Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

The extended thank you

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

From Perry – for various reasons I have stepped down from the best role ever, especially if you want to support Veterans in Texas.  Please meet the new director of TexVet, Ms. Carrie Sconza, an exceedingly well-qualified Navy Veteran and national Veteran leader.  I’ll let her share the bio she wants as you all get to know her, or more likely, get to know her in her new role as director of TexVet.

Now, for the maudlin task of goodbye:  There are so many to thank and who are continuing to earn the thanks of Texas veterans and those supporting them every day, but I’ll try to mention some here. My apologies to those who I leave off.  You are not excluded – I am just forgetful and could never thank everyone that helped me.

Dr. Kotrla, without who any of this (TexVet, MVPN, Veterans Mental Health from HHSC, more) would not exist.; Dr. Leann Ray, without who all this would have ceased to exist.; Jenny Jones, who helped resource and shepherd TexVet through the TAMHSC weeds.

Ted Hughes, who put it all together and champions Veterans mental health as a system still today.

The great folks at CIADM who put up with our bunch of (as Jonathan described us) feral cats trying to do good – Dr. Kerrie DeMarco, Dr. & Col (ret) Gerald Parker, Dan Williams (who still probably wonders where we came from).

Those still in the trenches –

David Cantu – who schooled me on CVSOs and that you can care for Veterans, no matter how mean an SOB you are; Olie Pope and Susan Lewis who show you can care for Veterans with grace and class; John Boerstler – the duke of Houston, and someone that exhibits the prime entrepreneurial spirit without taking advantage of others; John Miterko, the ultimate warrior and volunteer in the trenches looking out for all generations of Veterans, ably aided by Jim Brennan, Morgan Little, the two Johns  - Spahr and McKinny; also Bob Gear, as much a friend and mentor and personal hero to all; Jim Darwin, happy warrior, keeping Dr. Hupp and her office grounded and effective (and Dr. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, bringing all manner of folks together).  The unforgettable Shandra Sponsler, ultimate example of competence and collaboration, always willing to help and keeping the National Guard family programs on track.  Also, her conspirators, Kim Violett and Mike Chaison, working to make a coordinated response to needs near and far.  Those at TVC, providing great support each day - Tim Keesling and his team: Tish McCullough (who sold Mistee on Vet support early), Aubrie (with hubby Casey), and the completely selfless Erin, always willing to respond to a justice-involved Vet.

On the I&R side – thanks so much to Judy Fullylove, who brought me into the Texas Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (www.TAIRS.org), and those who led and mentored me and included TexVet into their projects – Janna Shoe, Mary Cooksey, Beth Wick, Cornelius Blackshear, and more. 

All the PSCs – I worked closer and longer with some than others – hey, Scott Smith, Chris Araujo, Ginger Simonson, and the example for all Juliane Sanford – but each is a state treasure, underpaid and overworked, and it cannot be overstated how much they do for Veterans or how effective they make a response possible when contacting TexVet.  Other locals we called and worked with time after time after time – Wes and Judy from “the example” Veteran One-Stop – Heroes Night Out nand DeLisa Russell, who takes it to a new level (in everything); Pia from CenterPoint, and my buddy Rush Evans from the Veterans Legal Hotline, now supporting Veteran Treatment Courts statewide.  The most common thread for us all, in MVPN, is the training led by Mama Maureen Jouett, with BEITZ, inc.; trying to drag Killeen into viable support of vulnerable veterans.

And the tearful part – Betty Sandefur, Micah Burnett, Amy Greisch, and Mr. Jonathan Leistiko… from the days before I even started when Betty had the business cards waiting and they’d just moved everything into that embarrassingly nice office, to Jonathan’s graceful stepping up to smooth this transition; there isn’t a better or more efficient team that cares and cares and works with so little to do so much.  Few will ever know what a deal the state is getting with that team but it goes far beyond dollars or even the skill of any one person. 

I think that most anyone (me always anyway) that cares about an organization they leave feels there are things undone.  You just wish you could have finished that or have to leave some unfinished work for the next person.  I certainly have a long list of stuff that moved from the “Later” or “Too Hard” distribution box to the “New Director” in-box.  But, I am confident she has the best team in place to bridge the gap, help her get her feet in the stirrups, and take this great ride.  They are each a unicorn – unique, different, beautiful, highly effective.

With that – the earlier managers and committee members that put TexVet together to start with – Michael Duck Lombardo, Tim Stroud, Sean Hanna, Tom Palladino, Kyle Mitchell, and those that moved on – Jared and Brandy and the unforgettable Jonathan Schiffer.  The inspiring and patient and fun Kerry Harmon – still leading today.

And as one does with these things, saving my best for last – thank you to my wife and beautiful nurse Mistee.  When I was approached about coming to TexVet, while happily working with the Armed Services Blood Program (donate y’all – check out www.militaryblood.dod.mil), she encouraged me to be open about it, helped me to create a vision and decide if there was someplace we thought TexVet could go, and has been our top volunteer and supporter from day one.  I never would have and never could have been in position to thank everyone else without her and I thank her now for pushing me into a new role.  #NursesRock.

I’ve got some reading to do, and a lot of studying, but I’ll see you just shy of the high ground and we’ll watch TexVet go to new heights of supporting Texas Military, Veterans, and families.  Later, y’all; time for me to get after something else.

(if you want to keep tabs on me, visit my picture page at www.ArmyBlood.com - any new projects will be announced there - pj)

Nice to meet the folks getting after it – Houston edition

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

Yesterday, I traveled to Houston to meet with superwomen T’Liza Kiel and Valerie James.  They take care of veterans, organize volunteers, respond to emergencies, and throw events in the Houston area.  Counting the areas they support, they are providing assistance to about as many veterans as the entire state of Minnesota.  Houston has one of the oldest Veteran Treatment Courts in the nation. Valerie manages over 40 court mentors along with her other tasks. 

It was good to see that they both had offices (or an area) in the Combined Arms facility downtown.  This innovative veterans resource center incorporates a number of great veteran support organizations and offers services like shuttle rides to the local VA hospital, claims days, and a host of social events.  Plus, it keeps John Boerstler and the two Br(y)(i)ans from wandering the streets!  (just kidding – those three are among the most active and staunches veteran advocates around).

I was able to interview a few people about their use of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale, a project I can only complete with the help of the MVPN peer service coordinators.  Their commitment and professionalism and that of the volunteers shown through in each interview and the tough situations they described.  With T’Liza and Valerie at work, Houston vets can truly know someone has their back.  These folks really get after it!

Prevent homelessness to prevent suicide

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

After years of steady progress against veteran homelessness, the Department of Veteran Affairs shifted much of their focus to preventing veteran suicide.  This may be a response to the need but also to the media and public’s focus on veteran suicides.  There’s just one problem – they may be making the problem worse. 

One of the biggest contributors to veteran suicides is homelessness.  This according to a new study published in the journal Psychiatric Services.  Dr. Jack Tsai and others, in their article “Addressing Veteran Homelessness to Prevent Veteran Suicides” point out that veterans with a history of homelessness attempted suicide at a rate more than five times higher than those who had not been homeless.  Ideation rates were higher too. 

The 2016 VA Suicide Data Report notes that most veterans who die by suicide are not receiving healthcare treatment from the Veterans Health Administration.  The outreach and contact with vulnerable veterans may be a key factor in preventing suicide. 

Surely an organization the size of VA can do two things at once (I know, I know – they are).  It seems short sighted to drop a program that has shown great results and may be making a difference in several areas (homelessness, healthcare, suicide) in favor of a program that may not address all these domains (suicide only).  I understand there’s a lot of turmoil at the top but I hope that VA leadership will recognize that a big way to reduce veteran suicide is to reduce homelessness.  They need to get after it. 

Navy Week & more in Waco

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

Last night I traveled to Waco to see for myself the hard work going on at the Heart of Texas Veterans One-Stop.  MVPN Peer Service Coordinator DeLisa Russell and her team were conducting a volunteer meeting and preparing for a busy Navy Week.  Waco, Texas, plumb in the middle of the great state, is one of only 14 designated cities hosting Navy Week events – who knew?

The session was well attended and the mix was great, with Veterans from the modern wars and back to Vietnam.  The Waco Transit System gave a good briefing on how to connect with both their urban and rural, door-to-door systems and DeLisa let me speak about using the C-SSRS to structure the first conversations around suicide prevention. 

There is a ton of stuff going on all over the Central Texas area (all of Texas actually) but watching pros organize these committed volunteers and seeing the spectrum of tasks they were accomplishing – from providing first contact mental health services to giving WW II Veterans a special look at the airshow, I was struck by how well Texas veterans are served by the MVPN and how many events, activities, and resources there are for them.  If you are in Central Texas, make sure you stop by the Heart of Texas Veterans One-stop in Waco and tell them hello, or simply play a game.  They are getting after it!


DeLisa wearing her Veterun tee - sign up here and see you Saturday morning!

Waco's One-stop breaks new ground

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

A few weeks ago we told you about the efforts in Waco to open a home that veterans could use as they transition to a better life and that would stabilize them while the Waco Veterans One-Stop offered wraparound services to them.  Now, that home is open and the first residents are in.  Check out this great story on Logan and his family as they start a new chapter of life in a home provided by the hard work and generosity of a bunch of folks in Waco. 

Executing something like this is a big lift and the folks in Waco are up to it because of the vision, energy, and effort of the Military Veteran Peer Network’s Peer Service Coordinator – Delisa Russell.  Many people came together to get this done but there has to be someone leading the way and few do it as well as she.  Look at the details in this house and the reasonable plan to let this veteran and their family determine their course.  There are no guarantees and challenges will arise but this family is set for success and there are enough resources dedicated to them to offer support while launching them anew. 

Too often we see people try to launch huge projects without resources.  Or, try to spread a few resources too thin.  Our friend Ted jokes about how, if you give a social worker money to buy a meal for a homeless person, they will give inadequate snacks to three people and buy one shoe for someone else, not completely satisfying anyone, in the spirit of “helping more.”  By focusing on one family with the proper application of effort, this home project stands a better chance of success.  Regardless, the home is beautiful; the effort is real; and the outlook is good.  This is a great way to get after it!

 

 

Don't take that on-RAMP (warning about VA appeals)

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

Warning about a new VA program

Some of you may have seen the letter pictured below and attached to this message. 

It is from the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and warns veterans about the VA’s new RAMP program for solving appeals for disability claims.  I know that some of you have seen it because we have been forwarded several copies of the letter.  I’ll let it speak for itself but we at TexVet concur that, if you get one of these letters, run-don’t-walk to a qualified veteran service officer, either at your county, with the Texas Veterans Commission, or with a service organization you trust.  We get a lot of forwards and warnings about things that haven’t happened but when I checked this out, there seems to be reason for concern.  Since I’m not an expert, I called one- David Cantu, longtime Harris County Veteran Service Officer and president of the Veteran County Service Officers Association of Texas (VCSOAT).  “I would encourage any veteran receiving this letter to quickly visit their CSO or another service officer. It might be okay in some cases but in others you could be giving up certain rights or shorting your chance at receiving fair compensation.  Each veteran with a disability is an individual and they need to take a good look at this.” 

We echo that at TexVet.  You can find a list of CSOs on our front page.  See them as trusted and expert resources.  Or call one of the others.  They really get after it.  Just don’t blindly take that RAMP.

An Army update

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

It’s been a while since I updated here, while the team makes many underlying changes to the site to increase ease of use, accuracy of searches, and enhance collaborative support.  With the Army’s win in the Army-Navy game it is a good time to talk about my old hangouts.

Happy 100th Birthday, 4th Infantry Division.  Though based in Colorado now, Fort Hood will always have a place in it for the Ivy Division – steadfast and loyal!

 

Congratulations to the Texas National Guard’s CSM John Sampa.  He’s been a great senior enlisted advisor to our state’s military forces and now moves up to serve as the entire National Guard’s 12th Command Sergeant Major of the National Guard.  Texas should be proud of him and proud to contribute this soldier’s experience to the nation.

If you’re in Austin this week, learn a little more about the history of the Army by attending the Living History Foundation’s Meet-n-Greet Wednesday night at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex.  Texas Park’s own Buffalo Soldiers will be there.

While I tend to highlight the experiences I am familar with, it's important to remember the sacrifices of all our service folks, whether on land, sea, air, or here at home taking care of them.  As we approach the Christmas and Winter holidays, look around and see who's not connected.  When troops lose the tight knit families they served with, the sense of emptiness can be powerful.  Our buddies are out there - give someone a call or an invite.  Help them stay Army Strong (or you know, whatever the others say).

 

All y'all - stay after it.

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