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:
When I first started podcasting in the Veteran space, often spoke with creatives: authors, artists, musicians, etc. I learned there are a lot of Veterans in the hip hop community. It makes sense. Hip hop is about expression and a lot of emcees use the medium to share personal experiences. Doc Todd is not exception. He's been praised by many national outlets for his music that addresses the difficulties of coming back from conflict and transitioning from the military.
About Doc Todd:
Doc was born George Michael Todd Jr. on February 16, 1985, and raised in the city of Memphis. While study wasn’t his strong suit, he fell in love with writing in high school – that is, writing lyrics for his band, not writing homework assignments. After completing high school in 2003, Doc worked a number of different jobs in the restaurant industry, which was a natural fit given his passion for customer service and uncanny sales ability. However, after several successful years in the business he wanted more from life. Doc set his focus on self-improvement and meaningful growth, and in the fall of 2007 he enlisted in the United States Navy as a Hospital Corpsman.
After his military service (which did not include civilian transition training), Doc moved to Atlanta and worked at restaurants and a premier hospital, while he pursed his college education on the G.I. Bill. Doc graduated from Georgia State University magna cum laude with an undergraduate degree in studying Economics & Public Policy in 2014. He then joined Northwestern Mutual where he began to build a financial management practice, before pursuing this veteran project.
Covered in Episode 46:
I first met Rory Cooper at the VA Medical Center in Pittsburgh. He was showcasing a number of products he helped research and develop. I called upon him to join me on the podcast when I saw he was a top 12 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America People's Choice Award. He's also nominated in the science and environment category. Rory is going to talk to us about his service in the Army, his spinal cord injury, accommodations for people using wheelchairs, and his research that is benefiting those with similar disabilities.
Rory Cooper, PhD, founder and senior researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Labs (HERL), is a world-renowned expert in wheeled mobility and the pioneer in wheelchair selection and configuration. Dr. Cooper is developing technology to increase the independence of people with spinal cord injury or disease (SCI/D) and equipping them with the skills necessary to operate new technology.
Dr. Cooper founded HERL at the University of Pittsburgh in 1994. Today, HERL conducts more than 74 clinical studies in eight customized labs with 50 staff members, who include engineers, physicians, therapists, research specialists and rehab medical interns. HERL’s mission is to continuously improve the mobility and function of disabled patients through advanced engineering in clinical research and medical rehabilitation.
Covered in Episode 43:
In the Veteran community, there are people you hear of and hear about over and over but never meet or engage with. Mark Rockefeller was on my radar for years. I heard about Street Shares, the company he co-founded, when they first started. I never had the opportunity to interview him for my former programs, so he made the short list when we launched This Week at VA. Just a couple weeks ago, I finally got the opportunity to talk with him. I visited Street Share's cozy space in Reston, VA and talked with him about serving in the Air Force, being an entrepreneur, Veteran owned businesses, and much more.
Mark began his career as a military officer, and later as an attorney. Following service in Iraq, Mark worked briefly on a pro bono micro-finance project in Africa before joining the prominent global financial services law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. His law practice focused on securities, financial restructuring, and international investment disputes. Inspired by his experience in Africa and a desire to reinvigorate small businesses in the United States (particularly veteran-owned small businesses), Mark left the law firm in 2013 to co-found StreetShares. He holds a B.S. in Finance, and advanced degrees in Finance and Law. Mark provides strategic leadership and vision to StreetShares and ensures our talented team has what it needs to serve our customers. Mark's favorite American Main Street is Main Street, Breckenridge, CO.
Covered in Episode 43:
This week's featured interview is with retired Army General Gary Profit. Gary is the Senior Director of Military Programs at Walmart. Walmart is a leading employer for Veterans and their spouses. Gary connected with us to talk about Walmart's initiatives to improve the experience of their Veteran employees, the importance of employing Veterans, his service in the Army, and more.
After more than 31 years of U.S. Army service, Brigadier General Gary M Profit retired on February 28, 2006, and, until October 2008, he was Director of Human Capital Management Solutions; International Programs; and Department of Defense Business Transformation Agency Programs, Civilian and Homeland Security Solutions, General Dynamics Information Technology, in which capacities he led a premier provider of lifecycle human capital management technology/service solutions and international technology transfer/export control service solutions for federal agencies and strategic communications service solutions at DOD BTA, respectively. He is currently Senior Director of Military Programs, Walmart, where he directs a synchronized enterprise strategy and complementary implementing programs to attract, recruit, and hire; grow and develop; and retain talent from military community constituencies and leads a collaborative team of military employment brand, reputational interests, and consumer brand professionals focused on veterans and military families for the leading global retailer.
Covered in Episode 43:
I remember watching Brian Stann fight in the UFC, thinking it was so cool to see a Marine in the octagon. Now, I think its even cooler to see a decorated Veteran taking a leadership position that allows him to influence the lives of so many other Veterans and spouses. Brian is the CEO of Hire Heroes USA. They do amazing work with Veterans looking for employment and career advancements. They proudly claim more than 50% success rate for all users that register on their website. That's amazing considering how many visitors come to the site "just to check it out." Hire Heroes USA is positively affecting our economy and the Veteran community with the services they offer. Brian even offers his opinion on the upcoming Mayweather/McGregor fight.
Brian Stann is President and Chief Executive Officer of Hire Heroes USA, a decorated Marine, and a nationally recognized analyst for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).A Naval Academy football player and graduate, he served two deployments with 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor, for his actions near the Al-Romana Bridge during Operation MATADOR in May 2005. Stann took over as President and CEO of Hire Heroes USA, which is headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga., in 2008 and has grown the nonprofit organization to a total of seven offices across the country. Under his leadership, Hire Heroes USA has built a national reputation of excellence and is recognized as a best-in-class veteran service organization by the USO, Call of Duty Endowment and the George W. Bush Institute.
Covered in Episode 42:
I've known Justin Brown for a couple years now and one thing I've always admired about him is how many people know who he is and know of his efforts. Justin founded HillVets with the intent to bring more Veterans to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.. Justin believes Veterans can contribute greatly to our government and that they should take advantage of those opportunities. Just swung by our central office and chatted with us about service, transition, HillVets, and more.
Justin Brown is a senior staffer on Capitol Hill with more than a decade of Veterans’ focused experience and advocacy. He has been fighting on behalf of Veterans and their families, trying to increase educational and employment opportunities, while expanding access to benefits and healthcare. Justin began his commitment to public service at the age of 17 when he enlisted in the United States Navy. There, he completed one deployment in support of Operation Southern Watch and two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Following Justin’s service, he attended the University of Utah, graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees in three years. He became active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) where he served as the youngest All-American District Commander and Department Chief of Staff in its history.
Covered in Episode 40:
VA works with many Veteran Service Organization to serve our Veterans. One of those longstanding partnerships has been Disabled American Veterans, an organization that has been around since World War I. DAV helps Veterans navigate the VA system, primarily by assisting with claims. They also provide a network and community for Veterans to thrive in. This week's featured guest is with DAV's National Adjutant, Marc Burgess.
Covered in Episode 40:
It's always humbling to speak with a combat Veteran and even more inspiring to speak with one like this week's guest, Travis Mills. Travis joins the podcast this week to talk about his service, his injuries, his foundation, being a motivational speaker, and being a "re-calibrated warrior."
Covered in Episode 39:
I'm sure everyone enjoyed bathing in the glory of our nation's freedom as we celebrated our Independence Day this week. I hope everyone's holiday was safe and joyful. This week's podcast features Darren Sherrard. Darren is an Army Veteran that served two decades and is now putting his skills to work for VA. He serves as VA's Associate Director for Recruitment Marketing. Darren helps drive the initiative that is VA Careers and helps communicate the value in working for VA to its potential employees.
Covered in Episode 38:
One of my favorite things about podcasting is learning about different parts of life and new concepts. Last week we learned about the positive effects roleplaying games have on Veterans, and this week we will learn about powerlifting. Enter: Steve Goggins.
Steve served in the US Army from September of 1983, until May of 1990. While in the Army, he served in the 82nd Airborne and was a member of the Armed Forces Powerlifting Team. He has competed in powerlifting for over 25 years and was the first powerlifter to squat 1100 pounds. he has won many titles since he started powerlifting as a teenager.
Covered in Episode 37:
Episode 36 brings us Joshua Heath. Josh served in the Army from 2006 to 2011 as a 91J Quartermaster and Chemical Equipment Repairer. While he was in, he ran a Dungeons and Dragons game for MWR while in Iraq, helping soldiers destress and escape. Now, he uses his company Reach Out Roleplaying Games to help connect people and create communities through gaming. Josh is going to talk to us about the benefits of playing RPGs and the effects he's seen in Veterans.
Covered in Episode 36:
This week's podcast features Army Veteran Jeremy Paris. Jeremy served in the '90s in personnel. He is currently with Veteran Artist Program and hosts the Veteran Resource Podcast. He helped coordinate the 2017 Women Veteran Art Exhibit in collaboration with VA's Center for Women Veterans.
Jeremy Paris was born in Buffalo, NY and joined the US Army immediately after graduating from high school. After ten years as a Personnel Administration Sergeant he left the military to become a government contractor performing computer support to the Department of Defense. Although the initial plan was to be a contractor for two years and then split, he spent the next 16 years supporting the same customer within different rolls. Jeremy has been on the staff of Veteran Artist Program (VAP), a non-profit Veteran Service Organization since 2010. While at an event in Washington DC with VAP Jeremy shook hands with people representing so many veteran-focused organizations that he was blown away. It was the realization that most veterans had no idea that these organizations existed that prompted Jeremy to start this podcast. The new mission of the Veteran Resource Podcast is that every single one of the 20,000 veterans transitioning out of the military each month will have the opportunity to learn about the veteran organizations that are available to them.
Covered in Episode 35:
This week's podcast focuses on the announcement made by Secretary Shulkin on Monday. The Department of Veterans Affairs will be adopting the same electronic health record system used by the Department of Defense. The podcast features audio from SECVA at the White House press briefing. He provides remarks on the announcement originally made at VA's central office earlier that day, followed by questions from the media.
Covered in Episode 33:
I hope everyone had a safe and solaced Memorial Day. I had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of Veterans and other members of our community at Sunday's Rolling Thunder demonstration. It was humbling hearing riders talk about their fallen comrades and whom they were riding for. It's moments like those that keep me grateful for our nation's service members and Veterans.
This week's podcast features retired Army Brigadier General Henry Huntley. Henry I are colleagues in the Office of Public Affairs at VA's central office. Each time I speak with Henry, my respect for him grows. Henry had a long, decorated career in the Army before coming over to VA. He's going to talk to us about his time in the service, his transition out, and how VA fulfills his post-military service to Veterans.
Covered in Episode 33:
Each year, at their national convention, Student Veterans of America announces a Student Veteran of the Year. This award is competitive and quite prestigious as the Veterans considered have impressive resumes as service members and as student Veterans. 2017's Student Veteran of the Year is Kate Tillotson, a Marine Veteran currently attending University of Tulsa.
Kate served in the Marine Corps for four years as a Radio Operator. After she got out, she began pursuing higher education. Now, she's the president of her Veterans group on campus. Kate talks to us about growing and developing her SVA chapter to be one of the most active groups on campus.
Covered in Episode 32: