Kiersten Downs: Cyclist, Veteran, Activist

Kiersten Downs is a PhD student at the University of South Florida, but she is nothing like a typical student. Instead of relaxing on a beach in beautiful South Florida or riding cable cars in San Francisco, Downs is honoring veterans on a 3,800 mile bicycle adventure across the country.

She began her journey in San Francisco in June, and has since biked over 2,500 miles towards Washington D.C., her final destination. Downs is meeting with student veterans all over the country, raising money and awareness for Student Veterans of America. SVoA is national coalition whose mission is provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy they need to be successful in school and after they graduate.

The Student Veterans of America is a cause near to Downs’s heart, as she is a student veteran herself. Downs served in Air Force and was deployed to Iraq mid semester her junior year of undergraduate education. As well as being a veteran herself, Downs comes from a military family. Her grandfather served during World War Two in the Army Air Corps, and Downs was proud to follow in his footsteps serving her country from a young age.

Downs says about her experiences inside and outside of the armed forces, “The moments that define our lives cannot always be planned for. Yet the moments that are completely unexpected are often the ones that are the most special.”

Stay tuned for further installments chronicling Downs’s journey.

How To Have the Perfect 4th of July

As Independence Day approaches, many people are looking to go out of town. The beach, lakes, and mountains are all common destinations for Independence Day celebrations. There are so many exciting destinations available on this patriotic holiday, but getting there can be a challenge. Fortunately, with a Veterans Identification Program card, you are eligible for veteran-exclusive discounts to both Avis and Budget Rent-A-Car. If you choose to rent from Avis, you are eligible for 20% your total bill. Budget also offers 20% off the total bill.

Don’t let expenses get in the way of your 4th of July getaway. With a discount from Avis or Budget Rent-A-Car, a trip to beach to see the fireworks is easy and inexpensive.

Remembering Gandolfini

Mobsters, HBO, and The Sopranos are most likely at the forefront when thinking of James Gandolfini, not his incredible work for veterans. Despite playing a ruthless mob boss on TV, Gandolfini was actually a very generous person who was dedicated to bettering the lives of our honorable veterans. At heart, he was a true man of the people, always advocating to bring attention to how to best serve veterans.

One of his veteran projects was “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq” in 2007. Gandolfini both hosted and executive produced a documentary for HBO about the wounded soldiers and the complicated emotions they feel on the memories of their “alive day,” the day they were lucky to survive while in Iraq. Sargent Bryan Anderson contributed to the film saying, “Everybody makes a big deal about your alive day… and I can see their point, that you’d want to celebrate something like that. But from my point of view, it’s like ‘OK, we’re sitting here celebrating the worst day of my life. Great, let’s remind me of that every year.” Gandolfini portrays the sobering reality of life after Iraq, something that is difficult for many veterans.

During production, Gandolfini went to Iraq to visit the troops on behalf of the USO. “Alive Day Memories” tells the stories of ten different soldiers. They share their feelings about the future, being wounded, and their never-ending devotion to America.

Gandolfini passed away on June 19th, and his memory is survived by the documentaries he created and by the veterans’ lives he touched.

The Moving Wall

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC is “A Wall that heals,” that deliberately puts any controversies surrounding the war aside to simply honor those who served our country when they were called upon. Those who were killed or who are missing’s names are inscribed on black granite in the order in which the casualty occurred. Over 58,000 brave veterans are honored in this solemn memorial.

Not everyone is able to make the trip to Washington DC to pay their respects to our brave veterans of the Vietnam War. Be it financial burdens, responsibilities at work, or people who need you at home; a trip to DC may not in the cards for you this year.

“The Moving Wall” is a half-size replica of the memorial in Washington DC and has been traveling the country since 1984. All 58,272 names from the original wall are inscribed on The Moving Wall. Also, like the original wall, mourners are able to trace their loved ones’ names with pencil and paper to create a personal memento. Founded by John Devitt, the Moving Wall aims to bring the same experience he felt in DC to those who are unable to make it to Washington DC. He felt intensely positive power from his visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and wanted to share that with the entire nation. Today, two replicas of the wall travel the country each year from April to November, spending a week at each site and ending on Veteran’s Day.

This weekend, I went to visit the Malden, MA site of The Moving Wall. I have also visited the original memorial many years ago, and I was amazed at how well The Moving Wall embodies Devitt’s vision to recreate the experience. It was incredible to feel the same emotions and be able to pay my respects once again in Malden. This site was hosted by the Forest Dale Cemetary from June 7th-10th, a very symbolic and meaningful location for the city of Malden. Eighteen Malden servicemen were lost in Vietnam, and most of them were laid to rest in Forest Dale.

Below is a schedule for the remainder of the wall’s tour.

The Moving Wall Schedule
6/13 – 6/17 Wilmington, Vermont
6/20 – 6/24 Staceyville, Maine
6/27 – 7/1 Hatfield, Pennsylvania
7/4 – 7/8 Hastings-On-Hudson, New York
7/11 – 7/15 Follansbee, West Virginia
8/1 – 8/5 Middlesborugh, Kentucky
8/8 – 8/12 Spencer, Indiana
8/15 – 8/19 Ironton, Ohio
8/22 – 8/26 Three Oaks, Michigan
8/29 – 9/2 Sparta, Michigan
9/12 – 9/15 Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin
9/19 – 9/23 Washington, Missouri
9/26 – 9/30 Adel, Georgia
10/3 – 10/7 Jackson, Alabama
10/10 – 10/14 Cleveland, Texas
10/17 – 10/21 Rio Rancho, New Mexico
10/31 – 11/4 Camden, Tennessee
11/7 – 11/11 Aurora, Illinois

Young, but Mighty Heroes

The Military History Club of Laramie, Wyoming is doing their part to support wounded warriors. These young students, some are only thirteen or fourteen years old, are making bracelets to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project. These aren’t your typical decorative bracelets – made from several feet of parachute cord, frequently referred to as paracord, they can be transformed into survival gear. The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit group that helps wounded warriors make the transition to civilian life.

The bracelets came from an Iraq war military tradition. Club advisor, Oscar Lilley – an Iraq combat veteran, says that “When you were in Iraq, you’d have paracord and making these bracelets was almost just a thing for soldiers to do in their spare time. Afterward, it was almost like a testament of being a veteran, coming home wearing a green paracord bracelet.” The club believed that making these bracelets was the perfect testament to the service that veterans have provided our country.

The bracelets sell for $5, and the club has raised $250 so far. The project has also given the members the unique opportunity to learn about the post 9/11 era. The club is largely made up of students who were only one – three years old at the time of the 9/11 attacks and beginning of the Iraq war. By making these bracelets that meant so much to the veterans and raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project they learn about America’s history and the honor and sacrifice that the military made for our country.

Honoring the Fallen

Veterans’ ID program is here to serve veterans, but it is equally important to honor our fallen. These men and women gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom, and it is important to remember that without them America would not be the great nation it is. Memorial Day is a unique holiday – both a celebration and a time of solemn remembrance. This weekend Veterans’ ID celebrated the American spirit, while remembering the lives that were lost to protect it. One soldier who chose to remain anonymous describes those in the services’ brave sacrifice by saying, “We are not your sons and daughters, whom you must protect and defend. We are your sword and your shield. We are men and women who volunteer to place our lives on the line so you do not have to. We do not decide when or where we will be sent. We go.” On Memorial Day, and every day, we respect and honor such patriotism and bravery.

We are America the Free, Because of the Brave.

Veteran Athletes Prepare for National Veterans Wheelchair Games!

More than 500 Veterans across the United States, Puerto Rico and Great Britain will gather to compete in the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa, Flordia from July 13-18, 2013. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki stated that the “VA is committed to world-class care for our Nation’s Veterans and we encourage them to use adaptive sports as a key component of their physical rehabilitation. These athletes, more so than anyone, know the healing power of competition and camaraderie that this event provides.”

The games that are taking place in Tampa are open to all U.S. military Veterans who use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries, neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments. There are 18 different events which include swimming, table tennis and wheelshair slalom among others. The public is invited to attend any and all competitions throughout the week. Admission is free and make sure you check out the Veteran Affairs website (http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/wcg/index.asp) for up-to-date information and to see how to become a volunteer!

Source: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2435

Does Location Matter for Disabled Veterans?

Did you know that if you are a veteran living in South Dakota, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will typically respond in half the time than those who live in Northern California? What about those who return home to New York, Los Angeles or Chicago? Those veterans waited even longer than the ones who returned home to Nebraska or North Dakota.

The cause behind these wait times was detailed in an analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Essentially, the report says that those veterans who live in less populated states usually have a quicker response to their compensation claims no matter what the problem is. The interactive map in the link below helps veterans see where there is a growing backlog based on the number of claims and the veteran population. For those areas on the map that are have a backlog, you can see the number of vets waiting, the decrease or increase in claims, the average wait time and the number of veterans that have been waiting for more than 125 days. Not only can you see those statistics, but you can read personal stories from individuals who live in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Minnesota.

Source: http://www.stripes.com/news/waiting-for-help-tracking-veterans-disability-claims

Housing Homeless Veterans

Five military buildings on Fort Snelling’s Upper Post in Hennepin County, MN are going to be repurposed in order to combat a major issue facing today’s society: homeless veterans. The plan is to create 58 affordable apartments for homeless veterans and their families. This is a part of a larger effort headed by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to end veteran homelessness and make use of vacant properties.

Construction of these 58 apartments will begin this summer, and they should be livable by summer 2014. Any honorably discharged veteran is able to apply for housing. For those veterans with families, multi-bedroom units will also be available. These apartment units are not homeless shelters; rather, they are permanent housing. The history of Fort Snelling seems very fitting for today’s homeless veterans and CommonBond, a nonprofit developer of housing services, says the plan for Fort Snelling’s Upper Post is to retain as much of the historic integrity of the buildings as possible.

Source: http://www.stripes.com/news/veterans/fort-snelling-buildings-to-house-homeless-veterans-1.212138

Brooks Brothers and HP Veterans ID Member Discounts

One of the many great parts of joining Veterans’ Identification Program is the exceptional benefits with our corporate partners. Today to honor your service HP is offering discounts on laptops, desktop PC’s, and printers. This is your chance to score the lowest prices of the season and up to fifty percent off of top notch products from HP.

Not only are there member discounts with HP today, but also at Brooks Brothers. The new spring collection is in, and Brooks Brothers is offering twenty-five percent off and free shipping on online orders for members today. The spring styles feature the Supima Cotton Collection, a collection of quality and stylish dress shirts, and many are made here in the US.

Below are the links for these exclusive deals.

HP: http://shopping.hp.com/en_US/home-office/-/static/page-springsale?jumpid=em_r329_hhos_6322&aoid=134094&email=null&rid=C1AEE8F08157A17EA35DF0A8353E707A&campaign_ID=130022|136207|1378473

Brooks Brothers: http://www.brooksbrothers.com/Supima-Cotton-Collection/mens-featured-Supima-Cotton-Collection,default,sc.html?CMP=EMC_20130320_New_Arrivals&et_cid=329316&et_rid=10355913&j=329316&l=174620&e=sylvesterryan@me.com&u=4913723&jb=0&mid=7001508

Benefits

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  • Personalized ID Card
  • and more to come!

 

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