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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

VetBikes – Putting Old Bikes to Good Use

VetBikes – Putting Old Bikes to Good Use

by ThurstonTalk Editor

By Laurie O’Brien
Andy Newman knows that inside almost every garage in Thurston County there is a decent bike gathering dust. His goal is to give those bikes a new life with a veteran. Newman, a retired Air Force pilot who lives in Olympia, understands that many combat veterans suffer in ways that are invisible to most people, and he wants to do his part to help them recover from both the physical and emotional wounds incurred during service to our country.
olympia bike donation
Andy Newman founded VetBikes to help get recovering veterans on quality bikes.
“It started with my assignment as an Air Force guy embedded with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The load of bricks the Army and Marines carried in these wars was awe inspiring.  Ground duty in a war zone is something that most Americans will never fully understand,” explains Newman. “The Army and Marine troops I saw in combat zones endured a lot for us.”
He knew then that he wanted to do something to give back to our troops, but the question was how?
Newman stumbled upon his idea by chance. “In 2011, while back in my office at JBLM, I saw a group of cyclists getting ready to head out for a ride one morning.  I went out and asked if I could join them sometime and found out they were a group of wounded and recovering soldiers using cycling as therapy and recovery while getting well at the Warrior Transition Battalion, a unit of Madigan Army Medical Center.  They were riding nice road bikes that the Army provided on a lender basis.  I asked what they were going to ride when they were medically retired or separated for medical reasons, and they said they had to turn the bikes in, and then they would be on their own.”
And the inspiration for VetBikes was born.
The thought of veterans not being able to continue their therapy concerned Newman. An avid cyclist for most of his life, he knows that purchasing a decent bike – one fit for racing, off road riding, or even just a reliable commuter bike – can be a financial hardship for a lot of people. He also knows the benefits, both physical and mental, that exercise can bring. “All cyclists know the feeling of freedom and healing from whatever is bothering them that cycling provides. This is especially true for recovering soldiers, more so for the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that almost all of these wounded and injured soldiers have.”
olympia bike donation
Mike the Mechanic delivers a refurbished mountain bike to a veteran.
Most people understand that because of the dopamine released into the system, exercise can  help with all levels of stress, including PTSD.  But a sport like cycling is different. “When the brain also has to manage a machine and process the world speeding by like it does on a bike, this (dopamine) effect is greatly enhanced,” says Newman. “One of the soldiers summed it up this way: The demons that follow us are a few steps behind us when running, but miles behind us when riding a bike.”
In 2012, fully retired from the Air Force and working as a pilot for United Airlines, Newman, his brother-in-law Alex Young, and their friend Jeff Aregger landed on the concept for VetBikes. The idea? To collect high quality used parts and build bikes for vets to keep.
With Young’s expertise in non-profit administration and Newman’s military background they were able to form a 501(c)3 and develop relationships with both the Warrior Transition Battalion at Madigan and the Washington State VA to identify veterans who need bikes. “When those individuals separate, they have a custom fitted bicycle waiting for them to continue their recovery.”
olympia bike donation
The VetBikes mechanic shop at Building 9 is an important piece of the non-profit organization.
The partnership with the VA is a little different than that with the Warrior Transition Battalion. “Their intent is to have no veteran on the street without being offered a way out, to link them with their GI Bill benefits, get them into a residence and back in school and onto a job and back into our community,” says Newman. “There is an amazing program called Building 9 for Veterans in Retsil, WA.  The former homeless veterans there are the true comeback kids, working hard to get back into the community like the rest of us, getting a skill, and then a job.  Most of these vets can’t drive, but they can ride a bike.”
The VA relationship also brought VetBikes their chief mechanic. Last year, a homeless vet from Olympia entered the Building 9 program. A trained bicycle mechanic, he wanted to work on the bikes. Park Tool donated tools and VetBikes and the VA helped build a bike shop in the Building 9 residence.  Now “Mike the Mechanic” is on the state payroll, building bikes for his fellow vets. “We keep him supplied with bikes to restore and covert into commuters,” says Newman. “The production has reached a level where Building 9 is able to build bikes for other VA residences across the state.  This is a huge point of pride for us.”
olympia bike donation
Alex Young accepts a donated bike from Jim Brown and the Kona Bikes.
Of course, there is the ongoing need for quality bikes and components. Newman emphasizes that they are interested in older, adult-sized, name-brand bikes that were purchased through bike shops rather than cheap department store bikes. They especially need bikes that can be converted into reliable commuters: Old steel mountain bikes, road, cyclocross and hybrid bikes.
Newman, Young, and Areggar are all cyclists. Their kids are cyclists, and they know lots of other cyclists.  The three men alone had enough spare parts in their garages to build three complete bikes. Newman compares cyclists to golfers and fishermen: “They want the latest gear, the newest and fastest innovation.  Therefore, they buy new stuff all the time.” Those leftover parts are how VetBikes works, he says. Instead of selling bikes or parts on Ebay or Craigslist and meeting someone in a parking lot to make a transaction, VetBikes offers cyclists a way to donate their unused bikes, components, and gear to a worthy cause.
Due to the generosity of many cyclists, as of last month VetBikes had delivered over 125 bikes to vets living throughout Washington state. Each took an average of six hours to tear down, rehab, polish, and rebuild. Newman wants everyone to know that there are still countless veterans who can benefit from your donations though.
“Almost every garage in the community has a decent not-so-new bike that is gathering dust. We can give it a new life, an honorable life, and you get a tax benefit to boot! But the result for these vets is a new level of freedom and independence, fitness, and recovery.”
If you have unused bikes or components gathering dust in your garage, please consider making a donation to VetBikes. You can learn more about the program by visiting their website at VetBikes.org.
To learn more about the Building 9 program, and to see a King 5 feature about VetBikes, click here.
To learn more about the JBLM Warrior Transition Battalion, click here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Three Month Old Program Making Difference for Veterans and South Sound Prairies

Planting career seeds in environmental field

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:55PM August 7th, 2014

Northwest Guardian

Environmental intern Forrest Edelman, a former Airman with the 5th Combat Communicationa Group, harvests prairie grass seeds Aug. 4 at Shotwells Landing Nursery near Rochester.
More information For more information or to sign up visit www.dva.wa.gov/internships.html.
For more information on South Sound Prairies http://www.southsoundprairies.org/.
White House blog on Sentinal Landscapes: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/01/sentinel-landscapes-where-conservation-working-lands-and-national-defense-interests-

On a sunny morning, a thin, tan man in a large brimmed khaki hat leans over to get a closer look at the long stalks he holds in his left hand. He takes a small pair of clippers to snip off a part full of fibrous bulbs. The plant, called Collinsia Grandiflora, is native to South Sound Prairies and part of a great collaborative effort to help veterans and the ecosystems. The man, Forrest Edelman, is retired Air Force and gaining experience in the environmental field, which he’d like to find a career in.
Those looking to get their hands dirty and enjoy the great outdoors after leaving the military have a new opportunity. The Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs and Center for Natural Lands Management, a land trust focused on preserving native species, came together last spring to help veterans looking for the skills to transition into an environmental career.
Edelman works on Shotwell’s Landing Nursery, one of two areas volunteers tend to near the Black River near Rochester. Shotwells began as a couple plots and volunteers spending hours looking for seeds in the wild to get to where it is today, with over many rows of plants growing outdoors, and several greenhouses for those put into plant plugs.
New opportunities
The program, started last April, teaches participants how to identify, plant and care for native species, licenses them to use prescribed fires and gives them real experience in the field. All of these skills, coupled with resume seminars and job searching help, are meant to get interns into the environmental jobs they’re interested in.
Nine veterans have participated in the program so far, with six still involved.
Edelman is one of these interns and works in the nursery program, learning about native plants. After receiving an internship through the CNLM while still attending Evergreen State College, Edelman heard about the Veterans Internship program and jumped at the chance.
“I’d like to eventually find work with the CNLM, because I love the South Sound prairies,” he said. “They are wonderful and should not disappear. I’d love to help with that.”
The first step to join this program is through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Matthew West, Prairie Restoration Coordinator, said this internship is intended for people who might not qualify for similar experience with Americorp or other veterans programs. Veterans send in a letter of interest and several other forms, depending on their service background.
“What we’re doing, even with those with dishonorable discharge or criminal backgrounds, is we look at them and work with them,” he said. “Different professionals at the department are helping them with drugs or substance issues. As long as they are enrolled in the system, they may have an opportunity with us.”
There is also no age limit to apply.
Transitioning smoothly
Patrick Dunn, South Sound Prairies Director, said this new program caters to the needs of vets.
“We try to shape the work to both to what our capabilities and expertise are and what the applicants are interested in,” he said. “That’s when it works best, when our energies and goals are the same.”
There will also be time for networking with those currently working for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
This is important for transitioning service members who are used to a rigid career path and not used to the private work force, he said.
“What we’ve found is that many vets are comfortable with them because a lot of the training is on the base, so they are used to training there and find it satisfying,” Dunn said. “That’s the crux of it, by helping maintain and conserve natural habitats on installation, it helps keep it ready for training in a wholly natural environment.”
Audrey Lamb, Conservation Assistant for CNLM’s South Sound Prairies Program, said they have been impressed with how well the interns have taken on these tasks.
“They all have experience with three key components; problem solving, using and fixing technology and communication skills,” she said. “The military has given them a really good start to go off into other areas, and we help add to that foundation.”
The future
This program was originally funded as part of a grant from the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program, which helps create partnerships with private and state groups to preserve the land used for military training.
The program is just three months old, which means future plans to expand are still in the future.
Word is spreading about this unique program. Just this week, a White House blog mentioned the South Sound Prairie work as an example of good conservation efforts. Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the first designated Sentinal Landscapes, which is given to areas that help nurture agriculture, military training and native wildlife. It also has the unique aspect of being a place to help veterans transition into civilian life, like Edelman and Skewer.
Dunn says the program may continue to expand in the coming years, in both the amount of interns and what is offered to those looking to learn.
In the meantime, Edelman continues harvesting seeds to be taken into a processing area. Here, the seed is separated from any other pieces and made ready for planting. Eventually, these seeds will go onto be studied, planted back into their natural habitat or grown with care for future seed harvests.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

WDVA goes to the dogs

WDVA goes to the dogs

Conference focuses on service dogs and veterans

By Melanie Casey Reprinted from www.Northwestmilitary.com  July 24, 2014 http://www.northwestmilitary.com/veterans/health/2014/07/wdva-goes-to-the-dogs/

Most of us have seen service dogs. Sometimes we'll spy one at a restaurant, laying calmly by its master's feet. Or perhaps in the mall, walking sedately as its owner makes his or her way through hordes of people. Usually distinguished by their tell-tale vests, service dogs are trained to assist with a myriad of conditions, including vision and hearing impairment, epilepsy, paralysis, diabetes and more. But a service dog is much more than the vest it wears.  For servicemembers and veterans suffering from visible and invisible wounds of war, including post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, these highly-trained dogs provide physical and emotional support that can truly save lives.
But for some, there is confusion about what service dogs can and can't do. Thursday, Aug. 7, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) and King County Veterans Program are hosting a daylong conference entitled "Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs" at Green River Community College in Auburn.
Geared for veterans, veteran service providers, dog trainers and local business owners, the event is designed to foster awareness and educate the public about the different roles of service dogs.
"It's really to educate the general population about what service animals can and can't do," said Dorothy Hanson, MA, LMHC, the Behavioral Health Program director at WDVA.
Conference presenters, including WDVA Service Dog Program Coordinator John George (with his goldendoodle, Alphie), will discuss and demystify the different types of service dogs, such as emotional support dogs, companion dogs and therapy dogs.
The event's keynote speaker is Kathryn Champion, a former science teacher from Thurston and Yakima counties. Champion, a U.S. Army reservist who deployed to Iraq where she commanded a civil affairs unit and earned the Bronze Star Medal, lost her vision due to a virus contracted downrange that caused her optic nerve to deteriorate.
Also on the docket is Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, a Medal of Honor recipient currently stationed with the 7th Infantry Division on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and service dog proponent.
Hanson notes that currently there is no nationally recognized certification for service dogs. Therefore, some dogs may be better trained - and behaved - than others. Moreover, not all dogs wearing a vest are professionally trained service animals.
The conference will also include a panel discussion that will highlight the different methods of training service dogs. For instance, some may be owner trained or rescues, while others are specifically bred for service. Representatives from Northwest Battle Buddies and Prison Partnerships will also take the stage.
"It's just a good lineup of interesting, informative presenters," Hanson said.
For more information about the event, visit dva.wa.gov/dogs.html.
Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs, Aug. 7, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Green River Community College, Lindbloom Student Center, 12401 SE 320th St., Auburn. $10 administration fee. Lunch will be provided. Register online at www.regonline.com by July 30. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Veterans WCC Crews Remove Debris from Remote Beaches


Thank you to Liam Antrim and Chiggers Stokes for sharing this article about Veterans on the Washington Conservation Crew cleaning our beaches here in Washington!


Check out some additional Internship opportunities at http://www.dva.wa.gov/internships.html

Veterans WCC Crews Remove Debris from Remote Beaches

by Liam Antrim and Chiggers Stokes

This WCC crew included Edward Hueghs, Aurelio Elliott, Peter Fritzerald, Justin Bebee, and Mikeal No-Line (not pictured) and was led by Aurelio Elliott Aurelio of the WA Department of Ecology. Photo: Mikeal

In the summer of 2011, Tony Petrillo spent ten days hiking the wilderness coast of the Olympic National Park.  Like many before him, he returned home impressed by nature’s beauty and disturbed by the amount of plastic and other marine debris he had seen.  But instead of resignation, he chose action. Tony, who is a member of the Jefferson County MRC in Port Townsend, drafted a plan for remote beach debris cleanup and brought it before the North Pacific Coast Marine Resources Committee (NPC MRC) in early 2013. Options outlined in his plan included hauling debris out by land, by air, or by water and discussed pro’s and con’s: the land route takes lots of person power and time; the air and water options involve less human labor but intersect with government bureaucracy due to Park and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary’s (OCNMS) access restrictions intended to minimize wildlife disturbance and maintain the character of designated wilderness. 

While the NPC MRC members discussed options for facilitating remote beach debris cleanups, a gift was delivered by the Washington State legislature. Fully-funded veterans conservation crews working for Washington Department of Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) were made available to the coast as part of this program to provide jobs and educational opportunities for Gulf War II era military veterans. Here was an immediate means of implementing part of Tony’s plan. Debris removal from outer coast beaches has long been the mission of Washington CoastSavers. Hundreds of CoastSaver volunteers clean up beaches each April and September where they have safe access and can get out and back with loads of debris in one day’s effort.  The more remote “red zones” on CoastSavers maps were the logical targets for WCC veterans crews – places too challenging to send untrained volunteers.  These areas include Goodman to Mosquito Creek, Toleak to Scott’s Bluff, south from Sand Point, and Duk Point. In late October 2013, a WCC veterans crew arrived at Neah Bay for their first assignment: to wrestle with debris on the far stretches of Shi Shi Beach and on the Makah Reservation. Aaron Parker, a Makah tribal member and employee, led the crew down unimproved trails to beautiful and remote shorelines fouled with debris. 

The veterans crews’ work on the outer coast has been coordinated and supported by Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), the Makah Tribe, Olympic National Park, and NPC MRC members. OCNMS staff trained the crews to collect data on the types and weight of debris and to identify and respond properly to hazardous waste, Japan tsunami marine debris, invasive species on debris, marine mammal strandings, and sea star wasting disease. Since that first visit last October, the crews have been out there for a total of eight weeks being chased by tides, slogging through mud and rain, and hauling heavy loads up steep bluff trails and out to the nearest road. Thus far, over a ton of plastic, foam, metal, rope and other debris has been gathered and removed from the marine environment by these WCC crews.

 The goal is to keep the remote outer coast shorelines as regular destinations on the WCC veterans crews’ schedules for the duration of their funding—at least through June 2015. In addition to removing debris, the crews are documenting the locations of things left behind. Generally these are objects too heavy or awkward to haul out over trails. With time, the crews’ data will be used to measure the cost effectiveness of this approach to remote beach cleanup. It is likely that a combination of approaches – volunteers, field-hardened crews, and boats or helicopters – will be required to keep our wilderness coastline from looking like a trash dump. In the meantime, the WCC veterans crews are a gift we are making the best use of, as often as possible.

"The AmeriCorps and Veteran Corps programs through the WCC allow environmentally concerned individuals to do many things to improve the many unique habitats of Washington State. We have removed at least one ton of debris from the shorelines of our home state. This restoration work is vital to keeping our beaches clean and aesthetic. To put it almost bluntly, we pick up the ball while others toss the ball around waiting for someone else to score,” comments crew member Mikeal No-Line.

Coastal visitors are certainly benefiting from the labors of these dedicated crews. If you see them out there, express your appreciation for their hard work and service to our nation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

WDVA Partnership with Thurston County Veterans Court Celebrates Five Years of Success


Five Years of Veterans Court Success Celebrated Throughout July

Public invited to special court presentations each Wednesday in July 

The public is invited to join in the celebration each Wednesday in July at 4 p.m. at the start of the weekly Veterans Court proceedings with special guest speakers, Veterans Court staff, and Veterans Court graduates and their families.  

"When we first introduced Veterans Court back in 2009, we were seeing more and more military veterans show up in court clearly struggling with military-related PTSD, other mental illness, and sometimes drug and alcohol addiction, " said District Court Judge Brett Buckley, who is also a veteran and presides over Veterans Court. "We knew that simply punishing them and churning them through the system wouldn’t address the underlying causes of their problem behavior. So our goal with Veterans Court all along has been a two-pronged approach—hold them accountable for their actions, but also support them in their efforts to get sober, get treatment, and find stability with their families.” 

Judge Buckley continued, “Now that we’re coming up on the five year anniversary, we’re not just celebrating the success of the program. We’re really celebrating the success of dozens and dozens of veterans who worked hard to turn their lives around and once again be positive contributors to the Thurston County community. "  

When Thurston County Veterans Court program was introduced on July 23, 2009 it was only the eleventh such program in the nation. Since then, veterans court programs have grown across the country and now number more than 160.  

Thurston County Veterans Court combines rigorous treatment and accountability to veterans and active duty military personnel facing incarceration. Participants sign a contract to complete the voluntary 18-24 month program in order to reduce their jail time or to avoid jail time. The program combines ongoing judicial supervision and intensive monitoring with input from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals led by the judge. Veterans Court staff also work closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks, the Veterans' Benefits Administration, the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, Thurston County WorkSource, and other veterans service organizations and legal resources to connect qualifying veterans and military service members with military benefits and programs that will help them achieve sobriety and stability.  

Thurston County Veterans Court is one of six therapeutic courts that are funded by the county’s Treatment Sales Tax, which was established in January 2009. The one-tenth of one percent sales tax raises about $4 million annually in Thurston County to support Veterans Court and other therapeutic courts, as well as chemical dependency and mental health treatment services for jail inmates and for outpatient mental health and chemical dependency treatment services for adults and juveniles currently involved in the criminal justice system. For more information about the Thurston County Treatment Sales Tax, visit www.co.thurston.wa.us and click on the “Treatment Sales Tax” tab under Quick Links. 

Over the last five years, Thurston County Veterans Court has had 43 participants, and 24 have successfully graduated the program. There are currently 10 who are in the process of completing the program. Graduates often praise the program upon graduation, stating that they have rediscovered the pride, dignity and honor they learned during their service in the United States military and are now applying those principles successfully in their personal lives and with their families.  

Thurston County Veterans Court recently launched a volunteer mentor program where other veterans provide help, guidance and advocacy to the participants in a way that only a fellow veteran can provide. Mentors are required to be veterans themselves, and can be graduates of the program. 

To learn more about Thurston County Veterans Court and how you can support the program, visit the Thurston County District Court homepage at www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt and click on the “Veterans Court” tab.  

WHAT:          Veterans Court Fifth Anniversary Presentations
  • July 2—Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe
  • July 9—Veterans Court Graduate Casey Turner and Volunteer Mentor Program Coordinator Casey Wegner
  • July 16—Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza
  • July 23—Washington State Attorney General Rob Ferguson invited
  • July 30—JBLM I-Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza invited
WHEN:        4 p.m. each Wednesday in July

WHERE:      County Courthouse Building Three—District Court, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW in Olympia, 98502
Contact:  Staci Coleman, Veterans Court Program Manager at (360) 867-2034 or ColemaS@co.thurston.wa.us


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Making a Year of Service the American Way of Life

In March, 2014 WDVA’s VetCorps joins the Nation’s Leading National Service Organizations in a campaign to show how AmeriCorps members are making an impact on some of our nation’s toughest issues.  From disaster relief and veteran reintegration to college access and childhood nutrition, AmeriCorps has engaged writers and producers in Hollywood who are ready to tell these stories. Our goal is simple, but ambitious: We envision a day when young Americans turn to each other and ask, “Where will your year of national service be?”

As one of the faces in this campaign, WDVA’s VetCorps is being highlighted for our work in Empowering Veterans! 

Over the next three years, ServiceNation will lead this initiative, engaging entertainment companies and TV show executives in an effort to integrate powerful stories of service by AmeriCorps members into the scripts of their shows. Only two weeks ago, AmeriCorps was mentioned in an episode of HBO's True Detective, a direct result of this effort. In the coming months, the campaign plans to roll out other partnerships with humorous digital platforms, YouTube stars, social-minded brands, athletes, celebrities, and more successful integrations that will help tell the story of national service in America.

We also want to hear from you -- share this exciting news with your friends and family on social media using the hashtag #serveAyear. Tell us what you think or if you have a great idea about how AmeriCorps could play a role in your favorite show.

To learn more about this exciting campaign, check out http://www.serveayear.org/. And to find a VetCorps member near you, visit: http://www.dva.wa.gov/vet_conservation_corps.html Stay Tuned!

Monday, March 24, 2014

VA Eliminates Veterans’ Annual Financial Reporting Requirement (Means Test)

Beginning in March 2014, most Veterans will no longer be required to complete the annual financial assessment known as a Means Test. Instead, VA will receive income information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA), and will contact the Veterans only if the information received indicates a change in their VA health benefits may be appropriate. However, Veterans who are eligible for enrollment only because their income is below an established threshold will be required to complete a means test when applying for VA health care enrollment.

What is Changing?

Beginning in March 2014, most Veterans will no longer be required to complete the annual financial assessment known as a Means Test.
Under the new process, Veterans will be required to have one financial assessment on file – their current file if they’re already enrolled, or the assessment they provide when they
apply. That assessment will be maintained and monitored by VA and updated only as substantial income changes occur.

VA will receive income information from the IRS and SSA, and will contact the Veteran only when the information received indicates a change in VA health benefits may be appropriate. Consistent with VA’s current income verification processes, no changes to the Veteran’s health benefits will occur unless the review process confirms the Veteran’s income exceeds applicable thresholds.

Veterans applying for enrollment for the first time are still required to submit income information.

There is no change in VA’s long-standing policy to provide no-cost care to indigent Veterans, Veterans with catastrophic medical conditions, Veterans with a disability rating of 50 percent or higher, or for conditions that are officially rated as “service-connected.”

If at any time the Veteran’s financial status changes, the Veteran may submit an updated financial assessment. VA encourages Veterans to continue to report changes in their income information as well as their personal information, such as address, phone numbers, dependents, next of kin, and health insurance using VA Form 1010EZR available online or at their local medical center.

Veterans may contact their local VA health care facility or call VA’s toll-free number at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).