Military Targeted for Scams

Military Members SCAM warning

By Debbie Gregory.

Shopping centers and malls near military installations are full of young, in-shape people who have shorter haircuts, upright posture, and who swing their arms when they walk. Many Americans can recognize troops when they are out and about. Service members, especially junior-enlisted, should be aware that there are those who seek to prey on military members, due to their steady paychecks and sometimes, naïve spending. And they can spot a GI from a mile away.

Various dishonest payday loans, auto-loans, jewelry stores, bargain cell-phone providers, computer salespeople and other schemers are specifically targeting military members in order to dupe them. These predators are costing individuals thousands of dollars and are putting their victims’military careers in jeopardy. Many of our military personnel may not be able to spot these frauds, even after they have been ripped off.

Here are a few tips for service members to avoid scams:

Loans & credit:

If you don’t have the money to buy something, you should ask yourself one thing; “Do I really need it?” Many service members are plagued by horrible credit. Bad credit can cause a lot of needless stress, including denial of security clearances. For large purchases (TVs, audio equipment, computers, engagement rings, etc.) try saving your money until you have enough money to buy them out-right, instead of jeopardizing your credit. If you feel the need to take on a loan or credit purchase, especially when buying a car, you should only borrow from licensed lenders and creditors. You should also educate yourself on interest rates, and absolutely have your command or base legal office review the contract before you agree to anything. If the creditor or lender won’t allow you to have the contract reviewed, you should cease transactions with them immediately.

Emails:

Emails are chalked full of viruses and scams. Never open any emails that you don’t know who the sender is. If you see an advertisement, especially in an email, and the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A lot of email scams tell you that you are a “LUCKY WINNER” or that you are privy to unmatched savings and all you have to do to claim your reward is input your personal information. These scams are intended for use by identity thieves. Unless you knowingly entered a contest, you haven’t won anything. In fact, you most likely end up losing a lot.

Salespeople:

Many retailers are now employing sales reps who work on commission. Kiosks at malls are an obvious example of this; the salespeople  do anything and everything they can to get you to stop, look and buy. The best avoidance tactic is to politely say, “No, thank you,” and keep on moving. But there are the less obvious tricksters out to get you to spend your money on something you don’t really want. Have you ever wondered why retailers employ attractive females to work in the men’s clothing department? While often times these salespeople are assisting you in a necessary purchase, just be sure, before you pull out your wallet, that the purchase you are about to make is for something you really wanted to buy, and not something that you were told you couldn’t live without. If you aren’t sure that you want something, or don’t think that you can afford it, then you should walk away, regardless of what the salesperson says. YOUR money should only be spent on what YOU want. Don’t let anyone pressure you to buy anything.

Ways to Thank a Veteran

Veterans Day

By Debbie Gregory.

Americans are continuously looking for ways to show their gratitude and support for the men and women who have served our country. There are many organizations that do a variety of charitable work, both for Veterans and active duty military. I encourage everyone to search our charity page to find a wonderful non-profit to donate time or resources to. But there are other ways that you, as an individual, can impact Veterans in your community and in in your life. Here are some suggestions of things you can easily do:

  1. Fly an American flag at your home or business and encourage your neighbors to do the same.
  2. Reach out to a Veteran you know. Contact that friend or family member who served and thank them. You can send them an ECard, or a handwritten note, take them out for coffee or dessert; any small gesture that shows that Veteran that he or she, and their service, are appreciated.
  3. Encourage your children and their schools to honor Veterans. Setting the example for school aged kids to honor people and traditions should be a part of their education and up-bringing. Kids can make hand painted thank you cards, and the schools can invite local Vets for an assembly.
  4. Organize a function at your workplace. Take time out of the workday to honor the Vets at your job. Buy a cake, blow up some balloons, decorate the work space to thank the Veterans that you work with.
  5. Post it! Make a Facebook post, a Tweet, an Instagram picture or any manner of social media outlet to show your support for Veterans.
  6. Contact your local college or university and ask if they have a Veteran’s Resource Center. You can offer to donate school supplies, paper, coffee or snacks. You can also donate funds for grants to help Veterans buy text books.
  7. Remember them. Take some time out of your day to reflect on what these men and women sacrificed in their service to their country. Say a prayer, read an article, talk to a Vet about their service, watch a war movie. Any time spent in remembrance will create more appreciation for Veterans.
  8. Hire a Veteran. If you are in a position at your place of business to hire or make hiring decisions, then why not show your support for Veterans by hiring one.
  9. Offer Veteran discounts at your place of business. A discount can be a priceless way to tell Vets that you support them.
  10. Say thank you whenever you can. If you see someone in uniform, or wearing service related apparel, be sure to tell them thank you.

While many establishments honor Veterans with discounts, not all do. So when you’re out buying your morning coffee, having lunch or dinner, take a look around and see if you can spot a Veteran, and buy their purchase when you pay for your own.

“Hire a Vet in Biotech” Informative for Vets & Employers

hire-a-vet

By Debbie Gregory.

On November 12, 2013, the Ventura BioCenter hosted the “Hire a Vet in Biotech” event. A partnership between major biotech companies,  including Amgen, and local advocates for hiring Veterans, including MilitaryConnection.com, made the event possible.

The event presented the opportunity for attending Veteran job hunters to meet and network with biotech company representatives and Veteran supporters. Scheduled networking times at convention tables allowed attendees to meet with Amgen, the Ventura BioCenter, the University of Phoenix and the Veterans Affairs division of the California’s Employment Development Department (EDD). Attendees chatted over refreshments in hopes of making valuable career contacts.

The main events of the evening were two panels of guest speakers. The first panel consisted of representatives from the biotech community: Ted Bagley, Vietnam Veteran and Vice President of Human Resources for Amgen; Greg Cauchon, PhD, Director of the Ventura BioCenter and President of Amethyst Life Sciences, Inc.; and Ron Greenwood, Vietnam Veteran, CEO of Global Energy & Technology in Ventura, and co-founder of the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. The panel members all expressed their support for Veterans.

“As a Veteran, I see today’s Veterans struggle to find opportunities,” said Bagley. “I want to help provide those opportunities.”

The panel concurred that when it comes to hiring Veterans, employers are getting experienced workers who know how to follow directions, processes and procedures. Employers should seek out Veterans. “We owe the current batch of military Veterans so much,” said Greenwood. “I challenge all employers to give Veterans a chance at an interview. You will be impressed.”

The panel also agreed that Vets are skilled workers in multiple areas, and need to be able to translate those skills into language that corporate employers can understand on a résumé and in an interview.  “Veterans have the ability to get things done,” said Cauchon.

The second panel consisted of Veteran advocates, including Military Connection CEO Debbie Gregory; Mike McManus, Veteran Services Officer, County of Ventura; and CJ Crosby from the University of Phoenix.  This panel recommended that the Veterans in attendance should not be too proud to apply for entry-level positions, and they should keep an open mind in regards to temporary jobs as a way to get a foot in the door and show employers what they can do.  “Put together a game plan for getting that job,” Ms. Gregory said. “This should include practicing interview skills, and making sure your résumé is current and error-free.”

Both panels agreed that Veterans should utilize their education benefits to help them pursue their career goals. Ms. Gregory addressed the employers present,  suggesting that hiring Veterans was in their best interest. “There are tax credits, beginning at $2,400, and going as high as $9,600, for employers who hire Vets.”

Ms. Gregory was referring to the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act,” which is a bipartisan, bicameral, comprehensive piece of legislation that is intended to lower the rate of unemployment among our nation’s veterans.

The event was mostly informative, with no résumés changing hands. But interested job hunters were told how they could apply for positions at Amgen, and what biotech companies are looking for, in terms of experience and education.

UCLA Med Center Opens New Center to Help Vets: as part of Operation Mend

Operation Mend

By Debbie Gregory.

Since 2007, the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center has been partnering with the Brooke Army Medical Center and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System to form Operation Mend. Operation Mend provides healthcare services to wounded military personnel who require drastic plastic or reconstructive surgeries, as well as mental health support to the patients and their families.

Last week, in support of Operation Mend, the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center announced the opening of its Lockheed Martin TeleHealth Suite and Lockheed Martin Outpatient Recovery Suites. The new amenities were made possible largely through a donation of $4 million by Lockheed Martin.

The TeleHealth Suite includes monitors with the ability to deliver high-definition video streams individually, as well as a full-motion content sharing stream. The new system will also enable personnel to edit shared content through the use of hi-tech touch panels.  This provides many advantages for Operation Mend.

Patients of Operation Mend, wounded Vets, won’t have to fly out to L.A. every time they need to be seen by one of their doctors at UCLA.  The TeleHealth Suite makes it possible for doctors to examine their patients through a highly advanced conference call.

The TeleHealth Suite also makes it possible for UCLA physicians to collaborate with colleagues, military doctors and ,specialists all over the world. This type of collaboration between civilian medical centers, Veteran healthcare facilities and military hospitals is pioneering a better way to provide the best, most informed care and treatment to all patients.

The Lockheed Martin Outpatient Recovery Suites provides Operation Mend’s Veteran patients and their families with the highest level of privacy and comfort during their multiple surgeries. A renovated waiting room, a new consulting office and four private recovery suites which also provide space for visitors are all part of the gift from the aerospace company and UCLA.

In addition to housing Operation Mend, the center will also research and provide care for traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and patient-family support.

Military Suicides Down 22% – A Win for the DOD

Veteran Suicides

By Debbie Gregory.

Earlier this month, the Department of Defense (DOD) disclosed that military suicides are down more than 22% from this time last year. Through the end of October, 2013, the suicide toll stood at 245. The number of suicides tallied between January and October 2012 was 316.

For all of 2012, the military suffered the loss of 349 of its members through suicide, averaging 1 person every 25 hours, for the entire year. In 2012, there were 182 suicides by members of the Army, 60 in the Navy, 59 Air Force and 48 Marines (the US Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security, not the DOD). Suicide took more service members’ lives in 2012 than the war in Afghanistan did during the same period, where there were 295 US Service members killed last year.

For many years, the DOD has implemented a variety of plans, resources and programs designed to help service members and their family members who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts. These include crisis and prevention hotlines/websites, command trainings for prevention and detection, and raising awareness throughout the entire military Community. One of the main focuses by the DOD has been to remove the stigma attached to seeking help.

The department acknowledges that it still doesn’t always know, with absolute certainty, why individual service members take their own lives.  Many of the military suicides in recent years have been committed by members who never served in or near combat. For this reason, the end of fighting in Iraq and slated end in Afghanistan haven’t been credited for the decrease.

The drop in the amount of suicides by our service members is a welcome improvement. The brave men and women who serve their country deserve so much more than feeling so hopeless, they would take their own lives. A considerable drop of more than 22% is a major win for the DOD, and all branches of service. We hope that this 2013 trend will continue, and that we will see the number of suicides consistently fall for years to come.

Don’t be Ashamed to Show Your Pride

navy veteran

By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.

I own and wear a varying ensemble of patriotic, military and Veteran apparel. Wearing my Navy boot camp sweatshirt (Smurfs), or my Guantanamo T-shirt, I feel empowered as I accomplish my civilian missions of grocery shopping and coming to work at MilitaryConnection.com, to write about my wardrobe.

When I was on active duty, it was considered uncool to wear such items. But many of us Veterans want to pay homage to and display the sense of pride and accomplishment that serving in the military has brought us. We wear our “pride gear” to show people who we are, where we have been, and what we have done. But for some reason, I sense a growing stigma attached to wearing such items and showing your patriotism.

I am a recent university graduate, courtesy of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I also wear a lot of alumni apparel.  I went to a very small state school, and knew just about all of my classmates in my English program. A week before graduation, the Veterans Resources Office threw its graduating Vets a beautiful ceremony, honoring us for our achievements. Present at the ceremony was a woman whom I had shared several classes with over the previous five semesters. Although we weren’t friends, we had often talked, and even worked on a couple group projects together. I wondered what she was doing at the ceremony. The school’s Veterans Affairs Coordinator announced her name and stated that she was an Army Vet. I was taken aback that in our two year acquaintanceship, I never heard her mention or saw her wear anything that would hint at military pride.

I have no indication that my former classmate was anything but proud of her service. After all, she attended the ceremony for Veterans. But because I am usually so adept at spotting fellow Veterans, I am puzzled by the fact that her service remained concealed, and that she didn’t reach out to me or other Vets in our classes. Could it be that it has become uncool to call yourself a Veteran?

A Facebook picture of my “Proud Navy Veteran” ball cap was commented on by one of my former shipmates, who said that only “old men” wear such hats. Is it true that Veterans of this generation are not displaying their pride?

Today’s all volunteer force should be proud of their service, proud of their branch, and proud of their country. We stepped up and chose to stand tall in front of our countrymen so that they wouldn’t have to fight. We have sworn oaths of allegiance, and have sweated and bled while keeping these oaths. But apparently, wearing a hat or a T-shirt is going too far.

Current active-duty Military and Veterans should be the beacons of patriotism. If we don’t proudly display our pride in who we are, what we have done and what we stand for, how can we expect others to do the same?

I urge everyone who serves, past and present,  to flaunt their pride. Put on your patriotic and military pride apparel and show the world that you are: a Soldier, a Sailor, a Marine, an Airman, a Guardsman, a Veteran, a supporting family member. You are an American. Be proud to be what you are, no matter what anyone else says.

New Immigration Law to Affect Military Families

Immigration Law

By Debbie Gregory.

As a presidential candidate, Barrack Obama pledged that, if elected, he would pass immigration reforms. Recently, the Obama administration has made a change to the nation’s immigration system. This new administrative change will make it possible for certain relatives of active and former military service members, who are living in the U.S. illegally, to remain in the country.

The directive, issued in a nine page memorandum on Nov. 15, gives U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials the power to allow immigrant spouses, children and parents of current military and Veterans to stay in the country and apply for legal residency in the U.S.

President Obama has made several minor changes to immigration policy. Early in his presidency, he instructed government agencies to use discretion to find and deport only the most serious criminals. In 2012, the President decreed offering younger illegal immigrants living in the country, a reprieve from deportation, and the ability to obtain work permits for at least two years. The earlier immigration changes were received with mixed reviews.

The new policy is intended to relieve tensions for military families. This change in policy is designed to allow special exceptions for illegal immigrants that are part of military families, removing the related stress.  It is believed that thousands of military personnel have family members that are living in the country illegally. The thought of a spouse, child or parent getting deported would weigh heavily on the affected service member’s minds.

Department of Defense spokesman, James Swartout, said that the military appreciates the clarification on how immigrant family members of service members are to be treated.

Some people may oppose this change, siting the need to tighten immigration laws. But this particular change affects those who serve and have served this country. These men and women were sent overseas, to foreign lands, in support of their service. After their service, these heroes deserve every right and chance to be happy for the remainder of their lives, with their families by their side.

Sailor & Sweetheart Marry at Airport

Sailor marries

By Debbie Gregory.

Navy Seaman Apprentice Dylan Ruffer couldn’t wait to marry his high school sweetheart. Ruffer, 19, and Madison Meinhardt, also 19, married upon their reunion after Ruffer’s 11 month long deployment. The couple are both from Chester, California. While that isn’t unusual, the wedding itself was a bit unconventional.

The young couple had originally planned to wed in October. But Ruffer’s deployment aboard the USS Gravely (DDG-107) got extended. In talking to his fiancée, after the extension, Ruffer quipped that he would like to marry her the moment he saw her again. Meinhardt thought that her sailor had a good plan, so she contacted the Reno-Tahoe International Airport to inquire if such an arrangement would be possible.

Ruffer arrived at the airport in his dress blue Navy uniform, commonly referred to as “cracker jacks” and made his way to baggage claim. A loudspeaker announced his arrival, “Ladies and gentleman, I present Dylan Ruffer, United States Navy.” Ruffer was welcomed home in one of the most unique ways- a marriage ceremony.

While the ceremony itself was not a surprise for Ruffer or Meinhardt, the elegant decorations and contributions to the ceremony by the airport and local businesses were. The wedding was held under the “Arrivals” sign, and the airport provided an archway of white fabric and flowers for the ceremony. The airport roped off a section in baggage claim for the reception, and wedding guests dined on food donated from the airport catering service. The Peppermill Hotel-Casino offered a spa package so that the bride could prepare for her big day. And the Eldorado Hotel-Casino donated a honeymoon suite and limousine for the couple to use after their ceremony. The DJ and the wedding photographer donated their services, and the flowers were donated by a local businesses.

“We were expecting a little wedding in the corner,” Meinhardt told the reporters from Reno’s KOLO news team. “This is definitely more than we could have ever asked for.”

Last week, MilitaryConnection.com reported that a group of Marines received a newsworthy heroes’ welcome home. In this instance, the Reno-Tahoe International airport and the neighboring community really rallied to help make this a fairytale wedding, worthy of national acclaim. Were these two stories unrelated acts of generosity and military-appreciation by these two airports? Or is there some sort of competition between American airports to see who can best display their gratitude for our men and women in uniform? If so, Reno-Tahoe might be a tough one to top.

It is always great to see businesses, organizations and individuals go out of their way to support our Military and their families. Bravo-Zulu to all who helped make Mr. and Mrs. Ruffer’s wedding the best day of their lives. MilitaryConnection.com would like to congratulate the couple and wish them a lifetime of happiness.

Military Deployments Affect Teens Mental Health

USC Study

By Debbie Gregory.

The School of Social Work at the University of Southern California (USC) completed a study that linked teen depression and suicidal behaviors with multiple military deployments by family members. The study surveyed data from 14,299 7th, 9th and 11th grade students, including 1,914 that had a military-connected parent or sibling.

The results suggest that teens with a military-connected parent or sibling have a higher rate of feeling hopeless or sad than their peers who are not military-connected. The study also found that the rate of suicidal ideation for the teens studied was at 24.8% for those with a deployed parent, and 26.1% for those with a sibling who had been deployed.

Previous research conducted on the mental health of military children has focused solely on those kids who were already receiving treatment for their concerns. But much of that data was considered inconclusive or unusable by experts who couldn’t use it to gauge mental health incidents among all military children, or compare the data against non-military affected children.

The research in the USC study found that adolescents, as a whole, are experiencing more mental health concerns than previously thought.  The study suggests that all adolescents should receive increased mental health evaluations, and that military-connected children should receive additional consideration. A recommendation was made, in the publication, for non-conventional methods to be used for spotting and screening mental health concerns, including civilian pediatric offices and schools.

This study is fascinating in that it presents data that is not in the vanguard of American mental health concerns. Our thoughts are focused on the service members and Veterans, who are absolutely deserving of our attention and should receive the foremost consideration for treatment of their mental wounds. But much like the ways firefighters must battle blazes in a sweeping motion, we should keep our war-related mental health attentions constantly searching the periphery, looking for collateral hotspots. Children, siblings, spouses, parents, other relations and friends of those deployed can suffer from the effects of constantly worrying about their deployed loved-one, for months on end. This generation of constant war has taken its toll on all of us, whether we realize it or not. The sooner that we, as a nation, recognize areas that have been affected by war, the sooner we can begin to repair or rebuild areas where damage has been done.

VA Hiring Healthcare Professionals: Change Their Image

VA hiring

By Debbie Gregory.

In order to provide optimum health care for Veterans and their families, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched two advertising campaigns to help spread the word that they are accepting applications for Medical Professionals.

The VA has over 1,700 facilities, serving approximately 8.76 million patients per year in all capacities of health care. The VA has revamped their health care system, and is currently hiring medical professionals to help meet the needs of their patients.

So the VA is hanging out the help wanted sign with two advertising campaigns. The first is the “No Other System” campaign, where the VA is announcing that there is no better place to work than the VA healthcare system. A key selling point of the VA system is that no other system in the country allows medical professionals to transfer their licenses and certifications from state to state.

The second ad is the “Our Veterans Need Us” campaign. This campaign points out that there are over eight million Veterans from previous generations, with more coming from the current generation. This factoid leans towards job stability, and the long term need for health care providers. The “Our Veterans Need Us” campaign gives prospective applicants the feeling that by providing health care for those who have served, they are also serving their country.

It is true that America’s Veterans do need the best of the best. Although there has been a negative undertone when referring to VA health care, this has been due primarily to long waits, and Veterans feeling as though they have been falling through the cracks. But given the sheer number of people the VA serves, the consensus is that VA healthcare does the best that it can with the budget that it receives. However, the VA is making an obvious attempt to change this image and remove the negative aspects from their brand of health care.

These advertising campaigns, coupled with the fact that they are hiring mass amounts of professionals, are positive steps towards improving the quality of VA health care. With so many positive changes happening through the VA, Veterans can look forward to greatly improved healthcare. Veterans have given their best, and they deserve the best.