Cleaning house

To someone other than a veteran, the idea of possessing only the minimum essential items to sustain life, military preparedness, and fighting effectiveness, may be strange. To a fighting force, whether a ground, air, or naval unit, storage space comes at a premium. Mobility, which means a fighting force’s lethality or in defensive situations its survivability, requires individuals, units, or battlegroups to necessarily limit the amount of stuff to drag along. Too much stuff not only means complicated storage, but the likelihood of being unable to have sufficient resources for things that break down or need more maintenance.

if it cannot fit in your seabag, you do not need it

Civilians entering military service are conditioned to this sort of thinking in the first weeks of recruit training. We are issued seabags, ruck sacks, or compact lockers to store our gear. It’s the sort of preparation for young military men and women to pare down to essentials. Of course, as some sailors I served alongside got financially stable, they tended to acquire things like clothes to go clubbing, camping, scuba, fishing gear, or golf equipment. Others developed hobbies that require a place to store equipment. Self-storage facilities thrive around military communities. Yet these facilities are not necessarily catering to single people. Young couples starting out get caught up in the consumer culture that drives so many economies. So the idea of traveling light as a uniformed military member runs into a civilian mindset of “accumulation”. It arriving in – or exiting – middle age with the more common tweaked backs, and moderating enthusiasm for having stuff one has not touched in years, saving money and preparing for retirement that brings us back to traveling “light”.

Helping move a family member into his family’s first home proved to be one of those occasions where my inner-voice of incredulity of what two people can accumulate in a few years struggled to remain “inside”. Relatively little of the thousands of odds n’ ends that we boxed, bagged and stowed on a moving truck or in personal vehicles would likely be missed if lost in the move. In the end, the young family should make a decision about their possessions and whether to begin disposition. Yet the odds are that they like most of us, will just stow everything in an outbuilding until some future time.

What the experience over the past weeks has wrought is to create an angst in me What am I leaving to my children, my spouse or another to wade through? For the twenty years prior to my marriage, I rarely owned anything more than what I could carry in my car. Increasingly, I have gone through things I have accumulated, but only disposed of items that I “wouldn’t miss” or have little value to me. There are still hundreds of items I could shed and not miss. I thought it was my Boomer generation that liked to accumulate “stuff”. It starts off with small things, home maintenance projects, spare parts, projects that need work, and of course, “toys” we need to have to cope with all the long years of working. I’m nearing retirement now. I just do not have the will to go through my “stuff”.

I have storage bins of electrical parts, copper tubing, and nearly full gallons of interior paint. Pictures, some framed, I have not put up for five years or more. And “collections”. I recently donated thirty or forty glass medicinal bottles from the last century. Dozens of books on various subjects I have not re-read in ten years. Some fragments of charcoal art from the 1920s and century-old stamps in an album I have held onto since age 13. Anybody want a 120 year old English ceramic vase, a slightly-worn New England carved chair, or a decade-old, still-unused bathroom exhaust fan?

The junk dealer is on speed-dial.

at your six

Since I retired from the daily commute (and 12-hour workdays) a couple years ago, I enjoy more leisurely weekday mornings several times a month. With the end to COVID shutdowns, I am again meeting old friends over breakfast or coffee. Wednesday, I met a Marine veteran I have known for nearly twenty years. As military veterans and Christians, we encourage one another with conversation from similar military experiences, current events and biblical perspective. While sharing a meal with people is an opportunity to encourage one another (Acts 2:42 -47), we also can be encouraging to, and encouraged by people we meet. As we waited for our breakfast order to be prepared, we watched a homeless woman at the next table enjoy a little coffee the café employee freely gave her. Paul and I engaged her in conversation, and she notably brightened. Though living on the streets, she was someone’s grandmother and hungry for some pleasant conversation. I bought her the same breakfast we were having; Paul and I returned to our conversation. As we finished our meal, we noted she had quietly moved on. While she was grateful for the kindness shown her, it was I who learned the most from the morning. As disciples of Jesus and as veterans, He leads us. Jesus fed and cared for the poor and hungry; He instructed us to do likewise.

“At your six” is a military phrase that is analogous to a clock; six o’clock is behind the 12 o’clock or lead position, or “I’ve got your back”

VA accepting new exposure claims from OEF/OIF/OND vets

Recent VA news of concern to OEF/OIF/OND veterans:

Veterans may have health concerns related to potential environmental exposures while they were on active duty, which can include:

  • Animal contacts, including bites
  • Airborne pollutants from burn pits and other sources
  • Infectious diseases
  • Depleted uranium
  • Toxic embedded fragments
  • Chromium at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in the spring or summer of 2003
  • Cold and heat related illnesses and injuries
  • Noise, vibration, and other physical exposures

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a variety of benefits and services to eligible OEF/OIF/OND Veterans. Learn more: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp

craigslist and sea stories

It was the tone of the ad on craigslist that caught my wife’s attention. We were looking for a used filing cabinet for our business and personal files.

“Text or call”, the ad said. “I don’t do email”.

It said to contact the seller between “0800 and 2200, that’s between 8 AM and 10PM for you landlubbers”. The number was phonetically spelled to frustrate scammers and telemarketers. The ad continued that the seller did not want payment in anything other than cash. When I read the ad on craigslist, I “knew” this was another old Salt.

In the manner of two old shipmates, though meeting for the first time, it was typical Navy. He challenged, “You got your shots?” (Meaning of course, the COVID vaccine.)

I replied. “Which ones? Hepatitis? Anthrax, Cholera, Typhoid? – I’m a Sailor- had ’em all”

Laughing, he retorts, “No the one that hurts like hell!” The mystical shot with square needle story, I winked knowingly.

His wife gave the two old Salts a smile and went inside the house. “She’s heard it all before”, he chuckled. We swapped stories on the places and ships we had both seen. And that was thirty minutes after we traded greenbacks for the cabinet we put in my SUV. And that is no bull**. (Comments edited for you landlubbers out there.)

Ask the Chief: are you a “victim” of your circumstances or an “overcomer”?

I watched a movie last month, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (2017), telling the story of a Polish family that operated a zoo in Warsaw, Poland at the outbreak of World War II.  The Nazi’s treatment of the Jewish residents shocked them and they decided to help rescue those they could.  Though the grounds were occupied by German troops for the duration of the war, the family smuggled Jews who otherwise would have been exterminated, into hiding there at the zoo and out of Warsaw. At risk of their own lives, they managed to save 300 people by war’s end.

I have been reading stories of ordinary soldiers, partisans, and public safety personnel who have acted selflessly in situations that put themselves in harms’ way. Others who have survived blizzards, been lost in the wilderness, were adrift at sea, or buried in earthquakes or in caverns. It came down to a will to survive that made the difference between living or giving up. But health is something everyone has dealt with at some point in life. Many probably have known someone who diagnosed with a severe illness or suffered a debilitating injury. Of those who refused to give in, but mustered physical and mental focus against an adversary, many survived. Circumstances do seem to foster whether people see themselves as “victims” or “overcomers”. My late father whose engineering career supported the development of Navy submarine missiles was accelerating in his late Twenties, suffered a brain tumor. While that surgery saved his life, he spent years learning to walk and speak again. It became his determination to resume his engineering career; refusing to let people judge him by his use of a wheelchair or cane, he even earned a teaching credential. Though he died in his late fifties, he had never given in to his condition.

Military personnel who volunteer to serve in a combat zone, as many did during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, may be mentally prepared for the hazards of wartime. However, few have battled an illness as merciless as cancer, and won, all while still serving in their official capacity of command. Or having won against breast cancer, promoted, and then volunteered for service in Afghanistan filling a critical role. Then, promoted again being selected for Flag rank. Many should know an “overcomer” in the person of Linnea Sommer-Weddington, Rear Admiral, USN (Retired). She has inspired the careers of many of my Shipmates, female and male, evident in those who honored her at her retirement. (I had the privilege to serve as her unit Senior Enlisted advisor in one of the units she commanded).

Others may be familiar with civilians Mike Rowe and Gary Sinese, two television and film stars who have done amazing work to celebrate people who inspire their communities. Whether it is encouraging servicemembers deployed, taking care of the families at home, helping physically or emotionally-suffering veterans, or publicizing those whose volunteerism helps affected communities, they bring attention and resources to help others overcome. Some twenty years ago, I met a Native American man with cerebral palsy, a member of our Southwestern US fellowship of churches. His accomplishments despite a “handicap” were legendary. He had competed and won in Paralympic games, was a motivational speaker, and introduced a number of people to the Christian faith. He possessed a sense of self-deprecating humor about his abilities that lifted up others with physical or mental challenges.

Should anyone wish to contribute their stories of overcoming severe challenges, I would welcome them to use this blog as a forum. At a time when there are still more than twenty veterans committing suicide each day, understanding what motivates someone to continue to overcome and not fall victim to one’s circumstances might help save lives.

Veterans’ benefits include technical training

The Veterans Administration introduced in October 2019, a five-year pilot program to permit veterans with Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bill Education benefits to attend technical training. The Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) is focused on training veterans to obtain highly-skilled and in-demand careers. Veterans need to apply to the program, and the annual acceptance is limited by its annually-renewed budget. For those whose eligibility time limit to use benefits has not elapsed, or for those with at minimum, one day of eligibility remaining, the tuition is not charged against their education benefit. Those accepted into VET TEC are eligible for a MHA housing stipend equal to BAH while attending the program.

Find additional information and the application process via the VA website link provided.

3 Truly Meaningful Ways You Can Help Veterans, Active Duty Personnel, and Their Families

Today’s Guest blogger: Kelli Brewer

Kelli is part of DeployCare (website: deploycare.org), which offers support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment.

Have you ever thanked a veteran or military member for his/her service and wondered if you could do more? Despite general support from the public, veterans and active-duty personnel of the armed forces — as well as their families — still face a multitude of daily challenges. One of the best ways to support these communities is to take an active role in solving those challenges, and these are just a few of the ways you can do so.

Consider Working Toward a Master’s in Social Work

Social work is a great field to get into if you want to help veterans, active duty service members and their dependents. Professionals in this field provide a multitude of services for these communities, ranging from re-integrating active duty personnel into civilian life to helping military families adjust to their unique lifestyles. Getting into social work is pretty flexible, too, as you can complete a Master’s of Social Work curriculum through various universities throughout the US. These programs generally require about 900 to 1,200 hours of qualified fieldwork, but some do allow the completion of academic work online. These online options make this a great field for current military spouses and dependents to pursue since coursework can be completed from just about any location. There may even be scholarships that can help offset tuition and expenses for dependents of veterans and active duty service members, for a Master of Social Work program or other educational pursuits. 

Look for Career Opportunities with Veterans Affairs Hospitals

One of the most critical elements in maintaining a veteran’s quality of life is the availability of quality healthcare. Lack of mental and physical health services can lead to devastating consequences for veteran populations, including increased incidences of suicide. If you are interested in becoming a mental health professional, you could take an active role in reducing this risk by pursuing a career within the VA hospital system.

In addition to a shortage of mental health services, VA hospitals are also plagued by a shortage of nurses. So, you could also assist veterans by taking up one of the various nursing roles that are available at VA facilities in just about every US state and territory. There are other roles to fill at the VA as well, including patient advocacy and various administrative roles. Committing yourself to service in a VA hospital isn’t easy, but it is one of the most important ways civilians can provide assistance to the men and women who committed their lives to military service.

Help Veterans and Active Duty Without Changing Your Career

Filling desperately needed roles within fields that directly benefit veterans, active duty service members, and dependents are some of the best ways for civilians to help. Still, these careers aren’t necessarily for everyone, and there are other ways to support these communities.

Hire a Military Spouse

If you are in a decision-making position within your organization, hiring more military spouses can make a world of difference to active-duty families. Nearly 28 percent of military spouses struggle with unemployment, often due to misconceptions about their lifestyle, but employers can help change this statistic. Entrepreneurs can make a difference as well by hiring veterans and providing training that will smooth the transition into a civilian occupation.

Assist With Home Needs

Maybe you aren’t in a position to hire someone, and you aren’t looking for a new career. Don’t underestimate the power of time and information. Senior and disabled veterans often struggle in their own home environment, for instance, but don’t know about the many programs available to help them with home modifications. Along those lines, they might be better off moving to a more manageable home, whether in terms of affordability or physical space, but may not feel like they can afford it. There are loan programs designed especially for veterans. Encourage your veteran friend to review the options available to learn about the perks of VA loans (including low interest rates and no downpayment). With a little guidance, you may be able to help them find a safer and more comfortable home environment.

Contribute to Nonprofits

Finally, one of the simplest ways to assist these communities is to donate or volunteer with organizations that are dedicated to veterans, active-duty service members, and the families that support them. Be careful when choosing an organization to support so that you know your time, money, and effort will actually make a difference for these individuals and families.

If you want to express your gratitude and support for veterans, military members, and their loved ones, actions will always speak louder than words. There are so many opportunities to show your appreciation and make a difference in the lives of the men and women who have served this country. So, find one that speaks to you or simply take the time to listen when a member of one of these communities chooses to speak. After all, even the simplest of gestures can be meaningful in the lives of others.

Photo Credit: Pexels

This post was first published on Truths, Half-Truths, and Sea Stories, March 27th, 2021. All rights reserved.

Ask the Chief: Veterans applying to For-profit colleges

For a United States military veteran, spouse, or her (his) child under 26, education benefits earned during military service (either on Active Duty, Guard or Reserve) provide a stipend for education leading to a degree or training leading to certification. These benefits not only can be used for the tuition but provide a housing allowance to ease the potential financial burden while attending school. Though I used the GI Bill benefit for a university in the 1980s, there are many choices in college, technical and trade schools for veterans in the Post 9/11 (2001) period. Since 2017, statutory change has removed some issues that affected older veterans such as expiration of those education benefits for veterans whose Active service ended prior to 2013. The Veterans Administration has a website illustrating the different benefits here.

Obtaining employment as a veteran has been complicated by the pandemic. Many industries deemed essential, including healthcare, engineering and construction have been operating with a continuing demand for workers. However, even for veterans a technical skill without industry-recognized certification or a technical degree can slow career advancement and receipt of competitive salaries. With the burgeoning demand for healthcare and technology careers, many two – and four- year public institutions are wait-listing enrollment. As a consequence, many communities have seen an increase in the number of private for-profit schools offering programs to prepare candidates for State certification and licensing. Of importance to any prospective candidate these schools must first be approved by the State to conduct training. When was the school last approved? Additionally, they must have accreditation from regional or national Boards that monitor standards in the occupations. Which accrediting board and what is their standing? The schools must comply with state and federal regulations to allow students to obtain Federal or use GI Bill funds. Has there been any compliance issues? Another thing worth noting by prospective students is a school’s job placement rate. In contrast to colleges and universities which have no criteria about graduates working in their chosen profession, private post-secondary education are held to license and certification test performance and job placement standards. It is important for prospective students to ask for this information when canvassing a school.

In California, private post-secondary education is not under the oversight of Department of Education, but rather the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary Education, under the Department of Consumer Affairs. It should be one of the first places a veteran student goes when deciding where to enroll. Under the Approved Schools webpage, one may review the school’s annual report, performance fact sheets, and any compliance issues as well as resolution of those compliance issues. Yelp reviews, and social media claims may provide some comfort, but hard data is where veterans should find a basis for decisions. For current and future students, lessons of other students learned painfully over the last decade should serve to illustrate why one’s research in where to attend is crucial. In the midst of successful small businesses preparing students to become Nursing Assistants, Electronic Engineering Technicians, Diesel Mechanics, and Computer software and networking professionals, there are some bad performers. Some institutions are run ineptly, inefficiently or into bankruptcy. This is what occurred with ITT Technical Institute when it lost its access to federal funds. Other failed schools like California’s Corinthian Colleges and nationally, with Education Corporation of America (ECA) schools had former students (and employees) scrambling after the closing their doors. Some have not had relief from the federal Government since those events occurred. With the new Administration, former students unable to recoup losses in time spent in the classroom may yet obtain debt relief.

In 2021, President Biden signed legislation that absolves the debt of many students victimized by these failed businesses. Yet the takeaway from this story is to be prudent and sober in deciding one’s educational plan. Universities are not without their own issues of admissions scandals or tuition bruhaha over the pandemic’s shutdowns, streaming classrooms, and the previously mentioned lack of accountability for graduates being employed in their degree profession. However, thousands of graduates of institutions like National University, Kaplan University, and the vast majority of small businesses produce very qualified candidates who are working in their professions as entrepreneurs, staff of major healthcare providers, technology, services and in engineering firms nationally. And another, often overlooked factor, is the teachers and mentors in these private enterprises have often worked until recently in the industry they are teaching, bringing a wealth of real-world perspective to the classroom. In the end, it should be a well-thought out decision to attend a public or a private trade school.

oaths, rights and wrongs amended

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In the United States of America the notion of an oath of fidelity, (faithfulness or allegiance) is not something suggested or required for most occupations. A half-century ago, as schoolchildren, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance before our first class every morning. As Boy Scouts, we recited its promise to obey God, do one’s best and uphold the Scout Law. Enlisting and re-enlisting in the military, members take the oath to support and defend the Constitution, to obey orders and military regulations. Federal employees as well as naturalized citizens take an oath to defend the principles of our founding document as well.

to the Constitution’s defense

Recent events involving people storming the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., were alarming. Even if unintentional, the misuse of his influence by a now-former President was not justified. He encouraged a demonstration that became mob mentality, Though citizens have the First Amendment right of peaceable assembly , to gather Trump’s emotionally-charged supporters around the Capital Building at the time of the certification of the Electoral College votes, was improper at best. But the undermining of faith in the Constitutional process sits squarely with Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

Government officials spent years unsuccessfully to determine if the 2016 election of Donald Trump was manipulated by foreign agents. In the prior eight years of President Obama’s presidency, his opposition, decried alleged misuse of Constitutional authority on many of his Administration’s policies, particularly “Obamacare”. Politics is normally unsavory, but there is ample evidence that journalists, bureaucrats, politicians and social media stoked the emotions of their respective constituents. They fostered suspicion that the Constitution was being usurped – either by one side’s “fascists” or the other’s “socialists”. The system functioned as intended however. With the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, the military has a new Commander-In-Chief and new civilian authority. Regulations and the UCMJ are still in effect. And the oaths men and women took to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of those in authority are still in effect.

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Ask the Chief: repurposed

I have a sign in our home office that says “I didn’t retire. I’m just under new management.”

Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul

General Douglas MacArthur

“Retirement” once conjured up for me images of spending leisurely weeks on Hawaiian beaches, visiting foreign lands (this time with my spouse), or perhaps, spending time at a “vacation” home. However, the idea of having little else than “leisure” to occupy my time, just bothered me. I then wonder if others feel that being “unproductive”, that is “retired”, is shared by others? Changing careers frequently is a reality for many Millennials, Gen-X and now, Gen-Z workers. But a pandemic struck in early 2019 and “quarantine fatigue” is causing additional waves of infections and Governments to shut down commerce. The world has created a semi-retired class of people who do not have jobs to return or fill. Restaurants and many venues where large groups of customers formerly gathered have either folded or are barely surviving on government assistance. For those who “retired” in 2019, with few places in the world now COVID-free and open to visitors, there is little opportunity (or desire) to travel. However, with millions of people in need, experienced medical staff are welcome volunteers to man COVID testing and to administering vaccinations. For many others, the need is still present, but the delivery is changing. Teachers, small business coaches and consultants use web conferencing and social media to offer training. New opportunities in critical niche markets that are underserved are being filled by enterprising people. Elsewhere, retired military members become veteran advocates. Military-trained technicians start businesses to serve other businesses. I am certainly not unusual in starting a third career that interests me. I am not retired but instead “repurposed”.

Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.

Betty White

Long Term Care planning for active military, veterans, retirees and family

Turning sixty-two this year is not all that worrisome for me. Of course, in the middle of the second wave of the COVID pandemic, the potential long-term impact to ones health of contracting COVID at this stage of life is probable reason for concern. Though I had considered enrolling at a much younger age, with insurance premiums much lower the younger one enrolls, the invincibility of youth encouraged me to put it off. In the last quarter of 2020, I thought it prudent to begin the enrollment with a commercial insurer, accompanied by physical exam, several telephone interviews and waiting for term and premium calculations. The cost of commercial insurance seemed exorbitant, so my wife and I decided against it. Then I learned that LI (insurance) was available to retired military. Planning for a Veterans Administration facility as a fallback was my last consideration, should I subsequently require reevaluation of a presently non-compensable service-connected disability. After a military career, a professional career, and self-employed business owner today, we should plan for any potential health situations in our “golden years”.

Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP)

While most married service members have enrolled in federal benefits under TriCare, and include dental and vision program benefits when selected, Long Term Care insurance is not included in the annual Federal Benefits Open Season. However, FLTCIP is available to Federal workers, Postal Service employees, and military members. Eligibility for this program is linked to eligibility for Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). The link to the FEGLI handbook is here. The key point to note, is that eligibility for FEGLI does not require a person seeking FLTCIP to be enrolled in the FEGLI.

Open Season, physical exams, and Qualifying Life Events do not apply

For those who may be familiar with Tricare Open Season, which runs from November to early December of each year, FEGLI also has a banner regarding Open Season. The Office of Personnel Management, OPM, “Outside of an open season, eligible employees can enroll or increase their FEGLI coverage by taking a physical exam or with a Qualifying Life Event,” However, no such open season limitation exists to enroll in the Long Term Care insurance. Details as to eligibility are found here. To access more information, and to begin enrollment, the link is here.

Most of this information comes from a website, https://militarybenefits.info, opm.gov and the FLTCIP program webpage.

Is it time to head back to school?

This week’s Guest Post, is by blogger Kelli Brewer. Kelli is part of DeployCare, made up of veterans and their families which offers free support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment. Please visit their website for additional articles on various topics of importance to veterans -Ed

Are you thinking about going back to school now that your time in service is done? If so, keep reading. Popeye To Admiral wants veterans and their families to have access to the best educational resources available. With this in mind, here are a few quick tips for vets set on earning a degree after their time in service.

Choose Wisely

When it’s time to go back to school, your first obligation is to choose an academic or vocational program. Be cautious here, however, because not all schools are G.I. Bill-approved. Furthermore, many schools suffer from accreditation complications, tarnished reputations, and few working graduates.

Aside from school, you’ll also want to take your time when making a decision on your major. There are many fields that make sense for veterans, including management and law enforcement. Another highly sought-after degree is information technology. Any of these — and many more — can be earned all or partially online. This is more important than ever in the pandemic society in which we live.

Start Small

Even if you are eligible for veteran funds, it might make sense to consider a community college for your first two years. Crucially, if you plan to use your G.I. Bill benefits for your children, many states now pay for an associate degree — meaning the funds may be used toward a graduate degree. U.S. News & World Report asserts that money is just one reason to consider a community college over a university when just starting out.

If you are not yet sure what you would like to do, you can also start off earning a certification. Taking a career aptitude test geared toward veterans can help you decide what type of job you would like in the civilian world. There are many options ranging from entry-level medical to business management.

Trade School Is An Option

Finally, keep in mind that you do not have to go to college to complete your education. You may also consider trade school to earn your HVAC or electrical license or ASE mechanic certification. Blue-collar jobs often pay as well as white-collar jobs, and some of them are even more lucrative.

For more information about going back to school, contact your institute of choice’s admissions counselor. Good luck in your endeavors, and thank you for your service.

Popeye To Admiral offers quips and quick bites of wisdom for veterans and their families. Visit the blog often for your daily dose of delectable posts and veteran resources. Let us know more of what sort of resources you might want to see. You can also find us on Facebook here, .