Thursday, June 28, 2012

IF you dream it WILL they come?

In an effort to continue to serve my fellow veterans I have been afforded an opportunity that I do not think many veterans or people in general get.
I have been offered the opportunity to open a department at the company I work for Riverside Rehab., that deals directly with veterans and links them to community resources such as housing, health care, employment assistance, financial resources and advocacy. The primary purpose is to prevent homelessness, hospitilization, or incarceration.
Most importantly it will bridge the gap between the VA and the veterans home since I can see the veteran every week for regular sessions. I can contuing to supplement the care that the VA is able to provide. With such things as Reduced Rate Counseling, Medications Managment, Finanacial / Payee Services and Targeted Service Coordination.

I am excited about taking on this endevor and I am also hestitent because I have never attempted something like this before. But if I have learned one thing from the military it is to "never quit" and to "never leave a fallen commrade". I hope that I can help my fellow warriors, as well, as make this a success venture.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Military instructor suspended over Islam course

WASHINGTON | Wed Jun 20, 2012 10:58am EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The instructor of a college course that taught top military officers the United States was at war with Islam has been relieved of teaching duties and the course ordered redesigned to reflect U.S. policy, a military spokesman said on Wednesday.

The elective course at the National Defense University's Joint Forces Staff College included a slide that asserted "the United States is at war with Islam and we ought to just recognize that we are war with Islam," Pentagon officials said in April as they launched a review of the course.

Colonel David Lapan, a spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday a review of the course found that "institutional failures and in oversight and judgment" led to the course being modified over time in a way "that portrayed Islam almost entirely in a negative way."

"The inquiry recommends the course be redesigned to include aspects of U.S. policy and reduce its reliance on external instruction," Lapan said in a statement. It also recommended improving oversight of course curricula.

"The elective course's military instructor has been relieved of his instructor duties until his permanent change of station, which was previously planned for 2012," Lapan said.

The inquiry also recommended a review of actions by two civilian employees of the staff college to see if disciplinary action was warranted. A second military officer will receive administrative counseling, Lapan said.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ordered the review of the course on Islam and military education in general after a soldier complained about the content of the course entitled "Perspectives on Islam and Islamite Radicalism" at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia.

Navy Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said in April that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was deeply concerned about some of the materials being taught in the course, such as the slide suggesting the United States was at war with Islam.

"That's not at all what we believe to be the case. We're at war against terrorism, specifically al Qaeda, who has a warped view of the Islamic faith," Kirby said.

Discovery of the course material embarrassed the military at a time when U.S. officials were trying to mend U.S. ties with the Muslim world following a spate of incidents in Afghanistan, including the burning of copies of the Koran and pictures showing U.S. soldiers posing with corpses of Afghans. (Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Vicki Allen)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

“Walk a mile in my shoes” Part III

The primary reason voiced by many of the veterans for not using the services provided was because they felt like a number. There are many barriers that prevent veterans from seeking services; I break this down to one thing “trust”. If the VA is dragging its feet to help a veteran than a level of trust has been compromised. In many circumstances a veteran finds it had to talk to advocates, doctors, or therapists because there is a level of trust that is hard to give up. The trust that they will not be judged or ridiculed for their actions or inactions and when a veteran finally opens up to talk about the problem the VA statistically does not immediately follow through with mental health services. This is seen as a breach of trust to the veteran because he is entrusting the system he defended to defend and help him. Many homeless veterans I spoke too suffered from depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and some of the younger ones from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) suffered from explosions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The homeless veterans in Boise have been the focus of many organizations around the treasure valley. Deseret Industry a local company in Boise offer employment opportunities as well furniture and home essentials for those that find housing. Ed Cowley the resident manager at River of Life is full of success stories one of veteran whose love of fishing and intimate knowledge of the local fishing spots landed him a job as a consultant to the Fish and Game department.

Although the homeless veteran population is smaller than the larger homeless population I firmly believe that it is a part of our society that we should be focused on. Veterans have served our country by fighting its wars on foreign soils, spending many months away from loved one, many including myself sacrificing our families and marriages because of being deployed so long our family forgets who we are and the separation becomes unbearable. This immersion allowed me to be around veterans who made me feel proud because they are proud of their service. Their only shame was the situation they had found themselves in.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

“Walk a mile in my shoes” Part II

The second part to my last article....

Part II

            I met up with a man at the shelter named Nick (not his real name) on the morning of May 17, 2012 and he washed his face and we left. We would cover roughly a four block area near the shelter but far enough away that we could find prime real estate for our signs.

We started with a sign at the corner of South 13th Street and I-84. This busy street bring commuters into work every morning and since it is a one way street directly into downtown it was his best shot at getting noticed and making a few dollars. I must tell you that I did not have a sign nor did I accept any money from people throughout this immersion project and as I explained to Nick I simply wanted a firsthand look into his life.

            The first thing I noticed during our two hours on the street corner was that people do not like to make eye contact. They will briefly look at you and them they will quickly look away, the people that did give Nick money would usually be older people. I sat with Nick and asked him how much he makes on a daily basis and he told me around $25.00 but that was enough for him to get a pack of cigarettes and a couple beers. I asked about food, I have always heard that if you want to give a homeless person something buy them food but never give them cash because they will only buy drugs or alcohol with it. While this is true for many homeless people it is not always the case. Nick told me if he made enough money he would get a hotel room and stay the night there. As he put “I will live like a normal person for a night with a hot shower and TV.”

While standing there with Nick I noticed a man pushing a cart with a dog attached to it and he was headed to us. The man stopped and Nick looked at me and said it was time to go, I thought we were in trouble so I asked why and he explained that his time on the corner was up and it was this other guy’s turn. I could not believe it they had a system in place that afforded others a chance to use these prime areas to panhandle. As we walked away Nick turned and gave the old man $10 and told me that “he needs it more than me, he is old and people don’t give him too much”. Even when people are down there is still compassion and those who are trudging through these hard times seem to understand this more than those of us who are better off financially.
              We left and headed towards the Boise Green Belt located south of the Mission because it was lunch time and Nick and I were hungry. I learned from him that you can usually get food the Food Pantry at the Salvation Army; they will usually give you a bag of chips and a sandwich for lunch. So we ate and then headed back into town by this time it was after 12:00 and I had spent the better part of the morning really hoping that my friends would not see me or a police officer would not stop to see what we were up too, even though I knew this was a possibility. I was still really embarrassed and kept telling myself that I was retired after a long successful career in the military and I was going to school to help those who could not help themselves. I felt bad for feeling this way and I began to understand why people are embarrassed when they suffer financially. It is hard to look into complete strangers eyes and ask them to give up a few dollars that they have worked hard to earn.

As I spent the rest of the day with Nick I learned that there is a code of ethics among many of the homeless and they will try and take care of each other whether that be in the form of protection from the many kids who like to harass them, passing money to the next guy for a meal passing on information about establishments that are providing food or other necessities. When I went home I was thankful for the experience and I knew that I would never want to be in that situation but I was also happy to know that even in extreme circumstances people are able to band together and form a society within a society to survive.
            “For the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the President has a budget of $112.8 billion for FY 2010, increasing 15% from 2009.  The Department of Veterans Affairs also boasts that its homeless assistance programs constitute the largest integrated network of services in the United States.  Veterans’ Affairs budget allocates $3.222 billion to combating homelessness (Department of Veterans Affairs). The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says that of the 400,000 homeless veterans on the street any given night, the Department of Veterans Affairs reaches only about 25% of them.” (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009) This is a realistic figure of the 20 veterans I spoke to only about a quarter of them used the services the Veterans Affairs Hospital (VA) in Boise.

Friday, June 8, 2012

“Walk a mile in my shoes” Part 1

This is an excerpt from a Community Immersion Project I participated in for school. I already volunteer at the River of Life helping Veterans find resources and get back on their feet. But in this instant I had the opportunity to really immerse myself by spending the day with a homeless veteran to see what it feels like to “walk in his shoes”. Although this was only a day it was an eye opening experience and only re-enforced my desire to serve those who served.

What is a “community”? Webster’s defines a community as “an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location.” (Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2012). Social Workers see a community as an interaction between the people in the community and the community itself. The interaction between the two is a reciprocal bond. The people define their community and in some sense the community defines the people who live in. So how important are communities? In today’s society a community can tell much about those who live in it. Affluent communities usually suggest that its residents are higher on the Socio-economic scale, where as a community with pawn shops, payday loan stores or discount grocery stores may suggest that the residents of its community are the lower end of the same scale.
The community I had the privilege to immerse myself in was the community of homeless veterans. This community is centered on the River of Life Men’s Shelter located in downtown Boise, Idaho. The Boise Rescue Mission ministry or the “Mission” as it known here in Idaho is the parent organization that oversees the day to day operations of this facility. The Mission has been providing services to the communities of Ada and Canyon counties since 1958.
The initial idea of my immersion project was going to be working in the River of Life and interact with the homeless veterans there. I soon learned that the River of Life is a short term residential area so many of the homeless veterans stop by in the morning to get basic hygiene items, razors and toothpaste mostly, clean up and then leave. So I decided that if I was really going to understand them I needed to immerse myself even more into their world. On May 15, 2012 I worked at the mission doing manual labor tasks with some of the veterans who were staying at the shelter. This gave me the opportunity to “get my hands dirty” and I soon began to build a bond with the residents. We talked about our experiences in the military and many of them were eager to tell me about their lives and the circumstances that had brought them to situation in which the currently were in. Many of the residents seemed just happy to have someone listen to them and treat them kindly.

I began to hear stories of brutality towards them on the streets and how people would look down on them when they “flipped their signs”, a process of holding a sign that usually briefly describes the situation the person is in and also asks for money. I decided that I wanted to see it for myself and see how people would treat me if they thought I was a homeless veteran and not a graduate student at the University of Southern California. I began to prepare by not shaving and allowing my facial hair to grow out, I also did not shower for two days and at my fiancĂ©’s request could only sleep on the couch. I am not assuming that all homeless people smell but I wanted to get into the part as much as I could. I have been in many situations during Field Training Exercises (FTX) and in combat where I did not have the opportunity to shower, so I know how a shower can make you feel revitalized and uplift your spirit.

This is only the first part of a 3 part series that will cover my time researching what it is like to be homeless from the perspective of the veteran.  I hope it will bring to light this real and sadly problamatic situation homeless vetreans find themselves in.