Worst Charity for Veterans Run by VA Employee

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By Debbie Gregory.

You would think the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation (NVVF) is highly successful, given their ability to secure over $29 million in donations in four years. But as far as using that money for “aiding, supporting and benefiting America’s veterans and their families”…that’s another matter altogether.

Most of the money spent by the “charity” has been paid to telemarketers, with less than 2 percent being used for the benefit of veterans and veterans’ charitable causes.

Watchdog organization Charity Navigator has awarded this “charity” a rating of a BIG, FAT ZERO!

“It’s a zero-star organization and you can’t go lower than that,” says Michael Thatcher, Charity Navigator’s CEO. “They don’t have an independent board of directors, they actually don’t even have a comprehensive board of directors — only three members on the board at this point in time and some of them are family. So one can say, is this representative of an independent board? It’s not.”

If you donated money to this “charity” in 2014, here is where some of your money went: $133,000 for travel, $21,000 for “awards”, $70,000 for “other expenses” (????) and $8,000 for parking!

Making it even less palatable, the CEO and founder of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, J. Thomas Burch, is also a federal employee working as an attorney for (wait for it…) the Department of Veterans Affairs!

Rolls Royce-driving Burch is deputy director in the VA’s Office of General Counsel, where he pulled down $127,000 in salary in 2014. That’s the same year he drew a salary of $65,000 as head of his “charity.”

If I sound angry, well, it’s because I am! I have the good fortune to work with some of the best non-profit organizations on the planet, and they could sure use those donated dollars! They fill backpacks for military children, offer mental health services for those suffering with PTSD, offer transcendental meditation training, provide pro bono cosmetic surgery for disfigured warriors, housing for the families of wounded warriors, counseling for survivors; I could go on and on.

According to the “charity’s” vice president, David Kauffman, NVVF “feeds homeless and unemployed veterans by donating to food banks, sends personal care kits to hospitalized veterans,  and donates blankets, hats and gloves to homeless centers” to the tune of $122,000.

With more than $8.5 million raised in donations in 2014, that accounts for less than 2 percent of the cash donations being used to support veterans and their families.

Shameful!

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.

Honoring Gold Star Families on this Memorial Day

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Photo of Toni Gross volunteering at Fisher House credited to Craig Orsini

By Debbie Gregory.

During World War I, military families began a tradition of hanging a small banner in the windows of their homes. Bordered in red, the white banner had a blue star for each family member in the military. If a family member died in service, a gold star replaced the blue.

That simple gold star has become a  cherished symbol of a loved one lost. And on this Memorial Day, I would like to introduce you to a Gold Star family.

Toni and Craig Gross’s son, Frank, followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by joining the Army. On July 16, 2011, when he was just 25 years old, Frank was killed in Afghanistan by an IED.

U.S. military service members who die abroad come home through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Toni and Craig traveled from their home in Florida to Delaware to welcome their son’s body home during the dignified transfer, a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the Army, Frank’s branch of service.  A dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country. A senior ranking officer of the fallen member’s service presides over each dignified transfer.

While in Dover, the family stayed at the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen. This Fisher House, and 70 others like it across the U.S., is a comfort home where military and veteran’s families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment nearby. The families of these fallen soldiers are hosted—all expenses paid—at the Dover Fisher House.

“I remember the day like it was yesterday,” Toni said. “We left our rooms and walked down a lovely garden path to the chapel that was part of the Fisher House. We prayed and then we were driven to the tarmac to welcome our son home.”

To honor her son while also giving back to other military families, Toni began volunteering at the VA Fisher House near her home in Tampa, FL. She now spends every Wednesday helping to take care of other families whose loved ones are receiving treatment for illnesses or injuries. Craig wanted to honor his son as well, so he quit his job and opened a BBQ restaurant near Tampa called “Frankie’s Patriot BBQ,” filled with military and veteran keepsakes, the most important of which are photos of Frankie in uniform. Additionally, Frankie’s BBQ provides occasional dinners at the Fisher House where Toni volunteers.

Companies Commit to Jobs for Military Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

Joining Forces, created in 2011 by first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, has resulted in jobs for military veterans, hiring/training more than 1.2 million veterans and military spouses.

Now, 40 companies pledged more than 110,000 jobs for military veterans and military spouses over the next five years, and more committed to training them.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon has committed to hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses in the next five years, training 10,000 veterans and spouses in cloud computing.

“We’re constantly looking for leaders who can invent, think big, have a bias for action, and who want to deliver for customers,” Bezos said. “Those principles look very familiar to the men and women who served our country in the armed forces. And also their spouses.”

The aerospace-defense sector pledged to hire a combined total of 30,000 veterans, and the telecommunications sector committed to hiring a combined total of 25,000.

“They made these commitments because time and again they saw for themselves that our veterans and military spouses are simply the best employees around,” Mrs. Obama said, reinforcing that these companies are doing the right thing.

As far as hiring for high tech jobs for veterans, she added, “If they can set up wireless networks in Baghdad or do satellite reconnaissance in the mountains of Afghanistan, I’m pretty confident that they can handle whatever’s happening in Silicon Valley.”

Mrs. Obama also stressed that she hoped the next administration would continue to make hiring veterans and military spouses a national priority

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.

Undercover Prisoner Reveals Insights About Jailed Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

Since last fall, A&E cameras have been rolling inside the Clark County Jail as seven people went undercover as inmates for 60 days.

60 Days In is a television documentary that follows the volunteers as they exposed problems in the system.

One of the volunteers, Zac, a U.S. Marine veteranand aspiring DEA agent, estimated that 10% of the inmates he lived with were veterans, most of them suffering from PTSD, depression and drug addiction. He experienced a sense of camaraderie with his fellow Marine inmates, but also a sense of disappointment that they didn’t have access to the services they needed to get their lives back on track.

Zac himself experienced problems after transitioning, and said that most inmates weren’t aware the jail offered veterans advocacy services and an Alcoholics Anonymous support group — and that jail employees rarely advertised the fact that such programs existed.

Inmates and corrections officers knew there was a TV show filming inside the jail for a few months beginning in October, but very few people knew about the seven innocent people who volunteered to stay there. The existence of the undercover program was kept secret from the inmates, the guards, and most of the jail officials.

Prior to entering the jail, the volunteers received instruction on how to act around other inmates; they are also briefed on the cover stories they should tell, including details of the (fake) charges on which they were arrested.

Because producers realized that it would be difficult for volunteers to remain undercover after the first season, a second season was produced before the series premiered.

Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel said that there are steps in place at booking to identify service members and veterans, and that the Veterans Justice Outreach is notified in order to provide services such as disability benefits, medical assistance, mental health assistance and court assistance. There is also a process in place to ease the transition upon release.

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.

Spartan Pledge: A Promise to Seek Help Before Suicide

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By Debbie Gregory.

It’s a staggering statistic that we’re all becoming aware of: an average of 22 veterans take their own lives each day. While some people debate that number from the Department of Veterans Affairs, any number of lives lost to suicide is unacceptable.

Recently, a coalition of nonprofits led a “Spartan Weekend” for sick and injured veterans, extracting a promise that if they were thinking about suicide, they would first reach out to someone for help.

The promise was made with their hands on a sword hammer-forged of steel salvaged from the remains of the World Trade Center. The symbolism of the sword is important because the 9/11 attacks motivated a lot of people to join the military.

The Spartan Pledge is a commitment among warfighters to stand with their fellow soldiers in times of despair. The pledge has proven to be an effective deterrent to a spiral of hopelessness and offers a mission of brotherhood and a promise for tomorrow

Steve Danyluk, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and founder of the Independence Fund, helped organize the event for the Spartan Alliance and Disabled American Veterans.

“You don’t have to be suicidal to take the pledge,” he said. “It’s finding a mission: Help your buddy. It’s reconnecting, reestablishing those relationships that seem to vanish once you leave the military.”

Father Matt Pawlikowski, an Army chaplain from West Point, officiated a Mother’s Day service honoring Gold Star and Blue Star Mothers who have sons or daughters who are actively serving or have lost their lives in service. The ceremony closed with dozens of veterans taking an oath against suicide, known as the Spartan Pledge, a promise to reach out to their “Battle Buddy” before doing harm to themselves or others.

The pledge reads: “I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”

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 Troop Levels Lowest Since WWII

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Army is juggling global operations as it continues to deal with the lowest troop levels since before World War II.

In March, the Army has had approximately 2,600 soldiers depart active service without being replaced, leaving the end strength at 479,172 soldiers.  The Army’s reserve forces total 548,024 soldiers, (348,463 soldiers in the Army National Guard and 199,561 with the Army Reserve) for a total force of 1,027,196 soldiers.

The number of women serving on active duty April 1 stood at 69,171, a total that includes 15,654 officers, 52,698 enlisted soldiers and 819 West Point cadets.

The female population of the Regular Army was reduced by 340 members in March.

During the past year, the size of the active force has been reduced by 16,548 soldiers.

The Army is on track to achieve, or exceed, the budgeted end-strength of 475,000 soldiers by the end of September.

The drawdown is expected to continue for two additional years, with an end-strength goal 460,000 soldiers in 2017, and 450,000 in 2018.

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-NY has introduced legislation to stop ongoing drawdowns for the Army and Marine Corps, potentially adding 55,000 soldiers back into Army plans. He argued the world is less safe than it was when the Obama administration announced the troop cuts, pointing to threats from the Islamic State group, Russia, China and North Korea.

The Army estimated its reductions of about 40,000 troops would save $7 billion over four years, officials said when they were announced in July. The reduced troop levels were attributed to mandatory spending caps under the 2011 Budget Control Act.

In a major war overseas, at 980,000 soldiers, the Army would not have enough troops to provide them with “dwell time,” the rotation home which has been common in recent conflicts.

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.

Pets for Vets- Making Matches, Saving Lives

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By Debbie Gregory.

Dogs have always been called “man’s best friend” as they are known for their loyalty and companionship. Dogs seem to be able to understand human emotions and respond appropriately, sensing happiness, sadness and fear.

Voltaire wrote, “It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can have.”

As an animal trainer with a master’s in anthrozoology, Clarissa Black’s trip to a local VA Hospital with her dog, Bear, changed her life. After seeing how the veterans responded to Bear, Black decided to use her skills and resources to train rescue dogs for America’s veterans, especially those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, anxiety and depression. And so, Pets for Vets was born.

In addition to helping the veterans, the program rescues shelter dogs from around the country, a win-win for all.

The non-profit organization utilizes an extensive matchmaking process in order to make sure that the veteran and dog are a good fit. Once the pet has been selected, it receives obedience training and learns the skills that will benefit its new owner’s condition.

Dogs trained to assist people with PTSD learn a range of tasks. Some dogs can be taught to recognize early signs of anxiety in their partners and to give an alert, thereby re-focusing their partner, who can then use strategies they have been taught to cope with the situation.

Pets for Vets is not only helping shelter dogs find the love they deserve, but also it’s a way to say thank you to our country’s veterans for their service and dedication, because sometimes the best medicine is a cold nose and a warm, furry friend.

 For more information on Pets for Vets or to make a donation, please visit http://www.petsforvets.com.

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.

Top US Commander Makes Secret Trip to Syria

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By Debbie Gregory.

On a secret trip to Syria, Army Gen. Joseph Votel,  the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that he went because he felt a moral obligation to check on his troops and see, first hand, the progress of local Arab and Kurd fighters pushing  ISIS out of Syria.

“I have responsibility for this mission, and I have responsibility for the people that we put here,” the four star general said.

The visit comes as the first of 250 additional U.S. special operations forces are beginning to arrive in Syria to work with local forces.

Votel, who has headed U.S. Central Command for just seven weeks, is the highest-ranking U.S. military official to travel into Syria during its war. This was the first daylight U.S. transport mission into Syria.

Gen. Votel’s visit to northern Syria was in conjunction with a trip to other countries in the region. It comes amid an effort by the U.S. military to accelerate efforts to bring more local Arab and Kurdish forces into the fight in both Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS.

The U.S. troops are focused on training local forces on very specialized tasks, such as how to call in precise and timely intelligence reports from the battlefield that could result in coalition airstrikes against ISIS targets.

A small group of reporters accompanied Votel under ground rules that, for security reasons, prohibited disclosing his visit until after he had left Syria.

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.

Thornberry’s Bill Would Increase Troop Size

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By Debbie Gregory.

Rep. Mac Thornberry has introduced a defense bill that would increase, rather than decrease, the size of the U.S. Army.

Thornberry has floated a brash plan to get around spending limits on the military. His defense budget dramatically boosts spending by $16 billion, pumping that money into the Army and troop pay as well as training, equipment and facilities.

The money would not only stop the Army from drawing down 15,000 soldiers in the coming year, it would add another 5,000.

His bill also aims to add an additional 15,000 troops to the National Guard, bringing the count up to 350,000, and 10,000 to the Reserves, for a total Reserve strength of 205,000. The bill would increase the strength of the Marine Corps by 3,000 and the Air Force by 4,000.

The size of the Army has been a major concern among lawmakers, many of whom have stated that the active force is too small to deal with the growing number of threats facing the U.S.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the plan is “deeply troubling and flawed” and that Thornberry is gambling with money for troops on the battlefield during a time of war.

Thornberry’s revised budget earmarks just over $2 billion in additional funding for the troop increase, according to language in the bill. That’s about $2.5 billion short of what the Army would need, according to Army senior leaders who have said that it will cost about $1 billion for every 10,000 soldiers.

“The proposal is designed to restore strength to the force through readiness investments and agility through much needed reforms, while providing a more solid foundation for the next President to address actual national security needs,” according to the bill’s summary.

Thornberry said the military is already suffering due to a lack of spending and it is “fundamentally wrong to send servicemembers out on missions for which they are not fully prepared or fully supported.”

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.

The Best Choice for Technical Jobs: Hiring Military Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

When it comes to employers in the technology sector seeking candidates to fill their open positions, hiring military veterans makes perfect sense. By using their problem-solving skills, their abilities to make quick decisions and their initiative, veterans are a great fit.

If you’re wondering what the top high-tech jobs for veterans are, here’s what you need to know:

  • At the top of the pay scale, Solutions Architects make a median base salary of $199,500, and this is a great position for problem solvers. Solutions architects work with their company’s clients processing feedback on their company’s product, and providing solutions based on that feedback.
  • Software Development Managers make a median base salary of $135,000, and this is another high paying position. Because this is a managerial position, your leadership skills will pay off.
  • While Software Architects make a median base salary of $130,000, there are not many openings in this career choice.
  • Data scientists can expect a median base salary of $116,840, and the demand is fairly high. The position entails knowing how to manage and store data.
  • Foundational skills required for Project Managers are very similar to the skills learned in the military. This position’s base salary is approximately $106,680.
  • Analytics Managers, who analyze data and making conclusions about it, can expect to make a salary of around $105,000.
  • With a median base salary of $95,000, Software Engineers are in high demand.
  • UX Designers make a median base salary of $91,800, and these jobs are in high demand.
  • Mobile Developers can expect to earn around $90,000. These positions are also in extremely high demand.
  • QA Managers monitor software testing processes or test new products, and make a median base salary of $85,000.

If you have a technical background, consider one of these great career paths.

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.