to potential customers every single day. Our goal is to understand more about government contracting than even our customers know. We aren’t trying to outsmart them. We are trying to provide great value to them.

To date, I have only won 4 government contracts since 2015. The first was for $70,000, then $14 million, then $19 million, and the most recent another $19 million. Since I told you we won 1 out of 100 or less, you can do the math to see how many times we lost. Decide if this is the industry for you. If it is, call me. Maybe we can do it together.

Katie Bigelow is the founder of Mettle Ops, a woman-owned, service-disabled, veteran-owned, disadvantaged small business. WBE, WOSB, EDWOSB, NVBDC, CVE, VOSB, SDVOSB, U.S. Small Business Administration 8(a) Certified 2027

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

Is America still the home of the brave?

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homelesss veteran sits on bench outside looking solemn

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, veterans were already experiencing homelessness at a higher rate than the civilian population. While we hunkered down in the comfort and safety of our homes, our veterans’ situation worsened. As of April 2020, veterans are 12.5%[1] more likely to pass away if exposed to the virus, making homeless veterans even more vulnerable.

Is America still the home of the brave if in these challenging times our heroes are left alone to fend for their lives in the streets of LA? Where is home for our heroes? What do we tell the Funderbergs of America who were once young kids fighting in Vietnam and are now 63-year-old men deprived of their dignity? Have we as a nation failed them in some way?

We ask, because we as American citizens who proudly sing about being “The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave,” we are all responsible for making sure that the Funderbergs who proudly fought for our nation are taken care of.

New Directions for Veterans (NDVets) was founded by veterans for that precise reason, to empower men and women who served in the military, and their families, to lead productive and fulfilling lives. For more than 25 years, we have been providing transitional and emergency housing, food, clothing, counseling and vocational assistance to veterans in Southern California. NDVets currently operates eight permanent supportive housing facilities, with six additional properties scheduled to be completed and filled by the end of 2020.

We also run the nation’s first transitional housing for veterans that returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Residents leave NDVets with housing, a job, savings, renewed self-confidence and a support network of mentors and peers.

A misunderstanding NDVets tackled from the get go is that housing does not fix the problem. A majority of our homeless veterans survive with lingering effects of PTSD and substance abuse. The truth is mental health and sobriety is the key to ending the homeless crisis and taking our veterans out of the vicious cycle of homelessness.

At NDVets we assess our veterans to see what their needs are and create an individualized plan to ensure they feel supported. We offer clinical services, therapy sessions, and neurofeedback support. We provide the life skills and money management classes necessary for them to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

As you can imagine, we are now going through difficult times. The pandemic has impacted us and our veterans in a variety of ways, putting a strain on our organization whilst creating new challenges to tackle. Veterans feel more isolated, their mental health is declining and we fear the worst.  We’ve had to create a safe environment for our case and frontline workers, slow down the moving of veterans into available apartments, and are now  struggling with unbudgeted expenses such as hiring temporary workers.

While we partly rely on funding from the VA, most of our funding comes from grants and donations. Without you, we wouldn’t be here, without you, the veterans we house would be in the street.

California’s economy is one of the largest in the world, competing with that of Germany or the U.K, yet LA houses the largest population of homeless veterans in the country. That means that we can do better, we must do better.

Whether it is through volunteering, sewing masks, in-kind donations or donations, we must all think of ways we can give back to our veterans. They’ve done so much for our country, it’s time we do the same for them.

This year we will be holding two big charity events, to which you are all invited:NDVets Logo

– The 1st Annual Veteran’s Valor Golf Classic: Monday, August 17, 2020, at the exclusive Braemar Country Club in Tarzana.

The New Directions for Veterans Honoring Our Hero’s Gala 2020: Wednesday, October 21st, 2020, at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. An opportunity to honor both our veterans and those advocating for them.

The funds raised through the tournament and the Gala will be used to help continue supporting the veterans in our programs with the services that they need to become self-sufficient productive members of society once again.

We invite you to reserve your sponsorship or foursome today by contacting Dawn Zamudio, our Development Manager at (626) 627-6552 or via email at dzamudio@ndvets.org.  You can also visit our website at www.NDVets.org for more information.

Our Executive Director Leonardo Cuadrado, retired Captain,U.S. Marines Corps (USMC) likes to say “ In the Marine Corps we were always taught never leave a Marine behind both in garrison and in the combat zone, these veterans have served our nation honorably and it’s time for us as a nation not to leave any veteran behind.” Help us make America the home of the brave, help us support our nation’s heroes.

[1] National Coalition for Homeless Veterans CEO Kathryn Monet, House Hearing on Homeless Veterans and COVID-19 Pandemic, April 28, 2020.

USO Supports Service Members During Military Appreciation Month

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USO members and servicemembers stand on the dock in front of Red Cross Ship

May kicks off Military Appreciation Month, and the USO will continue its mission delivery to the military and their families. The USO has been on the front lines providing for the emergent needs of the Armed Forces during the COVID-19 pandemic. The USO’s mission of strengthening service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country is more critical than ever before.

The USO has proudly provided support to almost 150,000 service men and women and their families in just six weeks throughout the Western States through virtual programming, front-line support and distanced programming to quarantined isolated service members and family.

The USO has quickly mobilized to transition to military virtual programming including story-time for families, fun classes for kids, health and wellness for spouses and service members, and live engagements with celebrities and athletes. During the month of May service members in Alaska, California, Arizona and globally will have engagement with leading entertainers and celebrities including Eli Manning, Ciara, Trace Adkins, Ne-Yo, Sarah Silverman, Craig Robinson and more.

The USO during COVID – 19 has activated its small team to facilitate:

  • Weekly deliveries to essential military personnel throughout the region of supplies of food and toiletries
  • Care package deliveries to quarantined military, including units returning from deployment
  • Morale boosting and meal deliveries to National Guardsmen volunteering at local food banks, field hospitals and in the community
  • Providing support to the USNS Mercy docked at the Port of Los Angeles with morale boosting activities and meal donations

During Military Appreciation Month activities are increasing, upcoming USO support events throughout the West Coast include:

  • USO Alaska:
    • May 8: Eielson AFB is hosting a spouse spa bag and USO mask give away to celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Visit Alaska.USO.org to donate and learn more about coming events.
    • COVID – 19 impact #’s to date: 59,978
  • USO Arizona: 
    • May 9: MilSpouse Appreciation Luncheon Serving 150 with lunch and spa bags at Davis-Monthan AFB. Visit Arizona.USO.org to donate and learn more about coming events.
    • COVID – 19 impact #’s to date: 54,443
  • Bob Hope USO: 
    • May 13, 20 and 27: Weekly Wednesday Lunch for USNS Mercy serving local eats to the Sailors and Marines providing ground support and security for the USNS Mercy
    • May 20: LAAFB Spouse Appreciation Event hosting virtual event for spouse appreciation month complete with grab bags and entertainment. Visit BobHope.USO.org to donate and learn more about upcoming events.
    • COVID – 19 impact #’s to date: 13,937
  • USO Nevada: 
    • May 8 and 15: May Lunch on the USO and Dinner on the USO which is intended for families at Creech and Nellis Air Force Bases.  Visit Nevada.USO.org to donate and learn more about upcoming events.
    • COVID – 19 impact #’s to date: 11,178
  • Northern California: 
    • May 12: Providing over 900 military medical staff at David Grant Hospital at Travis AFB with sweet treats in honor of Nurses Appreciation Week and their support during COVID-19
    • May 15: Distributing Spouse Appreciation kits to over 200 military spouses at Beale and Travis Air Force Bases. Visit NorthernCalifornia.USO.org to donate and learn more about upcoming events.
    • COVID – 19 impact #s to date: 4,600
  • USO San Diego: 
    • May 8: Military Spouse Appreciation Day Take the Night Off Dinner Kits and Swag Bag Giveaway  at USO Liberty Station and USO Camp Pendleton
    • May 16: Armed Forces Day USO and San Diego Padres Mobile Drive-Through Food Distribution at Petco Park. Visit SanDiego.USO.org to donate and learn more about coming events.
    • COVID – 19 impact #’s to date: 26,840

To learn more about USO West’s COVID-19 response, upcoming donations, Military Appreciation Month Activations and more visit BobHope.USO.org.

About the USO:
The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort and support. The USO is a private nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Our programs and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff. To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO, visit USO.org or at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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