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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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