Sunday, August 30, 2009

Program Update

Dear friends of FSU EBV,

The dust has finally settled and all of the bills have been paid for FSU EBV 2009. If you were fortunate enough to meet this wonderful group, I know you were impressed by their enthusiasm and work ethic. In fact, they actually complained (gently) when we tried to give them a relaxed evening of fun. They wanted to get back to work on their presentations. Equally impressive was the dedication and hard work put in by all of the volunteers that made this possible. The countless hours that they devoted to this effort proves to me that the spirit of service is alive and well at Florida State.

One of the highlights of this year’s program was the spontaneous flag retirement ceremony. We were returning from dinner at the Torreya Grill which was just across the parking lot from our hotel. As we were walking, one of the vets noticed the tattered and faded American Flag flying at the hotel. It was in a sad state and this veteran decided to do something about it. He took up a collection from among his classmates and they purchased a new flag. As luck or fate would have it, Flag Day was two days later. So on the 13th of June, in front of the hotel and in-between thunderstorms, the veterans staged a flag retirement ceremony. The ceremony was conducted in military tradition, replete with salutes and facing movements. Needless to say, witnessing these 19 disabled veterans honor the flag of the country they so selflessly served, left an indelible impression on all of us present.

Another highlight occurred when we took them to Doak Campbell Stadium for a “tailgate” styled reception. Our team of amazing volunteers pulled out all the stops and worked closely with FSU Athletic Director, Randy Spetman’s staff to absolutely stun the veterans. As the veterans were on the football field meeting the varsity football team and tossing around footballs, all of their pictures, names, and hometowns, were projected from the Jumbotron, one at a time. The looks in their eyes as they realized what was happening was priceless. They all cheered one another’s moment of fame as each successive photo flashed across the giant screens. I think it is safe to say that as of that moment, there were 19 new Seminole fans.

Regarding their progress as entrepreneurs, the 2009 class of 19 veterans has been quite busy since the conclusion of the program. We are in constant contact with them and several have hit the ground running. Many of them are still researching the feasibility of their ideas and to that end we worked out an arrangement with the FSU library to allow them access to FSU’s research databases for the 12 months following their completion of the program. This is an incredible asset which will allow them to conduct sophisticated market analyses. At least 5 of our class of 2009 have established LLC’s, 2 of which are already generating revenue, while another has already bid on two federal government contracts. Another vet is preparing for the required state certification and licensing for his venture, another is investigating a franchise opportunity, while another is registering as a 501C3. I am sure the months ahead will bring much exciting news as this amazing bunch pursues their dreams.

At the national level, UCLA, Texas A&M, and Syracuse have all concluded their programs as well, and Purdue’s vets arrive tomorrow. I recently returned from speaking at Syracuse’s program, and true to form, they put together a stellar program. In fact, several of the Syracuse veteran’s have already contacted me. The collective impact of what we are accomplishing is nothing short of amazing. We will work on putting together a national newsletter that highlights the accomplishments of EBV grads from across the country.

We are already gearing up for FSU EBV 2010 with our tentative dates for the in-residence program being 8-16 June. The applications continue to come in daily, so we are almost certain that the demand for the program will far exceed our capacity. That being said, we are still striving to make every eligible disabled veteran aware of this great opportunity. Yet as always, our biggest challenge is in fundraising. Please consider pledging your support to this worthwhile program. Sufficient pledges to the 2010 program will allow us to move forward in our planning with confidence that we will have adequate funds. The past two years have been tenuous as we were not fully funded until the last minute.

On a final note, FSU EBV has formally been aligned under the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship (JMI) here in the College of Business. As the new Managing Director of JMI, I will continue to be the program director for FSU EBV and will continue to work towards making it a permanent component of the service and outreach efforts of JMI, the College of Business, and Florida State University.

I will send more updates over the coming months. Please feel free to forward this email to others that may be interested in supporting our effort. Also, my schedule permitting, I am happy to speak to groups about our program.

On behalf of all of the veterans and the entire team of FSU EBV volunteers, we wish to thank you for all you have done to make this possible.

Monday, June 8, 2009

We have just finished the on-line portion of our class for 2009 and our vets are excited about coming to Tallahassee for the in-residence part of the program (9-17 June). This year we will be hosting 20 disabled veterans and have nearly 30 guest speakers scheduled. Our 2009 class represents each of the four services and our vets will be coming in from 12 different states (6 from FL, 2 each from LA, AL, & NY, and 1 each from SC, AR, TN, NC, VA, GA, TX, & CA). We also have some exciting news to share. DLA Piper, one of the largest Law Firms in the world, has decided to partner with EBV at the national level. DLA Piper has more than 3,700 lawyers located in 28 countries and 66 offices throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the US. Their expertise is in helping companies with their legal needs anywhere in the world. Their role in EBV is to make our program one of their pro bono options from which their lawyer may choose. In 2007 alone, DLA Piper dedicated more than 150,000 hours of pro bono and corporate social responsibility (CSR) work to benefit worthy people and causes around the world. We are proud to have them join the EBV team. What this will mean to our program is that a DLA lawyer will present at our EBV residency and DLA Piper will also be a resource for EBV graduates following their completion of the program. This is great news and will be a wonderful asset to our vets.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Welcome Home Troops

Memorial Day is a national holiday intended to honor our men and women who died while in the military service. As we pause to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us, let us also appreciate those that have been prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice, yet ultimately were not called upon to do so.

As a nation we citizens ask our young among us to serve their country voluntarily. We ask them to do our nation’s bidding, regardless of their background, race, gender, religion or political ideology. As a nation we ask them to leave their friends, families and hometowns, and to risk life and limb so that we, as their fellow citizens, may continue to prosper and enjoy our cherished civil liberties. Indeed, the notion of the citizen soldier is at the very core of our national ideology.
In doing our bidding, our military has become particularly skilled at taking our youth and transforming them into our warriors. Billions of dollars are spent every year to develop and maintain our all volunteer military. The various services recruit individuals from all walks then through great expense and deliberate process, socialize them into our national military instrument of power. This process, this ideology, and our citizen soldier, has served us well throughout our history.

Yet as a nation, we take much less care and show much less concern for our citizen soldiers when they hang up their uniform. We expect them to return to the way they were. We expect them to somehow undo the processes and experiences that transformed them into our agents of military might. As our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen return to civilian life, in some cases abruptly and unexpectedly, they often find themselves no longer “fitting” with their civilian peer group counterparts. Their socialized view of the world and their experiences represent a markedly different perspective. In many cases these socialized service men and women find it difficult to even fit in with former peers groups in which they previously belonged. When we consider those that experienced combat or even more dramatic, those that have experience the lasting imprint of combat (i.e., service disabled either physically or psychologically), the problem is compounded immensely.

While the military works hard at transition assistance and the Veteran’s Administration has many worthwhile programs to help veterans find jobs and even retrain for new jobs, we as citizens need to do more to re-assimilate our soldiers back into our communities. As a society, we seem to assume that post-military transition is largely the realm and primary responsibility of the military and the Veterans Administration. I suggest it is our responsibility as citizens. We asked these men and women to transition into our warriors, now let’s go beyond placing a yellow magnetic ribbon on our vehicles and embrace their return to our communities through action. We as citizens must open wide the doors of our businesses, organizations, communities, and hearts. Welcome home Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman and thanks for your service.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hard Times for Vets

New Veterans Hit Hard by Economic Crisis

New York Times: November 17, 2008
After a mortar sent Andrew Spurlock hurtling off a roof in Iraq, ending his Army career in 2006, the seasoned infantryman set aside bitterness over his back injury and began to chart his life in storybook fashion: a new house, a job as a police officer and more children.

Andrew Spurlock, cleaning his daughter Aaliyah’s hand in their kitchen in Longwood, Fla., has had trouble finding a job after he returned from duty in Iraq.
“We had a budget and a plan,” said Mr. Spurlock, 29, a father of three, who with his wife, Michelle, hoped to avoid the pitfalls of his transition from Ramadi, Iraq, to Apopka, Fla.
But the move proved treacherous, as it often does for veterans. The job with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office fell through after officials there told Mr. Spurlock that he needed to “decompress” after two combat tours, a judgment that took him by surprise. Scrambling, he settled for a job delivering pizzas.
Mr. Spurlock’s disability claim for his back injury took 18 months to process, a year longer than expected. With little choice, the couple began putting mortgage payments on credit cards. The family debt climbed to $60,000, a chunk of it for medical bills, including for his wife and child. Foreclosure seemed certain.
While few Americans are sheltered from the jolt of the recent economic crisis, the nation’s newest veterans, particularly the wounded, are being hit especially hard. The triple-whammy of injury, unemployment and waiting for disability claims to be processed has forced many veterans into foreclosure, or sent them teetering on its edge, according to veterans’ organizations.
The problem is hard to quantify because there are no foreclosure statistics singling out veterans and service members. Congress recently asked the Veterans Affairs Department to find out how badly veterans were being affected, particularly by foreclosures. The Army, too, began tracking requests for help on foreclosure issues for the first time. Service organizations report that requests for help from military personnel and new veterans, especially those who were wounded, mentally or physically, and are struggling to keep their houses and pay their bills, has jumped sharply.
“The demand curve has gone almost straight up this year,” said Bill Nelson, executive director for USA Cares, a nonprofit group that provides financial help to members of the military and to veterans. Housing, Mr. Nelson said, “is the biggest driver in the last 12 months.”
Congress has recently taken small steps to help, banning lenders from foreclosing on military personnel for nine months after their return from overseas, up from three months, and ensuring that interest rates on their loans remain stable for a year. Another relief bill to prevent certain injured veterans from losing their homes while they wait for their disability money was signed into law in October. The protection is good for one year.
“We owe these men and women more than a pat on the back,” said Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who introduced one of the bills.
But the short-term measures do little to address the underlying economic difficulties that new veterans face, beginning with the job hunt. Veterans, particularly those in their 20s, have faced higher unemployment rates in recent years than those who never served in the military, though the gap has shrunk as the economy has worsened. (Veterans traditionally have lower unemployment rates than nonveterans.)
Recently discharged veterans, though, fared worst of all. A 2007 survey for the Veterans Affairs Department of 1,941 combat veterans who left the military mostly in 2005 showed nearly 18 percent were unemployed as of last year. The average national jobless rate in October was 6.5 percent.
A quarter of those who found jobs failed to make a living wage, earning less than $21,840 a year.
“You fill out a job application and you can’t write ‘long-range reconnaissance and sniper skills,’ ” said Mr. Spurlock, who searched a year for a better-paying job than delivering pizza, finally finding one as a construction supervisor.
The situation is especially troubling for the injured, whose financial problems begin almost immediately.
“The wife drops everything to be by his bedside,” said Meredith Leyva, founder of Operation Homefront, a nonprofit group that provides emergency money and aid to 33,000 military families a year, including the Spurlocks. “She stays at the nearest hotel to make sure he is alive. They live that way for months. She either has to quit her job or she is fired. This bankrupts people.”

Some injured veterans cannot work at all and must rely on disability checks and other government payouts. The wait for a disability check from the Veterans Affairs Department averaged six months in August, enough to financially crush some families.
Those who can work struggle to find employers willing to accommodate their injuries, including mental health problems. The Labor Department recently started a Web site, America’s Heroes at Work, that prods employers into hiring more wounded veterans and explains that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are manageable conditions and not necessarily long-term.
Some believe that the government has to do more.
“There have to be incentives for employers,” said Thomas L. Wilkerson, a retired Marine Corps general who is chief executive of the Naval Institute, an independent nonprofit group.
Active duty troops who switch installations also find themselves struggling. Many of those forced to sell their homes this year are finding a scarcity of buyers, or even renters, particularly in states hit hard by the mortgage crisis. Military spouses must choose between taking a loss on their homes or riding out the housing slowdown and facing another separation from their loved one.
Although the government offers safeguards for some federal employees in similar circumstances, it will not help service members make up the difference if they are forced to sell a home at a loss.
What is worse, foreclosure or excessive debt can damage a service member’s career by leading to discharge, the loss of security clearances or, in extreme cases, jail.
A 2007 California task force reported that in the Navy, the number of security clearances revoked because of debt increased to 1,999 in 2005, from 124 in 2000.
“It’s the crash in the market,” said Joe Gladden, managing partner of Veteran Realty Service America’s Military, who sees families in extremis out of Northern Virginia. “It’s not that they have made stupid decisions.”
Mr. Gladden said e-mail messages and phone calls to his office had become so routine that he encouraged military families to share their stories anonymously on his company Web site,
“I am about sick over this situation,” one woman wrote. “Our two young boys have to go without seeing Daddy until we can sell our house. Not only that, but we face the possibility of Daddy deploying to Iraq again. Shouldn’t we be able to spend as much time together until that happens?”
For the Hatchers, the financial decline began after Roger, a Navy reservist and father of four, returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq. When he got back to Ventura, Calif., in 2004, his job as a groundskeeper for a school district was gone. He was offered a custodial job for less pay. Mr. Hatcher decided to find another job. He looked for several months, then was redeployed to Iraq. By then, the family had moved to Bakersfield, to a cheaper house near relatives.
His second tour was tougher. Iraq had grown more violent, and in late 2006, Mr. Hatcher was blown out of a Humvee after it hit a roadside bomb. The blast injured his shoulder, arm and neck. Back home, Mr. Hatcher, 49, fell prey to nightmares and rages. He drank heavily, said Tami, his wife of two decades. The pain in his shoulder never let up.
It took Mr. Hatcher eight months to find a job, and the family fell behind on their house payments. A disability claim filed in 2007 was still pending in August, Mrs. Hatcher said.
Mr. Hatcher wound up hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder three times. “We noticed there was a change after the first tour, but not as drastic as this time,” Mrs. Hatcher said. “The person comes back a different person, and then you have financial issues on top of it.”
His new employer, a construction company, welcomed him back after each medical absence. Still, weeks off the job meant weeks without pay.
Meanwhile, the mortgage company ratcheted up the pressure. Feeling cornered, the Hatchers signed a forbearance agreement, which significantly increased their monthly payment. “They knew about my husband’s situation,” Mrs. Hatcher said of the mortgage company. “They wouldn’t work with us.”
The Hatchers borrowed from friends and relatives but still came up short. Then two nonprofit groups stepped in to help. One of them, Operation Homefront, negotiated with the lender to keep them in their house.
Mrs. Hatcher, a purchasing agent, tried her best to shield her husband from their financial troubles. “It’s putting a big strain on me,” she admitted. “But only one of us can lose it at a time right now, and it’s his turn.”
The Spurlocks, back in Florida, were not so lucky. Operation Homefront managed to stop foreclosure proceedings, but the couple had to agree to a deed in lieu, turning over their house to the bank. Their debt was forgiven.
The family moved into a rental house and whittled down its credit card debt to $26,000.
“It feels impossible right now to pay off our bills,” said Michelle Spurlock, 28, her voice breaking. “I had to get my mom to bring diapers over. We couldn’t go grocery shopping. As soon as we turn a corner, it’s something else.”

Increasing Homelessness Among Female vets

New York Tines, January 22, 2009

A FAR-REACHING network of private and public agencies serves homeless veterans in Connecticut, with group homes and caseworkers helping former military members live normally again. But that network now faces the fallout from a signal change in the nation’s military policy — namely, the shift to female combatants. The number of homeless female veterans is also growing, with fewer resources to help them.
Earlier this month, though, an organization that runs two group homes for homeless male veterans in Bridgeport sought to build a similar facility in Norwalk for women. The organization, the Applied Behavioral Rehabilitation Institute, was outbid in its effort to buy city land for the project, but the leaders of the initiative said that if it did not happen in Norwalk, they would find someplace else.
“It’s going to happen,” said Joy Kiss, the organization’s executive director. “We will make it happen.”
Ms. Kiss, a former nurse, stood with her arms folded near the entrance of Homes for the Brave, one of the Bridgeport facilities, which houses 42 veterans who stay in dormitory-style rooms. The home has served roughly 500 veterans since opening in 2002.
Even including the 20 or so beds that would make up the new women’s home, Ms. Kiss described a grim calculus for female veterans. Ten years ago women represented 3 percent of homeless veterans, she said, compared with 5 percent now. About 180,000 female troops now serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We know that when they return, the need will be there,” Ms. Kiss said.
Most of the women who would be candidates for the new home are frequent visitors to the Errera Community Care Center, a Department of Veterans Affairs outpost in West Haven that offers counseling, employment help and other services. On a frigid Tuesday this month, the center’s bright hallways filled with the smell of stuffed cabbage, boiled peas and coleslaw, as dozens of men and women shed heavy coats and lined up for a free lunch served on disposable plates.
Five women took their lunch in Meeting Room 12, after finishing a group discussion for female veterans. All but one declined to provide their full names, to avoid embarrassment.
Among them was Lavalla, who characterized herself as being “one step away from homelessness,” and who now lives in the basement of her brother-in-law’s home as she recovers from breast cancer. A pediatric dental assistant in her late 30s , she has been hospitalized twice for emotional issues and has not worked steadily since her diagnosis.
To Lavalla’s right sat Stephanie. A former marine who served in Lebanon and Grenada, she has fought homelessness and psychiatric issues for about eight years, but has recently received a federal housing grant and moved into her own apartment.
Dorothea Trueheart, 53, a former nurse, said she had been raped in the Army, and as a child. “I’m bipolar, manic-depressive,” she said. “I get seizures. I’m a diabetic. I have anger issues.”
Now that she has moved into her own apartment in Bridgeport, things have improved. “I can cook and clean and take my medication much more than when I was homeless,” Ms. Trueheart said. “When I’m off my medication it’s like I’m in a tornado, and I always get arrested for assault. I become what they call ‘a danger.’”
After the meeting, Laurie Harkness, the Errera Center’s director, said those who offer social services to veterans have begun devising more ways to integrate veterans in the community. “People heal by living in the community,” she said.
Ms. Harkness, a career social worker with a penchant for hiring former homeless veterans, said she expects to find little resistance among communities where the Applied Behavioral Rehabilitation Institute might build the women’s home.
Still, she said she is braced for the possibility. “We actually bring up property values because we’re good neighbors,” she said. “But it’s the stigma. It’s so powerful.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A story that I had to share.

Joe Galloway - Co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once..... And Young"
McClatchy Newspapers

Over the last 12 months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded and facing months or years in military hospitals.

This week, I'm turning my space over to a good friend and former roommate,Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, who recently completed a year long tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon.

Here's Lt. Col. Bateman's account of a little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause and many tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on May 17 on the Weblog of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media Matters forAmerica Website.

"It is 110 yards from the "E" ring to the "A" ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant the entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, all crammed tightly three and four deep against the walls. There are thousands here.

This hallway, more than any other, is the Army' hallway. The G3 officesline one side, G2 the other, G8 is around the corner. All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each other, cross the way and renew their friendships.

Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area. The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares.10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outer most of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the building.. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway.

A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier inthe wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating.. By his age I expect that he is a private, or perhaps a private first class.

Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier. Three years ago when I described one of these events, those lining the hallways were somewhat different. The applause a little wilder, perhaps in private guilt for not having shared inthe burden. Yet.

Now almost everyone lining the hallway is, like the man in the wheelchair,also a combat veteran. This steadies the applause, but I think deepens the sentiment. We have all been there now. The soldier's chair is pushed by, I believe, a full colonel. Behind him, and stretching the length from Rings E to A, come more of his peers, each private, corporal, or sergeant assisted as need be by a field grade officer.

11:00 hours: Twenty-four minutes of steady applause. My hands hurt, and I laugh to myself at how stupid that sounds in my own head. My hands hurt.. Please! Shut up and clap. For twenty-four minutes, soldier aftersoldier has come down this hallway - 20, 25, 30. Fifty-three legs come with them, and perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but down this hall came 30 solid hearts.

They pass down this corridor of officers and applause, and then meet for a private lunch, at which they are the guests of honor, hosted by the generals. Some are wheeled along. Some insist upon getting out of their chairs, to march as best they can with their chin held up, down this hallway, through this most unique audience. Some are catching handshakes and smiling like a politician at a Fourth of July parade. More than a couple of them seem amazed and are smiling shyly.

There are families with them as well: the 18-year-old war-bride pushing her19-year-old husband's wheelchair and not quite understanding why her husband is so affected by this, the boy she grew up with, now a man, who had never shed a tear is crying; the older immigrant Latino parents who have, perhaps more than their wounded mid-20s son, an appreciation for the emotion given on their son's behalf. No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by the silent tears on more than a few cheeks. An Airborne Ranger wipes his eyes only to better see. A couple of the officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in the past.

These are our men, broken in body they may be, but they are our brothers,and we welcome them home. This parade has gone on, every single Friday, all year long, for more than four years. Did you know that?

The media hasn't yet told the story. And probably never will.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

We have finished our selection of veterans. It was a very competitive process with over 40 applications to consider. We will be hosting 22 disabled veterans here at FSU in June.

Friday, April 17, 2009

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