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Veterans Benefits Information

The journey to military nursing is different for all

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Army First Lt. Lizamara Bedolla remembers tanks rolling by her house, electricity turning on and off, and the turmoil of war in her home country of Nicaragua. When she was 4 years old, she fled to Mexico with her family as they waited for visas to be approved allowing entry into the United States. As time passed, her family tried to make their way to the U.S. border, where they hoped the visas would be granted.

“We know you’re down there!” Bedolla said border agents yelled as her family navigated through underground sewer systems. Helicopters flew above. They were detained, and after one week, Bedolla and her family received their visas. They eventually settled in Houston, Texas.

Two years later, Bedolla saw an Army recruitment commercial while watching television. At just 6 years old, she told her mother she wanted to be in the Army when she grew up – and 12 years later, that’s exactly what she did.

“I felt such a responsibility to the country that had given me, my sisters, and my family so many opportunities to succeed,” said Bedolla. “I had a really strong sense of loyalty and a really deep desire to give back.”

Bedolla started basic training two weeks after graduating high school. She then spent more than a decade serving as an operating room technician, where she worked with nurses who helped her realize nursing was the career she wanted, she said.

“Before becoming a technician, I had no real experience in the medical field or inclination to being in the medical field,” said Bedolla. “But being an OR tech opened up a whole new world for me. That’s when I realized I could progress in a field, go to school, and learn how to be a nurse.”

Before she could attend nursing school, Bedolla took steps she needed to receive U.S. citizenship, apply for the Army Enlisted Commissioning Program, and take pre-requisite classes at night after working a full-time job. After completing her nursing degree and Officer Basic Course, she began working as a staff nurse at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, and has been there since.

“Being a mom, a wife, a soldier, an OR tech, going to school, and balancing all those different aspects of my life to get to where I wanted to be was the most difficult part throughout this journey,” said Bedolla, stressing that she’s always had support from family and leadership that pushed her to excel.

Bedolla isn’t alone in taking a longer path to nursing. First Lt. Mary Lee grew up knowing she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her sisters and become a nurse. But her plans changed after receiving a scholarship to a college that didn’t have a nursing program. She graduated with a degree in health promotion, but after spending a few years in the civilian workforce, Lee felt the desire for nursing again – this time with the Army. After meeting with a recruiter, she learned the unit she’d attach to as a combat medic was already deployed. She opted for photojournalism, which she had some experience in.

“I joined the Army with the intention of doing photojournalism and then later going to nursing school,” said Lee, who deployed to Iraq as a photojournalist and was assigned to a combat support hospital. As a photographer, she learned to be vigilant about what’s going on around her, multitask, and be quick on her feet, she said, adding that the experience proved to be good training for nursing.

After spending a week watching doctors and nurses work with service members, Lee found military nursing appealing, she said. “You’re a soldier first. Not only do you have to be really good with your skills as a nurse, but you also need to be able to fire a weapon and know what to do.”

When she returned to the U.S., she used the GI bill to enroll in nursing school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She trained through ROTC and received her commission as a nurse in the Army when she graduated. Lee worked in the intensive care unit at the university’s hospital tending to patients with head trauma.

“It really felt like that was what I was meant to do,” said Lee, now an Army Reserve officer. “When getting into any new career, you may worry about change, but it all just felt like a very natural transition … I knew I wanted to be an Army nurse.”

Working with TBI patients sparked an interest in mental health and she felt the urge to go back to school for a master’s degree, Lee said. When she’s not training with the 75th Combat Support Hospital in Tuscaloosa, she works as a mental health nurse practitioner providing outpatient mental health services at a community clinic. Her work includes medication management, counseling, substance abuse use treatment, and providing resources for the homeless community, she said.

“Everyone’s journey to becoming a military nurse is different,” said Lee. “I took one of the longer routes by first being enlisted, then doing ROTC, and then becoming an officer, but I encourage anybody who has any desire to do it to at least look into it. It’s opened up so many more opportunities to me than anything else I could have done.”

To Bedolla and Lee, the most rewarding aspect of being a military nurse is the relationships they build with a patient. They are soldiers placed in this position to serve other soldiers when they are called to the battlefield, said Bedolla. And they are ready to serve soldiers, families, veterans, and retirees at home. Bedolla added that she’s inspired by the resiliency of her patients.

“It’s a difficult job but it’s also a very beautiful part of nursing to be there when people are at their most vulnerable, and in the most pain physically and emotionally,” said Bedolla. “Just knowing you can have a hand in bringing people back to health, giving them hope, and giving them a chance to continue on with their life is rewarding.”

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USAA Tips: 4 transition tips to go from corporate office to home office

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Angela Caban

I have been working from home for nearly 10 years. While I wouldn’t consider myself a work from home expert, I can surely say that I have picked up quite a bit of wisdom as I transitioned over from corporate America to home headquarters.

If you’re getting ready to move from your office to your home setting, whether you are staying with your company, moving on to a new one or running your own business from home, there will surely be some growing pains as you transition.

Working from home full time or even one day a week can be quite the balancing act and can take some time getting used to; many will say it can even get a bit more stressful to manage time effectively.

Here are 4 tips to help ease the transition from corporate office to home office:

Create a home office

You’ll want to find the balance between work and home or else one or both will spill onto each other and that is not good. Set yourself up for success by creating a workspace where your environment is conducive to your daily tasks. If you don’t have the space for your own home office, consider setting up a small corner desk in a quiet room or you could even repurpose a closet and make it your own office space. Pinterest has some great home office setup ideas. You’ll want to remain efficient and able to stay engaged when participating in phone meetings and getting through your to-do list. Doing this from the start will help ensure you stay focused and on task.

Have a solid childcare plan in place

Some people might think because they will be working from home they can avoid paying for childcare. Keep in mind that working from home requires discipline and focus, just as you have working in an office setting. By arranging childcare, your children will appreciate having fun and engaging activities to do during the day if they are with a caregiver that can provide them their 100% attention. Summer camps are ideal for when kids are out of school, but parents still need to work. If a summer camp program isn’t in your budget, consider hiring a helping hand during the day in home while you work. Think of local college students who come home for the summer and are looking for a job, this could be an efficient and affordable option.

Use technology to stay connected

Working from home can leave many feeling like an introvert by the end of the day. Think about how you can utilize technology to help you stay connected with your team. Ensure you have weekly calls scheduled to catch up with co-workers or you can even use your video camera on your computer to visually engage with co-workers, clients and leadership.

Utilize that extra time to your advantage

Unless you work 5 minutes down the road from work, I don’t know one person who enjoys their commute. For many, commuting to work can take up over 2 hours a day, and it can add stress to your day. When you work from home, you ditch the commute and can get back that time spent in your car. What would you do with an extra two hours? Perhaps you start your day earlier to get in some extra time for those pesky administrative tasks that are always left hanging. Or maybe you can finally prepare a healthy meal for your family that you simply never had time or energy for after a long commute home.

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Best job in military health? For these men, it’s nursing

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Women dominate the nursing profession, but retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Manny Santiago is quick to point out some historical exceptions.

“Men have been nursing for centuries,” said Santiago, a critical nurse specialist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

He cites Camillus de Lellis, the 16th century priest in Italy who founded a religious order dedicated to caring for the sick, and Walt Whitman. The 19th century poet already was well-known for Leaves of Grass when he tended to soldiers in hospitals during and after the Civil War.

As for modern-day exceptions, there’s Santiago – and about 4,400 other men, or 28 percent of the approximately 17,500 active-duty, reserve, and civilian nurses in the Military Health System, according to recent Department of Defense data. In comparison, data suggests that only about 11 percent of all nurses outside of MHS are men.

“Nursing is such a great career field,” said Air Force Capt. Sam Cash, a registered nurse in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit at Malcolm Grow Hospital, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

“The whole mindset that it’s a female profession – I think that’s going by the wayside,” Cash said. “More and more men are coming into the field. Times are changing.”

Cash became a nurse through the Air Force’s Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program. “I was in a class of 40 people, and four of us were guys,” he said.

He already had 12 years of service as a ground radio operator; bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration; and some pre-med course credits from a community college near Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

“I know I kind of stumbled into nursing,” said Cash, who completed a bachelor’s in nursing in December 2009. “All I knew is that I wanted to be an officer, and I wanted to be in the medical field. But honestly, I know being a nurse is the best job in the military. There are all these different avenues you can take.”

Santiago also earned a bachelor’s in nursing through the military. He enlisted in the Navy in 1985, a few credits shy of a bachelor’s in marine biology from a college in his native Puerto Rico. After serving six years as a hospital corpsman, Santiago was accepted into the Navy’s Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program.

He finished in 1992 and spent another 18 years in uniform as an emergency room nurse. Along the way, he earned a master’s in nursing with concentrations in critical care, acute care, and trauma.

After retiring from the Navy in 2009, Santiago became a civilian nurse in the Wounded Warrior Unit at what’s now Walter Reed-Bethesda. He’s personally mentored and coached more than 2,000 staff members in the classroom and at hospital bedsides, according to the citation accompanying his 2017 Senior Civilian Nursing Award from the MHS.

Guillermo “Bill” Leal Jr. is a nurse case manager at the Warrior Transition Unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas.

“I know the Army, I know nursing, and I know people,” said Leal, who became a nurse after retiring from the Army in 1994 as a master sergeant. “I don’t think there’s any other job better for me anywhere else than to be a nurse in the WTU.”

Leal enlisted in 1974 and started as a supply clerk before “following in my dad’s footsteps” and becoming a combat medic. After retiring, he used the GI Bill to earn accreditation as a licensed vocational nurse, and later enrolled in a two-year registered nurse program. He’s been at the WTU for about eight years.

Leal, Cash, and Santiago all said family members of patients sometimes confuse them for physicians. And back when Cash was in nursing school and doing a labor and delivery rotation, an older civilian nurse was overheard saying she didn’t think it was appropriate for him to be in the room while a woman was giving birth – though apparently that nurse didn’t have a problem with the male obstetrician being present.

Leal, Cash, and Santiago are simply three men in roles that many people are accustomed to seeing women fill.

“If there’s a guy who’s thinking about nursing, I think he should definitely go for it,” Cash said. “Nursing is such a great career field. It’s so broad. At the core of it, if you enjoy helping people, then you should go into nursing.”

Adds Santiago:  “Male nurses are still a minority, but we’re a very proud minority. We bring a different perspective because men are wired a little differently than females – right? So I think our contributions are very important.”

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Veterans outreach happening in Washington

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American Legion national staff and Department of Washington Legionnaires will team up May 19-20 for a veterans outreach and district revitalization effort in Ephrata, Wash. Wartime veterans in the area are invited to the event to learn about American Legion programs and get veterans benefits assistance.

The effort will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 19 and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. May 20 at Art Semro American Legion Post 28, 267 8th Avenue, Ephrata.

A veterans service officer will be available both days to assist with Department of Veterans Affairs-related issues and other veterans benefits questions.

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Legionnaire receives college diploma 68 years later

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World War II veteran Bob Barger has a new picture to hang on his wall – his college diploma.

It’s been 68 years since the 96-year-old Legionnaire has stepped foot in a classroom at the University of Toledo in Ohio. However, fellow Legionnaire and friend Lt. Haraz Ghanbari helped make it possible for Barger to walk across the stage at the university’s commencement ceremony last Saturday to receive his degree in front of a large audience who gave him two standing ovations.

“I’m going to be proud to hang that diploma on the wall and think about the friends behind it,” said Barger, a U.S. Navy veteran and 65-year member of American Legion Post 335 in Toledo, to The Associated Press. “I found out without friends, this old world wouldn’t be worth living in. Friends make it livable. And family.”

Ghanbari, University of Toledo’s director of military and veteran affairs, sat next to Barger during the commencement ceremony and escorted him across the graduation stage. He said it “was by far one of the highlights of my Navy career to be able to be there with Bob. It’s about really bridging that generational gap between veterans of previous generations and veterans of my generation. World War II veterans are pretty special.”

The friendship between Barger and Ghanbari began in May of 2013, when Ghanbari sought out a World War II veteran to officiate his promotion to Navy lieutenant. His late grandfather, Leonard Howard Robinson, was a World War II Navy veteran and Legionnaire so having “Barger promote me was one small way to include someone of my grandpa’s generation,” he said. Ghanbari has possession of his grandfather’s Legion cap.

Barger was recommended to Ghanbari and within a week of making the phone call to ask for his assistance, Barger was pinning Ghanbari during his ceremony at the University of Toledo. During that time, Barger even recruited Ghanbari to join his Legion post. “At the time (Barger) was 91 years old, and he was still out there recruiting people for the Legion,” Ghanbari said. After the ceremony, Ghanbari invited Barger over to his house for dinner. It was there that he asked Barger where he went to school and learned that he never finished college at the University of Toledo because he needed a job to care for his wife and children. This prompted Ghanbari to have his transcripts pulled from the university’s archives.

The transcripts showed that Barger had completed 83 credit hours during his enrollment from 1947-1950. It wasn’t enough for a bachelor’s degree; however, it was more than enough to earn the university’s newly-established associates degree in technical studies. When Ghanbari learned of this, he and another student veteran drove to the assisted living center where Barger lives. They had University of Toledo enrollment and graduation papers in hand to have Barger sign.

“I thought I would never be able to accomplish this degree,” said Barger, according to the University of Toledo. “My grandson graduated from UT, and he no longer can say he is one up on me. I have a degree, too, just took me a while!”

The university’s Student Veterans of America chapter purchased the cap and gown for Barger and Ghanbari had a student ID made for him that “he likes to wear around the retirement community,” Ghanbari said. “Bob earned this degree. Hopefully Bob’s story will serve as an inspiration for other that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams and aspirations regardless of what age you are.”

Ghanbari, his wife and two children (Madison, 5, and Jackson, 3) had brunch with Barger on Sunday at the assisted living center to celebrate Ghanbari’s 37th birthday. Ghanbari said the center is planning a graduation party for Barger and that the residents keep telling him, “You’re a celebrity, Bob. Congratulations!”

With diploma in hand, Barger will continue to do what he loves which is play golf with members from Post 335 and to teach others how to do so as well. The assisted living center has a putting green and following brunch Barger was teaching young Jackson how to putt.

“Just the fact that my son was able to spend time with Bob was pretty special,” Ghanbari said. “This has all served as a reminder that there’s a cause much bigger than my own.”

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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.