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Posts Tagged ‘veterans’

Kristina and I set out for a walk yesterday morning, taking a leaf-covered bike trail and then an offshoot that goes through the cemetery. A loud boom when we were yet a great way off failed to alert me to what might be going on in the cemetery on Veterans Day. But as we got closer we could see cannon, and then it dawned us that we had stumbled onto Concord’s annual flag-retirement ceremony.

After getting a bit of history from costumed representatives of the Concord Independent Battery, we walked over to where retired flags were being burned. Kristina’s church choir led the assembled veterans and supporters in “God Bless America.” The song seemed to take on added weight this Veterans Day, as many of us held in our hearts an America built on the Bill of Rights and the wish to see justice for all.

May our military continue to be asked to defend the bedrock of the American experiment as they always have.

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I like reading that the numbers of socially conscious companies are increasing. Recently, Naz Akyol at Social Enterprise Greenhouse in Providence wrote about one such business.

“Three years ago, active duty airman Michael Gnoato lost his life in a fatal car accident in Wyoming. Major Pettaway, a Marine who knew Mikey since high school, missed the funeral because he was deployed in Afghanistan at the time, but Navy Seabee Sadam Salas was there to speak at their best friend’s funeral. …

“The two young men are the co-founders (as well as CEO and CFO, respectively) of Mike’s Ice, a deliciously novel idea that pays tribute to their fallen friend, and also a social enterprise committed to fighting veteran homelessness and more.

“Sadam and Major [sell] Thai style ice cream rolls that come in seven fun flavors, … a commodity that only recently hit US markets with only a handful of stores in New York City. They also decided to give their venture four wheels and make Mike’s Ice a mobile truck. …

“Everything that is sold at Mike’s Ice is made from scratch, which means the truck needs to be equipped with special ice cream making machines as well as equipment for storing their ice cream bases and toppings. When asked about the greatest challenge they have faced so far, Sadam smiles and says: ‘You don’t sleep a lot.’ …

“Mike’s Ice received a SEG Hub Scholarship from Social Enterprise Greenhouse … [and] is partnered with Backpacks For Life, a nonprofit that provides homeless veterans with backpacks that contain essentials for survival.

‘We are both veterans, and now we are also entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs exist to solve problems,’ Sadam says. ‘Veteran homelessness, suicide …. these problems shouldn’t exist. These are people who fought for their country.’

More here.

Photo: Social Enterprise Greenhouse

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I thought today would be a good day to note that, with the right supports in place, veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress while serving the country can move forward with their lives.

The willingness of some of these service men and women to expose their story in the media strikes me as an extra level of bravery.

Kathy McCabe writes at the Boston Globe about Army veteran Michael Saunders.

“Saunders, who served from 2002 to 2006, deployed twice to Iraq … He started therapy at the VA outpatient clinic in Lynn, where a counselor suggested he focus on a new mission: going to college.

“ ‘She said I would make more money with a college degree,’ said Saunders, who worked for a lumberyard after his discharge from the Army.

“He enrolled in VITAL — an acronym for Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership — a national program that helps veterans transition from soldier to student. VITAL brings VA services, including mental health counseling, to college campuses. …

“According to Pam Flaherty, dean of students, Middlesex Community College had nearly 600 student veterans in 2014-15. In the last year, 70 who have PTSD have taken part in VITAL and received mental health care on campus. …

“The Bedford VA also offers the VITAL program at Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, North Shore Community College in Danvers and Lynn, Endicott College in Beverly, and Salem State University.

“Saunders, who graduated from Everett High School in 1999, is in his second year studying liberal arts at Middlesex Community College in Bedford. He has discovered a talent for writing, and hopes to transfer to Emerson College next year.

“ ‘It was a rough start, but I’m doing fine now,’ said Saunders, who also has a job at the college’s Veterans Resource Center. ‘Had the VA not had the service in place here, I wouldn’t have come.’ …

“ ‘I can sit in class now, for an hour and 20 minutes,’ Saunders said. ‘I couldn’t sit still for 10 minutes before.’ He has a lingering fear of crowds, so he adjusted his seat in the classroom.

“ ‘ I have to be able to see the door, and I don’t like anybody behind me,’ Saunders said. ‘If I can’t do that, I can’t focus.’

“For one class, Saunders wrote a story called ‘The Dark Is Afraid of Me,’ a fictional account of a military mission in Iraq.

“ ‘It was really easy for me to tell the story,’ Saunders said. ‘When the professor read the paper, she was like, “You need to go see a publisher, now.”

” ‘Maybe I will.’ ”

More such stories at the Globe, here.

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A few years ago Amy Wyeth wrote an article about Massachusetts veterans services for a magazine I edit. As I was thinking about what I could post here for Veterans Day, I remembered how much I appreciated learning from Amy about an organization for homeless veterans in Leeds, Massachusetts. It has since expanded to other locations.

The emphatic gentleman in the video below (“The Mission Continues”) really moved me. I got the points he made about not telling grownups what to do — instead being there to support them, one by one, in what they need. He advocates decriminalizing substance abuse so that veterans who need treatment can get it.

He notes that all the Solider On staff work directly with the veterans. Even if their job doesn’t entail social services, they all need to understand what the veterans are going through. At the end of the video, he says that the 90 percent of us who didn’t offer to give our lives for our country owe it to the 10 percent who did that, after their service, they can have a place to live and adequate support for what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

Soldier On now serves Mississippi, New York, Western Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. And it offers a separate program for women veterans, run by women veterans.

More here.

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Longtime concert pianist Byron Janis recently wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal about programs using music to help veterans with PTSD and other traumas to heal.

“Can music heal?” he asks. “There’s been a great deal of study by neuroscientists on the different ways music acts upon the brain, affecting our behavior, memory and the like. …

“I recently witnessed the healing effects of music first hand. As part of their ‘National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military,’ I was invited by Americans for the Arts to visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and participate in ‘Stages of Healing.’ This program, created by Dr. Micah Sickel, helps patients learn how to play a musical instrument and facilitates live performances whose aim, according to the hospital, is to ‘enhance the healing process’ …

I knew what I wanted to play for them—two Chopin waltzes and ‘A Hero’s Passing By’ … I then played two songs from a musical I had written about the Hunchback of Notre Dame. One was a love song and the other is titled ‘Like Any Man,’ which I felt very much suited the occasion. The Hunchback sings that although he is so disabled, he is just like any man.” Read more.

Photo of Byron Janis in 1962: Wikimedia Commons

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Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP
Musician Julio Fernandez during a Voices of Valor music session at Montclair State University.

Today I am returning to the topic of veterans programs that help people overcome post-traumatic stress and reintegrate into civilian life. (Interesting how often these programs involve gardening or the arts — which we always knew were good for us!)

Samantha Henry at the Boston Globe has the story.

“During stressful times as a combat medic in Afghanistan, Mason Sullivan found solace in Vivaldi. New Jersey native Nairobi Cruz was comforted by country music, a genre she had never heard before joining the Army. For Jose Mercedes, it was an eclectic iPod mix that helped him cope with losing an arm during a tour of duty in Iraq.

“These three young veterans all say music played a crucial role in alleviating the stresses of active duty. Now, all three are enrolled in a program that hopes to use music to ease their reintegration into civilian life.

‘‘ ‘It’s a therapy session without the “sit down, lay down, and write notes,” ‘ Mercedes, 26, of Union City, said of the music program. ‘It’s different — it’s an alternative that’s way better.’

“The pilot program, called Voices of Valor, has veterans work as a group to synthesize their experiences into musical lyrics. Guided by musicians and a psychology mentor, they write and record a song, and then hold a CD release party. The program is currently underway at Montclair State University, where students participate through the school’s veteran affairs program.

“Developed by husband and wife team Brian Dallow and Rena Fruchter, it is open to veterans of any age and background. No musical experience is required.” More.

P.S. A word on the power of reddit. John posted my blog entry from yesterday in the Christmas category at reddit and it increased traffic to this site by a factor of 10 so far.

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At Nourishing the Planet in October, Molly Redfield interviewed Vietnam vet Howard Hinterthuer, a peer-to-peer mentor for an Organic Therapy Program that helps distressed veterans.

Redfield: “You recently gave a Ted Talk on the Organic Therapy Program (OTP). Can you tell us how the OTP started? …

“William Sims, a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne Division who served from 1966 to 1967, started the Organic Therapy Program. Mr. Sims was wounded after being in Vietnam for about 9 months, and returned home to Milwaukee. He was able to deal with the stress of coming home and experiencing combat by puttering around in his mom’s garden. He remembered that.

“The Center for Veterans Issues [in Milwaukee] has about 300 or more formerly homeless veterans in transition with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and depression. These veterans come to us and we provide a wrap-around service to deal with their different problems. Mr. Sims figured that if gardening was good for him, then it would be good for other veterans as well. So he began creating raised-bed gardens to help veterans cope with their problems. …

“Gardening is important because it allows our veterans to have …  positive experiences. This is almost guaranteed by the act itself, as it creates such a peaceful place. Gardening is meditative and increases self-esteem. …

“After the TED talk I gave, I was contacted by a woman in Scotland working with veterans of the British military. Her program used horticulture for veterans’ recovery, so I think gardening is an approach to dealing with difficult issues that can definitely be replicated in other places.”

Read more.

Photograph: AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press/Allison Love
Working in community gardening programs is proving to have many good effects on troubled military veterans.

 

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