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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.  

Marine Sgt. Fredrick Coleman / CENTCOM

The pride of “wearing the uniform” was clear and present inside the MacDill Air Force Base sports center Wednesday where 1,200 service members from all branches crowded together to hear President Barack Obama.

Most were dressed in the everyday, camo uniform. They greeted the president with an enthusiasm that belied the rainy, gray skies outside.

President Obama talked directly to the men and women. He said he came to thank them for their sacrifice and for their commitment to the country.

CENTCOM / U.S. Department of Defense

President Barack Obama landed at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base shortly before 7  p.m. Tuesday, following a flight from Atlanta where he announced a major U.S. response to  the Ebola crisis in Africa.

The President was greeted by the Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin, the newly installed Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Gen. Joseph Votel, Commander of MacDill and the 6th Air Mobility Wing Col. Daniel Tulley, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-D).

U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elisebet Freeburg / Department of Defense

Evasive driving maneuvers like speeding and sudden lane changes are a must for troops driving in dangerous environments where there may be roadside bombs, like Afghanistan.

But the driving habits that can save a soldier’s life when deployed can cause an accident and maybe death when the soldier returns home.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Despite the improving economy, finding a job or establishing a career remains a challenge and will be especially so for the million or more military service members expected to transition to civilian life in the next few years.

So, the University of South Florida Office of Veteran Services created the Veterans Employment Project, thanks to a grant from the JP Morgan & Chase Company, to prepare USF student veterans for the competitive civilian market.

VA.gov / Department of Veterans Affairs

Tampa's James A. Haley VA Medical Center, 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., is inviting veterans and their families to voice their concerns about service and share their ideas on how to improve at a town hall today, Sept. 4, 2014, at 3:30 p.m.

It is the second such veterans' town hall held in as many days in the Tampa Bay region.

Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

Here’s an opportunity for veterans and their family members who want to share ideas, compliments and complaints with the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System and St. Petersburg VA Regional Office.

It’s a town hall, scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 as part of the “improved communication” called for by new VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

The goal is to hear directly from veterans.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt / Department of Defense

The significance of the U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, can be measured by the fact that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came to Tampa for the change of command ceremony.

“As a testament to the growing demand for special operators, SOCOM has grown by almost 8,000 people over the last three years,” Hagel told an invited audience of hundreds, most in military uniform. “And its growth will continue even as other parts of our military drawdown.”

Bay Pines VA

Veterans mental health experts at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System admit the VA "can't do everything alone."

So, the Bay Pines VA is holding a mental health summit today, looking to community partners to help provide veteran services both inside and outside the VA System. Local mental health agencies, private health care organizations and some hospitals are expected to attend the invitation-only event.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

UPDATE: Law enforcement provided an incomplete name for the Iraq veteran. His full name is Paul Badillo Rivera following the Hispanic tradition with two surnames. So, he is known as Paul Badillo.

When is a motorcycle more than just a ride? For Iraq veteran Paul Badillo, tinkering with the mechanics was a kind of therapy. It calmed him as much as a ride on the open road.

But his peace of mind was stolen from his apartment parking lot June 18, 2014.

Department of Veterans Affairs

What happens if you plan an event to honor women veterans and none of them come? That’s a real concern at the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 97 in Sarasota. The organization is planning a free event August 30th for the area’s women veterans, but so far, they’re having a tough time generating interest.

U.S. House of Representatives

Reform within the VA medical system is one step closer as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a compromise VA reform bill Wednesday afternoon.

The joint House and Senate legislation provides $10 Billion so veterans on waiting lists can seek care from private doctors. It also authorizes leases for 27 new medical facilities, including one in New Port Richey, and budgets $5 Billion to hire more VA doctors and medical staff.

Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army. / Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Some 17,000 service members nationwide and other consumers who were targeted by Rome Finance through unfair lending practices will not have to payoff their outstanding finance agreements according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and several state attorney generals.

Disabled Veterans Find their Freedom on Horseback

Jul 24, 2014
Tessa Wiseman / WUSF News

It has been said that in riding a horse, we borrow freedom. This is especially true for riders at an Odessa farm that uses gentle giants to foster physical and emotional growth.  For our series Off the Base, WUSF intern Tessa Wiseman took a trip to the farm to meet the team of humans and horses behind the healing.

Tessa Wiseman / WUSF Public Media

When teachers ask this fall, “What did you do on your summer vacation?”  nearly four dozen Tampa teenagers will answer, “I spent it at the James A. Haley VA Hospital.”

For more than a decade, Haley has been operating a summer Youth Volunteer program that gives teenagers insight into health care careers while at the same time helping veterans.

Veterans and military family members looking for a job or a new career – today is your day. Several Florida state agencies are sponsoring Paychecks for Patriots.

There are 18 hiring events planned throughout Florida Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. organized by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), and the Florida National Guard.

Bobbie O'Brien / w

At times, being a reporter can be fun, especially when you get to cover life-changing events like the final flight of an Air Force pilot.

Someday I'll know what it's like to leave behind a profession that I'm passionate about and have invested much of my life to. That's what Col. Scott DeThomas is preparing to do as commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and MacDill Air Force Base.

After 32 years in the military, 23 of them as an Air Force pilot, DeThomas is retiring.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

The most visible face of Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, 6th Air Mobility Wing Commander Col. Scott DeThomas, is retiring in August.

His final flight as an Air Force pilot was today when he brought a KC-135 Stratotanker in for a landing shortly after 1 p.m. It is one of nine different aircraft he's piloted for more than 3,000 hours flight time in the Air Force.

NPR

What better way for veterans to celebrate Independence Day weekend than with an Open Mic Event?

It's a chance to tell stories, recite poetry, share reflections and music.

Sponsored by the Art2Action Inc. and Sacred Grounds Coffee House, the monthly Veterans & Community Open Mic is this Sunday, July 6, 2014 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Sacred Grounds Coffee House, 4819 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa, FL.

USMC

There are a lot of patriotic messages on July 4th. Here are some words of encouragement specifically for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This comes from a portion of the talk delivered by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos at the June 18, 2014, Change of Command at MARCENT – the Marine Command at U.S. Central Command based at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Gen. James Amos:

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Recent months have shown that there is no shortage of veterans who have had problems with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than two dozen of them brought their issues to the Temple Terrace City Hall for a veterans’ intake event on Wednesday organized by Congressman Dennis Ross (R- Lakeland).

Ross said his office has received complaints about delays getting VA medical appointments, but they’re also hearing a lot about problems with VA benefit claims.

USO Day Room Opens at Haley VA Hospital

Jul 1, 2014
WUSF

Tampa's James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital officially opened a USO Day Room today, located next to the Spinal Cord Injury Center where there are many long-term patients.

This is the first time a USO center has been built inside of a veterans' hospital. Senior Vice President of the USO John Hanson said that although the 1,900-square foot space is not the largest USO center, its impact will be "profound."

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Nearly 3,000 people are expected to gather in Sarasota Saturday morning to remember and honor veterans for their sacrifice and service.

It’s not Veterans Day that’s five months off and Memorial Day was more than four weeks ago.

The Sarasota community is gathering to dedicate Patriot Plaza, the first of its kind, privately funded amphitheater and art installation at the public Sarasota National Cemetery.

U.S. Congress

Veterans living in Florida's 15th Congressional District, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Polk Counties, are invited to tell officials about the kind of care they've received through the VA medical system.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland) said in a statement that he wants to gather details on what works well and what needs improving within the Veteran's Health Administration.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly asked for and got an earful from local veterans this week.  He invited them to his office in Seminole where they shared stories of their experiences within the VA health care system. The veterans were offered immediate assistance from Jolly’s staff, VA representatives and volunteers from veteran service organizations.

And Jolly, who serves on the House Veteran's Affairs Committee, promised to take their stories back to Washington with the aim of improving the VA system.

Latest Research Showcased at Haley VA Hospital

Jun 19, 2014
Yoselis Ramos / WUSF

A few dozen researchers were abuzz showing off their projects under way at the James A. Haley VA Hospital. The public showcase held Thursday is a part of National VA Research Week. Projects varied from genetics to obesity.

Carl Hayward, a physical therapist with the VA, has invented the stand bar, which attaches to motorized wheelchairs to help people get off their seat and stand. Hayward said it goes beyond helping improve posture.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Top U.S. military leaders responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq were in Tampa today for a change of command ceremony.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie took over as commander of the Marines Forces U.S. Central Command (MARCENT), which means he now is responsible for all the Marines serving in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Presiding over the ceremony, held inside Hangar One at MacDill Air Force Base, was Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos, who praised the success of the recent elections in Afghanistan.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

The Veterans Affairs scandal over delayed medical appointments and secret wait lists is still unfolding. And there’s been plenty of evidence that there are systemic problems at VA medical facilities throughout the U.S.

Yet, even the VA’s toughest critics note that most of the VA medical staff are hardworking, dedicated professionals.

East Lake High School

The voices of 31 Pinellas County high school students soared above the cliffs at Omaha Beach in France on Tuesday.

The East Lake High School choir members were invited 15 months ago to help commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  WUSF reported last week how the choir, under the direction of Robert Knabel, practiced three times a week for a year and raised $164,000 to pay for the trip.

Department of Veterans Affairs

An internal audit of the 731 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers nationwide was released today and four Florida facilities made the list requiring further review.

The site team assessments in Florida found that the larger VA medical centers in Gainesville, Bay Pines and Lake City need follow up audits based on responses from front-line staff. The Community Based Outpatient Clinic at Eglin, FL also made the list for “further review.”

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

There will be many tributes and memorial services over the next week to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Among those marking the historic battle will be 31 young voices from Pinellas County.

Their East Lake High School choir was invited to travel to France to sing as part of the commemoration. The choir leaves this Sunday, June 8, 2014, and will perform several concerts next week in France.

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