Monthly Archives: May 2014

Resource Spotlight: Companion and Service Dogs for Veterans

Article by Emma White

Companion and Service Dogs: A New Way to Help Veterans

Men and women in active service go through a great deal in the course of their work, and the sad fact is, many are permanently altered, either physically or psychologically, by what they experience. For Veterans who return home and resume life outside the military it’s a hard road to travel, and it’s one that can have many obstacles. One of the most profound and the most prevalent is the difficulty of coming to terms with combat experiences, and the feelings of isolation that often result. For some Veterans, their experiences can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, making the adjustment to a “normal” life even more problematic.

The results of a number of major studies show that Veterans have a very high risk of depression and PTSD: 20% of those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have either or both of these disorders. For PTSD that’s more than five times the rate at which it occurs in the general population. People with PTSD often have insomnia, experience difficulty concentrating, and are quick to anger. Many live in a state of hyper-vigilance, highly stressed, sensitive to movement and noise, and with a tendency to overreact to even small stimuli. These very distressing symptoms are all things that contribute to the high rates of substance abuse and suicide among Veterans, but they are symptoms that can be treated, with therapy, medication, and the passage of time.

Companion Dogs can Provide Simple but Important Benefits

Service dogs were first trained in the 19th century to help people with visual impairments, and Veterans have been using guide dogs since World War I. Despite the well-documented benefits of dogs as service animals they weren’t trained to help people with other types of disabilities until the 1970s. These days, dogs and other animals are trained to help people with many different physical, neurological, and psychological disabilities, including PTSD. Anyone who has ever owned a pet—particularly one of the warm and furry kind—will already know that that can be an important source of comfort for someone in distress, but dogs can do a great deal more than provide emotional support for Veterans. Small surveys of companion and service dog owners have already shown that they provide many benefits to their owners, not the least of which is an alleviation of the isolation and loneliness that many Veterans feel.

Most organizations that train dogs for Veterans provide either companion dogs, or service dogs, although some supply both. Often they can accommodate preferences in terms of breed and size of the dog someone would prefer, so for someone interested in a companion or service dog, it can be helpful to think about favorite or suitable breeds while making applications.

There are small but significant differences between a companion dog and a service dog—companion dogs are more pets than anything else, although these organizations do pay particular attention to the personalities of the dogs they select for companion animal training. On the other hand, service dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks, and those tasks depend on the individual needs of their owners. For example, a service dog might be trained to help their owner recover from a panic attack, or remind their owner to take medication. Amazingly, some companion and service dogs can actually detect signs of an impending panic attack, nightmare, or similar crisis in their owners, helping them to prevent the attack or reduce its severity.

Companion and Service Dog Organizations for Veterans

Multiple organizations exist with the specific purpose of locating suitable dogs for Veterans who would like a companion animal, or who would benefit from a service dog. The dogs can provide amazing benefits to Veterans, and because these organizations match applicants with dogs from rescue shelters, the animals themselves receive a wonderful gift too, in the form of a new home and a new life.

K9s for Warriors is located in Ponte Vedra Beach,Florida and trains service dogs for Veterans with PTSD.

Paws for Veterans trains service dogs for Veterans with psychological and physical disabilities.

Pets for Vets is one of the largest organizations providing companion dogs, with more than 20 chapters located all over the country.

Soldier’s Best Friend in Glendale,Arizona trains service and therapeutic dogs for Veterans with PTSD or certain other disabilities.

Service Dogs in the Future

As of 2014 the Department of Veterans Affairs is conducting an ongoing study that looks at how service dogs can help Veterans with PTSD. If the study shows that service dogs provide significant benefits, it’s possible that in the future service dog ownership will be made an allowable Veteran benefit, with subsidies for the costs of ownership and training.

 

Sources

Animal Planet. “Dog Breed Selector.” Accessed May 23, 2014.

Clinical Trials.gov. “Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD.” Accessed May 23, 2014. Research evaluating service dogs.

Congressional Research Service. “A Guide to US Military Casualty Statistics.” Accessed May 23, 2014. Statistics relating to recent military operations.

History.com. “Assistance Dogs: Learning New Tricks for Centuries.” Accessed May 23, 2014. History of service dogs.

Psychguides. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, Treatment, and Effects.” Accessed May 23, 2014. Emotional and physical symptoms.

RAND Corporation. “Invisible Wounds of War.” Accessed May 23, 2014. Psychological effects of active service.

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After Korean War Veteran Pilot Dies, Family Donates Belongings to Local Vets in Need

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on May 23, 2014 at 11:22 AM, updated May 25, 2014 at 2:40 PM

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – In 1968, Lt. Col. Andy Andrews was sent to Vietnam.

Lt. Col. Robert Joseph Michael “Andy” Andrews with a P-51 Mustang. Andrews was a U.S. Air Force pilot who flew combat missions in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (Submitted)

An Air Force fighter pilot since receiving his silver wings in 1945 at age 19, Andrews had just finished training on the F-4 Phantom II fighter jet – the backbone of the U.S. Air Force.

“The Phantom was the love of his life,” recalled Andrews’ son Brian. “He loved that plane.”

The Vietnam War was at its peak, and Andrews was stationed in Thailand with the 8thTactical Fighter Wing. During his tour of duty, he flew 102 missions, providing close air support to ground troops.

The F-4 Phantom is a two-seater jet, with the pilot in front (that was Andrews) and a radar intercept officer behind. Andrews jokingly called whoever was in the plane with him “Gib,” short for “guy in back.”

For the majority of the missions Andrews flew in Vietnam, “Gib” was his buddy Matt Henrikson. The two had a close bond, said Brian Andrews, the unshakeable kind of friendship forged in the thick of combat.

Henrikson, who lives now in Virginia, will make the trip next week to say his last goodbyes to his friend.

On Friday, Andrews will be buried with full military honors at the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota.

A decorated veteran of both the Vietnam and Korean Wars, Andrews died unexpectedly last summer in Huntsville at the age of 87. His body was cremated, according to his wishes, and his family held services both in Huntsville – where his son and daughter-in-law live – and in Colorado Springs, where he spent the bulk of his retirement after his 31-year career in the Air Force.

Brian and his wife Lisa speak fondly and reverently about Brian’s father, and the life he led. Even though his death was sudden, they worked to find a way to pass on his legacy through the donation of his possessions to local veterans in need through the Huntsville-based Still Serving Veterans organization.

WWII and Korea

Andy Andrews was 17 in 1943 when one of his neighborhood buddies – a few years older – came home on leave during World War II, telling stories about flying fighter planes. Andy knew immediately he wanted to fly them, too.

He went to the local recruiting office to sign up, but the recruiters sent him home because he wasn’t 18. When he did turn 18 in November 1944, they called him back and sent him to basic training.

At 19 he graduated from the Army Air Force pilot training program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in October 1945, just a few months after the war ended.

Every member of Andrews’ graduating class was dismissed from service and sent home…except Andrews. He stayed in the service and was assigned to accompany coffins bearing the remains of servicemen as they were sent home to their families.

In 1949, Andrews was one of the youngest to be sent to jet pilot school. Shortly afterward he was shipped overseas to the Korean War, where he flew an F-86 Sabre jet in 61 missions before contracting malaria and being evacuated from Korea.

At some point soon after he began losing his hair – possibly due to his illness. Being a no-nonsense kind of person, he decided to just shave it all off. He got married, and had a son – Brian Andrews – in the 1950s.

My dad’s the kind of guy who wanted to have all the information that was available because he planned everything to the last detail.

A decorated career

Andrews was sent for a year-long tour to Vietnam from 1968-1969. After he returned, he was assigned to positions with the Air Defense Command and NORAD. He had reached the highest rank he could achieve in the Air Force without a college degree, and retired from the Air Force after serving 31 years.

Among his 30 awards and decorations are three Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Air Medals, the Bronze Star, a Joint Services Commendation Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals and four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.

It’s unusual for an Air Force pilot to fly nearly 30 years, said Brian. But Andy Andrews loved flying – so much so that he was flying combat missions in Vietnam at the age of 43.

A lasting legacy

Brian and his wife Lisa moved to Huntsville eight years ago, and spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince Andy to move here so they could better care for him. After decades spent flying, Andrews had lung problems and needed to use an oxygen tank in the thin Colorado air. Eventually, he agreed to come to Huntsville. The couple meticulously planned an apartment for him.

“My dad’s the kind of guy who wanted to have all the information that was available because he planned everything to the last detail,” said Brian. “He used to call the apartment manager frequently, and they got to be really good friends. He was friends with the maintenance supervisor before he moved here.”

Late last summer, Andy moved into his new apartment. The Andrews looked forward to introducing him to the strong military retiree community in Huntsville.

But one day later, tragedy struck. The Andrews came to Andy’s new apartment, bringing his favorite chicken pot pie for dinner. Andy had trouble unlocking the door for them, and fell back, breaking his hip.

He was rushed to the hospital, and underwent hip replacement surgery. A few days after surgery his health began declining as he had difficulty breathing.  He died Aug. 3.

Many friends, family and neighbors came out for his memorial services in Huntsville at the Church of the Nativity, Episcopal and in Colorado Springs.

Afterward, Brian and Lisa Andrews had a brand-new apartment, completely furnished, but empty.

“We could have just had an estate sale, but Lisa had the idea that it would be great if maybe there was a veteran who could use some of my dad’s things,” said Brian. “We wanted them to go to a good home, to someone who would appreciate them.”

The couple talked with a neighbor who worked for Still Serving Veterans, a Huntsville-based nonprofit organization that helps veterans and their families transition to post-military life through services like job coaching, VA claims assistance and connections to community resources.

SSV arranged to help the Andrews donate most of Andy Andrews’ belongings to local veterans in need. Some of his memorabilia was donated to SSV for display in the office.

“I think he would be very pleased,” said Brian of his dad. “He was a strong supporter of the military. Even as an officer, he really identified with the younger airmen who might need help getting their feet off the ground.”

The Andrews waited purposefully for spring to bury Andy. He qualified for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but the Andrews chose the Black Hills National Cemetery because Lisa’s father is also buried there, and they have family in the area.

“Dad was a very generous guy,” said Brian Andrews. “I think he would be very pleased with the way this has been wrapped up, and all the people who have benefited from his legacy.”

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Investing for Beginners: Where Do You Start?

Article by Emma White

stock-investingThe financial world is so jargon-heavy that it’s difficult to get started if you’re a complete newcomer to the idea of investing, and as a Veteran you likely have other pressing concerns you’d rather be concentrating on. Even if you are interested in investing, it can be an intimidating idea, just because it carries an element of risk with it, one that puts a lot of people off the idea. There are ways to minimize the risk, however, and if you’re interested in investing and looking for a place to start, here are some tips to get you going.

What to Consider before Investing

One of your main considerations is how much control you want to retain over the investments you make. Do you want to do your own research, choose your own investments, and manage your own investment account, or would you rather have a financial advisor handle this for you? You don’t necessarily need investment experience to take care of these things for yourself—you just need the willingness to learn the things you need to know.

You’ll also need to make a tentative decision about where you want to invest your initial funds, and how much you want to invest. If you plan to manage your own investments, it’s typically best to start off putting a small sum of money in a low-risk prospect, while you figure out how things work.

As a final thought, consider whether there are better things, financially speaking, to do with the money you’re thinking about investing. For example, it’s better to pay off any short-term debts you have before putting money into investments, because short-term debts typically have high interest rates. If you’re investing instead of paying off those debts, any profit you make on the investment is probably being negated by the high interest on the debt.

Three Simple Ways to Get Started in Investing

Perhaps the easiest way to invest is by putting money into a 401(k), if you have a job that gives you access to this kind of account. There are a couple of big advantages that make this a pretty painless and advantageous way of investing money: first, you can set the account so that payments are made to it before you get your paycheck. Once it’s set up, you’re automatically saving and investing money without even having to think about it. The second advantage is that your employer may opt to match your payments, which makes your account grow much faster.

If you don’t have access to a 401(k) and you would prefer a hands-off investment style where you provide the investment funds and someone else takes care of all everything else, then you might consider putting money into a mutual fund. This type of investment is a fund that’s built and managed by a team of financial experts, who use investor money to buy shares in many different stocks and bonds in multiple different industries. When you buy shares in a mutual fund, you’re essentially buying shares in everything the fund has invested in. One of the golden rules of investing is to put money in multiple investments, instead of just one or two—spreading the risk around makes it less likely you’ll suffer heavy losses—and a mutual fund is a good way of achieving this.

An exchange-traded fund, or ETF, works in a similar fashion to a mutual fund, but the ETF is linked to an index, which is a stock market listing. That means you can track your investment’s progress on the stock market, so investing in an ETF is a good beginner investment if you later want to make your own stock purchases.

Investing in mutual funds and ETFs is easy these days, as you can do it online, on personal investment websites. Most sites allow you to start investing with as little as $100, so it’s a good low-risk way to get started. There are several reputable investment sites that offer a good range of products, like TDAmeritrade and Betterment.

Sources

Betterment. “Why Betterment.” Accessed May 14, 2014. Personal investment site.

Charles Scwhab Investments. “Types of Investments.” Accessed May 14, 2014. Creating a diversified portfolio.

Dan Base. “7 Questions You Must Ask Before You Invest.” Accessed May 14, 2014. How much risk are you willing to take?.

Forbes. “How to Invest $1,000 Right Now.” Accessed May 14, 2014. Three simple ways to invest.

Matthew Amster-Burton. “How to Invest $100, $1,000, or $10,000.” Accessed May 14, 2014. Investment accounts.

NASDAQ. “The Ten Commandments of Investing.” Accessed May 14, 2014. Best practice investment principles.

TDAmeritrade. “Investment Products.” Accessed May 14, 2014. https://www.tdameritrade.com/investment-products.page Different types of investments.

Biergarten Fundraiser

Stein and Dine!

Visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center every Thursday from 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. through October 30, 2014, for the German Biergarten, featuring authentic German cuisine crafted by renowned chef David Oreskovich.

To support our local community, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is featuring a nonprofit organization each week, and 10 percent of food sales that evening will be donated to the organization. On July 17, 2014, join us for Still Serving Veterans Night!

Enjoy the festive atmosphere with imported and domestic beers and delicious wines from the German region.

Admission is free, and food and beverages are available for purchase.

Family Friendly!       Dogs Welcome!       Rain or Shine!

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Military Night: Rocket City United

Rocket City UnitedRocket City United, a local soccer team, is hosting a Military Night on June 7. Attendees with a military I.D. will receive 4 free tickets and the 1st 500 fans to arrive will get complimentary bumper stickers. Plus, Rocket City United will be donating a portion of proceeds to Still Serving Veterans. The team will be playing against Chattanooga FC at John Hunt Park – kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm.

Rocket City United is the top Alabama soccer team playing in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) at John Hunt Park (Field #2). Rocket City United (RCU) was incorporated in 2007 and began playing in 2008 in the NPSL. Playing in the South Region, RCU competes in the Southeast Conference against teams from Atlanta, Chattanooga, Conyers (GA), Knoxville, Nashville, New Orleans, and Pensacola.

The National Premier Soccer League operates in the 4th Division of the United States Soccer pyramid. The NPSL is the fastest growing national soccer league in the United States, operating in over 80+ markets across the USA, from Maine to Washington state.

For more information about the team and to find other games, visit their website: rocketcityunited.com

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Raising Strong Military Kids: One Mom’s Story

I will never forget my first time shopping at a commissary. At 21 and newly married, my husband Jim and I had just packed up all of our belongings to drive across the country from Seattle to Fort Belvoir. We were new to the military way of life, moving for Jim’s new orders with the Army Corps of Engineers. I went to the commissary and had no clue how the system worked – I didn’t even know that I needed an ID card! When we began adding our kids to the mix, I found out there was so much more I needed to learn.
Although we’ve come a long way in helping service members and their families, navigating deployment is still challenging. I want to share with you some tips that helped my three sons and me get through the tough times when my husband was called to service.
1.    Network with other military wives and moms. Early on in our marriage, I met a woman who was raising four daughters. She gave me some tough love about coping with the day-to-day stress while Jim was away, but she was also a great example of how to face deployment. I learned that if she could do it, so could I! Make it a priority to meet fellow wives and moms to share your experiences and get the support you need from friends who truly understand.
2.    Listen to your kids. Though you might feel alone without your spouse, pay close attention to how your kids are feeling. I realized that I had to be strong for my boys, but they often felt like they needed to be the adults while dad was away. Reassure your kids that it’s okay to be sad or angry and that you will get through the deployment together.
3.    Reach out for support. As the director of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program [link to www.yellowribbon.mil], I’ve had the opportunity to meet military wives and moms from across the services and around the country. We host programs that help National Guard and Reserve members and families connect to other folks who understand what they’re going through. At these free events, you can meet other military families and get expert advice on everything from family communication to employment issues to financial planning.
Raising kids when your spouse is deployed can be challenging, but there are a number of support resources out there to help you. Register for an upcoming Yellow Ribbon event near you at www.yellowribbonevents.org.
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