American Homefront

In early 2017, WUSF joined the national American Homefront project, a national collaborative covering military life and veterans issues. We're visiting bases to chronicle how American troops are working and living. We're meeting military families. We're talking with veterans -- in their homes, on their jobs, at school, at VA hospitals -- to learn about the challenges they face.

It builds on WUSF's Off the Base project, which was created through a 2010-2011 Rosalynn Carter Fellowship to build a bridge between the civilian community and active-duty military, veterans and their families. 

Monica Kim / Facebook

Alex Estrella, a former Army Ranger and Gulf War veteran, achieved his goal running 405 miles from the main gate at MacDill Air Force Base to Key West.

He optimistically hoped to complete the personal challenge in eight days. However, it took more than 12 days to reach the 0-mile marker on U.S. 1 which happened Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

Erin Thompson / Facebook

Around 10:30 Monday morning, Gulf War veteran and former Army Ranger Alex Estrella, was 30 miles away from his quest that started May 21, 2015.

He created the "Run for Jamie" from Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base to Key West to honor Air Force Reserve Captain Jamie Brunette, who committed suicide in February 2015, and to raise awareness for suicide prevention and PTSD.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Air Force Reserve Captain Jamie Brunette is described by friends as a vivacious athlete with a huge smile who loved people and loved to run. 

Malia Spranger, an Air Force Reserve colonel, served with Brunette, was her friend and business partner. They were going to open a fitness center together in March.

But Brunette, an Afghanistan War veteran, took her own life February 9, 2015.

“She was (like) a daughter to my husband and I,” Spranger said. “She is obviously terribly missed by so many people out there.”

The head of the Veterans Administration is in Orlando today to dedicate the new VA hospital in Lake Nona. VA Secretary Bob McDonald will be the keynote speaker at an event, which will include elected officials.

The $620 million dollar facility broke ground seven years ago, and has been plagued with delays. The clinic began seeing patients in February, and the hospital will continue opening in phases through the rest of 2015.

Navy veteran Tom Pokorski said the new facility is an improvement over the VA clinic at Lake Baldwin, which is old and over-crowded.

The Patterson Foundation

You can locate a VA National Cemetery nearest you that is holding a 2015 Memorial Day Ceremony HERE.

MONDAY - MAY 25, 2015

Barrancas National Cemetery
Naval Air Station
1 Cemetery Road
Pensacola, FL 32508
(850) 453-4108 or 453-4846
Ceremony: May 25 at 9:00 a.m.

Ashley White Family / Memorial Page

Among those who will be remembered this Memorial Day is 1st Lt. Ashley White, a member of an all-female, all-Army Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.

White is buried behind her family’s church in Ohio. It’s the same church where she was baptized and where she married Capt. Jason Stumpf six months before she was killed.

The family had the option of burying Ashley at Arlington National Cemetery,

HeatherRaffo.com

At some point in the future, a first of its kind play about the Iraq War might make its debut on Broadway - and what happens on stage at the University of South Florida Friday night may play an important part in its development.

The opera, "Fallujah," is a work in progress. Playwright Heather Raffo has been developing the biographical story of U.S. Marine Christian Ellis for about five years, starting shortly after Ellis met Charles Annenberg of the Annenberg Foundation.

"And as they befriended each other and got to talking, Christian said that he had dreamed of being an opera singer and Charlie Annenberg thought, 'Let's give Christian music lessons,' and as their friendship continued, he said, 'Why don't we make an opera of your life?'" Raffo said.

It’s hard to find anything more quintessentially American than the artwork of Norman Rockwell.

The Tampa Museum of Art has.

It’s offering free admission to Rockwell’s art today to military, veterans and their families. The exhibit, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

There’s no shortage of stories about veterans who have had their disability benefit claims denied by the Veterans Administration, or their appeals paperwork lost.

The VA claims process can be complex, time consuming and downright frustrating.

But there’s help for veterans who have hit a roadblock in their quest for benefits they earned while serving in the military.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

The top Non-Commissioned Officers from the Florida Army National Guard this weekend are at Camp Blanding vying for the title of “Florida NCO of the year.”

It is two days of physical competitions, weapons and skills contests, a six-mile “ruck” march and tests on Army regulations.

Representing the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Pinellas Park, is Staff Sergeant Aidana Baez. She won NCO competitions at the company level and  battalion level to earn the top brigade honor.

House Committee on Veterans Affairs

A bill aimed at improving veteran accessibility to mental  health care has passed the US Senate and now only needs President Obama's signature to become law.

The US House passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act on January 12, 2015 for a second time.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center will soon have a new director. Marjorie Hedstrom, the medical center director at the VA in Popular Bluff, Mo., will take over in just over a week.

The current director, Kathleen Fogarty, is leaving Haley by choice.

She’s taken the same position at a smaller, less hectic VA hospital in Kansas City. That’s after almost four years at one of the nation’s busiest veteran medical centers serving some 200,000 veterans living in the Tampa Bay region.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

A hush will fall over Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, when 14 Navy Hornets and Super Hornets take off for a final time.

Flying the F-18 aircraft will be Navy pilots who just finished two weeks of daily exercises at the Avon Park Air Force Range. The Navy contingent from Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia includes 14 pilots in training, 22 instructors and 150 maintainers - or maintenance crew.

Navy Lt. Nate Miller said MacDill and the nearby bombing range are ideal for the 14 pilots he’s in charge of.

Tessa Wiseman

Tampa's VA hospital director Kathleen Fogarty is leaving her post permanently to take a similar position with the Kansas City VA Medical Center.

She made the announcement, she said, so that VA could begin hunting for Haley's new leader.

Fogarty has been absent from James A. Haley VA Medical Center since November. That's when she was tapped to temporarily take over as the acting network director responsible for the Phoenix VA which had documented cases of delayed veterans care and long claims waiting lists. That assignment was going to last at least three months.

Twitter.com

Either a group or an individual claiming to be a part of the Islamic State, hacked the two social media accounts belonging to US Central Command, which oversees Department of Defense operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, according to Politico.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

There’s a statistic on veteran suicide that is repeated often: VA officials say an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. But what is not widely known about that statistic is that a majority of veterans committing suicide are older and did not serve in combat.

For our series Off the Base, WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien talked with Dr. Larry Schonfeld,  a professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida’s Florida Mental Health Institute.

VAntage blog / VA.gov

The year 2015 could bring about some momentous changes for veterans.

First, it is the year that the Department of Veterans Affairs set as the deadline for ending veteran homelessness according to a 5-year plan adopted in 2009.

“As that deadline fast approaches, I’m pleased to report that the VA has succeeded in reducing veteran homelessness by approximately 33 percent,” said US Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

The audio is a compilation of six stories that exemplify coverage of the VA scandal over delayed veterans’ health care and benefits claims as it unfolded nationally and in Florida.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

The audio is a compilation of five stories covering the VA scandal over delayed veterans’ health care and benefits claims as it unfolded nationally and in Florida.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

The audio is a compilation of five stories covering the VA scandal over delayed veterans’ health care and benefits claims as it unfolded nationally and in Florida.

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