The Best Way to say thank you to a vet on Veterans Day — Fix the VA

This weekend and on Monday we salute our veterans: Past, present, old, young, those who served in combat and those who have not.

Each and every one of them answered the call to defend freedom at all costs to benefit something larger than themselves; the greater good of the United States of America.

There are currently over 20 million veterans in America. Each one has a story, has family, and friends. Each with hopes and aspirations for the future. Each put them on hold to defend the Red, White, and Blue.

President John F. Kennedy once said on Veterans Day, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that our highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

How do we thank our veterans? 

Not with a handshake or a hug, but with a population that understands their sacrifices do not come without a price and by ensuring that all of our nation’s heroes receive the proper care and benefits they deserve when they come home from war and transition back into civilian life.

That means not having to suffer through the bureaucratic disarray of the Department of Veterans Affairs or trying to find work in an unstable economy where post 9/11 veterans faced 10.1% unemployment in September.

It means that our nation and government have our veterans best interest as their priority. Our veterans deserve better than what they are currently facing.

Instead, veterans were recently locked out of their war memorials that they fought for, that their friends died for.

They were told that their benefits checks would not go out during the partial government shutdown.

Death gratuity benefits were initially denied to grieving families of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Many veterans are struggling to find work as unemployment for post 9/11 veterans has consistently been in the double digits in recent months.

Some employers are apprehensive about hiring veterans because of the outrageous PTSD stereotype that follows our modern vets due to the false stigma about PTSD in the media and Hollywood.

On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every single day.

The Department of Veterans Affairs data shows that more than one third of new mental health care patients have to wait more than the standard of 14 days to receive an appointment. And in some instances, veterans have to wait more than a month to receive care.

The VA has the funding, the assets, and the personnel to prevent this from happening, but instead our veterans are not receiving the adequate care they deserve.

The VA claims backlog is still out of control.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans have to wait well over a year to receive an answer on the decision of their enrollment eligibility for a first time claim. And follow-on claims or disputed claims can take years to receive an answer.

The VA is not performing as the service oriented department it was intended for. Instead veterans are suffering the stresses and hassles of a dysfunctional bureaucracy.

This is not the environment or the treatment that veterans deserve to come home to after putting their life on the line day in and day out.

If we allow this to continue, what does this say about us as a nation?  Are we are so willing to look past the current status quo of our veterans?

Right now there are still 54,500 US troops fighting the war in Afghanistan. That’s 54,500 people who are missing their families, missing their way of life and missing the freedoms that we as Americans get to enjoy each and everyday.

And you can bet that every time they wake up and strap on their boots before heading out on a patrol, a raid, a convoy or a flight that they remember why they chose to fight for freedoms and liberties that make this nation extraordinary.

Because it’s those who have answered the call to serve, those who are willing to sacrifice, and those that believe our nation should be handed down to future generations as we found it, they are the ones who truly understand the price of freedom.

This freedom that we have grown so accustomed to, that many take for granted in their everyday lives, is a privilege, not a right, which must be preserved.

It is bigger than you and me.

It is a vision of hope, opportunity, and prosperity.

It is fragile, yet resilient and will be defended at all costs.

Our veterans are our nation’s heroes. They stepped up to fight our nation’s wars without question or doubt.

They don’t ask to be paid as much as politicians or NFL players or to be Hollywood celebrities. Instead, they believe in their hearts that our unique nation, the United States of America, is not only worth fighting for, but worth dying for.

They believe the freedoms and liberties that make it exceptional are worth preserving at all costs. They ask for very little, if anything in return for putting their lives on the line.

They understand that they are contributing to the greater good for the sake of our future. The least we can do to show our appreciation is demand that our veterans are being taken care of when they come home.

So this Veterans Day think of what you can do to make our nation a better place here on the home front.

There is still plenty of work to be done. Because if you really want to thank our veterans for their sacrifices, their service to our nation, and for their dedication, we can do so by ensuring they are coming home to the America they fought for and that many died for.

It is because of them that we are able to enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we have grown so fond of.

It is because of them every American has the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. And it is because of them that we are still the most exceptional nation on earth.

Originally published at FoxNews.com http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/11/09/best-way-to-say-thank-to-vet-on-veterans-day-fix-va/

 

Follow Amber on Twitter @AmberBarno

 

Duty, Honor, Country…Unemployed?

Finding work when you get out of the military should be easy enough, right? You have been tried and tested, some even in combat. You have leadership experience and made life and death decisions that surpass anyone else your age.  You are organized, determined, and motivated to succeed. And because of your priceless experiences and training, you have unlimited potential to be an amazing employee. So what’s the problem?

The military veteran unemployment rate is astonishing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in August, it was 6.2%, but for post-9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate was 10%, which is significantly above the national average.  Our country’s persistent unemployment and underemployment problems has created a very intimidating and discouraging—not to mention fiercely competitive—environment for those transitioning from the military to civilian life.

While the overall numbers are slowly declining, finding long-term employment is still a significant problem for too many of our nation’s veterans. For veterans facing this predicament, here are a few things you can do to help you on your quest for employment.

First, treat unemployment as your ‘job.’ Use that time to perfect your résumé, write cover letters, and conduct practice interviews. This should be a 9-to-5 job. There is always more to be done to increase your odds of landing a job. Practice makes perfect. The job isn’t going to come to you, so make it happen. If you get turned down, get back up, and start looking for new prospects.

Stay organized. Applying for multiple jobs can get chaotic in a hurry. Create a file for each job you pursue and keep sticky notes on the front that remind you where you are in the application process. Each job you apply for requires a résumé specific to the job. Make sure you adjust each résumé to reflect the job description and requirements.

When you create resumes and cover letters make sure you accurately translate your military experiences and training into skills that someone with zero military experience will understand.  Your experience leading combat patrols in Afghanistan may make perfect sense to you, but a human resource professional may get confused and needs help to understand how this background applies to the desk job they are seeking to fill. This will result with your application quickly being moved to the NO pile. Ensure your military translation is clear and relevant to the civilian job position. Have your civilian friends and family members review your résumé to see if it makes sense to them.

Be honest and true to yourself, but don’t be too humble and reserved. In the military, we are used to ‘the quiet professional’ being the standard.  Your years of selfless service were about putting others ahead of yourself. In the civilian world, you need to be more vocal and even self-promotional. You have a small window of time to let hiring personnel learn about you and your experiences. Talk yourself and your accomplishments up.  If you don’t do it, no one else will.

Use social media. Coming from the military, it may seem strange to place such an emphasis on social media when job hunting, but it is critical for networking in today’s job market. If you haven’t already, consider joining Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Follow companies you are interested in working for. They will often post job positions or hiring events. Additionally, when you don’t have business cards, LinkedIn is an excellent tool for professionals to find more information about you and possibly contact you.

Use veterans’ organizations. There are many organizations whose sole purpose is to help military veterans become gainfully employed. They specialize in helping with creating resumes, generating a strategy and providing guidance throughout the job search. Contact them and use their services.

Lastly, do not forget about your GI Bill and education benefits. If the job search is not going as planned, consider furthering your education in your field, which in the long run will increase your probability of landing your desired job. Often colleges have job placement programs to help assist with employment.

Most importantly don’t give up. Remember it is better to be under-employed than unemployed. Any form of employment will allow you to get on your feet, reduce financial stress, further network, and advance your skills. Be patient but motivated and never ever give up. Those are skills that will help any veteran excel and that any employer would be happy to have on his or her team.

Additionally published at: http://www.examiner.com/article/duty-honor-country-unemployed

 

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Semper Fi: Gary Sinise, Honorary Marine

Semper Fidelis now has a new meaning to actor and musician Gary Sinise. On August 29, the long time veterans advocate was awarded as an Honorary Marine at a dinner at the home of Marine Corps commandant, General James Amos. During the dinner Sinise was pinned with the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. This is quite unique an honor as only 76 people have shared the title since the Marines inception.

 “This was one of the most extraordinary nights. I was totally surprised by what the general gave me tonight, I’m humbled, shocked, moved and motivated to keep standing up for our men and women and giving back to them,” Sinise said in a statement after being awarded the honor.

General James Amos, who hosted the dinner said “There is little I can say to enhance the rich reputation Gary Sinise has earned, both in the spotlight as an immensely talented actor, and less conspicuously as a tireless advocate for our men and women in uniform. What I can do, what I am privileged and proud to do, is to recognize this humble patriot’s selfless service by making him an Honorary Marine.”  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey attended the dinner as well.

Gary Sinise is a prominent actor, known for his role as Vietnam War veteran LT Dan in the epic film Forest Gump and as Detective Mac Taylor in the TV show CSY: NY.  His interest in helping veterans was sparked in 1994 from his role in Forest Gump as LT Dan. He went on to create a music group called the LT Dan Band and has toured around the globe to different military bases to provide free concerts to military members and their families. Additionally, he created the Gary Sinise Foundation and has raised millions of dollars that provides veterans, troops, and wounded warriors and their families with programs that help give back through education, housing, and entertainment, and more.

Gary Sinise is truly an admirable American who understands the value of our troops and veterans. His continued selfless service and passion for veterans awareness has changed the lives of countless service members and their families. Thank you for your outstanding service to our veterans and congratulations on your well deserved title of Honorary Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper Fi!

For more information on the Gary Sinise Foundation, visit: www. garysinisefoundation.org

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Additionally published at Concerned Veterans for America: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/09/05/semper-fi-gary-sinise-honorary-marine/

Goodbye to an American Hero

On Saturday we lost an American hero. Colonel Bud Day died at the age of 88 at his home surrounded by his family. Day, a retired Air Force Colonel, was a Medal of Honor recipient, received more than 70 medals and served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. His aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam on August 26, 1967. After days of evasion, Day was captured by Viet Cong and taken to the infamous Hanoi Hilton where he was a POW for 5 ½ years.

Day was known for calling it like it is and was a natural leader who cared deeply about others. U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has attributed Day with saving his life while they were POW’s together during Vietnam. He issued the following statement after hearing the news about his friend:

 “Today brings the sad news that my dear friend and comrade, Colonel George E. ‘Bud’ Day, USAF (Ret.) has passed away. I owe my life to Bud, and much of what I know about character and patriotism. He was the bravest man I ever knew, and his fierce resistance and resolute leadership set the example for us in prison of how to return home with honor. I will have much more to say about Bud’s courage, kindness and sense of honor and duty this week. For now, I want to draw Americans’ attention to the passing of this good man and great patriot, and to extend my deepest, most heartfelt condolences to Bud’s wife, Dorie and his children. I will miss him terribly.”

Day was an inspiration and role model to many. The work he did for veterans was selfless and made an impact in many of their lives. Bud Day’s service to our nation was remarkable and we owe him and his family a debt of gratitude for all they have sacrificed. Colonel Day will be missed. Rest In Peace.

Additionally published at http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/07/29/goodbye-to-an-american-hero/

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Our Veterans Deserve Better

Yesterday Concerned Veterans for America and The Weekly Standard joined forces to kick off the first Defend & Reform event of a five part breakfast series of live policy forum, to a sold out crowd in Washington DC. This week’s focus was Reforming Veterans Affairs: Preserving Promises to Those Who Serve. Top veterans organization including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA), American Legion, and AMVETS participated in discussions, as well as former U.S. Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Honorable Anthony Principi and members of the House and Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs.

This solution-oriented event’s sole purpose was to create an open discussion aimed to fix the bureaucracy and leadership issues that are preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs from operating efficiently. There are immediate concerns, such as the 841,000 claims backlog of veterans waiting on results in order to receive benefits, but there are also larger, more systemic leadership issues that must be addressed.

Too many empty promises have been made. Veterans are suffering due to invalid actions from the very department that was created to support them. The purpose of the VA has gotten lost in the vast sea of bureaucracy. Secretary Shinseki continues to insist that the VA backlog will be cleared by 2015. While meeting this goal would be a success, in reality there is not a clearly defined strategy that will deliver the promised end state.

The VA recently announced that it has eliminated 97% of backlogged claims that were at least two years old. While that is refreshing news and a step in the right direction, that it is all it is: a step in the right direction. There is plenty of work to be done, including holding those responsible for the systemic leadership failure on multiple levels.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairmen of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs and speaker at the Reform & Defend event, is critical of Shinseki’s goal of the backlog will be eliminated by 2015, based on current patterns at the VA. Miller believes that Shinseki’s goal is unattainable without presidential leadership and called on President Obama to get involved, stating the problem will only be resolved if leadership “at the very very top” steps in. He goes on to say that even if they are successful at their goal, “if the leadership processes aren’t changed, we’re going to have a backlog again.”

And he’s right. Obama needs to acknowledge that the Department of Veterans Affairs is failing its mission in more ways than one. Obama has continually pledged to help and support veterans long after they return from war. It is time to come through on that promise and demand accountability out of Mr. Shinseki and the entire department.

Concerned Veterans for America has called for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation for his lack of accountability and inability to fix the claims backlog. He has had the time, the funding, and the opportunity to make necessary changes, but has failed to do so.

Enough is enough. It’s time to clean house at the VA. New leadership is the first step of many needed to bring a fresh perspective and problem-solving solutions required to overcome this challenge. Our veterans deserve better than to continually suffer the consequences of a failed bureaucracy.

Click the link below to RSVP for the next Concerned Veterans for America event on July 11, 2013: Defend & Reform: The Need For Spending Reform:        http://concernedveteransforamerica.org/advancereform/register/

Also published at: http://www.examiner.com/article/our-veterans-deserve-better

Follow Amber on Twitter:@AmberBarno

Are All Veterans Created Equal?

There are few things more humbling and patriotic than witnessing a military funeral. Viewing the military customs, the decorative uniforms, and hearing taps echo through the trees, help those in attendance understand and appreciate their sacrifice.

It is an honour. It is a tradition. It is a service that is bestowed only to the finest men and women this country has to offer, its veterans.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan wrote an opinion piece last week that addressed the nation’s debt crisis, offering a solution by starting with cutting military funeral honors. McClellan went as far to say that ‘most veterans did nothing heroic,’ implying veterans’ military funerals are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Well Mr. McClellan, I beg to differ.

Veterans are heroic. Each and every one of them. It doesn’t matter if they served as a cook or as an Infantryman. No matter the reason, each veteran felt the need to serve his or her country, which is heroic enough in itself. We need more brave men and women like our veterans in this country.

They understood the need to protect something larger than themselves and defend this great nation that has provided so many opportunities for so many people. They all take the same oath to protect and serve the United States of America no matter what the job title.

By joining the military, each person knows that there is a significant chance he or she could end up fighting our nation’s wars where their outcome is unknown. While certain jobs may be considered more dangerous than another, one does not diminish the other. The military is a team effort and it does not succeed with out the combined force. Each and every veteran matters. Our Nation’s veterans are not expendable and either are the honors they have respectfully earned.

McClellan stated “Everybody knows government needs to cut costs,” before making the recommendation that we start by stripping veterans of the honours they undoubtedly deserve, he may want to dig a bit deeper and see what the federal government is spending tax dollars on.

Might I suggest that McClellan research the area of government waste to discover the plethora of ‘smaller programs’ that could be at the top of the list above making any cuts to veterans programs. Make cuts in areas that are wasting taxpayer dollars. Do not disrespect the small but significant percentage of people who have defended our country so bravely.

Our veterans do not deserve to suffer for the inabilities of political leadership. They deserve to be recognised by the federal government with military honors if they so desire.

I’ve been to military funerals. I’ve served on military funeral details. I’ve been a military pallbearer. Let me tell you that it does matter.

It makes a difference to families and friends. It matters to fellow veterans. It matters that we as a nation value honoring all of our veterans who have done so much for our country. I for one think it is a disgrace to attack our veterans’ military honors for fiscal mismanagement.

Follow Amber on Twitter at @AmberBarno

Published at The Commentator: http://www.thecommentator.com/article/3115/are_all_veterans_created_equal