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Veterans Benefits Information

Former recording artist pursues career as military doctor

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BETHESDA, Md. — Former contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Paden Smith once sought to heal others with his music and lyrics.

Smith, who has served as a Navy linguist, graduated from a two-year medical degree preparatory program May 16 and will begin studies this summer at the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences here.

He said he grew up listening to both genres and always considered contemporary Christian music to be a blend of the two, with gospel's uplifting messages and country's storytelling. His music career started in high school when he began writing his own songs.

“Christian music just felt natural to my taste in music and my upbringing,” he said. “Plus, I knew that I wanted my music to be a tool for good, and I felt that Christian music was a great way to make a positive and lasting impact on listeners.”

During an awards ceremony at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, Navy CTI1 Paden Smith sits in the center row, as one of 15 graduates of the Uniformed Services University's Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pagan)During an awards ceremony at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, Navy CTI1 Paden Smith sits in the center row, as one of 15 graduates of the Uniformed Services University's Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pagan)


In college, he started working with friends on an album and eventually decided to make the leap to recording his own music. He collaborated with friends to co-write many of the tracks on his debut Christian/gospel album. Drawing on his own experiences, he said, he tailored the lyrics in hopes that others would find this music to be as uplifting and therapeutic as it had been for him.

Following the album’s successful release, he went on to film a military tribute music video inspired by the military town he calls home: Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Joining the Navy

Smith grew up surrounded by patriotic culture and looked up to several family members who served in the armed forces. While producing the tribute video, he worked closely with service members and surviving family members. He was so impressed by their level of sacrifice, he said, that this sparked his own interest in serving his country. Soon after, he enlisted in the Navy.

Smith spent his first eight years on active duty serving as a Chinese linguist, but he had dreams of becoming a doctor. In 2015, he learned about a physician pathway program for service members, USU’s Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program, or EMDP2. The 24-month program is a partnership with the U.S. armed forces and George Mason University’s Prince William campus that allows highly qualified enlisted service members to remain on active duty while completing pre-med coursework that makes them competitive for application to medical school.

Path to Medical School

Students are required to apply for medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, but they may also apply to other accredited U.S. medical schools through the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Nearly 70 students -- including military combat medics and corpsmen, musicians, intelligence analysts, infantry soldiers and others -- have been accepted into the EMDP2 program since its inception.

Smith graduated from the EMDP2 program along with 14 other enlisted members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. He sang the national anthem in an auditorium filled with thousands of students, faculty, staff and family members at GMU’s graduation ceremony.

Immediately following the ceremony, Smith and his classmates were commissioned as ensigns or second lieutenants in their respective service branches.

“Whether through music or medicine, I have always wanted to help heal others, and I feel that this next chapter in my life will allow me to achieve that goal,” Smith said. “EMDP2 has given me the incredible opportunity to transition from my career as a Navy linguist to a career in the Navy Medical Corps, for which I will always be grateful. I am looking forward to the academic, personal and military experiences unique to Uniformed Services University.”

While he’s still a long way from deciding what medical field he will specialize in, Smith is never far away from his music. Over the last two years in the EMDP2 program, he said, he has turned to music as an outlet, singing and playing the piano to relieve stress. He will continue to turn to music throughout his upcoming years in medical school.

Disclaimer: Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.

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Still serving her fellow veterans

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For Lindsay Gutierrez, leaving the military didn’t bring an end to her service. It’s just as likely that an end to her reign as Ms. Veteran America won’t bring an end to her advocacy on behalf of her fellow veterans.

A scholarship softball player in college, Gutierrez took the military route after graduating with a theater degree, serving in the Air Force from 2010-2016 with deployments to Qatar and Djibouti. After leaving the military, Gutierrez became a veterans advocate, winning the Ms. Veteran America title in October of 2017 and using that platform to speak out on women veterans’ issues.

She’ll continue to do so after putting that title behind her, sometimes wearing a Legion cap. Gutierrez recently was elected as commander of American Legion Post 336 in Lakeland, Ga., AND as second vice president of the post’s Auxiliary unit.

Gutierrez, who now lives in Georgia and is studying to be a social worker, talked with American Legion Social Media Manager Steven B. Brooks about her military experience, serving as Ms. Veteran America and how The American Legion can help women veterans transition into civilian life.

Steven Brooks: How did you end up in the Air Force after graduating from college?

Lindsay Gutierrez: My grandfather … had planted this seed in me a long time ago. He had always talked to me and my cousins about joining the military. And my grandfather on my mother’s side was also Air Force as well. So it was kind of one of those things that I feel it was instilled in me at an early age, but it really wasn’t emphasized to join the military. My grandfather kept saying, ‘You should go into the military’ – kind of joking, but kind of serious at the same time.

So I got my degree in theater but nothing was really happening. I moved out to California and it was the same thing. Every time I tried to do what I wanted to do, I was just hitting roadblock after roadblock. Then that little bug in my ear from my grandfather said ‘Go join the military.’ It was in May of 2010 I finally decided that I was going to talk to a recruiter. And everything just really started from there.

Q: What did you get out of those six years in the Air Force?

A: They really helped me to find who I was, and it really helped me to mature in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I told myself, ‘This isn’t me. This isn’t something that I can do.’ I had all these doubts. Knowing how … everyone was supporting me … I felt like I wasn’t just doing this for myself. I was doing it for them. I felt like I really owed it to people.

I saw mentors of mine – senior NCOs, NCOs that were my direct supervisor – doing everything possible to set me up for success. So I was trying to do my best to also set others up for success when I became that supervisor. I realize now … whenever you’re helping others, there’s always so much more that can be done. And you realize that your voice really matters. I truly see the importance of using your voice.

Q: Is that desire to use your voice what led you to competing for Ms. Veteran America?

A: Absolutely. It was during this really crazy time during my transition from active duty to now dependent. My first date back stateside was my first day in Georgia was my first day as a civilian. Here I was not just coming back to an unfamiliar home (after) being away from America for the last five and a half years. I had absolutely nothing other than my husband and my pets.

I was trying to make something of myself, and I was feeling weird about what I was supposed to be doing. Coming across Ms. Veteran America, I realized there was something out there for women veterans to be able to empower and help those who don’t have that voice. I completely doubted myself for this. I didn’t think I was the right person for the job. I realized it was just getting out of your comfort zone (and) talking to people. You realize you have a lot more in common with others than you think. And what I found out was a lot of people that I encountered – men and women – we’ve all at some point kind of felt invisible. That motivated me to want to get out and make a change … and put the veteran platform up as high as I could.

Q: What have these eight months as Ms. Veteran America been like for you?

A: It’s been such a whirlwind. I’ve met people I’ve never thought I’d be crossing paths with: the first woman four-star general of the military, Gen. (Ann) Dunwoody. I’ve met so many incredible, empowering women. And on top of that, to meet some pretty significant names outside of that. It’s really been an eye-opener to see how much support is around whenever you open up your heart and mind to wanting to receive that.

I think … as veterans, we try to say ‘We’ve got it. We can do it. We don’t need that help.’ But the truth is that we do. And whenever you start telling people your story – and that’s what I was doing with Ms. Veteran America – they really saw it … ‘That’s exactly how I felt.’

Q: What led you to joining The American Legion?

A: I wanted to try to get involved with veterans orgs because we were new (in Georgia) and I wanted to start reaching out and meeting new people. Probably around (May 2017) is when I found out the Lakeland post had been reestablished. I went to their meeting and really spoke about what I was doing (with the Ms. Veteran America competition). From there, I decided to join. I felt like it was just one of those things where I needed to be involved. I thought that the Legion had done so much for me already, I want to be able to give back to them. And when I found out I was also eligible to join the Auxiliary, I definitely took advantage of that. I understand both sides. I know what it’s like to be a military spouse because my husband’s active duty. And I know what it’s like to be active-duty military and a veteran. I can bring both of those experiences to the table.

Q: And how did taking on a leadership role at Post 336 happen?

A: I had seen that there were (offices) that were going to be open. I was interested and thought this was really important. I started looking at the jobs … and actually put my name in for secretary. I emailed our judge advocate, and he emailed me back and said, “This is great, but you’re a commander.” I was like “wow.” I felt really honored. I agreed, and I got the position, and here I am.

Q: What do you think The American Legion can do at the grass-roots level in assisting with homelessness and other issues facing women veterans as they transition from the military to civilian life?

A: We have to talk about the issue instead of brushing it off to the side and pretending it doesn’t exist. We’re talking about a very valid and real situation that’s happening across the country. Being part of the Legion allows us that cohesiveness as veterans to understand, “You have a real story. I have a real story. Here’s what we can do together.” By bringing that to the light and encouraging each other that this is something we need to bring to the light … the Legion is very integral in bringing awareness to this cause, especially at the grass-roots level. Because that’s where change is going to start.

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USAA Tips: 5 summer safety reminders

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Angela Caban

No matter how you spend this summer, remember that while it is great to have fun, we should always be cautious and keep our kids safe. Here are five summer safety reminders for parents.

Keep kids hydrated. How many times have you asked your child if they have drank water throughout the day? Good, because all that running around and outdoor play is sure to get them dehydrated quickly. Kids do get so preoccupied with having fun that they don’t realize they are thirsty. Check in with them frequently and make sure they are drinking plenty of fluids.

Regularly apply sunscreen. If you have a child less than six months of age, they should not wear sunscreen – just make sure they are wearing protective clothing and a hat. For older kids, don’t forget to spray them or apply sunscreen with a high SPF throughout the day if they are going to be outside. Many times we forget or don’t think it is necessary, but it is a good precaution. Sun burn isn’t fun – especially for the little ones!

Keep those pesky bugs at bay. It is prime time for ticks and mosquitoes so get that bug spray out and spray away! Be careful not to use bug spray that contains DEET on smaller kids.

Stay safe in crowded areas. If you will be traveling to crowded areas this summer, be prepared to have smaller kids strapped in safely in strollers or check peak times for when parks, beaches or attractions get crowded. With smaller kids, it can be harder to keep track of them in large crowds, and instead of sending yourself into panic mode, consider just avoiding it and visiting during less crowded times.

Explain the dangers to your kids. Especially if they are older, they will understand why they must use precaution in order to stay safe. Be open and honest and explain the hazards of crowded areas, and even safety within grilling and bonfire zones. The National Safety Council also has some summer safety reminders that are good to keep in mind.

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'It’s just like a rush of relief'

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For founder and CEO Patti Robinson, a $15,000 donation from a group of Minnesota American Legion Riders to her organization Project Delta doesn’t just mean two more veterans will be paired up with service dogs.

It’s also providing peace of mind for Robinson.

“That’s basically two teams that I can start from beginning, to screening the veteran and screening the dog all the way up to graduation,” Robinson said. “That covers all the expenses, all the training, the potential housing.

“Being able to have this takes the burden off my mind, knowing that I have what’s necessary for not one, but two teams. That’s amazing. That takes so much pressure off me. When I found out, I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s just like a rush of relief knowing that two of the four veterans coming into the program, I’ve got covered.”

The $15,000 donation was one of three made on June 3 by American Legion Riders Chapter 560 in Zimmerman, Minn., to organizations that provide assistance to veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder. Another $5,000 was donated to the Minnesota Veterans Home in Silver Bay, Minn., to help purchase a new pontoon boat raised Chapter 560’s donation total since January of 2016 to more than $100,000.

“The people that come out and support all of our causes, they’re patriots, and they care about the men and women that have served our country,” said ALR Chapter 560 Director Steve Andersen, who helped start the chapter in 2015. “People have really got behind our cause because there’s just too many stories out there where people are taking their own lives. We don’t want to see that happen. When people come home and take their own life, that’s another (killed in action) as far as I am concerned.”

The most recent donations were presented at the conclusion of Chapter 560’s second annual Veterans Benefit Ride, which saw close to 100 motorcycles and nearly 200 participants ride in 50-degree temperatures and gusting winds from Post 560 through Ogilvie, Minn., before ending up at the Veterans Club in Onamia.

Paula Anderson – a trainer with Patriot Assistance Dogs, which also received a $15,000 donation – said the money can be “life-changing” for a veteran battling PTSD. John Strohmayer – who served in the Army from 1989-2014 and has a dog, Apache, provided by Patriot Assistance Dogs – agreed with Anderson’s statement.

“He makes it so much easier to go into stores when there’s people all around,” Strohmayer said. “I used to have to go into stores and go in and out, just get what I needed. Now I can go around the store with my wife without having to push her to hurry. He really does help a lot. He really does.”

That Chapter 560’s Riders provided money for another veteran to get a service dog is “fantastic,” Strohmayer said. “It’s not cheap to raise these dogs and teach them how to do this. It’s great that there’s someone who helps with that cost so that it doesn’t cost us.”

Also receiving a $15,000 donation was Eagle’s Nest Healing, which provides housing, meals and recovery services to veterans dealing with PTSD. The donation will go a long way.

“$15,000 means 15 veterans have a place to live for 30 days,” said Melony Butler, chairman and director of Eagle’s Nest Healing. “Or it means a new boiler for a building that can house 23 more veterans. It’s a big deal. Most of our donations are $5 to $100. This helps us continue our mission to provide a place for healing.”

Butler said the Riders don’t just offer financial assistance. “The Riders … have gotten their boots on the ground,” she said. “Not only do they raise the funds to help organizations like ours … but they’re also there for us every day. I can call them if there’s a veteran who’s homeless and across Minnesota, and they will bring him right to us. That’s powerful.”

Andersen said his Riders group has tried to find organizations to help that focus on PTSD assistance. “These organizations are the hands-on,” he said. “I really want to highlight those guys because they change lives, literally.”

ALR Chapter 560 Historian Shelly Nelson said being a part of a Riders group that has done so much in a relatively short amount of time “makes you feel proud. We all work together and have a great group. We all try to pitch in and help. We’re all one big family.”

Andersen praised his group of 41 Legion Riders for what they’ve been able to accomplish in less than three years. “Our group is so dedicated to just make a difference and do what they can,” he said. “And nobody wants anything for it. It’s a special group of people, and obviously we’re making a difference.”

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Keep your DEERS information up to date

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Do you or your family member expect to experience a Qualifying Life Event (QLE), including planning to move this summer? If so, you’ll need to update your information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). To remain eligible for TRICARE coverage, you must keep your information current in DEERS. DEERS is a computerized database of active duty and retired service members, their family members and others who are eligible for TRICARE. Proper and current DEERS registration is key to getting timely, effective TRICARE benefits.

It’s essential to update and verify your information in DEERS anytime you have a QLE. This is especially true during the summer moving season. After you arrive at a new duty station or location, update your information in DEERS. Your Social Security number (SSN) and the SSN of each of your covered family members must be included in DEERS for your TRICARE coverage to be accurate.

You have several options for updating and verifying DEERS information. You can make changes in person, by phone, online or by mail.

Add or Remove Family Members

Update Contact Information

  • Phone: Call 1-800-538-9552 (TTY/TDD: 1-866-363-2883) or fax updates to 1-831-655-8317
  • Online: Log into milConnect at
  • Mail: Mail updates to:

               Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office

               Attention: COA 

               400 Gigling Road, Seaside, CA 93955-6771

Only sponsors can add a family member in DEERS. But family members age 18 and older may update their own contact information. Find more information about DEERS on the TRICARE website.

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