News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Together with longtime supporter Sport Clips Haircuts, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is proud to announce its “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship” program has surpassed awarding $6.4 million in scholarships to more than 1,450 military and student veterans. The latest fall semester award of nearly $762,000 will help to ensure 165 student veterans attending colleges across the country are one step closer to achieving their educational goals.  “Veterans transitioning from military to civilian life face a host of challenges, but together with our friends at Sport Clips we’re able to ensure that struggling to finance their last semesters of college isn’t one,” said VFW National Commander Doc Schmitz. Established in 2014, the Help A Hero Scholarship program awards service members and veterans with post-secondary scholarships of up to $5,000 to help them achieve their educational goals without the burden of student loan debt.  “My final semester is the only semester that is not covered by my GI Bill benefits and the only semester I will be financially responsible for,” said Victoria Phelps, an Air Force student veteran at Temple University. “This scholarship will be a bridge to help facilitate a less financially stressful final semester. This scholarship will also help achieve my personal goal of being the first person in my family to graduate college.” “As of February 2019, all educational assistance from my Post 9/11 GI Bill will be depleted,” said Corey Phillips, an Army student veteran at Grand Canyon University. “This scholarship will help me and mine withstand the blow of the financial burden that waits around the corner.” Help A Hero scholarships are awarded twice a year to help cover the cost of tuition and fees of service members and veterans in the rank of E-5 and below. Scholarship applications are currently being accepted for the 2019 fall semester. Apply for a Help A Hero scholarship today.   About Sport Clips Haircuts: Sport Clips Haircuts is headquartered in Georgetown, Texas. It was established in 1993 and began franchising in 1995. The sports-themed haircutting franchise, which specializes in haircuts for men and boys, offers online check in for clients, and is ranked by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the “Fastest-Growing Franchises’ and #17 in its “Franchise 500.” There are more than 1,800 Sport Clips stores open in the U.S. and Canada. Sport Clips is the “Official Haircutter” of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), offers veterans preferential pricing on haircuts and franchises, and was named a “2018 Best for Vets: Franchises” by Military Times. Sport Clips provides “Haircuts with Heart” through its annual Help A Hero fundraiser that has contributed $6.5 million to the VFW; national partnership with St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants; and other national and local philanthropic outreach. Sport Clips is a proud sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing’s NASCAR drivers Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Indy Car driver Sebastien Bourdais, and partners with numerous NCAA and professional sports teams. To learn more about Sport Clips, visit sportclips.com. 
'Knowing ... someone is in our corner, making sure that veterans are successful in their academic careers, makes it so much easier to be who we strive to be' Veteran Adam Lawrence sees a bridge between his devotion to the military and his love of mathematics and computer science. This Valencia, Calif., native joined the Army directly out of high school without giving it a second thought. He had watched both his father and grandfather devote their lives to the military so it felt natural to him, even though neither of them ever pushed him toward enlisting.   Above: Adam Lawrence and his girlfriend Catherine. Lawrence was a light infantry team leader and sergeant, stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., and deployed to Baghdad for a year.   Now he attends Claremont Graduate University in a master’s program for Computational and Applied Mathematics. Lawrence has found a lot of assistance along the way from his school’s incredibly helpful financial aid department, and they informed him about the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship.” He is extremely thankful to VFW’s donors, staff and everyone who has any part of the scholarship program. “Knowing there is a ‘safety net’ out there and someone is in our corner, making sure that veterans are successful in their academic careers, makes it so much easier to be who we strive to be. It really encourages us to pursue academics and without it, I believe many might not go to a university,” Lawrence said. Lawrence isn’t stopping with his master’s degree but plans to complete a doctorate as well. He wants to focus on Partial Differential Equations (PDE), applied mathematics, fluid dynamics, image processing and computer vision. To explain the practicality of his research aims, he credits his time served where he learned as an infantryman how heavily troops on the ground rely on their “eyes in the sky.” Lawrence will use his degree to ensure technology is delivering the best imagery and information. Lawrence has a clear direction, but he has helpful advice for veterans at any stage of their transition back to civilian life and careers. “If a veteran isn’t quite sure what their future holds both academically and socially, I believe community college is a fantastic resource for them. They have veteran resource centers and counselors that are trained to help veterans with their needs. They are the first people I believe veterans should contact in the civilian world. At community colleges veterans can find out what they want in life, with little to no price tag,” he explained. Another benefit of having financial support from the VFW is that Lawrence can focus completely on research and academics by picking up campus jobs closely related to his studies. He will seek an adjunct position after graduation, and his experience as a TA, grader and seminar coordinator have prepared him for the next phase of his career. “As a professor at a community college, I want to assist veterans or any other student who is on the fence about pursuing a STEM major,” he concluded.
As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) commitment to a smoke-free health care environment for Veterans, in October, the department will extend its smoke-free policies to include employees at its health care facilities. This follows the department’s June 10 announcement of a new policy restricting smoking by patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors at its health care facilities. The integration of these two efforts guarantees a fully smoke-free environment for Veterans. “This policy change is consistent with our mission to promote a healthy environment for patients, visitors and employees at our facilities and is an important element of improving our health care system,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It will reduce the harmful effects of smoking, including exposure to second and third-hand smoke, as well as increase safety and reduce fire hazards caused by smoking.” The VA has collaborated with key stakeholders to update and recertify the employee policy to be consistent with department’s commitment to Veterans and the community. Implementation of the employee smoke-free policy will be completed no later than January 2020 based on employee union-negotiated timelines. The Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) smoke-free policy applies to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, any other combustion of tobacco and non-Federal Drug Administration approved electronic nicotine delivery systems, including but not limited to electronic or e-cigarettes, vape pens or e-cigars. To learn more about health risks associated with smoking, visit the Surgeon General’s website at https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/reports-and-publications/tobacco/index.html or https://smokefree.gov/. VHA has resources and programs to assist employees in their smoke free journey and these can be found at the following VHA website at https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/quit-tobacco/ For additional information about the policy visit https://vaww.va.gov/vhapublications/admin/ViewPublication.asp?Pub_ID=8424.
'Higher education allows us to truly integrate all of the life lessons we learned in the military to our civilian careers' Veteran Tyler Walsh, 30, of Middlebury, Conn., believes higher education is incredibly important for veterans.    Pictured above are Tyler Walsh and his dog, Mack. “The military teaches us lessons that cannot always be cleanly transferred into the civilian world. Higher education allows us to truly integrate all of the life lessons we learned in the military to our civilian careers,” he said.   And he doesn’t take the bridge to better his civilian life for granted. Walsh thanks everyone who supports the VFW because it makes programs like the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship” possible.  Walsh joined the Marine Corps right out of high school because he believed he would have a more profound experience than what college could offer him. He’s had a strong desire to chart his own course from the very beginning. His interests led him to be a dog handler and working with a Labrador Retriever, Woody, to detect explosives when deployed to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2011. He left the Marines a sergeant and began to set his sights on what would come next. Currently, Walsh attends the University of New Hampshire as a graduate student seeking a master’s degree in social work. Woody sadly passed while Walsh was in the demobilization process and they were never reunited. However, Walsh is now the proud owner of another Labrador, Mack, who has been instrumental in showing him the therapeutic impact animals offer. After this discovery, Walsh became involved with equine assisted therapy. He’s still pondering exactly where his path should go but is currently leaning toward combining his environmental studies undergraduate experience with a wilderness therapy program.  Walsh’s path toward a meaningful career has been made a little easier with assistance from the VFW. “This scholarship has alleviated a great deal of stress in finding work throughout my graduate program. I am better able to focus on my studies with financial support,” he explained.  He found the VFW’s scholarship easily by searching online and hopes that others will discover the feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving an advanced degree.  “You will never regret being better trained and more educated. Find a field that allows you to come alive and chase it with all that you have,” he concluded.     -VFW Magazine, 8/14/19
Stop & Shop will celebrate the 98th birthday of one of its long-time baggers and WWII veteran, Bartholomeo 'Benny' Ficeto, with a surprise party at 12 noon on Tuesday, August 20th at the Stop & Shop located at 1049 US Highway 1 South, Edison, NJ.   Stop & Shop will surprise Benny with a cake and performances by the USO Show Troupe. His niece who works at a Staten Island Stop & Shop store will also be on hand to celebrate his birthday, along with Stop & Shop executives.   Benny started working at Stop & Shop nearly ten years ago in Bloomfield. He transferred to the Edison store about 18 months ago, and continues to work two, four-hour shifts a week as a bag boy.   Previously, Benny served in the Army Air Force during World War II as a gunner on a B-25 Mitchell bomber, flying mostly over northern Africa and Italy, and has held other various jobs after “retiring” from a cosmetic company back in the 80s. Benny’s work ethic is second to none – he stands the entire time, working at a steady pace, and refuses to take his 15-minute break. Bennie has said, “Why would I take a break when I only get to work four hours?” WHAT:          Stop & Shop Celebrates Benny The Bagger’s 98th Birthday WHEN:          12 Noon on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 WHERE:        Stop & Shop                     1049 US Highway 1 South                     Edison, NJ 08837    
A U.S. soldier of 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, makes his way down the stairs at the conclusion of the squadron?s room breaching and clearing exercise during Agile Spirit 19 near Tbilisi, Georgia, July 29, 2019. LASHIC PATTERSON/U.S. ARMY By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPESPublished: August 1, 2019 More than 3,300 soldiers from 14 nations began the largest annual exercise in the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week, aimed at strengthening security in the tense Black Sea region. During the two-week Agile Spirit war games, soldiers will face and use modern military equipment and hybrid warfare tactics, such as cyberwarfare, to defend against an attack by a “near-peer” adversary, Brig. Gen. Nikoloz Janjgava, deputy chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. He said that the opposing forces in the exercise scenario are not modeled on the Russians. However, Russia is using similar tactics in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine and used them in the brief war it fought with Georgia in 2008. “We are trying not to use the ‘R’ word during the exercise,” Janjgava said. About 20% of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory is under Russian occupation, including Abkhazia on the Black Sea and South Ossetia, which is about 50 miles away from the Vaziani Training Area, where Agile Spirit is taking place. U.S. soldiers, assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stop to pull security as they advance to the simulated enemy targets for the live-fire exercise during Agile Spirit 19 near Tbilisi, Georgia, July 29, 2019.LASHIC PATTERSON/U.S. ARMY About 1,500 U.S. troops and a similar number of Georgians are participating in the drills. Twelve other countries, including Ukraine, have sent an a total of 300 participants. U.S. and Georgian troops opened the event with a live-fire attack on enemy-held bunkers. They plan to move into defensive operations later in the exercise. Agile Spirit gives Georgia and Ukraine more experience working with NATO allies, Janjgava said. Both countries are on track to become part of the alliance in the near future, the Georgian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. The drills also help to prepare Georgian soldiers for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan, where Georgia is one of the top troop contributors to the NATO-led mission, Janjgava added. U.S. soldiers from the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany, brought Stryker armored vehicles to Georgia for the war games. The wheeled armored vehicles can navigate more easily through Georgia’s hilly terrain than tracked vehicles, Maj. Nathaniel Carter said. “This exercise shows how maneuverable Strykers are in any given terrain,” Carter said. When the cavalrymen finish the exercise, they plan on having a “culture day,” sightseeing in Georgia’s nearby capital, Tbilisi, and spending more time with their Georgian comrades, he said. “It’s been great so far,” Carter said. “I’m impressed with the Georgian soldiers and look forward to spending the next few weeks with them.”
Legionnaire Lori McMath Varner (left) and Ashley Gorbulja-Maldonado will compete for Ms. Veteran America. The American Legion As a teen, Ashley Gorbulja-Maldonado competed in a series of pageants and competitions in Ohio that took her to more than 80 cities and allowed her to meet and mentor young women along the way. Little did she know that experience would come back to benefit her years later. Now a Legionnaire and past commander of American Legion Post 808 on the University of Akron campus, Gorbulja-Maldonado is one of 25 finalists for the Ms. Veteran America competition. She'll head to Hollywood this fall for the Oct. 13 final, joined by fellow Legionnaire Lori McMath Varner, a member of James W. McCartney Post 232 in Dry Run, Pa. “When I heard about Ms. Veteran America I thought ‘why not? Why not me?’” Gorbulja-Maldonado said. “I am the only one that can place limits on myself. If there’s anything I can do to help others in an advocacy platform, I’m going to do it. “To be Ms. Veteran America is symbolic for a lot of reasons. This a competition where women from all (military) branches are represented. This is just a group of badass women … coming together for a cause – something bigger than ourselves. Us being the voice for not just homeless veterans and their children, but … women veterans across the entire country. It’s something not to be taken lightly.” Ms. Veteran America contestants must be a women either honorably discharged from or still serving in the U.S. military. Ms. Veteran America is required to provide at least 100 hours of community service during her 12 months as title holder, and also is required to attend speaking engagements and special events as the official spokeswoman of the Ms. Veteran America competition and Final Salute Inc., a nonprofit supported by the competition that provides women veterans with suitable and safe housing. Contestants will be judged on the interview and talent portions of the competition, and must also provide documentation of their advocacy efforts from June through October. Gorbulja-Maldonado has served in the National Guard since 2011 and will commission over to the Army reserve this fall. She took a job with the Veterans Benefits Administration in the Washington, D.C., area, where she has relocated and plans to transfer her American Legion membership to Dyer-Gunnell Post 180 in Vienna, Va. “I take great, humbling pride (in being a Legionnaire),” said Gorbulja-Maldonado, a member of the Legion’s National Veterans Employment and Education Council. “Our organization is always looking out for the veteran, at a grass-roots level all the way up (to the national level). We are always on top of these issues. There’s such a support system and network within the Legion that’s so powerful and robust, that when we put our minds together collectively, things happen. “I have always felt that the Legion has given me the tools for success to put in my toolbox and use to solve any problem that has occurred.” Just being named a finalist in the Ms. Veteran American competition is a big deal for Gorbulja-Maldonado. “People have been watching me kind of grinding for years with everything that I do,” she said. “So this is a win for my community. This is a win for my network, for my family, for my friends, for my sisters-in-arms. “I threw a rock in the pond, and my ripples are now waves. Why not keep pushing forward? Why not continue to trail blaze and set the standard and set that bar high?" Varner, who served in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard from 1986 to 1993 and is, in her own words, the “oldest” contestant in Ms. Veteran America, learned about the competition while the guest speaker at a women veterans retreat. In researching the competition, she learned about the growing number of homeless women veterans, as well as the large number of women veterans who don’t use Department of Veterans Affairs services. “It was very eye-opening,” said Varner, the mother of both a son and daughter serving in the Air Force. “So I applied (for Ms. Veteran America) in December, and then I found out that I was a semifinalist in January. And it really took off. “There’s so many people I’ve met. And I’m opening doors and opportunities for people to listen about this subject.” Varner – who also has membership in the American Legion Riders and American Legion Auxiliary, and serves on the Department of Pennsylvania’s Blood Donor Committee and newly formed women veterans committee – stresses Ms. Veteran America isn’t a pageant. “This is a competition to find the best candidate to be the national spokesperson for homeless women veterans,” she said. Varner hails from an American Legion department, Pennsylvania, that has been at the forefront of battling the homeless veterans issue for decade. In 1988, the department established the Housing for Homeless Veterans Corporation and purchased four townhomes between the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to provide a safe, clean, stable environment for veterans while they completed schooling or job training and became self-sufficient to seek permanent housing. Today, the corporation operates six homes. Since its inception, well over 400 veterans have gone through the department’s program with an 85 percent success rate. The Pittsburgh VA puts the Department of Pennsylvania in contact with the veterans, who have the responsibility of cooking, cleaning and doing laundry while going through the program. A veteran may reside in one of the homes for up to two years with the stipulation they attend school or find a job. Varner said if she wins the competition, she would do her part to share the success of the Housing for Homeless Veterans Corporation. “I think there needs to be more visibility with it,” she said. “I always bring The American Legion into play in speeches because I feel it’s important, as a Legionnaire, to always let folks know the Legion is there to help.” For more information about Gorbulja-Maldonado’s campaign, click here. For more information about Varner’s campaign, click here.
In continuing an eight-year relationship between an Oregon VFW Post and Junior ROTC program, one VFW member recently accompanied her son’s JROTC group to Normandy in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of D-Day.  Shannon Ferreira, a member of VFW Post 1324 in Oregon City, Ore., accompanies her son’s JROTC group to Normandy, France, for its participation in D-Day commemoration events. Ferreira said the Post and the JROTC have good relationships in the community.  Photo courtesy of Shawn Dachtler. Shannon Ferreira, a member of VFW Post 1324 in Oregon City, Ore., served as a chaperone to the group of 13 cadets. The cadets participated in two ceremonies, one on June 6 at Brittany American Cemetery and the following day at Normandy American Cemetery. “My favorite part was being able to talk to the veterans,” Ferreira said, “and while I was there made a point of speaking to as many of them as I could – the WWII veterans – and taking pictures with them. And getting their names and a little piece of their stories. To me, it was amazing. It was also emotional because many of those men were the same ages [when they deployed] as my son. Or within the same age frame.” Ferreira, who served two tours in Bosnia (December 1995-November 1996 and June-September 1998) in the Army’s 501st MI Bn., 1st Armd. Div., as a signals intelligence analyst, said the cadets were invited about a year and a half ago. She said she joined them because it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. “While I was in the Army, I was in 82nd Abn. Div., as well, but I never deployed with them,” Ferreira said. “But I know they played a huge part in WWII. And I love the history of it and my son is a huge WWII history buff.” The biggest takeaway from the trip, according to Ferreira was the opportunity itself. “That generation is dwindling, and it’s so important to be able to take young kids, the high schoolers, over there to interact because they are the future generation,” Ferreira said. “And so to be able to chaperone and go with those kids and have them interact with that generation, it was impactful for the kids.” Ferreira said the Post and Oregon City’s JROTC program have worked together prior to this trip.  Post 1324 Public Information Officer Shawn Dachtler said the relationship between the Post and the Oregon City High School JROTC was initiated by two past Post commanders who reached out to Major Doug Thomas. “Essentially, the conversation was that we should work together,” said Dachtler, who served in the Navy from 1993 to 2002 in electronic warfare and was with the Armed Forces Expeditionary Service aboard the USS Normandy in the Persian Gulf in 1998. “We see your kids doing good things and we want to help support them.” The Post, Ferreira said, supports JROTC financially every year and offers the Post for fundraising events at no charge, while the JROTC provides a color guard for various events. “Our post and our JROTC are supportive of each other,” Ferreira said. “To me, it’s important to have that bond.” The relationship between the Post and JROTC gives the cadets, who could also go into the military, a chance to meet the older generation of veterans and learn from them. Dachtler said the Post’s work with JROTC is similar to its outreach at the college level. “We are doing our best to make sure we're engaged in all age groups,” Dachtler said. “The local JROTC currently has four students that have committed to the Army. We see that as being right in line with our missions and goals.”
The American Legion In the Southern Minnesota city of Austin, American Legion Post 91 is known as the place to drop off U.S. flags for disposal. Six-time Post Commander Roland Hanson estimates that 2,000 flags are disposed of properly during ceremonies conducted by the post on Veterans Day at nearby VFW Post 1216 and on Flag Day at Post 91. During the most recent disposal ceremony, Hanson came across a special flag – one that allowed him to give a history lesson to the Boy and Girl Scouts who annually assist with the ceremony. While prepping the flags for disposal – some already folded and ready to burn by the Scouts – Hanson noticed a flag that was a little different than the rest of the inventory. But it was one he was well familiar with, having said the Pledge of Allegiance to it many times in high school. “As soon as I picked it up out of the box and held it up, I said ‘oh boy,’” said Hanson, a Vietnam War Army veteran. “I saw six stars going down and eight stars across. I knew this was something that I had pledged to for many, many years myself.” The flag was the symbol of the United States from 1912 – after New Mexico and Arizona were granted statehood – until 1959 with the addition of Alaska. It had the second-longest life of any version of the U.S. flag; the current 50-star version has been in place since Hawaii was granted statehood on Aug. 21, 1959. “I held it up and I asked (the Scouts), ‘What do you think is wrong with this flag?’” Hanson said. “They said ‘wow, that’s in pretty good condition. Why would we want to retire that?’ I said, ‘Well, we do have to retire it because there’s only 48 stars on this flag.’ They were all in awe. They’d never seen one before.” That provided Hanson the opportunity to teach the Scouts a bit more about the flag. “I wanted to do a little bit of education,” he said. “It was probably one of the greatest moments in my (American Legion) career. I like to teach our youth what Americanism is all about. And obviously taking care of our American flag is one of them that’s top of the list in my book.” Hanson said the flag was still attached to part of a staff and that he’d like to try to locate the rest of the staff. After that, he’s going to donate the flag to the Mower County Historical Society in Austin. Properly disposing of U.S. flags is a responsibility Post 91 takes seriously. Hanson said a local car club built flag disposal bins for the post that he said “look like post office boxes. Sometimes we have to empty our bin four or five times and put them in boxes in storage until either Flag Day or Veterans Day.” Conducting two ceremonies a year allows the post to “retire our flags with dignity,” Hanson said, “so that we don’t find them in ditches and garbage cans … to disgrace our flag.”
Thirteen seniors celebrate June 4, 2019 after graduating from Ansbach High School at the Army garrison in Germany. Servicemembers with more than 16 years of service were given an additional six months to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to family members. Children must be high school graduates or 18 to receive the benefits.  AMY STORK/U.S. ARMY   Military personnel with more than 16 years of service will have an additional six months to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to family members, while Congress decides whether to remove the restriction on transfers. A new Defense Department rule was set to take effect on July 12, limiting the benefit transfers to troops with at least six years of service but no more than 16 years. The Pentagon extended the deadline until Jan. 12, 2020 for troops who have more than 16 years of service to give Congress time to discuss the House Armed Services Committee’s proposal to change the rule. Troops still must have served at least six years and be able to reenlist for four more years. “This is a welcome decision by the department to slow down implementation of a policy that will unfairly affect some of our most seasoned servicemembers,” Armed Services committee member Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said in a statement. Courtney proposed repealing the 16-year limit and received the committee’s unanimous support. He sent a letter on June 24 to Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper requesting that the Pentagon delay imposing the restriction. The Pentagon announced plans for the limit in July 2018. Previously, there were no restrictions on when servicemembers could transfer education benefits to family members after they’d served six years. Servicemembers wounded in combat who have received Purple Heart medals are exempted from the rule. When veterans advocates criticized the restriction, military officials said the transfers were intended as a retention tool and not as a benefit to career servicemembers. In his letter to Esper, Courtney said efforts to retain good servicemembers shouldn’t stop at 16 years. “Ultimately, we hope that you will reconsider implementing this new limitation entirely and look forward to working with you as we consider policies to attract and retain our country’s best and the brightest,” Courtney said.