Veterans Can Now Receive Care from Ascension Doctors through the Veterans Choice Program ST. LOUIS, — Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare system and the world’s largest Catholic health system, announced a national partnership to provide care through the Veterans Choice Program, giving veterans the choice to receive care at Ascension locations across the country. Now qualified U.S. veterans who face wait times in excess of 30 days at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or have to travel farther than 40 miles from their home can receive care from Ascension doctors at 2,000 sites of care in 24 states and the District of Columbia. “Ascension doctors, hospitals and clinics are humbled to be able to provide care to veterans through the Veterans Choice Program,” Anthony R. Tersigni, Ed.D., FACHE, Ascension President and Chief Executive Officer, said. “Just as veterans take an oath, our doctors are committed to providing quality care and services, particularly to those most in need.” The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 established funding to pay for healthcare services provided to veterans by private healthcare providers. Through the partnership, Ascension physicians and other caregivers are authorized to provide primary care, inpatient and outpatient specialty care, and mental health care for eligible veterans outside of VA. “As Ascension further integrates our systems of care nationwide, we are collaborating across healthcare to provide personalized, compassionate care to all, including our veterans,” Tersigni said. “We welcome veterans to visit our doctors and hospitals in their local community.” Ascension has established a contractual agreement with TriWest Healthcare Alliance and national provider registration with Health Net Federal Services, LLC — both are federal contractors to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As Veterans Choice Program contractors, TriWest and Health Net are designated by VA to implement the Veterans Choice Program and provide eligible veterans access to care in their community when the local VA facility cannot readily provide care. Nearly 9 million veterans received the Veterans Choice Card. Use of the card is strictly voluntary; veterans who qualify for VA healthcare can continue to receive care at a VA medical facility as they have in the past. The program will end when the allocated funds of $10 billion are used or no later than August 7, 2017. Veterans can determine eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program at http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/ or by calling the number on their Choice Card, 1-866-606-8198. They can also contact the Ascension National Veterans Call Center at 1-844-623-3003, for more information about Ascension and the care we provide or for assistance scheduling an appointment with a local Ascension provider who is participating in the Veterans Choice Program. U.S. veterans, Ascension patients and caregivers who are interested in learning more about the Veterans Choice Program are encouraged to visit www.ascension.org/veterans. About Ascension Ascension (www.ascension.org) is a faith-based healthcare organization dedicated to transformation through innovation across the continuum of care. As the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, Ascension is committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. In FY2015, Ascension provided nearly $2 billion in care of persons living in poverty and other community benefit programs. Approximately 160,000 associates and 36,000 aligned providers serve in 2,000 sites of care – including 137 hospitals and more than 30 senior living facilities – in 24 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to healthcare delivery, Ascension subsidiaries provide a variety of services and solutions including physician practice management, venture capital investing, investment management, biomedical engineering, clinical care management, information services, risk management, and contracting through Ascension’s own group purchasing organization.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- The Invictus Games closed four days of inspirational athletic performances in spectacular fashion Thursday night in Orlando. The Paralympic-style event for wounded and sick military members and veterans wrapped up with a star-studded concert including performances from Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Flo Rida, country music group Rascal Flatts, pop star Rachel Platten, "American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips and "The Voice" Season 9 winner Jordan Smith. But the closing ceremonies belonged to the 454 participants from 14 nations who came to Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports to compete in the name of their countries. "The competition has been fierce with performances of the highest international standard across a number of events," said Prince Harry, who created the Invictus Games to aid wounded service members and veterans from around the world. "But what inspired me was the courage to make it to the starting line, to take to the field or to dive into that pool motivated by the goal of giving it your all medal or no medal." During the Games, thousands who came in person and millions watching around world saw competition in 10 sports including wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, indoor rowing, and track and field. "What an amazing night," said Dr. Jill Biden, who was part of the presidential delegation at the Invictus Games. "It's been an honor to be here with you the past couple of days. Congratulations to our competitors, all of their families and friends who have supported them on the road to Invictus. "For the past four days, the world has watched as some of the finest athletes and warriors in the world carried their countries flags in competition against others who truly understand the meaning of duty, loyalty and sacrifice," she said. "It has been a truly humbling experience for me to be a part of the Invictus Games." The Invictus Games were created by Prince Harry as a way to inspire and motivate wounded soldiers on their path to recovery. The first Invictus Games were held in London last year and the 2017 Games will be held in Toronto, which had a delegation on hand to accept the I Am flag. "Thank you to Prince Harry and Ken Fisher (chairman and CEO of the Invictus Games) for bringing the Invictus Games to the United States," Biden said. "I am so proud of all of the competitors. The spirit of the wounded warriors, the competitive drive and dedication defines what it means to be resilient." BY TERRANCE HARRIS
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Air Force veteran Liz Skilbeck recently got a new license plate for her vehicle that identifies it as being driven by a female veteran. Before that, the license plate just identified it as being driven by a veteran, causing people to thank her husband for his service. "It was 'Thanks for your support. What did your husband do?' And my husband didn't," Skilbeck said. Skilbeck is one of 50 female veterans coming together this weekend in a conference put together by The Mission Continues, an organization that connects veterans with public service projects. The conference aims to bring together the women — all volunteers with The Mission Continues — to share their unique experiences, inspire them with some strong role models and help them learn new skills. "I think no matter where we are, no matter what battles we've overcome it's just good to be around strong women," Skilbeck said. The Mission Continues has been around since 2007, but this is the first time they've had an event just for women, said Laura L'Esperance, from the organization. She said they decided to do a women-specific conference after doing a study of their programs and noticing that while women make up about 15 percent of active duty troops, they made up roughly double that share of some of the organization's programs. But in a society that often equates the military with men, she said women vets often feel invisible when they leave the service. Hopefully through this conference the women will gain a new network and new skills to prepare them for whatever challenges they face next, she said. "Men and women join the military for the same reason," she said. "But culturally their experiences in the military and after service are very different." The women come from all over the country and a range of ages, although most are post-9/11 veterans. Skilbeck joined the Air Force in early 2001 and specialized in how to dispose of explosive ordnance. She left the service in March 2005 after multiple surgeries made it impossible to continue. Skilbeck said she struggled after leaving the Air Force. Working with The Mission Continues has given her a chance to contribute to society while working alongside veterans who understand what she's been through: "That's something I really missed." The conference comes at a time of immense change for women in the military. The Defense Department this year opened up all combat jobs to women. Some generals have raised the prospect of women registering for the draft. The defense department is also pushing family-friendly proposals such as doubling the fully paid maternity leave for female service members. The conference will feature speakers like Michele Flournoy, co-founder of the Center for New America Security whose name has been mentioned as the possible first woman to head the Pentagon, and sisters Betsy Nunez and Emily Nunez Cavness who confounded a company to repurpose military waste into bags and purses. Rachel Gutierrez, who joined the Army in 2000 and deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005, said she's looking forward to talking with one of the featured speakers, Brig. Gen. Helen Pratt, and connecting with other women. Like Skilbeck, she's run into multiple situations where she's not recognized as a veteran — for example, going to a veterans' hospital and people assuming she's a caretaker for a male veteran. "I think for a woman veteran that can become super alienating," she said. She's helped launch two platoons — teams of volunteer veterans — in the Phoenix area. "We are over 400 veterans strong and we are absolutely not male dominated." By REBECCA SANTANA
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Three veterans' groups have sued the Department of Veterans Affairs over its handling of claims about contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Multiple media outlets report the lawsuit was filed by Vietnam Veterans of America; The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten; and the Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America. The lawsuit says between 1953 and 1987 nearly one million Marines, sailors, civilian employees and family members unknowingly "drank, cooked with, and bathed in contaminated water" at Camp Lejeune. Henry Huntley, a public affairs specialist with the Veterans Administration, told The Daily News of Jacksonville that he was not familiar with the lawsuit and could not comment. WNCT in Greenville, North Carolina, reports the lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Connecticut with assistance from a veterans legal service team at Yale Law School. The lawsuit challenges the department's system set up to handle claims stemming from the medical problems suffered by those exposed to the water. The groups say the claim approval rate has dropped from 25 percent to 8 percent since the program started in 2012. The lawsuit says a group of 30 doctors works under the agency's Subject Matter Expert Program and the veterans groups have not been able to determine the panel's credentials and qualifications. Those suing say they are also concerned about what they see as a selective implementation of the claims review panel. "Camp Lejeune veterans are the only veterans that have been subjected to this so-called subject matter expert program," said Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine and founder of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten. All other veterans file normal claims, but the VA has a Camp Lejeune Task Force, Ensminger said he learned this week.
About two decades after Dee Fulcher left the Marine Corps, in which she served for nearly a dozen years, she came out as a transgender woman. “From the age of probably six I knew that I was different,” says the 54-year-old from Louisiana, who once worked on helicopter hydraulics systems. “Part of the reason I joined the service was I wanted to be the macho man everybody wanted me to be.” But now Fulcher is on another path and believes that her healthcare provider, the Department of Veterans Affairs, is holding her back because of a blanket prohibition on providing surgical care to transgender veterans, which she can’t afford out of pocket. Along with a Army veteran who identifies as a transgender man, she is one of two named individuals seeking to have that rule rewritten through a petition submitted to the Department on May 9. “When people are denied care or care is delayed, it can lead to significant psychological distress, depression and even suicide,” says Sasha Buchert, staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center. That organization, along with Lambda Legal, filed the petition on behalf of those individuals and the Transgender American Veterans Association, an organization with approximately 2,268 members around the country. Fulcher says this is about her mental well-being. “I’ve had good times here and there just like anybody else, but the majority of the time it was the unhappiness and uncertainty about who I am and not liking who I am, physically. You get sick from looking at yourself in the mirror,” she says. “Now I’ve found my answers … [but] I just feel like I’m not fully being able to be a woman.” The V.A. has not yet responded to a request for comment. In the petition, the legal team essentially makes four arguments. The first is that the V.A. already provides transition-related healthcare for transgender people, such as hormone replacement therapy and mental health services, so the ban is “arbitrary,” says Lambda Legal’s Dru Levasseur. (The V.A. issued a directive in 2011 indicating that staff must provide such care “without discrimination.”) The second is that the V.A. covers the same procedures that transgender people are seeking, such as mastectomies, for non-transgender and intersex veterans. The third, says Levasseur, is “the V.A. created this exclusion without examining any relevant data,” ignoring the “medical consensus” on the topic. On that point, the legal team has gathered materials to point to, such as a statement from the American Medical Association that “an established body of medical research demonstrates the effectiveness and medical necessity of mental health care, hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery” in treating people with gender dysphoria. That’s not to say that every transgender person needs or wants surgery, and having had more surgery does not make someone more transgender, cautions the Transgender Law Center’s Buchert, but those procedures can be “life-saving” for those who do want them. The fourth argument is the same one that the U.S. Attorney General is making to oppose a controversial law passed in North Carolina, one that seeks to ban transgender women from the women’s room and transgender men from the men’s: that discriminating against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act. Though there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, advocates have increasingly been relying on the sex discrimination ban to win cases in federal courts and through administrative bodies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Buchert says the legal team is confident that appealing to the V.A. to rewrite this rule will work but that they’re willing to file a lawsuit if it does not. Blanket bans on surgery for transgender people, which Medicare lifted in 2014, are based on “outdated” modes of thinking, she says, such as the belief that such surgery is “experimental” or “cosmetic,” rather that a medically effective treatment for people who feel a severe incongruence between their bodies and innate sense of self. “I’m just not comfortable in my own skin,” says Gio Silva, the Army veteran named in the petition. “Since I was little kid I thought I don’t belong in this body.” Silva says he wants a mastectomy not just for transition-related reasons but also because he has large breasts that cause physical pain, a reason that non-transgender women seek such surgery. “I hurt every single day,” he says. “I did my time in the military and I was told, ‘Hey, if anything does happen, we got you. This is a brotherhood.’ And I don’t feel that.” Silva is currently living on unemployment benefits—transgender people as a demographic experience much higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the general public—so the notion of paying for such surgery himself seems impossible. The surgeries in question could cost anywhere from several thousand dollars to $50,000, but while that kind of bill can be crippling for individuals, the legal team says, several studies have found that those costs are often negligible for big insurers. And, says Levasseur, the cost of surgery is often smaller than the bills taxpayers will foot when transgender people turn to more destructive means of coping, such as substance abuse or attempting suicide. In 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs treated more than 2,500veterans for gender dysphoria, with the exception of providing surgical care. A study by UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates that 150,000 transgender Americans have or are currently serving in the military. Though a ban on their open military service is under review, it remains in place. Fulcher says that while she opposes the ban on surgery, the V.A. has been generally very supportive of her in an upending, stressful time. She attends a support group for transgender veterans organized by the V.A., goes there for counseling and gets hormone therapy from a V.A. healthcare site. “It’s sort of funny,” she says, “that they’ll provide you all the hormones and everything else to go halfway but they won’t finish the job.” by Katy Steinmetz
A highly anticipated monument honouring World War II veteran has grabbed the attention of onlookers, but unfortunately not for its craftsmanship. Only a few days after the unveiling of the statute depicting General William Darby, visitors noticed the word “American” had been misspelt on the $200,000 statue’s plaque, missing out the “I” and reading “Amercan” instead, 5 News reports. The bronze monument honouring General Darby, who founded the US Army Rangers, was installed on Monday and formally dedicated on Saturday in Fort Smith, Arkansas, after years of the effigy being absent from a plinth in the city’s Cisterna Park. Hundreds of people, including former Army Rangers and veterans from around the country, turned out to witness the statue’s unveiling, which was described by one local as the "greatest thing that ever happened to the city of Fort Smith." CGSC It took three years for the Darby Legacy Project to fund and organise the installation of the 12ft monument, It was funded by private donations and the sale of personalised dedication bricks, which cost $75 (£50), according to the project’s website. A spokesperson for the Darby Legacy Project told 5 News, the group are aware of the error and are in the process of correcting the mistake. Brigadier General William Orlando Darby was born in Fort Smith in 1911 and is best known for his organisation of the First Ranger Battalion during World War II. He died on 10 April 1945 after a shell burst in the middle of a group of assembled officers while he was issuing orders for the attack on Trento, Italy to cut off a German retreat. Two days later, on 2 May 1945, all German forces in Italy surrendered. General Darby, who was 34 at the time of his death, was posthumously promoted to brigadier general on 15 May 1945. “He was known as an exemplary leader in combat, and he always led his men into battle,” the Darby Legacy Project says. The life size monument is a recreation of documented pictures of General Darby riding a Harley Davidson during World War II. by Alexandra Sims
Vetmoji, the new emoji-keyboard app for Android and iPhone, is supposed to be some light-hearted fun for those in uniform. There’s a selection of silly faces in camouflage hats, a soundboard of phrases like “Bravo Zulu”, and gifs of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America waving flags. The app, produced for IAVA with Kapps media, also contains a quiet flaw: when someone uses the Vetmoji keyboard, the keyboard can access all the data they type. The flaw was spotted in a review of the keyboard on the app story. User T-chuk2965 gave the keyboard one star, and wrote, in part: I was super excited when I got the email from IAVA about new military emojis. I gladly paid the $1.99 and then was told the app needs full access to my phone with a key logger. This allows the app to track and store sensitive information like credit card numbers and SS numbers. More importantly I can't communicate with my troops on drill activities or fellow employees as a police officer. I denied access and every time I type a message and click the emoji keyboard to add an emoji I get an additional pop up screen asking me allow access to this additional keyboard. T-chuk titled his review “OpSec”, which is military shorthand for “Operational Security.” The Pentagon defines Operational Security as “the process by which we protect unclassified information that can be used against us,” and broadcasting everything typed in a message to a third-party app seems to be a clear violation of that basic safety practice. The risk that a keyboard app is also a keylogger is an intrinsic risk in any keyboard app a user chooses to install. The Defense Technical Information Center listed keyloggers as malicious code, noting they can corrupt files and destroy or modify information, compromise that information and lose it, or give hackers access to sabotage systems. The Duqu malware was introduced into secure computer systems after the attacker used a keylogger to get credentials for that computer. In 2013, a Romanian hacker was sentenced to 21 months for, in part, using a keylogger to steal credit card information from Subway stores and others at the time of sale. The risk that a keyboard app is also a keylogger isn’t limited to the Vetmoji keyboard. It is, really, an intrinsic risk in any keyboard app a user chooses to download and install on her phone. As information security professional Lenny Zeltser writes: The users need to trust the keyboard developer not to capture keystrokes and other sensitive data beyond Language Modeling Data. Doing this could be done on purpose by a malicious keyboard app or by accident by an otherwise benign application. In this case, the keyboard could act as a powerful keylogger for the mobile device. That’s a risk that anyone takes when using a third-party keyboard on a mobile device. What makes it stand out with Vetmoji is the target audience includes servicemembers, whose keystrokes could give away personal information like credit card numbers and logins, as well as the location they’re deployed and any plans they might be coordinating. That’s not great. Or, in the words of Vetmoji, by Kelsey D. Atherton
Education is becoming increasingly important no matter what level of your career you are at. Therefore our transitioning Veterans need to be prepared to pursue the necessary education for their new career path. In order to do this they need to be able to use the benefits they earned while on active duty. As a Veteran they may not have had the luxury of attending college or obtaining certifications while on active duty due to various limitations in schedule such as various deployments both local and abroad, varying work shifts, family requirements, etc. As our Veterans transition out of the military they run into many of the issues highlighted below in relation to obtaining education and related benefits: Unsure which college or programs to enter into Lack of proper advising Issues with transferring credits Issues with use of GI Bill Lack of properly trained staff at colleges that understand the military education benefits Lack of accommodations for veterans outside main stream learning Overwhelmed with other responsibilities on top of education Studies in 2015 have shown that a large number of Veterans are getting Associate level degrees in liberal arts and general studies. Unfortunately this level of degree and course selection will not prepare the Veteran to be competitive with those that are getting Bachelor’s degrees or higher in the thriving segments of the market. This information alone highlights that there is a large gap in advising and supporting our Veterans on the proper education to receive. We need to ensure that they are being advised on the proper selection of degrees to ensure they are competitive on the market and can shorten the length of time they are looking for a job. On top of needing to get College degrees many fields also now require some type or level of certification, but which one is the right one. For example the information technology field has as many certifications available as you can imagine for any area possible. Being able to properly position yourself as a veteran to know which of these certifications is the right one can be challenging and overwhelming at times. Then once they have found what they believe to be the right degree or certification it becomes difficult to know which College or training company is the best to attend. In addition some veterans may have credits they obtained but are not enough for a full degree so they will need to be transferred to a new college. This can be cumbersome to get the credits transferred and then matched up to the new college’s criteria. Some veterans have military related challenges that are not accommodated in main stream class settings. Many colleges and universities provide on line learning and are ADA compliant for those with disabilities. Although I have highlighted many issues that Veterans face in relation to obtaining education and the related benefits, there are many colleges and universities that have robust Veterans based programs that will walk Veterans thru the maze of requirements to get on their way to getting their degree and using their benefits. They also provide life experience credit for certain degree requirements which will shorten the time to reach your goal. Bottom line is we need to make the educational opportunities and processes to obtain them more streamlined and accessible to our Veterans. Education is only one area of many that they are working on simultaneously to make a successful transition. We owe it to our Veterans to make all colleges and universities advocates for our veterans ability to gain the proper education. Landmark Life Coaching’s Mission is to honorably and respectfully serve courageous groundbreakers and transitioning veterans to persevere in defining and executing their future by providing an atmosphere of comradery and trust that honors their dedication and commitment. This will empower our clients to feel whole, honored, respected and fulfilled in defining and living their life purpose. by Dwayne Paro
(CNN) By now, you've probably seen or heard the viral story about the judge in North Carolina who spent a night in jail with his fellow veteran. Last month, that same court -- which handles criminal cases involving veterans -- held its first graduation. This "veterans' court" offers people returning from military service who have found themselves in trouble a more humane court experience focused on rehabilitation, and it has captured the imagination of the country. It's a welcome reprieve from the onslaught of examples we see every day of our broken criminal justice system, a bright spot in the midst of great darkness showing us that there is another way to treat people who make mistakes. A judge spending the night in jail with a veteran so he wouldn't be alone? This level of compassion for a fellow human being in need is so extraordinary in our justice system that it may be viewed as an anomaly. But it doesn't have to be. The court made famous by Judge Lou Olivera is not a traditional court, it's a veterans treatment court. And the bond between this judge and the men and women his court serves can be seen in action every single day in each of the more than 264 veterans treatment courts, and nearly 2,966 treatment courts, across the country. While some of our service men and women return home strengthened by their time in the military, veterans involved in the justice system are often struggling with underlying issues stemming from their service -- PTSD, military sexual trauma, brain injuries and substance dependence, to name just a few. Veterans treatment courts recognize that traditional, punitive sentencing doesn't address these root problems. Instead, in these courts, judges work with a team of professionals to ensure veterans are clinically assessed, connected with the evidence-based treatment and services they've earned through the VA, and paired with a volunteer veteran mentor who can guide them through the rigorous demands of the program. All of this support is focused on a single goal of putting each veteran on the road to recovery: getting sober, participating in treatment and counseling, finding employment or going back to school and repairing relationships with their family and community. This approach works, and not just for veterans. Veterans treatment courts are modeled after drug courts, the single most successful alternative to incarceration in our nation's history for leading people struggling with serious addiction out of the justice system and into healthy lives of long-term recovery. Treatment courts are principled about showing compassion, dignity and respect for the absolute value of every person. They're transforming our system from the inside out by helping to prevent people from carrying felony and misdemeanor criminal records; reducing drug use and recidivism; and improving education, employment, housing, and family stability. And they're changing how Americans think about what it means to serve justice. The fact is that these programs -- drug court, veterans' court, and youth court -- are working. Using the court system to focus on rehabilitation instead of just retribution results in people doing better things with their lives. It allows us to avoid the extreme brain drain that far too many neighborhoods are suffering through -- with countless people's talents for work and family wasted behind bars. At #cut50, an organization I co-founded to cut the prison population while making our communities safer, we find these results inspiring. Dealing with the root of the problem as opposed to simply punishing behavior has drastically reduces the risk of recidivism. These means fewer people will commit crimes once they have been through the treatment court. There are approximately 2.2 million Americans behind bars. Nearly 200,000 were veterans in 2011-2012, according to a study released late last year by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, and many would benefit from a treatment court, but do not have access to one. We must expand these innovative, life-saving programs so they're in reach of everyone in need. The fact is that hurt people hurt people -- and we can't break that cycle without allowing people to heal. It says something that this story about a small-town judge struck such a chord -- not just in the United States, but around the world. We're desperate for a system that values compassion above punishment, and promotes health, not handcuffs. The time has come to expand treatment courts, and to make retribution a last resort for use only if rehabilitation fails. By Jessica Jackson Sloan
“No man is an island.” I don’t remember the first time I heard that John Donne quotation, but I suspect, like much of what I heard back in high school English class, it didn’t inspire deep reflection at the time. Looking back through the lens of my time in the Marine Corps, though, it definitely rings true for me — and probably most other veterans — now. Those words have meant a lot of different things to different people over the years, but for me, it speaks to the importance of community. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small Kentucky town with a strong sense of community. My dad, my grandparents, teachers, coaches, friends — they all had a hand in shaping me to be the person I am today. After I joined the Marines, the men and women I served with became vital pieces of that community. Your community inspires you. It encourages you. Community gives you something to fight for and something to come home to. And for most Marines, soldiers, airmen, and sailors, that community eventually grows to include a family of your own. These days, I spend a lot of time talking about veterans’ transition to civilian employment. I have worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program and Toyota to develop an education curriculum and a resume building tool for veterans. Together, we work to help veterans develop a personal brand, to showcase their background, experiences and skill set in a way that civilian employers can understand and value. And it’s working. Veterans are marketing themselves to employers that increasingly recognize their value. The veteran employment landscape has improved dramatically in recent years, and I’m really proud to have been a small part of that effort. Despite these favorable changes for veterans, though, the spouses of our nation’s service members and veterans still face considerable challenges to finding meaningful employment opportunities and building their careers. These spouses, long a symbol of patriotism and sacrifice, represent an incredibly rich talent field for employers. But while these military and veteran spouses possess the education, work and volunteer experience, and soft skills (like tenacity and flexibility) that make them valuable employees, military spouses still face unemployment rates of roughly three times that of their civilian counterparts, and, by some estimates, more than 90% of military spouses are underemployed. Earlier this year, Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) announced that in 2016, the program would renew their efforts to push the issue of military spouse employment to the forefront of the conversation. This week HOH took another an important step toward that goal, announcing that my friend Bonnie Amos, the former first lady of the U.S. Marine Corps, has joined the program as a senior advisor and consultant. I know firsthand the deep level of commitment Bonnie has to our nation’s service members and their families. Her enthusiasm for being a positive force for change was obvious from my earliest conversations with her. After more than 40 years as a military spouse, she keenly understands the unique employment challenges faced by her fellow military spouses. But more than that, she knows the strength and character of the men and women who stand beside their service members, and recognizes the traits, like adaptability and tenacity, that make these same men and women valued employees and hard-working entrepreneurs. Every day, I am inspired by the way our veterans meet the challenge of transitioning to civilian employment head on. I am encouraged by the communities that rally together to support these veterans and the employers who recognize the unique value that veteran employees bring to their companies. Looking to the future, I am optimistic that those same communities and employers will find new and innovative ways to incorporate the talent pool that is the backbone of our military community — military sp ouses. And I am optimistic that Bonnie is up to the task of leading that charge. by Dakota Meyer