‘Horses for Heroes’ Offers Rides for Vets

Monday, November 28, 2016 (Issue #3)
by Alana Branch, Veterans Affairs Editor

.   .   .

Among the many remedies for a down-and-out veteran—music, travelling, reading—horses appear to be the next big thing.

A program at Newberry Farm in Columbia, Conn. called “Horses for Heroes” welcomes veterans every week for a ride.

C.K. Bellone is the owner and lead instructor, and has been involved with therapeutic riding since the 80s.

“It helps them [veterans] gain control of themselves physically, socially and emotionally,” Bellone tells FOX 61 news. “They gain control of something bigger than themselves.”

Among the current 18 veterans involved in the program is Carlita Cotton, retired from the Air Force, who says that riding horses has helped her injured back. According to Newberry Farm’s website, “Physically, the gait of the horse stimulates the rider’s pelvis and trunk,” and can correct muscle tone, balance, and posture. Its affordable services also satisfy the mind and the heart, gaining one’s confidence and developing relationships all while learning the ins and outs of the horse.

Families of veterans are also welcome! There are enough horses to go around.


Waterbury Vet Required to Pay Back Enlistment Bonus

Monday, November 28, 2016 (Issue #3)
by Alana Branch, Veterans Affairs Editor

.   .   .

News broke recently via Military.com that the California National Guard had asked thousands of soldiers and veterans to pay back large portions of their enlistment bonuses that were wrongfully obtained. Either some were not entitled to these portions, or hidden errors were just found in their paperwork.

Because greedy recruiters struggled to meet their enlistment quotas as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars went on, the hefty bonuses often made for enticing tools to get anyone in the door. And for the most part, most people walking in were unqualified.

“”I was confused. It’s annoying and depressing,” the veteran said. “I’m having to pay back because I was given too much?””
—Waterbury veteran

Yet, they were trained well and served their country; some lost limbs, others their minds. And what do they get in return? A letter or phone call asking for that hard-earned money back.

However, California is not the only state on the list. Pentagon spokesperson Laura Ochoa even admitted that the inconvenience hits hard way outside the golden state.

A 29-year-old Army veteran and native of Waterbury, Conn., who opted for anonymity, recalled feeling like she was the only veteran going through this, then news broke. She was honorably discharged in 2014 due to PTSD, stemming from her yearlong stint in Afghanistan back in 2012. Shortly after starting her sophomore year at the University of Connecticut was when she received that letter.

“I was confused. It’s annoying and depressing,” the veteran said. “I’m having to pay back because I was given too much?”

Like most veterans, this one thought $20,000 [or more] was well deserved.

“Easily someone suffering from PTSD and having to pay up can kill him or herself. Again, it’s depressing.” She made sure to add that suicide wasn’t a thought in her head.

“It’s like a cancer patient asking for donations, then once he or she is cured, they’re asked to pay those donations back. It’s ridiculous.” The veteran is single and works for a telemarketing agency in Cheshire part-time.

“I get by. I also use the GI Bill. I send about $200 a month,” she said.

When asked if she thought that anything would be done about the situation from either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, she simply rolled her eyes and chuckled.

“Nothing but words,” she muttered. “I don’t know what’s worse. Trump’s asinine comments about PTSD or having to send this $200.”

In reference to the west coast, guard officials can’t do anything about it. Rather than wait around and linger on it, this veteran continues to live life and attend school.

“I did enough fighting. It’s about time someone fought for us [veterans] for once.”

Wi-Fi Unavailable for Recovering Vets

Monday, November 28, 2016 (Issue #3)
by Alana Branch, Veteran Affairs Editor

.   .   .

Staying for weeks to months at a time in the hospital can be depressing, unless there’s a constant connection to loved ones. For Marine Corp veteran Elliot Storm, finding out that the VA hospital in West Haven in which he currently is battling leukemia, has no wi-fi except for in one common area, he says is a “technological setback towards recovery.”

Recently, Storm contacted Senator Richard Blumenthal, a major veterans advocate and is seeking another term in office, about the situation to which Blumenthal felt astonished and appalled, according to WTNH News 8. Immediately, Blumenthal made it a mission among his many others to secure funding for wi-fi in patients’ rooms.

“Pharmaceutical drugs and therapeutic treatment may be important but so is the psychological connection to the outside world that comes from wi-fi service,” the senator stated.

The VA noted that the cost to install and maintain wi-fi ranges from $300,000 to $500,000, after having contacted other VA hospitals in the New England region to know whether or not any of them carried internet access. Those of Boston and Northampton echoed Blumenthal’s statement, especially regarding long-term patients.

Because of Storm, the West Haven VA has taken vital steps in honoring this seemingly small request.

Let’s Raise Hell: Benefit for Vets

Monday, November 7, 2016 (Issue #2)
by Alana Branch, Veterans Affairas Editor

.   .   .

If there’s one thing military heroes know best, it’s hell—from intensive training to yearlong deployments, and let’s not forget physical training.

The 2nd Annual Hell Day for Heroes, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29, invites all fitness levels to work out their muscles at the War Memorial in Danbury. The event is organized by law enforcement and the military.

All proceeds go to Help Our Military Heroes, an organization dedicated to severely wounded service members, which even provides new handicap vans for transportation.

Det. Paul Carroccio of the Danbury Police department, and one of the few people who came up with the idea for this fundraiser, said, “It’s a difficult but doable workout for people to subject themselves to while raising money for HOMH.”

“It was the least they could do for veterans who have given so much!” says Carroccio.

The event requires teams of four, responsible for 500 push-ups, 500 sit-ups, 500 airsquats and 500 burpees.

“We’re hoping to continue to expand it going forward as it is for a tremendous cause!” Carroccio added.

So big or small, raise hell!

Connecticut Veterans Parade Honors Heroes

Monday, November 7, 2016 (Issue #2)
by Alana Branch, Veterans Affairs Editor

.   .   .

Veterans Day is quickly approaching and a slew of parades nationwide have already been scheduled, including the Connecticut Veterans Parade, on Sunday, Nov. 6.

In its 17th year, thousands of veterans will march the streets of downtown Hartford in rain or shine, and individuals can donate $17 to commemorate the anniversary, hence the Twitter hashtag #17forVets.

With this being the largest veterans’ parade to take place in New England, the list of participants is surely a long one, ranging from the Connecticut Military Corvette Club and Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Marine Corps League of Connecticut.

Prior to the parade step-off at 12:30 p.m., a wreath-laying ceremony will take place at 11:30 a.m. to commemorate fallen heroes, featuring musical talent, a color guard, and a bugler.

What better way is there to thank our veterans both young and old as we watch them march by?

Vets ‘Learn Big the Small Way’

Monday, November 7, 2016 (Issue #2)
by Alana Branch, Veteran Affairs Editor

.   .   .

One of the benefits of being a military veteran is taking the tools and ethics learned during training and applying them in the civilian workforce. Take, for example, a human resources specialist. The same can be said for business. A key component in business is leadership, and service members, from the very beginning, are transformed into leaders.

In honor of National Veterans Small Business Week (Oct. 31 – Nov. 4), the Department of Veterans Affairs is holding a small business workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. to noon in Rocky Hill, Conn.

Veterans aspiring to start a business or to expand the one they have are encouraged to come. The presenters will discuss tips and more from the likes of the U.S. Small Business Administration Connecticut District Office, New England Veterans Business Outreach Center, Connecticut Department of Labor, Department of Economic and Community Development, and other resource providers!

The event is free and snacks will be available.

To R.S.V.P., email Shirin Khan at shirin.khan@ct.gov.

Refer to the flyer on page six for more details.


‘Efforts Paying Off ’ to End Chronic Homelessness

DOH Commissioner Evonne  M. Klein says, “we’ve effectively ended veteran homelessness…”
(Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Post.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016 (Issue #1)
by Jessica Joseph, Housing Editor

.   .   .

Connecticut is on track to see a decline chronic homelessness according to the Department of Housing (DOH) and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH). On Sept. 26, 2016, the DOH and CCEH co-sponsored an event at Saint Vincent DePaul Shelter in Waterbury to celebrate the newfound, positive data, which sees Connecticut reaching its year-end goal.

In 2014, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed the Zero: 2016 initiative, whose goal is to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.

“Connecticut has been a national leader in our efforts to end both veteran and chronic homelessness and we are proud of the significant role our state has played in helping the nation reach this major milestone,” Malloy said.

The Zero: 2016 Initiative’s goal is to end chronic homelessness by the end of this year.
(Image courtesy of Partnership for Strong Communities.)

“It is our responsibility to ensure the brave men and women who have served our country have all the support they need upon returning home, including access to housing, healthcare, and career opportunities. Ensuring and delivering housing for our most vulnerable is critical to building stronger communities for everyone, everywhere.”

This year, 981 people have been placed in permanent housing, whereas last October, 43 individuals dealing with chronic homelessness were permanently housed in the greater Waterbury and Litchfield county region.

According to DOH commissioner Evonne M. Klein, Connecticut has been nationally recognized for its efforts to prevent and eliminate homelessness.

“These numbers show that our efforts are paying off. We’ve effectively ended veteran homelessness thanks to our coordination and collaboration, and because of that, we will end chronic homelessness too,” Klein said.

Homes for the Brave Shelters Those Who Served

Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport offers support services to veterans.
(Photo courtesy of Connecticut Magazine.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016 (Issue #1)
by Alana Branch, Veterans Affairs Editor

.   .   .

The Department of Veterans Affairs, in recent years, has been in the spotlight, and not necessarily the good kind, particularly when it comes to health care for veterans nationwide. But little light is being shown on some non-profit organizations in Connecticut whose mission is to serve and protect the very people who have done the same for them at one point in their lives. Take Homes for the Brave, for example.

One of the various issues that have continued to plague veterans for years is homelessness. According to its website as per today, approximately 300 veterans in Connecticut are homeless.

Why are veterans homeless? The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans lists the common factors, among them being substance abuse and military jobs that can’t transport into civilian territory.

(Image courtesy of HomesfortheBrave.org.)

Homes for the Brave, in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Labor, and located in Bridgeport, has been providing veterans safe housing and the tools to get them back on track, including vocational training, job placement, and mental health and addiction services, since its conception in 2002.

There are four programs in the organization that cater to not just veterans but non-veterans as well. The majority of the veterans’ population that are homeless happens to be male. The programs are listed as follows:

  • Homes of the Brave: 42 bed transitional housing program available to homeless male veterans.
  • Waldorf House: nine units of permanent housing for formerly homeless male veterans.
  • Veterans Service Center: any homeless veteran can drop right in.
  • Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes: 15 bed transitional housing program for homeless female veterans.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, about eight percent of homeless veterans are females. Overall, veterans in need have a right to know where to go and who to talk to. Perhaps more light on such organizations will bring them out to shine. For more information, go to homesforthebrave.org, or call toll free at (855) 249-8394.

Friendly Fire: Vietnam Veteran Commits Fraud

John J. Simon, Jr. faces 30 years in prison.
(Photo courtesy of This Ain’t Hell.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016 (Issue #1)
by Alana Branch, Veterans Affairs Editor

.   .   .

John J. Simon, Jr., a 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran from Stafford Springs, CT, plead guilty on Monday, Oct. 3 for mail fraud and structuring currency transactions, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in Connecticut. From March 2009 to August 2010, Simon defrauded four veterans in exchange for money in the case that he help them obtain increased benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as reported in court documents. These veterans either suffered from service-related disabilities or an illness, making it easy for Simon to conduct his scheme.

Over time, he would victimize a total of 16 veterans for over $500,000 and keep the funds for himself.

Simon was arrested on May 15, 2013 and faces 30 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for January 10, 2017.

Vets Lose Benefits with ITT Bankruptcy

ITT Technical Institute.
(Photo courtesy of Military.com.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016 (Issue #1)
by Alana Branch, Veterans Affairs Editor

.   .   .

One of the many benefits afforded by military veterans for their service is the GI bill, which guarantees a free education. But when ITT Technical Institutes went bankrupt early last month, veterans were up in arms—minus the M-16s and Kevlar. Not only does the GI bill cover tuition, but it helps pay rent as well.

As first reported in Market Watch, National Guard member Byron Sumpter (32) used the money—a monthly housing stipend that comes with the benefit—to pay bills. He spoke for many panic-stricken veterans when he said, “A lot of us are still hurting right now.”

According to Student Veterans of America, a student veteran advocacy organization based in D.C., approximately 12,500 students were affected by the ITT bankruptcy. The Director of Policy at SVA, Derek Fronabarger, even said that the organization received “about 15 to 25 calls a day from veterans asking for help.” Some are concerned that they’ll end up homeless because the GI bill was their primary source of income.

Among politicians who are eager for a solution is Senator Richard Blumenthal (Dem-CT), who recently stated that “these closures are devastating to many veterans not just because of the financial impact, but also the confusion and chaos it causes in their lives.”

According to the CT Mirror, marine veteran Blumenthal has always been an advocate for the United States’ veteran population and had introduced a bill back in April with a colleague from the Republican party aptly titled “The Blumenthal-Isakson Bill” that would permit Congress to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As of now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working closely with the Department of Education to help those who are in need.