When you graduate high school, you have a choice on what next steps are. Among those are taking a gap year, you can serve in the military (once you’re 18), you can enroll in college. Those who decide to serve in the military, whichever conjunction it may be at: the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard, opportunities abound. When you are part of serving in the military, financial incentives towards retirement is something to consider before you make a final decision. The US military is switching things up when it comes to helping military personnel saving for their retirement years. The update is something that Pentagon officials are calling “the biggest update for military pension and benefits since World War II” which is something to behold. Of course, that does that mean that this change will affect anyone that is currently serving in the military and those who choose to do so in the future. The new retirement program is called the "Blended Retirement System" or "BRS" which is a hybrid system. It considers a pension plan alongside a program that is similar to 401 k which is a standard program. This program was implemented January 1, 2018. However, if you served for a dozen years or more prior to January 2018, the former legacy plan still stands for them. The former system was this: if you stay in the military for two decades, you would potentially be able to receive half of their base pay for retirement. Most would not stay for twenty years, though, which has altered their retirement plans. Jeri Busch, director of military compensation policy for the U.S. Department of Defense, reminded readers that in non military jobs, employees take with them a retirement benefit package which is crucial. This change leaves 1.6 million current active duty, Reserve and National Guard members in a lurch of sorts until they figure out what they want to do in regards of retirement. It is not all challenging news to bear, however. Once a decision is made in terms of retirement programs, the legacy one or the Blended Retirement System, military personnel can then help you decipher which is best for you. For example, if you know beyond a shadow of doubt that you are going to stay at least twenty years, John Bird, senior vice president of military affairs at USAA, shares that switching programs may not serve you well. There are training programs for those who may want input as they plan for their future. Cpl. Zachary Beckman, a 23-year-old government contractor who is also in the Marine Corps Reserves has taken the mandatory financial classes to make the wisest decisions he can for his future. You can find more information about these programs and retirement plans alike and make the best decision for you.
Native Americans have a longstanding tradition in serving in the American military system. Are you surprised? Given the history between the two groups, it’s understandable why you might be. The number of Native Americans who have served in the United States military is actually higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group. They have served since the Revolutionary War. Patriotism is a trait that is passed down through the generations with the Native American community. The National Museum of the American Indian is the planned site for a memorial honoring Native American veterans. Rebecca Trautmann, is the project curator of the National Native American Veterans Memorial. She states that …many see their patriotism, as inextricably connected with the land itself, … “They have described an inherited responsibility to protect their homeland, their families, their communities and their traditional way of life,” she said. It’s incredibly important for those who are non Native Americans to realize and understand the significance of their actions. Debra Kay Mooney, a Choctaw who is a veteran of the Iraq War, puts it this way: “Our ancestors are the very groundwork of the United States because we died here first. It’s our ancestors’ bones and marrow that has degraded into the ground that is actually in the roots and the tops of the tallest trees. . . . We needed to protect our ancestors’ bones.” And that is something anyone should understand as heritage and family are two motivators to get things done, especially if it’s to honor a lost family member. Over 31,000 Native American men and women are on active duty, and more than 140,000 veterans identify as Native Americans or Alaska Natives. Typically, they are celebrated in their own communities, with ceremonies and warrior societies that help them when they return from service. The memorial is something to behold. Although the funding has been approved for decades, it will not be available to peruse until Veterans Day 2020. The memorial must “encompass the vast array of tribes (567 are federally recognized) yet specific enough that veterans and their families will recognize themselves and their stories.” It also must include the spiritual realm to some extent and to include women.Those who are in committees honoring Native Americans and our military have been very happy about what is to come for their communities. From the monument actually being constructed, to respecting those who fought and lost their lives, to maintaining history, this truly is something that will be amazing to witness firsthand. You can read more here:
Army veteran Tyler Wilson is getting a chance to broaden his horizons after receiving the gift of a vehicle that aids mobility. This is all due to the non profit Quality Life Plus who was able to work with the Colorado School of Mines. The sizable donation has been put into good use with the mission of creating “adaptive devices and technologies to push performance limits for disabled athletes.” And for Wilson especially, it breeds new hope. Wilson was injured in Afghanistan in 2005, becoming a paraplegic, but with the use of a sit-ski is an avid skier. Mechanical engineering students are designing a wagon-style system that would assist Wilson in transporting his sit-ski, independently, to and from ski lifts. The funds will buy equipment for measuring, prototyping and fabricating innovative, custom devices to boost the independence of injured veterans, said Joel Bach, director of Mines’ Human Centered Design Studio.” Such support creates confidence and builds a person up and allows them to see their full potential.  This donation has changed the game of helping veterans with mobility after a life altering injury. Wilson has served our country proudly and has a family that he likes to spend time with them and make the most of the opportunities. Wilson truly believes that this opportunity will “open new doors for me,” and has changed his perspective and given him more independence. Wilson was wheelchair bound after a bullet that became lodged in the spine when he was serving in Afghanistan in 2005. After being introduced to the notion of adaptive sports, one that Wilson connected with hand cycling among the Colorado’s mountains. That’s when Mines stepped in and joined efforts for veterans that are currently immobilized to help them bridge the gaps that was created throughout their injury. Another facet of this program is involving students! Their involvement creates a sense of purpose that is cultivated in the younger generation and any progress will only further what is to come. This donation has the power to change lives of those injured, their families and the course of preventive measures. The lab itself works with advancements in science. For example, once your blood type is recognized those working in the lab “the lab now uses 3-D technology to better analyze the body types of the veterans to make devices that suit each individual, Bach said. “Everybody is different, and everyone has different needs. We just don’t want to take a one-size-fits-all approach to something so important.” And that’s a game changer and gives those in need the opportunity to grow and flourish.
British photographer Jason Larkin has traveled to various countries, including Vietnam and Cuba photographing military museums. This venture was born out of curiosity how countries with brutal pasts have come to terms with that fact while honoring their history. Although different countries offer varied perspectives, as does art. Larkin embraces movies like Dr Strangelove or Thunderbirds, which explain that rememberance is in a way that is enigmatic. In Larkin’s opinion, he believes that “It’s too easily sanitised,” says Larkin. “There should be much more context and nuance.” You can represent a history that brings pain to learn about in a way that is not inherently political. Art opens doors for conversation and debate, but one doesn’t need to conjecture and make a hardship out of something that doesn’t need to be trifled with negative attention and pain. He goes on to say. “I didn’t want to make too much of a commentary on propaganda,” he tells BBC Culture. “What I became interested in was what really reinforces this view on history and what makes the public think that it’s true – the ways in which this history is being presented, the aesthetic choices being made by the curators and the museum staff.” And that is precisely why you should revel in this art piece as it is not one with a secret (or not so) agenda. Each country Larkin visited he was able to witness that poured their culture in their art and presented their pain and hardships in a unique lense. There is a complex narrative in the way each country transforms their history. However, he does go on to concede that. “It’s just a select few people at the top who get to decide on how museums are going to look,” he says. “There are a lot of people in the countries I’ve visited who would not agree with what’s in their museums – it’s just what the state or one rich influential group or the army want to say.” And that’s an important distinction. The goal is for people to embrace humanity and realize that their actions and thoughts and who they are matter in a world that seems to go dark, when violent brokenness is seen. It shows a journey and one that isn’t only full of struggle but one of hope and love. You will be able to see Larkin’s art soon. As noted in this article, his current series can be seen at London’s Flowers Gallery now, has put much focus on how these museums put together their displays.” Find out more information at
Veteran healthcare is such a complex issue and among all the changes in legislature, traumatic situations may arise and color the way veterans see healthcare. And when that happens, it is the family’s right to receive retribution for unfortunate outcomes that didn’t have to come to be. And one Tamoca area family is grieving the loss of their family member, and a lawsuit has come out of this loss. George Walker was 75 when he died at home July 1, 2016. He was about a week shy of surgery at the local VA hospital - Puget Sound Health Care System for a new heart valve. The veteran also received service at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center. The surgery was delayed and if the procedure was taken care of sooner, Walker may very well could have had a very different outcome. His wife has sued, as she believes that the timing of the medical procedures could have helped lengthen her husband’s life. His livelihood was cut unnecessarily  short. Peggy Walker added that, her husband served in the Air Force from 1959 to 1967. He was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.Walker held a commanding presence in so many people’s lives. For nearly three decades, he worked as a foreman at a Seattle warehouse, where he gained the respect with anyone he worked with. His family adored him and the loss resonates clearly with his family and friends. Walker’s wife’s lawsuit states that her husband, George Walker, called the VA’s American Lake Division on June 20, 2016 to try to see a doctor. He was experiencing shortness of breath and pain in his chest and his doctor told him to go to urgent care. Once there the next day, he was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, a hereditary narrowing of his aortic valve. He was assigned a surgery date nearly two weeks later. Walker did pass away before surgery. His wife believes that medical officials withheld lifesaving information. Jessica Holman Duthie, the attorney representing the Walker family states that “They (medical officials) absolutely shouldn’t have sent him home,” and the fact they didn’t is rightfully a sore spot. The VA Puget Sound did release a statement. There stated that ““mourns the loss of every Veteran. While VA does not typically comment on pending litigation, VA Puget Sound’s wait times at both our Seattle and Tacoma locations are better, on average, than local non-VA hospitals as we are continually striving to improve our service and efficiency.” It is a sadness and a hardship to go through when a death that could be prevented. It is one of life’s tragedies. You can find more information about this case at
Anderson University is fusing education and kindness together by intertwining the two in their students’ studies. Ron Aderhold, a U.S. Army veteran earning a Bachelor of Business Administration, Health Care management class of 2017, is working on his Masters also at Anderson University. Over the summer, Aderhold participated in an internship with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans as a requirement for his degree. It was there when he realized that he realized how much of a social issue homelessness is and how simple it was to lend a hand to those in need. He was based in Washington DC and he noticed that the issue was particularly prevalent, as he became aware that the homeless men, women, and children lacked proper bedding. Once he noticed the issue, Aderhold took it on himself to work with similar organizations to bring in proper necessities for those in need. Operation Bedroll was on its way to become an option for those in need, thanks to other organizations and Aderhold’s drive and passion for the project. The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars became one of the first organizations to help as it had a surplus of comfortable bedding as those who used their service often left it there for the center to do with what it will. As the project got underway, on each floor at the center, you can find a place to deposit a donation of clean and comfortable bedding for those struggling to find the essentials. "When you're living in a room with six other people, having something new and all your own makes you feel like a human being," Aderhold said. “And in less than a year, Operation Bedroll has given gently-used bedding and cleaning supplies to about 600 veterans in the D.C. area.” Kathryn Monet, chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, commented that Ron Aderhold was "hands down the most motivated and engaging intern we have ever hosted," Monet said in a letter of recommendation for him. "He just took the initiative and ran with it," Monet said. "He put together this entire initiative, set up a drop-off center..." The operation is already looking to expand to other cities as soon as it is feasible. Aderhold looks at this operation as giving back. He was a United States Army Sergeant from 1988-1992. He was able to receive benefits but for decades chose to not to utilize them, citing pride as the main reason for his choice. Ultimately, he realizes helping the homeless is the right thing to do.
Saturday’s annual “Wreaths Across America” event at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies honored veterans. The tradition is in its’ twelfth year and takes place in four national cemeteries across the United States. “It’s overwhelming to see all these supporters,” said cemetery director Ronald Hestdalen. “It’s a sign of appreciation for veterans and their sacrifices.” Rocky Bleier is a former professional American football player as well as a veteran. He’s been the recipient of four Superbowl rings during his football career and during his military career, he obtained a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. His football accolades paled in comparison on Saturday as he approached the gravesite of Andrew Hawes, a staff sergeant in World War II. Hawes passed away in 2013, at home at the age of 94. Bleier was one out of approximately 3000 others that stopped by the cemetery to give respects to those who’ve fallen serving our country. Each veterans has their our personal story and Beleir is no different. During the time he served in the Vietnam War, Belier lost a foot due to a grenade. It is increasingly important to give proper recognition to those who fought for our country and paid the ultimate price. Their lives and what they left behind: their personal stories, friendships and families are one of the few things that have helped leave an impact and propel future generations to realize what was the cost of freedom. Since 2009, when Hestdalen arrived at the cemetery to be the director, attendance for the event had been somewhere between 300 and 400 people who put wreaths on gravesites. Now, the crowds and appreciation loomed larger. This year, the cemetery had a wreath for each of its more than 10,100 gravesites. Not only is this remarkable, it is simply comforting that the effort is more far reaching than it was a decade or so ago. The cost for the event is covered by many donors, but one of the most recognizable ones in the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a statement, team president Art Rooney II said the gift was intended to honor “a sacrifice that will always be remembered with gratitude and reverence.” As they should be.
The conversation regarding cannabis use is one that used to be fraught with tension regarding varying opinions and values. For veterans, the conversation is heating up. Although medical doctors don’t have permission yet to specifically encourage the usage of the drug, they are, by policy, mandated to be in conversation about it with military veterans. The policy is expected to take effect this month, right before the new year turns. The policy states that there’s a responsibility to “discuss with the Veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any Veterans requesting information about marijuana." At the same time, this policy does not give veterans the ability to disregard federal law. A law that is mentioned is the Controlled Substances Act. It is stated that providers from the government that help veterans are “prohibited from completing forms or registering Veterans for participation in a State-approved marijuana program." V.A. Sec. David Shulki reports that there isn’t a law that specifically prohibits doctors from engaging in conversation or to recommend and present completed paperwork in states where that action is legal. Even if cannabis is not federally allowed.  In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court created a federal ruling, ensuring that doctors have a First Amendment right to recommend medical cannabis to patients, as long as they don't actually provide marijuana. This is something that has changed the course of medicine, especially in minors. One piece of the puzzle that isn’t in step quite yet is that doctors working in compliance with the government, is that the Veterans Affairs ’s office does not yet allow it. That is expected to change in the upcoming months. Shulki reports that some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that. He later concedes that, “until time the federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.” It does seem to point that conversation about the issue has become a turning point in the issue. Although it remains to be seen exactly what this will mean for future generations, the fact that the government and medical doctors are looking forward to reach a balance is a good thing.  
Deportation is a real threat to many people that currently reside in America. It is a very scary thing to go through and families are split apart as well as countless lives. Such is the story of Marco Chavez. Chavez was a baby when his parents traveled to the United States. He later served four years in the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged. He was deported to Mexico after he was convicted of a minor offense. This was 15 years ago, and his family has lived apart from him all these years ago. The Chavez family did at one point live together in Mexico, but the change was too much for everyone involved. Ultimately, his wife and kids lived in America. Chavez decided to fight this ruling the best way he can so he can regain some of his life back. He wanted to regain full American residency. Chavez has three sons and those boys, now young men, did not have the privilege of being raised by their father. He says this of his children. "One of the things I wanted to let my kids know is they did have a father and I did not plan to leave them," said Chavez, who has been living in the border city of Tijuana. … I just want to be there to support them. They still might have resentment but that's understandable." Chavez started working with Hector Barajas-Varela. Barajas-Varela is the founder and executive director of the Deported Veterans Support House, which is based in Tijuana, Mexico. Barajas-Varela has been an integral part in regaining American residency. California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Chavez which ensured his safe delivery to the States. Brown said Chavez "served our country, earned a pardon and deserves to come back home.” Chavez has a plan to meet up with his parents at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in San Diego and continue to Los Angeles to finish the necessary paperwork. After that, he will live in Iowa and start rebuilding his relationship with his family. It has been nearly five years since Chavez has seen his children. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jennie Pasquarella reports that this experience will hopefully be an agent of hope for those in similar circumstances.
Sean Langley is a veteran. Langley served nine and a half years active duty in the Army. He served three tours in Iraq, one in Djibouti. "In the Army, I'm a valuable asset, but in the civilian world I might as well have no job experience," the 33-year-old Langley said. "A lot of people tell me 'thank you for your service' but it didn't translate into a job." An estimated 1 in 10 homeless people is a military veteran; roughly 40,000 veterans are homeless, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. An additional 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness because of poverty, a lack of support networks and poor living conditions in substandard housing. Upon arrival to the states, he found himself without a roof over his head. He did choose to couchsurf, but that was not a permanent solution. Today his mat that sits on the top shelf of his closet, a poignant reminder of the days he spent on the streets. After Thanksgiving, he began residing in James A. Peterson Veterans Village in Racine. The complex of 15 tiny homes and a community center with showers, laundry facilities, kitchen, food pantry and recreation areas that opened last month. Jeff Gustin was a bar manager in Racine who learned of a few veterans who needed furniture to start their civilian life. Gustin started to collect used chairs, tables and sofas and delivering them to veterans. Gustin soon had friends joining in on collecting pieces of furniture and after awhile, they filed a warehouse. The group started to be able to deliver furniture to the homes of about 20 veterans each month. Not long after, Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin was formed. Gustin, has a personal connection to veterans reacclimating to civilian life. His son is an Afghan War veteran. After he got back, he quickly realized that there was a need for housing. The idea to open a place for homeless veterans took root. "I couldn't imagine my son being homeless especially after what he did for me and for our country. If I can't imagine my son being homeless, I can't imagine someone else's son being homeless," said Gustin, perched on a stool next to the large kitchen in the S.C. Johnson Community Center adjacent to the tiny homes. "Most vets go on to great things after their service but a small fraction fall on hard times and we owe them for their service." Peterson Veterans Village has 15 homes, all for veterans. Each veteran gets his or her own abode with furnishings,  television, a bed, kitchen appliances, and storage space. The center has a community center to engage conversation and friendship among the residents. The center additionally offers Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, counseling, art and music therapy, and a food pantry. Gustin pitched the idea of a veterans village of tiny homes to Mayor Dickert in February 2016. Dickert got on board right away and the idea picked up momentum after Gustin found a 2½ acre property and vacant building that had become newly available. The property and building were purchased for $104,000 and extensive renovations done by volunteers and contractors, many donating equipment and materials. In July 2016, a three-day workshop was held in Racine with Zack Giffin, co-host of the television program "Tiny Home Nation," helping build some of the abodes. "What Jeff (Gustin) and his team have designed — it's built like a camp, even with a fire pit in the middle where they can hang out like a platoon. They're with buddies, they're with comrades in arms," said Dickert, whose father and brother served in the Marines. Racine's village of tiny homes for homeless veterans could be a model for other cities, added Dickert, who was Racine mayor from 2009 until earlier this year. Finally, a few days after Thanksgiving, on November 30, eight of the tiny homes had been inspected with the other seven still undergoing work and waiting for inspection. Within two weeks of the facility opening shortly before Veteran ts Day, four tiny homes had occupants, including a female Vietnam veteran and Langley. On Gustin's desk there’s a stack of applications from veterans, interested in becoming a tenant. On a recent day, Langley was continuing to get settled into his home. It didn't take him long to unpack the few possessions he had in a knapsack. As he looked around his surroundings, vastly different from expected, he feels relief.