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.

Partners in the project include WUSF, KPBS in San Diego and North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC.

The American Homefront project in Tampa builds on the success of 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.

American Homefront receives support from: The Bob Woodruff Foundation, dedicated to ensuring that post-9/11 injured service members, veterans, and their families make a successful transition.  

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a plan this week to reduce the military’s size and budget. Closing or restructuring domestic bases is part of that plan.  The next round of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, is slated for 2017 if Congress approves it. 

The Florida Defense Alliance - part of Enterprise Florida - works to ensure the state is an attractive site for bases, and they don't think closures are an immediate threat.  Vice President Rocky McPherson says Hagel's budget is only an initial proposal, and it will face an uphill climb in Washington.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

There are more than 160,000 women veterans living and working in Florida.

“Many of them don’t even realize - they’re veterans. They feel they’re not recognized as veterans,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA) based at Bay Pines.

Larri Gerson used to be one of those women veterans. She now supervises benefits claims at the FDVA.

“I didn’t know I was a veteran for 25 years because I didn’t grow up in a military family,” Gerson said.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The Post 9-11 GI Bill granted veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan a myriad of benefits including tuition money for college or trade schools. But those benefits have limits.

“We’re all aware that veterans receive GI benefits and several different levels of GI benefits,” said Michael Ayres, a development officer at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. “What none of us ever thought about was that these benefits expire or they can use them up.”

Florida’s two senators helped the Senate restore benefits for veterans though neither was happy with the bill.  Lawmakers were given a choice protect benefits for troops or for seniors and ninety five lawmakers picked troops. The bill restores a previously agreed to cut of about $6 billion to veteran’s pensions. 

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

The state has identified three communities in critical need of a veterans’ nursing home. Collier, Lee and Polk counties top of that list.

Right now, there is only one empty bed among the 720 beds at the six, state-run veterans’ nursing homes the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs told Florida cabinet members this morning.

The Florida VA studied where to build additional veterans’ nursing homes. Executive director Mike Prendergast said the results showed a high need for veterans’ homes in three different areas of the state.

Today, the state will reveal the top five communities that may get a new, state-run nursing home for veterans.

Florida currently operates six veterans’ nursing homes that are at 99 percent occupancy, while many others have a waiting list. So there is great interest in the results of a study that identified the veterans’ needs.

Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, will present study results at today’s cabinet meeting at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.

A memorial is being held Saturday morning to honor those who served in the Spanish American War.

The Veterans Museum Committee of Hillsborough County is hosting the event that will unveil a new Spanish American War memorial in Veterans Park. Hillsborough County was a main embarkation port for the American army and naval units destined for Cuba in 1898.

Coordinator for the event, John Werner says this memorial is something everyone should be proud of.

Kelly Matisi

From Gov. Rick Scott to local lawmakers, elected officials love to brag that Florida is “the most veteran friendly state” in the nation.

Many student veterans believe it’s time the politicians prove it and give out-of-state student veterans tuition waivers so they can pay significantly cheaper, in-state tuition rates while attending Florida universities, colleges and trade schools.

More than a dozen other states give all student veterans in-state tuition rates regardless of their state of origin.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg was the clear “winner” during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. The recovering Ranger sparked the longest and most bipartisan response of the evening – reportedly a two minute standing ovation.

But what you may not know: the Ranger who was severely wounded during his tenth deployment  credits the staff at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center for bringing him out of a comma and onto a path of recovery.

Hal Faulkner, a gay man whose last wish came true earlier this month when his discharge from the U.S. Marines was changed from "undesirable" to "honorable," has died.

NPR's Quil Lawrence, who told Morning Edition listeners about Faulkner last week, says that the 79-year-old Faulkner died Tuesday in Florida.

Jen Lumm / FotoJENic Journeys

The fourth-placed Tampa Generals Wheelchair Rugby Team may not have finished in the "top three" during last weekend's international tournament, but the Generals' Leevi Ylönen was named Most Valuable player.

Here are the final results from three days of play during the 22nd annual Tampa International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament held at the All People’s Life Center.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Tampa Bay sports fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming months and years -- the promise of a new head coach for the Bucs – hosting the “Frozen Four” in 2016 -- and college football's "championship game" the following year.

Yet, a major sporting event is happening today through Sunday in Tampa. It's the International Quad Rugby Tournament. Six teams from Germany, Brazil, and throughout the U.S., including the Tampa Generals will compete.

Biking USA

A University of South Florida student veteran has gained national recognition for her work raising funds and increasing awareness of issues concerning fellow veterans on campuses across the country.

Kiersten Downs is an Air Force veteran and anthropology doctoral student who spent her summer biking across America.

During the week of July 13, Tampa hosted close to 600 amateur athletes, their trainers and families from around the nation for the 33rd Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. WUSF 89.7 News advanced the national event as well as providing coverage beyond the typical sports stories.

Included in this entry for FAPB 2013 Continuing Coverage category are three full stories (listed below) that are representative of our coverage. Below is the compiled audio link:

Off the Base is a weekly news series broadcast by WUSF 89.7 News highlighting the lives and issues of veterans, active-duty personnel and their families in our community.

This submission for FAPB includes three partial and two full stories that aired during 2013 to fit within the 15 minute maximum. That link is:

Should the judges choose to hear the full stories and view the individual web post for the five stories feature in the entry, click on the activated link at the end of each paragraph.

Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans as well as 21 military installations covering all five branches of service.

Off the Base, WUSF 89.7 News’ weekly radio series and blog, was established to highlight the lives and issues confronting the state’s veterans, active-duty personnel and their families. The series tells their personal stories as well as serving to inform and help bridge the gap between the veteran and military communities with the civilian and business worlds.

Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans as well as 21 military installations covering all five branches of service.

Off the Base, WUSF 89.7 News’ weekly radio series and blog, was established to highlight the lives and issues confronting the state’s veterans, active-duty personnel and their families.

The news series tells their personal stories as well as serving to inform them and help bridge the gap between the veteran and military communities with the civilian and business worlds.

Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans as well as 21 military installations covering all five branches of service.

Off the Base, WUSF 89.7 News’ weekly radio series and blog, was established to highlight the lives and issues confronting the state’s veterans, active-duty personnel and their families.

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USF Comng Home Project flyer

The number of veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill passed 1 million in November according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. And the number of student veterans is expected to swell as another million service members transition out of the military over the next five years.

It raises the challenge of how to best help those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans transition into an educational setting.

Nathan Powell

On Saturday,  thousands showed up at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell for a ceremony to honor the nearly 100,000 veterans buried there.

Wreaths Across America is a nationwide effort to place wreaths on the headstones of fallen veterans.

Vietnam Veteran Bob Grimshaw called the ceremony "moving."

"It is deeply moving to me as a veteran, because I remember those that didn't return from Vietnam and all of the others from the other wars combined together, it is a deeply moving ceremony." Grimshaw said.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

It’s a delicate balance keeping troops supplied while downsizing in Afghanistan. Then, add the mandate to do it in the most economical and efficient way.

That’s why troops in Afghanistan, including the commander Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, are eating an MRE for one of their three daily meals. There are a lot of prepackaged Meals Ready to Eat stored in Afghanistan and they are not worth the cost to ship home.

Associated Press

After being grounded because of federal budget cuts, MacDill Air Force Base's AirFest is back.

Base officials announced today AirFest will be held March 22 and 23 and will be headlined by the United States Air Force Thunderbirds Flight Demonstration Team.  There will also aerial performances by both military and civilian aviators, along with displays of cargo, fighter and special purpose aircraft.

Eric Highfill spent five years in the Navy, fixing airplanes for special operations forces. His discharge papers show an Iraq campaign medal and an Afghanistan campaign medal, a good-conduct medal, and that he's a marksman with a pistol and sharpshooter with a rifle.

None of that matters, because at the bottom of the page it reads "Discharged: under other than honorable conditions."

Wreaths Across America Facebook

The tradition of placing Christmas wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers and veterans started in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery. Wreaths Across America has grown to include cemeteries in all 50 states and more than 20 cemeteries overseas.

But this year, the program is experiencing a dramatic drop in donations at Arlington and other veterans’ cemeteries.

Veterans in Florida can now get a flu shot at any of more than 800 Walgreens locations and the drug store will electronically forward their immunization record to the VA.

It's a pilot program being tried out in the Veterans Integrated Service Network 8 (VISN8) which includes all of Florida, southern Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It requires no paper record, no remembering at your next VA health care appointment.

Cpl. Timothy Lenzo / U.S. Marine Corps photo

Holidays are particularly tough for deployed military members thousands of miles away from family.

But the U.S. Central Command, based at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, has made certain the troops in Afghanistan will have a special meal according to Scott Anderson, Deputy Director of Logistics and Engineering for CENTCOM.

Anderson is in charge on the civilian side of making sure troops are properly supplied.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives.  That's according to a report released earlier this year by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  And that number could actually be higher. 

The rate of veteran-suicide is much higher than for the general population.

The Veterans Crisis Line was established six years ago to try and slow the flood of veteran suicides.

President Barack Obama signed a bill Wednesday, renaming Pinellas County's Bay Pines VA Center after the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young.

Stars and Stripes White House, Capitol Hill and veterans reporter Leo Shane III posted the breaking news on Twitter @LeoShane:

White House has officially signed into law renaming the Bay Pines VA center in Florida after the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

The Gibbons Family.

The late Congressman Sam Gibbons was a member of the U.S. Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He parachuted into Europe on D-Day and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was the third man to step out of plane #42, and dropping 800 feet to start what some have called ‘The Longest Day,’” Gibbons wrote in his World War II memoir I Was There.

Gibbons passed away peacefully in his sleep last year at age 92.

Jackie Dorr

If you can’t join any Veterans Day events, no worries. You can still take a moment to show your gratitude for those who have served and those currently deployed. Here are a few suggestions that are good year-round.