A couple months ago I attended the Military Influencer Conference. There were a lot of great creators and entrepreneurs there, but one group of people stood out to me. I met a few people representing a product called Everence. Everence is a patented technology that allows you to add DNA from a loved one into any new or existing tattoo.
I know tattoos are a common thing in the military and Veteran community, and I had my own curiosity, led me to inviting a member of their team onto Borne the Battle to talk about it.
Boyd Renner, one of the co-founders of Everence, served in the Navy for 28 years. He served at SEAL Team Two for four years and served over 23 years at Naval Special Warfare Development Group.
He's going to talk to us about his time as a Navy SEAL, his transition out of the military, and the unique product Everence.
I promote the Veterans Crisis Line whenever I can. It is a very important resource to be aware of and I try to remind people however I can. I've used the line to help a friend in need. I encourage everyone to put the number in their phone.
1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
So, in this episode of Borne the Battle, I decided to spotlight the Veterans Crisis Line. In the future, I hope to talk to someone that works there to get their perspective as well. For this week, I explain the different ways you can contact the VCL and the following frequently asked questions:
What happens if I don't press 1?
Can I use the Veterans Crisis Line even if I'm already receiving care from VA?
What mental health services are available from VA?
Do I have to give my name or share personal information when I call the Veterans Crisis Line?
If I share personal information, will it be kept confidential?
Last year I had the honor to visit Pearl Harbor for the 75th Commemoration of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The ceremony was sobering, as a naval ship lined with sailors passed by the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. The honor and recognition given to those that lost their lives on December 7, 1941 was echoed by each person in attendance at the official ceremony.
However, the most powerful moments of my trip were not at any of the events or ceremonies. They were when I joined my colleague to interview a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors. We had the pleasure of talking with Alfred "Uncle Al Rodriguez, Everett Hyland, and, today's feature interview, Sterling Cale.
Sterling served in the Navy as a pharmacist's mate and was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Sterling shares his perspective during the attack, how he responded, and his role in recovering bodies afterwards. His story is profound and one we're honored to have heard straight from him.
Veteran homelessness is an issue that is very concerning in our community. VA is committed to aiding those that are homeless or at risk for homelessness. That second part is so important to remember. If a Veteran is experiencing family or financial issues that may lead to them being without stable housing, they should approach VA to get connected with the resources they need. We have a "no wrong door" policy. That means no matter how you contact VA about being homeless or at risk for it, that person will get you connected with the people you need to talk to.
Many communities around the nation have proudly announced that they have effectively ended Veteran homelessness in their area. That doesn't mean that there are no homeless Veterans at any given time. It means that they are prepared and have systems in place to aid any Veteran identified as homeless or at-risk for homelessness and get them back into stable housing.
I decided to speak with my colleague at the Homeless Veterans Outreach and Communications Office. He shares with us the ways VA communicates with Veterans regarding homelessness, the challenges in reaching Veterans, and how VA approaches that outreach.
A few weeks ago we released episode 1103 of The American Veteran, a compilation of videos and stories from around our community. Included in that episode was an interview we recently conducted with Secretary Shulkin about improvements around VA, modernizing the processes, and announcements being made.
I wanted to make sure you all heard this interview, so I decided to make it this week's feature interview. My colleague, Melissa Heintz, sat down with Secretary Shulkin to discuss where VA is 8 months into his watch.
Native Americans serve our country at a high rate compared to other demographics. Many of us are familiar with the Navajo Code Talkers, who were key to our victory in World War II. As we round off Native American Heritage Month, I wanted to spotlight VA's efforts to deliver benefits to Native Veterans and work with their tribes.
The Office of Tribal Government Relations (OTGR) works to strengthen and build closer relations between the VA, tribal governments and other key federal, state, private and non-profit partners in an effort to effectively and respectfully serve Veterans across Indian Country. This work is done in the spirit of government to government consultation and collaboration, respectful of the special relationship that exists between the United States and tribal governments.
I sat down with my colleague, Stephanie Birdwell, who is the Director of OTGR. She talks with us about how her office works with tribal governments, how these partnerships help deliver benefits to Native Veterans, and the nuances of these benefits as it relates to Native Veterans (such as VA home loan for property on tribal land).
Covered in Episode 63:
Navy Veteran Alex Rucshner joins Borne the Battle to tell us about Progressive Insurance's program "Keys to Success" where they help out Veterans in need by gifting them a car. Listen in to learn about this amazing initiative!
This week's Benefits Breakdown explains how to find your local facility on social media and how following them can help you discover news and developments coming from that medical center.
To all of our Veterans out there: Thank you for your service. This is your day. Enjoy it however you see fit.
Happy Birthday, Marines! Today's episode features Marine Veteran Craig Grossi, who met his best friend, Fred, in Afghanistan and figured out a way to get him back to the United States. This story is a fun and heart felt one and I know you're going to love it.
Covered in Episode 60:
Mika currently leads the Strategic Communications team at the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS). She brings years of experience in public service and continued service to Veterans. She joins the podcast to discuss her service in the Army, her transition to civilian life, and resources for Veterans to be aware of at the Department of Labor.
Covered in Episode 59:
Today we bring you a Storytellers alum Phil Klay. Klay’s New York Times-bestselling short story collection won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2014. His book Redeployment also received the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s James Webb award for fiction. He spoke at Storytellers in 2014 and our discussion with him gets into the art of storytelling, and the benefits of expressing yourself through words, whether or not you end up delivering or publishing them.
Covered in Episode 58:
Sebastian Junger, award winning journalist and author of "Tribe," is the first non-Veteran who isn't the Secretary, to be on the podcast. I believe he makes a great fit with his experience in conflict zones and his longtime relationship with the military community. Junger is going to share his thoughts on storytelling and the importance of sharing your military experience with your community.
The newly branded podcast is here! Borne the Battle is the same great content but simply under a different name. This first episode is an introduction to a new program we'll be publishing in this feed called Benefits Breakdown. Each Monday, I will focus on one resource, office, or benefits at VA that Veterans should be aware of and better understand.
Today's topic is Explore.VA.gov. Learn how to use the site, the Benefits Navigator, and other elements on the web page. Be sure to share with a Veteran!
When we first launched the podcast, initial response questioned whether or not our audience would hear from Veterans that have had trouble with VA. A few of my guests in the past have alluded to challenges with VA health care, but I wanted to to dig a little deeper and talk with someone that has a wide range of experiences with VA. Kevin Leverence and I have known each other for a few years after he first appeared on my podcast 1, 2, Many: Veteran Suicide. I followed up with him earlier this year asking if he'd be willing to share his experiences on This Week at VA and he generously agreed. Kevin did not have a good introduction to VA and it took a few frustrating iterations before he finally broke through some sticking points and found the help he was looking for. Kevin is going to share stories from joining the military and his military service, his transition out of the Marine Corps, frustrations with VA, and finally getting the care he needed. Lots of great talk about patient advocates, Vet Centers, different types of therapy, and much more.
Covered in Episode 55:
A couple weeks ago we published a special episode with the Center for Minority Veterans to feature a panel that was originally scheduled for the Women Veterans Summit. One panel member was missing from that episode, so I brought Melissa Castillo on to interview her as our featured guest. Melissa talks to us about her military service, working for VA, and her experience as a woman minority Veteran.
About Melissa Castillo:
Ms. Melissa Castillo enlisted in the US Navy. She completed basic training and Torpedoman’s Mate “A” School at the Naval Air Station, Orlando, FL. Her duty station included on board the USS Simon Lake (AS-33) in La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy; Naval Submarine Base, New London, CT; and Naval Operational Support Center, San Antonio, TX.
Ms. Castillo has over 10 years of experience in VA benefits. She is accredited by Texas Veterans Commission and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) as a Veterans Service Officer.
Covered in Episode 53:
One great thing about podcasting is the ability to think, "hey, I want to talk to that person," and then taking action to make it happen. When I learned that Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva is a former Army Ranger, I knew I wanted to talk with him. Al was nice enough to make time for This Week at VA and spoke to us about his experience in the military, transitioning to the NFL, and being a Veteran in a high-exposure arena.
Alejandro attended SHAPE American High School (Casteau, Belgium) and after graduating from West Point, he spent 2010-13 serving as an Army officer and served three tours in Afghanistan. He earned numerous honors for his service, including the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge. He is the son of Ignacio and Mati Villanuev. His father was a Lieutenant Commander in the Spanish Navy and also worked for NATO throughout Europe.
Covered in Episode 53:
The 2017 National Women Veterans Summit put on by VA's Center for Women Veterans (CWV) was cut short due to Hurricane Harvey. The CWV has been developing ways to deliver information from the summit and I've collaborated with them to produce a podcast, with support of the Center for Minority Veterans, on minority women Veterans. Barbara Ward, the Director for CMV, lead a panel with Teresita Smith, Juanita Mullen, and Ginger Miller. They discuss
About Center for Minority Veterans:
The Center for Minority Veterans is the Department of Veterans Affairs model for inter-and intra-agency co-operation, to ensure all veterans receive equal service regardless of race, origin, religion, or gender. We are process improvement-oriented and both internal and external customer-centric. We assist VA in executing its mission in the most equitable, efficient and humane way possible. Dignity and an acceptable quality of life are the products we seek to deliver to ALL veterans no matter what their circumstance. We will grace our mission execution with gratitude to the men and women we now serve who in turn served our Nation so well.
Covered in Episode 52:
I've published more than 500 podcast episodes in my podcast career. A couple times a year, there's usually an exciting interview, one that feels like a badge of honor. This week's episode of This Week at VA features the epitome of those interviews. Thanks to a colleague and the great folks at Duke, I had the opportunity to interview Mike Krzyzewski, coach of the men's basketball team at Duke University. As many of you know, Coach K has won multiple NCAA championship titles and is considered a legend in the sport. What many people may not know, is that he is a West Point graduate and a former Army officer. Coach K talks to us about his decision to go to West Point, transitioning from military to college coaching, developing young players, and his experience in the Army.
About Coach Mike Krzyzewski (before his career at Duke):
Coach K's disciplined, mentally tough teams can be seen as an extension of his own upbringing. Krzyzewski went to West Point and enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy to receive a quality education, play basketball and become an officer in the Army. From 1969-74, Krzyzewski served his country, directing service teams for three years and serving a two-year stint as head coach at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School in Belvoir, Va. In 1974, he resigned from the Army having attained the rank of Captain. When Coach K was just 26, Knight, his former coach at Army, offered him a graduate assistant-ship at Indiana University. That 1975 squad posted an 18-0 mark in the Big Ten and a 31-1 overall record. Prior to his arrival at Duke in 1980, Krzyzewski spent five years building the program at his alma mater in West Point. He led the Cadets to one NIT berth, one ECAC playoff appearance and an overall record of 73-59.
Covered in Episode 51:
I knew I wanted to do something unique or cool for episode number 50. I've decided to flip the microphone and let someone else ask me the questions I typically ask my guests. My colleague Melissa Heintz stepped in to host and asked me about my service in the Marine Corps, my transition into civilian life, working with podcasts, and working at VA.
Timothy has been a member of VA’s Digital Media Engagement team since April 2016. His scope includes blog writing, video production, and launching VA’s first ever podcast. He graduated from American University’s School of Communications in 2016 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Tim is a Marine Corps Veteran having served as a Marine Security Guard and was posted at embassies in Algiers, Algeria; Moscow, Russia; and Lima, Peru.
Covered in Episode 50:
The wonderful people over at Got Your 6 emailed me one day asking if I wanted to do a round table podcast talking about the Forever GI Bill. I was in right away. The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 AKA the Forever GI Bill works to improve education benefits for Veterans, their dependents, and their survivors. On the panel we have Ashlynne Haycock from TAPS, Lauren Augustine from Got Your 6, and William Hubbard from SVA. The three of them are going to tell me all about the development and execution of this bill.
Covered in Episode 49:
While I was in Nashville last month, I visited an organization called Operation Stand Down Tennessee (OSDTN). OSDTN assists Veterans and their families so they can be self-sustaining and better connected to the community. I sat down with Kevin Quarles, a Navy Veteran and staff member at OSDTN, to learn about his service, the value that OSDTN brings to its community, and his personal efforts with the organization.
Covered in Episode 48:
On September 11, 2001, four planes crashed on the east coast. Two planes flew into the World Trade Center. One plane skipped off of the ground before hitting the Pentagon. The last plane crashed in an open field in Pennsylvania. Thousands were killed or hurt. Millions were impacted.
One question we often ask each other is "Where were you on September 11? For some of us, that moment was a day in the military. I think its interesting to see how much the world has changed after that tragic day. So, I curated a set of audio clips from the podcast where guests comment on where they were on 9/11 or how the military around them changed due to the attacks.
Featured audio from:
However, at the end of the day, Patriots Day is about remembrance. The story that sticks out to me from the podcast regarding 9/11 came from Army Veteran Dee McWilliams, who briefly shared how the attack at the Pentagon directly affected her.
We will never forget those that lost. We will never lose our gratitude for those that responded to save others that day. And we will always remember to appreciate those that decided to serve and protect our freedom, inspired by that tragic day.
I hope you all had safe Patriots Day and found your own personal way to remember.
I was recently down in Nashville and scouted some Veterans to interview. A friend introduced me to Charlie Smith, the president of the Veterans group at Lipscomb University. Charlie and I weren't able to sit down for an interview while I was there, but recently connected for a Skype call where we talk about his journey in the Marine Corps, his aspirations for getting commissioned, being a student Veteran and leading his group on campus.
Covered in Episode 47: