Category Archives: Volunteering

Citizen-Soldiers Vs. Soldier-Citizens

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The divide between America’s soldier-citizens and the society they serve has a significant impact on policy decisions and military budgets.

Exploring the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in “Killing for the Republic” with  Dr. Steele Brand.”


“The veneration of service members in the United States today manifests benignly in the refrain, “Thank you for your service,” and the much appreciated discounts at the local home improvement center, but this reverence can also have less benign effects. The number of retired flag officers serving in high government positions, sitting on the boards of defense contractors, and appearing as talking heads on television shapes policy, which in turn drives Pentagon budgets.

Dr. Steele Brand, a professor of history at The King’s College in New York City, explored the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in his recent book, “Killing for the Republic.Republican Rome produced highly adaptive armies with farmers who would moonlight as effective soldiers during the campaigning season and then return to their families and plows—a practice that helped to remove the barriers between the military and the society it served, according to Brand. He says Rome’s part-time soldiers faced an uphill battle against enemy professionals, but that their ability to adapt meant they usually prevailed in the end. In this interview, Dr. Brand explains the differences between the Roman and American models of training soldiers and how those differences contribute to the civilian-military divide.”

Bipartisan National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service



A panel charged with evaluating the Selective Service System [has now recommended] requiring women to register future military drafts.

The bipartisan National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — spent the last two years holding information sessions on the issue.”


“They will include for the first time requiring women between the ages of 18 and 25 to register for potential conscription in the event of a prolonged war, as all young men are currently required to do.

Sgt. Nicole Turner, a motor transport heavy equipment mechanic, practices sighting in during Female Engagement Team training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on Oct. 10, 2018. A national commission is considering whether women should be required to register for the Selective Service System for a potential future military draft. (Lance Cpl. Tawanya Norwood/Marine Corps)
Women in the military draft, or dump the system altogether? New report looks at radical options

Big changes are expected to come to the Selective Service System in coming years, but exactly what is still unclear.Leo Shane III

The idea has gained traction among some women’s rights groups and complaints from some conservative activists in recent years. In the past, courts have ruled against adding women to the draft because certain combat posts were closed to them, but Pentagon officials in recent years have lifted nearly all those restrictions.

In a statement on Tuesday, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, praised the commission’s work and promised to closely consider the findings.

“Opening Selective Service to women is just one of their recommendations,” he said. “I look forward to examining the data and arguments the commission has compiled more closely.

“In the meantime, it is important that my colleagues have an opportunity to hear from the Commission directly. I believe that public hearings in the Armed Services Committee and other relevant committees are essential.”

When those public hearings might be held is unclear. Currently, nearly all congressional hearings have been postponed indefinitely because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump earlier this month recommended keeping any public gatherings to fewer than 10 people in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness.

Legislative proposals have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain.

Congress will have to adopt new legislation in order to make the change of adding women to the draft. Or they could opt to get rid of the Selective Service System altogether.

Recent legislative proposals regarding registration of women have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain, and several studies have questioned how effective it would be if officials needed it to replenish troop levels.

That hasn’t happened in more than 40 years, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they prefer the current all-volunteer force to the idea of a mostly conscripted military.

Men between the ages of 18 and 25 who don’t register for the draft face possible fines and jail time, and may be ineligible for benefits like federal student loans. Advocates for adding women to the registration system have argued in the past that levying those penalties only on men is unfair.”

Tips On Finding That Perfect Mentor

Image: Micro Mentor


Congratulations! You’ve taken the leap and registered on the MicroMentor platform. Now you’re ready to find the perfect mentor to help your business grow and meet its goals. Now what? How can you make the most out of your MicroMentor experience? 


  1. Create a strong profile: When creating your profile, be sure to give a simple explanation of your business. Be sure to include your business vision, mission, needs, and the problem you’re trying to solve. It’s also not a bad idea to upload a professional photo to invoke confidence for potential mentors. Entrepreneurs that follow these steps are 10 times more likely to find a mentor, so make sure you create the most compelling profile that you can.
  2. Be patient: Finding the perfect mentor may require patience. If you don’t receive a response from a potential mentor right away, don’t be discouraged. They are graciously donating their time and may be unable to get back to you due to busy schedules. It’s also advisable that you reach out to various mentors to improve your chances of finding the perfect mentor. Keep trying! It’ll be worth the wait.
  3. Don’t rush: Once you’ve identified a mentor, don’t rush through the “getting to know you” phase. Ask him or her questions about their experience and how they got to where they are today. Tell them more about yourself and why you decided to start your business or come up with your business idea. Building a solid foundation will help your mentor to better understand how to help you, and you’ll be more comfortable when you put into the action the next piece of advice to…
  4. Have a clear vision of what you want to gain from your mentor/mentee relationship: When you begin your search for a mentor, there’s a few questions you should consider. Think about what dynamic you hope to have with your mentor. How will both of you feel more comfortable communicating? And how often? How can they help you accomplish your business goals and the benchmarks you have set? How can they help you track your progress and reach your personal deadline? Your mentorship will be more productive and fruitful if you and your mentor can come to agreement on a game plan.
  5. Have an open mind and follow through: Our mentors are here to help you think outside of the box to solve your business problems. Keep an open mind when receiving their feedback, as they could encourage you to think outside of the box and offer you advice you need to better your business and help differentiate yourself from your competitors. Mentor Eleftheria Egel’s experience on MicroMentor has shown her the importance of being “open-minded, respectful and patient”. “There is no right and wrong. It is simply a different way of doing things. It may take a little more time to coordinate. However, if mentor and mentee are aligned in their vision and goals, the whole relationship and experience will run smoothly and successfully”, she explains.

MicroMentor understands that owning your own business, while rewarding, can be challenging. We also believe that mentoring is a powerful resource for entrepreneurs to receive the guidance they need so that they’re not navigating their journey alone. To learn more about how MicroMentor has already helped our community of entrepreneurs, have a look at our 2019 Impact Report.”

Vets Housing Vouchers In The Thousands Go Unused

A program with a proven track record to help homeless veterans is being under-utilized and Congress wants to know why. (Getty Images)


VA Homeless Program Office acknowledged 14,000 vouchers went unused last year, even though an estimated 38,000 veterans are still considered homeless.

The department has about 650 case management positions currently vacant.  Federal hiring rules coupled with the slow pace of federal contracting rules have made filling the positions and processing more vouchers difficult.


“Lawmakers want to know why thousands of housing vouchers for destitute veterans are going unused each year despite almost 38,000 potential recipients still living on the street.

The answer, Veterans Affairs officials testified on Tuesday, is a combination of hiring problems within the federal agency and rising rent costs in areas of the country with some of the largest homeless veterans populations.

Outside advocates warned that without solutions to those problems, the national goal of ending homelessness among veterans will remain stalled.

“Every veteran deserves safe and permanent housing,” said Kathryn Monet, CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. “We’ve got to pair investments in affordable housing with housing-first initiatives in order to see true success.”

At issue are the Housing and Urban Development/Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, launched in 2008. Over the last 11 years, in coordination with community groups, the program has provided direct housing payments to veterans in an effort to provide a stable living situation, allowing them to more effectively deal with other health and employment issues.

Outside advocates have lauded the vouchers as a key tool in driving down homeless numbers among veterans. The total number of veterans without stable housing nationwide has dropped by half over the last decade, with most of the decrease coming between 2010 and 2016.

As of last fall, more than 90,000 HUD-VASH vouchers were in use.

But Keith Harris, national director of clinical operations in the VA Homeless Program Office, acknowledged at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday that about 14,000 vouchers went unused last year, even though an estimated 38,000 veterans are still considered homeless.

Part of that problem is a result of paperwork issues. The department has about 650 case management positions currently vacant (about 16 percent of the federal workforce handling the vouchers). He said if the positions were filled, “HUD-VASH could house over 6,000 additional veterans.”

But Harris said the slow pace of federal hiring rules coupled with the slow pace of federal contracting rules have made filling the positions and processing more vouchers difficult.

In addition, Housing and Urban Development officials acknowledged that in some regions across the country, federal calculations for the voucher amounts have not kept pace with local housing costs.

That issue, lawmakers said, needs a faster fix from VA and HUD bureaucrats.

“All over the country, in places like California and Florida, these vouchers aren’t enough,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla. “Part of the reason these vouchers aren’t being used is they aren’t helpful.”

Federal officials promised they are working on both issues, although affordable housing issues will take wider efforts from local communities and real estate firms.

VA and HUD leaders also looking at expanding eligibility criteria for voucher recipients, to give more veterans access to the financial support.

The hearing was held one day after House lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a measure to extend the homelessness vouchers to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, who are excluded from a host of current VA health and transition benefits.

Harris said the department supports the idea, and estimates as many as 6,000 of the nearly 38,000 homeless veterans spread across the country today could have an other-than-honorable discharge.

The annual point-in-time count for federal homelessness estimates is scheduled for next week, although results from that work won’t be made public until this fall. While veterans homelessness dropped by half over the last decade, the rate among the entire U.S. homeless population decreased by only about 11 percent.

Both lawmakers and VA officials cited that statistic as evidence that their veteran-focused programs are effective. The next step, they said, is making sure they are more efficient and more fully used.

“We have a responsibility to abolish chronic homelessness for veterans, and strengthening the HUD-VASH program is an important first step,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif.”

Time For A National Service Requirement?

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The pace of global and domestic change along with the disruptive effects of technology will likely only accelerate the cultural tear underway among many of us Americans.

Maybe it’s time for a program that promotes the idea of advanced citizenship to match up to all the other ways in which this country is so advanced.


“Many of us who are concerned about the direction of our country seek ways to revitalize America’s civic culture and re-validate our nation’s motto, e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”).

As Americans, we sometimes assume that progress and development are a given. Travel the world (serve in the military) and look at history, and we know better. While in some ways we grow wealthier as a nation, we have become weaker in other ways — less self-reliant and sturdy, less accountable, and less connected — the “united” in our nation’s name is showing signs of wear. It’s also a law of social physics that there is no such thing as a free lunch, so the important question then becomes: “What should be required from any one of us to be a part of all of us?”

The United States of America could change the game with a national service requirement for all of us. We could elect to impose upon ourselves some period of service as a requirement of all able citizens. Perhaps even rights (voting) and privileges (health care) would depend on fulfilling such an obligation? National service could be a forcing function for collective self-discipline to build better citizens — it’s a way to save ourselves, from ourselves.

This significant sacrifice from each of us might take the form of local, regional or national service. That service could be in one or more of a number of fields required for a functioning civil society — education, health care, municipal services, and certainly defense (I am painfully aware of how field commanders would prefer volunteers to conscripts any day, but there is a larger point here, perhaps). While such a program could help us get things done as a country, it would also bring people together who would otherwise not meet or develop an appreciation for each other — and not just individuals, but entire classes, races and geographies who presently do not mix.

Much of what once ensured these values and our enfranchisement as citizens (other than taxes) does not exist today — like the draft — or has just become less prominent in public life: civic organizations, charity, various non-business associations, certain aspects of public education. And bureaucracies are often poor agents for change when individual human beings with individual problems are concerned, but our problem is a group phenomenon, which calls for a group answer.

Moreover, some social, political or economic challenges need solutions at scale — war, the New Deal, space travel, the internet. The vessel that has historically proven most ready for such responses is the government, which, unlike the private sector, is the one pre-approved investment that need not pay dividends in the next quarter — i.e., we allow and even expect government to make moonshot programs come to life.

There are no doubt many reasons why this is a challenging concept to take mainstream. Barriers range from a lack of historical precedent (in this country), to fierce individuality, to an all-time low respect for government leaders and institutions. It would be messy and complex — many things worth doing are — but the visibility and forced compression, and resolution, of many of our national or cultural issues through such a program would be in our hands in a much more collaborative sense.

Intentional and deliberate crucibles that form us as people and as citizens are today in short supply. Universal service could empower people as individuals to be an effective part of the whole without losing their identity, and could ultimately increase our individual sense of identity as Americans. Often it is some external threat that most easily unites people, but in this case we are the threat. Citizenship is like sport; it takes practice to get good at it. For the sake of the American experiment, present and future, we need some exercise. “


Kepler Knott is a researcher and writer who has lived and worked among his fellow citizens from different backgrounds, including serving in the U.S. Army National Guard as a citizen-soldier. Having visited, lived and/or worked and served in over 40 countries, he has gained a fundamental appreciation for just how valuable the American experiment is.

Veterans in Congress Come Together ‘For Country’

Image: “War on the Rocks”


The ‘For Country’ Caucus. Democrat and Republican Veterans meet regularly and work together on interests of common concern. They are still friends and what unites them.


“Have you heard of the ‘For Country’ caucus? In a political moment defined by acrimony above all else, this caucus brings together members of Congress who have served in the military — Democrats and Republicans.

They meet regularly and work together on interests of common concern, including defense, but also beyond. And shortly after the president was impeached, on a week that might be the peak of partisan peevishness, four members of the caucus — Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Michael Waltz (R-FL) — sat down with Ryan to explain why they are still friends and what unites them.”

Eight Tips For Vets Who Want To Start Their Own Businesses

Photo: Getty Images


Veterans have proven themselves to be among the country’s best entrepreneurs, starting major companies such as Fed Ex, Nike and Walmart.

Federal agencies, veteran support groups and private companies provide advice to aspiring veteran entrepreneurs.


“If you’re a veteran who wants to be your own boss, it may not be obvious how to get started. Here’s what they told us:

1. Take advantage of the help available to you

Vets who want to start their own businesses can run into a unique problem: There are so many programs and resources out there to help, they may not know where to start.

Misty Stutsman, director of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, said there are several hundred programs developed to help vets start their own businesses.

“There’s a huge navigation issue that veterans are now facing,” she said. “With all of those resources, you can kind of spin your wheels.”

Stutsman suggested that vets start by finding local groups and resources, as well as consulting their network of fellow vets to see what groups they found most helpful.

The military’s transition assistance program, or TAP, includes a section focused on entrepreneurship called Boots to Business, which can help vets learn the basics of entrepreneurship and get a grasp on the support programs available to them. Vets who have already separated from the military can get a version of this training by signing up for its sister program, Boots to Business Reboot.

2. Check out the Small Business Administration

You’ve probably heard about business owners frustrated with government rules and regulations, but did you know that there’s an entire government agency dedicated to helping small business owners?

The Small Business Administration has hundreds of Small Business Development Centers scattered across the country, as well as nearly two dozen Veterans Business Outreach Centers catering to veterans and others with ties to the military.

“SBA has this amazing myriad of resources,” Stutsman said.

Larry Stubblefield, associate administrator for SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, said his organization can help veterans find mentors, navigate lenders, learn how to market themselves and much more.

“We have 22 Veterans Business Outreach Centers located around the country,” Stubblefield said. “They’re like a one-stop shop for transitioning service members, veterans, military spouses.”

And the cost is already covered by your tax dollars, typically.

“The vast majority of our resources are free to the recipient.”

3. Find a mentor

“The folks who go out and connect … you’re much more likely to be successful than going at it alone,” Stubblefield said. “Entrepreneurship is definitely a team sport.”

If you know fellow vets who started their own businesses, reach out and ask them for advice. If you don’t, look into the SCORE program, a volunteer initiative associated with SBA that helps vets find business mentors.

“SCORE’s been around 56 years, now, and it’s what is called a resource partner of the SBA,” said Jay Gladney, a certified SCORE mentor. “We actually extend their … personnel resources to allow them to better serve SBA clients.”

SCORE connects budding entrepreneurs with mentors who have successfully grown their own businesses, often in the same field. The mentors can help budding entrepreneurs hone their ideas, improve their pitches to lenders and plan for growth and next steps.

There are 348 SCORE chapters throughout the U.S., and you can search for mentors online, as well as viewing SCORE entrepreneurship webinars and courses.

4. Research and test your idea

“There are very few brand-new ideas out there,” Gladney said.

But the fact that someone has probably already tried your business idea in some form can work to your advantage – it gives you the opportunity to learn from their successes and failures.

“Learn as much as you can about the industry, the product and the service that you’re going into, so that you’re going in with a much better possibility of success,” Gladney said.

Gladney and other entrepreneurship experts told Military Times that it is important to make sure that your idea has enough target consumers who are eager to buy what you’re trying to sell. This probably means doing more than just asking your friends and family what they think.

Gladney suggested that entrepreneurs create surveys using free online tools to help them better understand what the consumers they’re targeting really want.

“You can actually create a small survey to ask people about what it is that you’re creating, whether they would be interested in buying that, and even ask them the price points,” he said.

5. Build a business plan

You’ve surely heard that you need to make a business plan before you launch your own company. But what exactly is a business plan?

You should be making a “fairly robust document” in the range of 15 to 20 pages, Gladney said. And it’s important that you physically write it out, rather than just having a vague sense of it in your head.

“Getting it written down is important, because it forces them to be specific and to make it make sense,” he said.

Ask your network of mentors and advisors to help.

And once you write the plan down, it doesn’t become an infallible document that should never be changed again, said Stutsman of Syracuse’s IVMF.

“A business plan becomes a living document,” she said. “ It’s not something that’s set in stone.”

Stutsman said that business owners should go back to their mentors and advisors, even long after getting their businesses off the ground, for advice and help adjusting their business plans to meet changing conditions.

6. Figure out financing

Launching a business will require money. Depending on your business, it could be a lot, or it could be a relatively modest amount. But regardless, you’re probably going to need to find a lender.

One of the first things that any lender will want to see is a business plan and market research that shows that your idea is viable.

“Lenders are going to be looking at that,” said SBA’s Stubblefield. “They’re not just going to, you know, hand you money.”

Even once you have all that material together, chances are that you’ll still have a hard time getting a loan by just walking into your nearest bank.

“Banks are generally a little difficult for startups,” said SCORE’s Gladney. “There’s no track record for success of the business for a startup, and so therefore the bank has less data on which to evaluate the risk that they’re taking.”

That can lead to a lot of rejections. Instead, you may want to start with special lenders dedicated to helping small businesses, such as lenders associated with The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, or CDFI Fund.

Another great resource is the SBA’s Lender Match program. Just fill out some forms online and the service connects you with possible funding sources, all of which have been approved by the SBA.

7. Talk with your family

Your personal and family finances – credit scores, debt, collateral, etc. – will affect your ability to get a business loan, Gladney said.

And of course, the inverse is true as well: Whether your business succeeds or fails will have a big impact on your family’s financial situation. So starting your own business needs to be a family decision.

“You absolutely must have … partner/family buy-in, or you’re doomed to fail,” said Janet Harris, director of recruitment for Dream Vacations, a franchise brand that helps entrepreneurs launch their own travel businesses.

One way to minimize your personal financial risk is to start slow, said Stutsman of Syracuse’s IVMF.

“Don’t quit your day job … Don’t cash out your 401k on an idea,” she said. “It’ll take a while to get to cash flow. It’ll take a while until you can take an income without hurting your company.”

In addition, Gladney recommended setting up a separate legal structure for your company, such as an LLC, so that the company bears more of the financial risk, not you. But even if you take all these steps, starting your own business is still a big risk.

“You have to assume the risk if you want the reward,” Gladney said.

8. Consider franchising

Starting a business from scratch will require you to do marketing, accounting, website building and much more. Are you an expert in all of those areas? Are you ready to pay someone else to help?

If not, franchising might be a great option.

“If you have a franchise, it’s like a box with a big bow on top,” said Janet Harris of Dream Vacations. Inside that box, you’ll find marketing, accounting, training and other help.

Of course, that help comes with extra cost.

SBA’s Stubblefield said that while franchisees can typically expect “a lot of support from corporate headquarters,” they are also likely to have much steeper startup costs.

Franchisees also typically have monthly franchise fees, or royalties, marketing expenses, material costs and other ongoing expenses.

That said, the franchise system is often a very good fit for veterans, Harris said.

“Franchising is a road map, so you follow that road map to success, which is also what … men and women in the military do,” she said. “That makes them very comfortable, and it also gives them more confidence.”

VetFran, a branch of the International Franchise Association, has online advice and resources for veterans interested in franchising.”

Are You Driving the Tools And Not The Car In Launching Your Small Business?



“SMALLTOFEDS”  By Ken Larson

There is a new kind of monkey these days –  the technology monkey. That sucker will bury us if we don’t learn to deal with him.

As a small business counselor I have noticed there seems to be a belief that automation, the Internet and social networking can make the business succeed when in fact the real design of the enterprise itself is lacking (niche, market base, business plan, competitive analysis and financial forecasting).

I hear from many clients who ask, “What Now?” having launched an enterprise that is going nowhere because they are driving the tools and not the car. I take them back to the garage; design the auto to see if it can run and then apply the wrenches retroactively if that is possible. It is usually a traumatic experience and could have been avoided with strategic and business planning before launch. Below is a simple test to develop your potential idea for a business.

1. Do you have a product or service niche in mind?

2. Do you believe you have a market for 1 above and the means to reach it?3.

3. If the answer to the above questions is “Yes”,use the below planning aids to design your business vehicle and the road map you intend to follow on your journey:

General Planning Considerations

Market Research Guidance

Free Sample Business Plans

When you have completed the above definition and planning process you will then be in a position to astutely select the tools you wish to use along the way and apply them successfully.

You will be able to network your vehicle, pick up riders as industry partners, and attract revenue fuel in the form of customers by marketing and social networking based on the thorough definition and content of your business plan.

In short, don’t let technology make a monkey out of you and your idea as well as raid your treasury before you launch.  tech monkey Define your business vehicle and its journey first. Then pick the right technology tools to make a successful trip.

On 9-11 – How To Increase Civilian Understanding Of Our Military And First Responders


MILITARY TIMES By Kevin M. Schmiegel and Patrick A. Burke

Addressing the civilian-military/civilian-service divide and ensuring support for our military, first responders, and their families, are critical at this time.

One proven solution to build understanding and increase engagement is the creation of hands-on volunteer opportunities during which civilians can meet our military and first responders in person and learn what they do and what they experience.


“For 18 years our nation has been at war. In the face of conflict and adversity at home and abroad, brave Americans have volunteered to serve not only in our armed forces but as first responders in thousands of communities across the country. Between them, more than 4.4 million men and women have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and pledged to protect the freedoms and securities we enjoy as Americans.

Since 9/11, however, observers have acknowledged a widening gap of “understanding” between the 2.1 million Americans who serve in our all-volunteer military force and the rest of the population. While our nation’s longest war continues and hundreds of thousands of service members still and will continue to deploy each year, a majority of military families feel increasingly isolated from their communities and disconnected from their civilian counterparts.

Americans are also less personally connected to military service than ever before. According to the Department of Defense, the number of young adults with parents who have served in the military has dropped from 40 percent in 1995 to 15 percent today, and less than 1 percent of the U.S. population currently serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.”

Unfortunately, a similar “civilian-service divide” is developing between the general public and the 2.3 million police and firefighters who also serve in harm’s way. In the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey issued last fall, the number of Americans age 16 or older who had contact with the police declined from 26 percent to 21 percent in four years, a drop of more than 9 million people. This lack of understanding and positive interaction could also be contributing factors to record-low levels of recruitment for both the military and law enforcement.

Examples of how communities are joining together successfully to share experiences can be seen through recent events in Baltimore on June 1, Philadelphia on July 11, and Nashville on Aug. 17, when hundreds of volunteers stood alongside service families to express gratitude in a tangible way. The battalion chief for the Baltimore County Fire Department said it was “the most incredible thing” he had seen in almost 44 years in fire service. That sentiment was further reinforced by the Baltimore Police Department’s chief of patrol, who pointed out officers “needed the community … to help solve issues.”

Fittingly, a similar large-scale service project took place in New York City on Sept. 5 with the production of more than 10,000 signature Operation Gratitude Care Packages and Care Pouches. During the week of Sept. 11, volunteers will deliver those packages to deployed service members around the world and to first responders who responded to the Pentagon attack 18 years ago. These interpersonal activities will help close the gap between those who serve and those who are served and provide avenues to express mutual respect and appreciation.

With the deaths of 15 service members in Afghanistan and 118 police and firefighter fatalities here at home so far in 2019, communities in our country yearn for opportunities to recognize and thank all who serve in uniform. Hands-on volunteerism is the most effective way for American citizens to engage with our military and first responders, forge strong bonds and build sustainable relationships that ultimately will strengthen their communities, as well as strengthen the resolve of the brave men and women who serve and protect them.”


Kevin M. Schmiegel is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who now serves as the chief executive officer of Operation Gratitude, a national 501c3 nonprofit.

The Honorable Patrick A. Burke is the former United States marshal and assistant chief of police for the District of Columbia, and now serves as the executive director of the Washington D.C. Police Foundation

Veteran Peer-Support Helps Prevent Crises

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“The tide of suicide in the United States is unrelenting, and the approximately 20 veteran and military suicides each day cannot be ignored.

Peer support is in many ways an upstream tactic in the fight against veteran suicide. Peers identify the issue at hand and can provide support and resources before the problem becomes unbearable.”


“To prevent these tragedies, the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, and leading mental health organizations aggressively target the critical moment of crisis when a person is contemplating the act of suicide.

These critical organizations are lined up in a strong “end zone defense,” providing multiple areas of support for veterans in the midst of a suicidal crisis.

But what about veterans who haven’t reached a crisis point? What if there was a way to provide relief for everyday problems, pain and isolation before these issues snowball into self-destruction?

As a retired major general in the U.S. Army, who has lost a son to suicide, and a son to the war in Iraq, I can attest that the key is to connect with veterans before they reach the point of crisis.

Veterans are often reluctant to speak with anyone who “won’t understand” when they’re dealing with depression or anxiety about life issues. Many feel the pressure to figure it out themselves and “stay tough” and are embarrassed to discuss their problems with finances, relationship issues, housing issues, family dysfunction, or feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The reality is they need a direct connection to someone who has been in their shoes, long before they need a direct intervention. They need a peer.

Everyone needs a support system. Peer support provides veterans that sense of immediate trust, and gives them a confidant they can connect with at any point in their journey.

I joined Vets4Warriors in 2013 to lead a 24/7 peer-support network that serves all veterans as well as the entire military community, from those who just put on a uniform to the caregiver and families of a veteran who has long since stopped wearing a uniform.

Our peers are veterans from every branch and every era, dating back to Vietnam, and 70 percent of our peers are combat veterans. We truly are who we serve.

Since inception, we have had over 325,000 connections with members of the veteran and military community who are dealing with life challenges before they turn into crises. Regardless of the complexity of the issue or how long it takes, our veteran peers continue to follow up, seek out possible avenues, and pursue different options until an answer is found. We go the extra mile. And that is often what veterans need to help put them on a path that does not lead to tragedy.

Peer support is in many ways an upstream tactic in the fight against veteran suicide. Peers identify the issue at hand and can provide support and resources before the problem becomes unbearable.

Yet even with resources like ours available, when it comes to certain demographics of veterans, the rate of suicide is growing.

According to the most recent report on veteran suicide published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate of young veterans, those aged 18 to 34, increased more than 10 percent from 2015 to 2016. The largest number of suicides remain among aging veterans, since the majority of veterans are 55 or older.

Research has found that many suicides are decided impulsively, with less than five minutes between the decision to attempt suicide and the actual attempt. In other words, there is yet a brief moment in time in which we can intercept someone’s fateful decision. This is why it is critical to get upstream and tap into the power of peer support to help veterans grapple with their problems, challenges and even opportunities long before they find themselves in crisis.

Vets4Warriors is a connecting network; we connect with individuals and also connect them to resources, preferably in their communities, and then we remain connected as we follow up with them regularly.

I have seen this type of scenario play out many times with our peer-support network. An active-duty soldier from Fort Bragg struggling at work called Vets4Warriors and described how his marriage and children were suffering as he dealt with his PTSD. After speaking with one of our peers, he agreed to go to behavioral health services on post as well as to speak to the chaplain. During the first follow-up call, he stated that his peer at Vets4Warriors had been a “blessing to him.” The follow-up calls continue.

Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” once said: “We live in the most connected time in the history of the world, yet we’ve never been more disconnected from the things that matter the most.”

It makes a critical difference to immediately connect with someone who has walked the path and knows what you’re going through.

Peer support is vital for saving lives across our nation. We should all seek to always be there for those who hit tough times and struggles, whenever they may happen. Vets4Warriors is available 24/7 and we answer the phone live.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is director of Vets4Warriors. Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. If you want to speak with a peer, call Vets4Warriors at 1-855-838-8255, visit or follow us on social @Vets4Warriors to learn more.”