Following the Audience Online: Military Connection

Following the Audience Online

By Debbie Gregory.

The role that social media plays in the lives of military families is enormous, whether the service person is on duty in the United States, overseas, or in a war zone. It also plays a role in the reintegration of military personnel into civilian life

Soon, service members and families are about to see a social media push to get the word out about available resources designed to help them as they navigate military life.

In the past, getting information to service members and their families has been a longstanding problem. The answer seems to be obvious- this audience is best reached online.

Approximately 81 percent of active-duty members are younger than 35. Reaching this targeted audience involves thinking about how and why they use social media. It a fact that many military families and service members use social media to stay connected during deployments, keep in touch with each other, and find information and resources.

Service members and their families continue to use social media in similar ways to their civilian peers It is a given that troops and their families still want timely and accurate information about resources that can help them.

One of the first two initial digital marketing strategies to be launched is a campaign to increase financial readiness. Military service members stressed about money are likely to be distracted during a mission. Service members can also lose security clearances because of financial mismanagement. More than ever, financial readiness has a direct impact on military readiness.

The second of the two campaigns is to inform military families about available resources to protect and strengthen their families, aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect.

“Providing resources and engaging with military families is both a national security issue and a moral imperative,” said Rosemary Freitas Williams, a senior Pentagon official responsible for military community and family policy.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Army Emergency Assistance Made Easier: Military Connection

finacial aid

By Debbie Gregory.

Army Emergency Relief (AER) is the Army’s emergency financial assistance organization, dedicated to “Helping the Army Take Care of Its Own.”

AER is a private nonprofit organization that helps Soldiers and their families. In a step to further assist soldiers get financial relief, the Army has recently dropped a requirement that forced soldiers to inform their command of financial hardships.

In the past, command signatures were required for soldiers and their families to receive loans and grants. But this change has dropped that requirement for nearly all soldiers, regardless of rank.

Many soldiers were reluctant to request financial assistance due to what they believed to be a time consuming and intimidating review process, involving the company/battery level chain of command. They opted, instead, to use the services of pay day lenders, many of whom were unscrupulous, but all who charged high interest rates.

In announcing the change, officials urged soldiers to seek help through the private nonprofit organization that has provided financial assistance to soldiers, retirees and their families since 1942, awarding more than $1.7 billion in loans and grants to more than 3.7 million people.

“The Army realizes it needs to eliminate the undue negative stigma associated with seeking assistance through (Army Emergency Relief),” officials said. “This stigma has contributed to soldiers going to lenders charging high interest rates. Army Emergency Relief should be soldiers’ first choice when they are in financial difficulty.”

The only soldiers who are the exceptions to the new policy are those in basic training, Advanced Individual Training, and those with less than one year in service. Stipulations also apply to soldiers who have been assisted twice in one year, or those with a history of “high risk” financial readiness.

AER financial assistance is conducted within the Army structure by mission commanders and garrison commanders through the 81 AER Sections located at U.S. Army installations worldwide.

Through reciprocal agreements between AER and the other Military Aid Societies, Soldiers and their dependents have access to emergency financial assistance from AER through representatives from the Air Force Aid Society, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the American Red Cross at 908 locations around the world.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Helping Our Nation’s “Hidden Heroes”: Military Connection

Hidden Heroes

By Debbie Gregory.

Almost 6 million American parents, spouses, children, other family members and friends care for  military servicemembers and veterans who have been wounded, injured, or are ill. Many of these “hidden heroes” find that their role as a caregiver can impose a substantial physical, emotional and financial toll. Many caregivers have to set aside their own career and life goals to provide the needed care and, unlike professionals, they usually provide this care without compensation and often without sufficient knowledge of, or access to, available resources or a support network.

These caregivers are often overwhelmed, facing challenges that include isolation, poor health and emotional stress. The Military and Veteran Caregiver Peer Support Network (MVCN) offers peer-based support and services to connect caregivers with their peers for support and help accessing the resources of partner organizations. This support helps increase their wellness, knowledge and skills.

The Network is comprised of hundreds of partner organizations. Modeled after the nationally recognized, evidence-based programs of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) MVCN’s mission is to reduce caregiver isolation and increase their sense of connection, engagement and hopefulness.

The MVCN helps caregivers at all stages of their caring through three consistent highest-quality peer support programs and relevant up-to-date educational information and resources, including an online peer support community, community-based peer support groups, and peer mentors.

The MVCN also publishes a quarterly magazine called “We Care.” The magazine features caregiver stories, Caregiver Partners, KidsCare, , a Q&A called “Dear WeCare”,  and Caregiver News.

MVCN’s Community-Based Peer Support Groups are led by trained caregiver facilitators, with many local groups. They provide a secure, confidential place for caregivers to gather, to exchange experiences, empathy, education and encouragement.

These Community-Based Peer Support Groups offer an opportunity to share the issues, concerns and needs faced by caregivers.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

VA’s New Portal Will Integrate Department Websites: Military Connection

VA

By Debbie Gregory.

The Veterans Affairs (VA) Chief Veterans Experience Officer, Tom Allin, said a portal – called Vets.gov- will be launched to incorporate the VA’s more than 1,000 websites into a centralized hub, streamlining the users’ access to the department’s various services. The launch is scheduled on Veterans Day.

The new web portal will address one of veterans’ most common gripes.

“I’ve never met a veteran who knew what their benefits were and I’ve talking with some really smart veterans,” Allin said. “A young man who works with me in Veterans Experience—Rhodes scholar, Ph.D. from Harvard, West Point number one in his class—has no idea what his benefits are.”

Going online probably would not help. It would seem that Veterans.gov would be the logical place to start. But that site features the Labor Department’s job-training programs for vets. Currently, veterans looking to apply for VA benefits must go to eBenefits.gov. Once they are enrolled and want to access their health care information and appointments, they must use a different website, My HealtheVet.

“The worst case was a website that required 17 clicks to reach a PDF file that you have to print, fill out and mail,” Allin said.

Vets.gov will serve as a “harbor” that will take in information from the VA’s other websites. Eventually, the portal will serve as an all-inclusive resource for users to perform services such as adding dependents, checking on claims, changing addresses, and signing up for education benefits. It’s anticipated that it will take one year for the site to be fully operational.

Vets.gov is part of a broader plan to simplify the department’s digital services. The other efforts include a complete client database and a national call center.

“We want a unified experience in terms of Web, phone, chat, email—where a veteran can get what they want to get done the first time,” he said.

Allen said the VA’s 225+ health system databases “don’t talk to each other,” adding, “They have different data rules, and so we can’t tell you who is actually using VA today among our veterans.”

An integrated database will change that and form the backbone of future customer-service initiatives, including Vets.gov and the national call center, he said. It will include veterans’ contact information, military records, demographic data, and their past use of VA services.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

What Will Bergdahl’s Fate Be? Military Connection

What Will Bergdahl's Fate Be?

By Debbie Gregory.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who led the investigation of Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture in Afghanistan, said he doesn’t think the Army sergeant should go to prison.

Bergdahl alleges that he walked away from his post as part of a plan to express his concerns about his unit’s leadership. While Dahl admits Bergdahl’s concerns were off the mark, “he felt it was his duty to intervene,” said Dahl.

It’s alleged that Bergdahl’s plan was to travel the 19 miles from his post to the forward operating base, sparking a search and creating a “PR event” to catch the attention of someone at the top of the chain of command.

Instead of reaching his destination, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban. His capture and eventual release cost the U.S. five Taliban commanders as part of a prisoner exchange. It also cost his fellow soldiers a grueling and dangerous 45-day search.

Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The outcome of his Article 32 hearing will help determine if he will face a court-martial.

The prisoner exchange, contrary to U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists, drew a lot of public criticism.

At the hands of his captors, Bergdahl was beaten and kept in a cage for three years, and attempted to escape on multiple occasions.

“Nobody knows Sgt. Bergdahl’s story,” said Terrence Russell, senior program manager for the Joint Personnel Recovery Center’s Defense Department office. The former Air Force survival instructor, who has done 125 debriefings with former hostages and POWs from the Gulf War on, said, “I hope someday the world gets to understand how difficult Sgt. Bergdahl had it.”

Bergdahl has several injuries that were more than likely caused by being kept in a crouched position for extended periods.

Bergdahl’s lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, said Bergdahl never intended to avoid his duty and that his case should be treated like a one-day AWOL stint, which he said carries a penalty of 30 days’ confinement.

If Bergdahl is tried and convicted of the misbehavior before the enemy charge, he could get life in prison.

The presiding officer will forward his recommendations to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or be resolved in another manner.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

AMVETS Supports VA Healthcare Overhaul: Military Connection

AMVETS Supports VA Healthcare Overhaul

By Debbie Gregory.

In February of this year, the Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) issued the Veterans Independence Act, a report with a set of policy recommendations to overhaul the VA healthcare system. Although originally drawing public criticism and apathy from traditional veteran service organizations, AMVETS has now voiced its support.

AMVETS, one of the largest veterans groups in the country, characterized the report’s ideas as “a necessary first step” in reforming the care delays and patient wait times. The group feels that ultimately, veterans should be able to choose where, when and how to get the best quality healthcare.

Already a topic among the 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have endorsed parts of the CVA report, while neurosurgeon Ben Carson has called for merging the Veterans Health Administration with the Defense Department.

According to the task force plan, veterans would use their “earned health care funds” to access VA services or civilian physicians, as part of a broader expansion of the concept behind the current VA Choice Card program. Veterans seeking private care would have to pay additional co-pays and deductibles in some cases. The Paralyzed Veterans of America attacked the proposal as limiting veterans’ options, rather than expanding them.

According to the CVA website, the VA health care system was originally created to serve service-connected disabled veterans. Additionally, the priority group system was created by Congress to ensure that those veterans with higher disability ratings received a higher priority for care within the VA health care system, in addition to the higher levels of benefits associated with a higher disability rating. CVA officials have lobbied for a broader discussion of the idea on Capitol Hill, to build support for legislative action mandating the changes. AMVETS officials said they will broach those same topics in their legislative discussions.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Retired Four-Star General Jailed Over Chinese Food Delivery

Retired Four-Star General Jailed Over Chinese Food Delivery

By Debbie Gregory.

The Fayetteville, Georgia police were called to the home of retired four-star US Army general, William J. Livsey , following a dispute over a delivery from a local restaurant.

The driver from the Royal Chef Restaurant accepted Livsey’s credit card, only to return it to him as declined. When Livsey asked to pay by check, the driver indicated the restaurant did not accept checks, and the driver could not leave the food.

Livsey allegedly became agitated, and was reported to have physically assaulted the driver, pinning him against the refrigerator. Guests of the retired general took the food during the altercation, and began to dine on the unpaid meal.

When the driver was finally able to leave, he filed a report with the police. The officers went to Livsey’s home and attempted to make an arrest. Livsey resisted the arrest, and while trying to handcuff him, his arm was scratched enough to require the local EMT to attend to the wound. Officers commenced with the arrest. The chief was quoted saying Livsey tried “to punch one of the officers and kick another one all while making threatening and disparaging remarks.”

During his career, Livsey was a platoon leader during the Korean War and an infantry battalion commander in Vietnam. He was decorated numerous times, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He retired in 1987. In 2008, his hometown chose to honor him by renaming part of Highway 314 the “General Bill Livsey Highway.”

Livsey was charged with robbery, misdemeanor obstruction, theft of services, simple assault and terroristic threats. He did send someone to pay the restaurant, including a tip for the driver. Bond was set at $12,000 but Livsey was released on his own recognizance.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Some For-Profit Colleges See GI Bill as Cash Cow: Military Connection

Some For-Profit Colleges See GI Bill as Cash Cow

By Debbie Gregory.

In 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill significantly increased the higher education benefits available to individuals who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces after September 10, 2001. In the transition back to civilian life, many veterans are finding their way back to school to begin or continue their higher education and career plans.

With that said, the choice of school may be surprisingly complex. Economically, most students find the expense of school to be daunting. At the same time, many for-profit colleges are finding the way to stay open is to accept veterans – and their benefits.

Since 2009, $8.2 billion has been collected by for-profit colleges. As many as 30% of U.S. veterans have enrolled in college with the GI Bill.

The guarantee of funds from veteran students is appealing to these colleges, but for-profit schools have been accused of aggressively targeting veterans to enroll. Many of the schools have been hiring veterans as recruiters, hoping to appeal to the potential students’ sense of camaraderie.

For-profit schools are required by a federal student aid regulation, known as the 90/10 rule, to assure that at least 10 percent of their revenue is derived from non-federal sources. With tuitions rising, and the majority of students who are able to afford these costs being comprised primarily of veterans, this ratio is harder and harder to meet. Some schools, such as Corinthian College, have not able to maintain that ratio and have been forced to close their doors.

While students are acquiring the training they seek to pursue careers, veterans are advised to review the options presented by for-profit schools, such as whether their credits will matriculate to other institutions if they need to transfer. Veterans may find for-profit schools offer good trade skills, but may realize that some of them are up to four times the cost of an in-state, public school.

Veterans may want to keep these points in mind in case the school does have a risk of closing, for they will want to be in the position of continuing their education, keeping adequate resources, while still focusing on their career goals.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Male Classmates Validate Female Rangers: Military Connection

Male Classmates Validate Female Rangers

By Debbie Gregory.

The August Ranger School graduating class was the first to include women graduates; two to be exact. The women earned not only their Ranger Tabs, but also the respect of their male classmates.

Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were two out of 19 women who enrolled in Ranger School, alongside 380 men. Of those male students, 94 graduated with Griest and Haver. On average, 40 percent of males successfully complete the course.

A third woman who started the class has opted to recycle through the Mountain Phase.

Male classmates may have been skeptical at the beginning of their first course, but it didn’t take long for the men to realize these women were capable, both physically and in determination.

During Mountain Phase, 2nd Lt. Michael Jankowski credited Haver as the one who stepped up when he needed help.

Jankowski said he found he was at a point where he had to turn to a teammate.

“I had a lot of weight on me, and I was struggling,” he recalled. “I stopped and asked if anyone could take some of this weight.”

The males in his platoon hesitated. “I got a lot of deer-in-the-headlight looks and guys were like ‘I can’t handle any more weight,'” he said. Haver offered to take some of Jankowski’s load.

“She was the only one who would volunteer to take that weight,” he said. “She took the weight off me, and carried it. … She literally saved me. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now. From that point there was no more skepticism.”

Spc. Christopher Carvalho offered a similar testimony during the Ranger Assessment (RAP) Phase week. Here, students carry a 47-pound rucksack along with other gear on the march.

“One particular incident that stood out in my mind was the 12-mile ruck march during RAP week,” he explained in a recent interview.

“These two women finished well ahead of some of the males,” he said. “Right there and then – that validated it for me that these women are here to stay. They are carrying the same weight we are, and they are doing the same stuff we are.”

“It’s pretty cool that they have accepted us,” Haver said. “We ourselves came to Ranger School skeptical, with our guards up, just in case there were haters and naysayers. But we didn’t come with a chip on our shoulder like we had anything to prove.

“Becoming one of the teammates — that we could be trusted just like everyone else — whether it was on patrol or to carry something heavy or whatever — it was that every single time we accomplished something it gave us an extra foothold in being part of a team.”

Griest agreed.

“My main concern in coming to Ranger School was I might not be able to carry as much weight or not be able to meet up to the same standard,” she said. “I tried to do as much as I could, and I saw everybody else helping each other out and you just try to be the best teammate that you can.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Eight New ESGR State Chairs Named: Military Connection

esgr

By Debbie Gregory.

In a September 14th ceremony, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) announced new state chairs for eight of its state offices.

Leading efforts at the state level, each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC) and three territories have a state chair assigned to promote cooperation and understanding between Reservists and their civilian employers.

We are proud to announce that Military Connection’s friend, General James Combs, was appointed the state chair for California.

The other incoming ESGR state chairs are:Darren Venters, AZ; Mark Lilevjen, CO; David Bockel, GA; Stephen Bogle, IA; Paul Cohen, NE; Stephen Karrick, NV; and Ted Durante, WY.

ESGR National Chair Paul Mock said, “These new leaders are at the tip of the spear. Every one of them is a proven leader, and I look forward to seeing the new heights they reach with their programs.”

Members of the Guard and Reserve and their civilian employers form an alliance essential to the security of our nation. These brave men and women perform critical roles in disaster relief efforts at home and abroad, and continue to serve around the world to ensure our freedom. They could not perform their critical mission without support.

As chairs, these leaders are responsible for organizing and supervising ESGR volunteers. They also liaise with influential people, including governors, general and flag officers, elected officials, and business and community leaders.

For more than 40 years, the ESGR has assisted Reserve Component service members. Supported by a network of more than 4,600 volunteers across all 50 states, DC, Guam-CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the ESGR staff fosters a culture that values the citizen warriors of the National Guard and Reserve.

The ESGR continues to meet the needs of Reserve Component members, their families and America’s employers by joining forces with a network of other national, state and local government and professional trade organizations.

Together, We All Serve!