The Canary in the Coal Mine for Veteran’s Disability Compensation

The Canary in the Coal Mine for Veteran’s Disability Compensation

On August 7th, 2014, the Congressional Budget Office released a report entitled,Veterans’ Disability Compensation: Trends and Policy Options. The ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), Rep Mike Michaud (D-ME) requested the report. The purpose of the report is to develop proposals to reduce payments for disability compensation for veterans, in response to “budgetary pressures.” The report itself is incomplete – amazingly, absent from the CBO report’s proposals is “Don’t enter into long-term wars of aggression under false pretenses” – that is the first way to reduce disability compensation payments. Curiously, the CBO does not offer as a way to pay for the disability compensation of disabled veterans repealing the Bush tax cuts of 2001, and 2003, which cost the country more than $2.2 trillion in tax revenues from the wealthiest people in the country. In truth, there are no budgetary pressures; there are only political pressures from constituents who don’t want to pay for the sacrifices of veterans who fought for their freedom and to defend the Constitution.

The report begins with a summary of how veterans disability benefits payments have changed since 2000. To wit, the report mentions that the number of veterans receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has increased from 2.3 million to 3.5 million, while disability compensation payments have increased from $20 billion per year in 2000 to $57 billion per year in 2013. Although the report recognizes that our nation has been at war in two countries for more than a decade, the report fails to correlate the increase in disability benefits to the actual increase in veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accessing the Veterans Administration system for health care, and applying for disability benefits; or to the severity of disabling conditions those veterans with which those veterans are returning.


The non-partisan veterans advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense did a Freedom of Information Act for the quarter ended on March 31st, 2014.  As of that date, more than 2.6 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001. More than 2 million are in the VA system, and more than 1 million have sought healthcare through the VA. Of the more than 1 million veterans seeking healthcare, more than 969,000 have filed claims, more than 890,000 claims have been adjudicated, more than 875,000 have a service-connected disability, and finally, more than 816,000 are receiving disability benefit compensation.

A casual back-of-the-envelope calculation will show that the VBA has increased its rolls by 1.2 million. A second casual back-of-the-envelope calculation will show that nearly 75% of the increase of veterans receiving disability benefits are veterans of the so-called Global War on Terror. The VA has a demographic projection that the veteran population in the US will decline by 33% by 2040 to 15 million from a current 22 million total. This is an important consideration when the CBO proposes implementing a “statute of limitations” on submitting a disability claim, or implementing a lifetime cap on disability compensation.

This report comes at a most inauspicious time. In the very recent past, Secretary of the VA General Eric Shinseki was forced to resign over the ongoing scandal that has engulfed the agency. Indeed, this recent article at the National Journal “The VA Scandal Just Keeps Spreading,” shows that the scandal is systemic, that more than 100,000 veterans have been systemically denied access to healthcare without due process in violation of their constitutional rights per the 9th Circuit Court decision, and veterans are dying while waiting for healthcare.

The optics of this report are terrible. In February 2014, Republicans in the Senate filibustered the Veterans Omnibus Bill, effectively killing it, despite the bill being endorsed by 20 major veterans organizations. The bill would have cost $21 billion over 10 years, and provided for infrastructure improvements, opening new Vets centers, and hiring healthcare professionals and staff. In attempting to justify their “no” votes, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said “That is more money we were going to spend that we haven’t spent, that we never had because we were borrowing it.”

Then the scandal broke in the spring, and the politicians scrambled to do something. They resurrected the Veterans Omnibus Bill, re-named it the Sanders-McCain Veterans Bill, and passed it in June. Three republican senators voted against, it, Bob Corkey (R-TN), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Senator Sessions (R-AL) put the cost-benefit analysis explicitly, “I feel strongly we’ve got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don’t think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program.” The bill was passed by the HVAC and the House – their last vote prior to the August recess – and signed into law by President Obama on Aug 7th – interestingly, the same day the CBO report was released.

Virtually at the same time, the Iraqi Army has collapsed, in the face of the onslaught by the terrorist organization ISIS; and an Afghan soldier murdered the US Army major general who responsible for the training of Afghan security forces. Former President Bush stated his gambit for winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “And that is why we are on the offense. And as we pursue the terrorists, our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”

These events may appear to be unconnected, but to the contrary, they are profoundly connected. This series of events is a twin scandal and crisis. First, our country’s leadership manifests a failure of political will to win wars. Our elected politicians have essentially come up with a way to “outsource” winning wars to third country labor, similar to corporations that outsource manufacturing to lowest-cost labor countries; this is politically palatable to the electorate and creates political capital for the politician to be re-elected as a “war-time” politician. At the same time, no one has questioned the risk involved in trusting our nation’s geopolitical strategic interests with non-American troops whose motivations and interests are very very different from our own. In short, trusting third-country national troops to fight and win our wars is a recipe not just for losing, but for disaster. It was a failure in Viet Nam, it is a failure in Iraq, and it is failing in Afghanistan.

Secondly, and at the same time, those same politicians now express a failure to live up to President Lincoln’s words in his 2nd Inaugural address, which have since become the VA’s motto to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Without the Bush doctrine, there would be no Iraq war, and there would be no strategy ‘as they stand up, we will stand down.” Had the American electorate been told the truth about the wars, hundreds of thousands of Americans and American families would not now be living with the long-term health effects of disabilities incurred as a result of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraq war has been estimated to cost $3 trillion dollars (this just happens to be the same amount the Bush tax cuts cost us) by the Nobel-prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz and economist Linda Bilmes. If the VA is fully funded every year, for the next fifty years, the cost for caring for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will be $1 trillion a decade for the next five decades. To add insult to injury, recent reports from the University of Minnesota and from Feeding America, show that 28% of veterans and military families now rely on food assistance programs; while at the same time, the HVAC is asking for, and the CBO is offering policy proposals to reduce disability compensation payments.

Put it all together, and our nation is in real trouble. Our politicians no longer have the political courage to win wars, no longer have the will to pay for the care of veterans of our wars, and have inoculated the rest of the country from the true cost of war. Outsourcing wars, training foreign armies to fight our wars, refusing to pay the healthcare and disability costs of the veterans of those wars, shielding the 99% of civilian population from the costs of war for political efficacy is a recipe for disaster. It is a recipe for empire. It is a recipe for perpetual war.


The CBO report is the canary in the coal mine. They are looking for ways to reduce the costs of caring for veterans with disabilities who served in the longest wars our nation has fought, in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the military downsizes through 2020, and more than 1 million veterans leave active service by the end of the decade, the politicians will continue to try to find ways to “respond to budgetary pressures” by taking out those pressures on the less than 1% of Americans, fewer than 3 million total, who served and sacrificed for more than 310 million American citizens. Politicians have come up with a way to outsource wars and build political capital with the American electorate, and effectively inoculate the American taxpayer from the true costs of the war. As well, this toxic combination combines to create a disincentive for Americans to take the oath of service. There is no upside if our nation’s politicians consider veterans usable assets, and once the veteran is no longer military useful, veterans are on their own for any disabilities that they may suffer in combat.


All Americans should agree that it is morally wrong and a betrayal of the social and legal obligation that the nation has to its veterans, to respond to “budgetary pressures” on the backs of the less than 1% of Americans who have served and sacrificed in defense of the Constitution. George Washington wrote in 1781 to the first governor of CT Jonathan Trumbull, “Permit me Sir to add, that Policy alone in our Present Circumstances, seem to demand that every Satisfaction which can reasonably be requested, should be given to those Veteran Troops who, ‘thro almost every Distress, have been so long and so faithfully serving the States . . .” That intent remains as fresh and immediate today, in light of the present VA scandal and the explicitly stated unwillingness to pay for veterans disability benefits, as when it was written. Service in defense of the Constitution is special. Veterans are truly the best and brightest our nation has to offer in its defense. There is no such thing as budgetary pressure, only what our nation is willing to pay for, and what it’s not willing to pay for. If our nation is not willing to pay for veterans, this two-centuries-old experiment in democracy will not last.


To Satisfy Every Demand that may Reasonably be Requested…

In a letter George Washington wrote to our own illustrious Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut on 28 June 1781:

During the American Revolution he was one of a very few colonial governors who supported the American side.
Because of his role during the American Revolution, Jonathan Trumbull is one of Connecticut’s best-known governors, and many historians regard him as one of its greatest leaders. He was the only governor of an English colony to side with the colonists, and his opposition to England’s encroachments into the colonies made him the only colonial governor to remain in office throughout the war. Thus, he became Connecticut’s last colonial governor and its first state governor.

“Permit me Sir to add, that Policy alone in our Present Circumstances, seem to demand that every Satisfaction which can reasonably be requested, should be given to those Veteran Troops who, ‘thro almost every Distress, have been so long and so faithfully serving the States . . .”

In the spirit of George Washington’s words on this 4th of July, the recent progress on veterans issues the federal government has made towards policy satisfying every demand of our nations veterans…

On June 4th, the House passed the fiscal year (FY) 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA) Appropriations bill. The bill funds homeless programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs at the highest levels in history, meeting President Obama’s FY 2014 budget request for those programs. These funding levels include $300 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program and $250 million for the Grant and Per Diem Program.

As well, the Obama administration announced the completion of a new online application that completely enables an electronic, online, disability claim to be filed with the VA. The availability of the joint VA-Department of Defense Web portal eBenefits marks a major milestone in VA’s transformation from paper claims records to a fully digital operating environment, one of the keys to VA’s goal to eliminate the disability claims backlog by the end of 2015.

Taken together, the these two developments lay in place the pieces to revolutionize the processing of disability claims and benefits for veterans and their dependents, at once bringing the system into the 21st century and working to resolve the two major and synergistic complaints plaguing veterans today: the enormous backlog in disability claims (more than half of them from Viet Nam or “other era” veterans) and veteran homelessness. There currently are just over 851,000 claims filed with the VA, with most of them — about 565,000 — past the 125-day period that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki set as a resolution time. In some parts of the country, the wait time is past 600 days.

These twin developments in the month of June promise to solve these problems by the end of 2015!

Veterans Honored with Presidential Recognition

On Monday, Feb 11th, former SSgt Clinton Romesha was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama for his heroic actions in the Oct 3rd, 2009 Battle of COP Keating (also known as the Battle of Kamdesh), during which the position was nearly overrun. It would have been the first time a US unit was overrun since the Viet Nam war. The COP was attacked by a force that outnumbered the US forces by almost 10:1. The COP occupied the low ground, and was surrounded by ridges. The COP has since been called “indefensible.”

American, allied,  and Afghanistan forces, including the Observation Post about 2 km away and the mortar pit, included 57. The Taliban attacked with more than 300. The attack was a complex, supported attack. Breaches occurred at a latrine area close to the perimeter wire; the main entrance where civilian guards, Afghan Security Guards were overwhelmed; and from the eastern side—where Afghan National Army soldiers were stationed. Despite the efforts of two Latvian military advisors, who tried to convince the Afghan National Army forces not to flee, the Afghan defenders quickly broke and ran. US soldiers reported that none of the Afghan soldiers held their ground. Once the perimeter was breached, the Taliban set fire to numerous buildings, while the Americans and allied soldiers formed an internal defensive perimeter around two buildings. From there, the Americans counter-attacked to retake the COP and restore the integrity of their base.

The insurgents began to retreat later in the day. Quick reaction forces from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment did not reach the outpost until 7:00 pm that day, while insurgents remained in parts of the outpost as late as 5:10 pm. On October 5 and 6, coalition troops conducted operations in the area in an attempt to locate and destroy the Taliban forces responsible for the attack on the outposts. Another 10 Afghan soldiers and 4 Taliban fighters were killed during these operations.

American forces had already planned to pull out of the area as part of a plan to move forces to more densely populated areas, so closure of the base was imminent when the attack occurred. The attack accelerated those plans, with the troops’ departure taking place quickly after the battle that some munitions were abandoned. The outpost was evacuated two days later, and bombed on October 6 by a B-1 bomber to prevent insurgents from looting the munitions abandoned in the hasty withdrawal. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed by American planes in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind.

Eight US soldiers were killed and 22 wounded; eight Afghan soldiers were wounded, along with two Afghan private security guards. The US military estimated that 150 Taliban militants were also killed as a result of repulsing the assault. The US soldiers killed in the battle were: Justin T. Gallegos, Christopher Griffin, Kevin C. Thomson, Michael P. Scusa, Vernon W. Martin, Stephan L. Mace, Joshua J. Kirk, and Joshua M. Hardt.  Twenty-seven purple hearts were awarded, as well as 18 Bronze stars for valor, 9 Silver Stars, 8 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 1 Medal of Honor.

SSgt Romesha’s combat has been called epic. According to his citation, Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire multiple times to muster reinforcements and fire on attackers. He took out an enemy machine gun team and, while engaging a second, was wounded by shrapnel when a generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He fought on undeterred, exposing himself to “heavy enemy fire” while moving “confidently about the battlefield. Romesha engaged and destroyed “multiple enemy targets.” He also directed air support to destroy more than 30 enemy fighters and saved other wounded troops.

“Staff Sergeant Romesha’s heroic actions throughout the day long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers. His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed the troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating,” according to his award citation.

On Tuesday, Feb 12th, Adam Burke of Veterans Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition will receive the Presidential Citizenship Medal from President Obama. Connecticut’s own Working Vessels for Veterans works closely with Veterans Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to help veterans learn about farming and start their own farms. Adam Burke is a Purple Heart recipient who started Veterans Farm in 2009 in Jacksonville FL. It is planning to expand to our state in the near future.

I find it very interesting that two veterans are receiving such important Presidential recognition in such close proximity, and so close to the 2013 State of the Union address. I have long believed that this current generation of combat veterans would lead the way in the next decade for solving some of the economic ills that have beset our nation. At the same time, in grand scheme of things, this generation of veterans are creating both social value and economic value by committing to reintegrate veterans into the workforce and American economic life.

National PTSD Awareness Day & Moral Injury – Make the Connection

Wednesday, June 27th was officially recognized as the >3rd annual National PTSD Awareness Day.  PTSD Awareness Day was first established by Congress in 2010 after Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota proposed honoring North Dakota Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Joe Biel, who was a suicide casualty following two tours in Iraq. Biel’s birthday was June 27. Tragically and stunningly, in the first 155 days in calendar year 2012, the active duty armed forces endured 154 suicide casualties – as sure a cry for help as there is.

It took a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and millions of words, and thousands of shattered lives, for our nation to finally recognize the legitimate and true nature of post-traumatic stress and the effect it has on survivors of trauma. Trauma comes in many many shapes and sizes – I call them species of trauma. Combat, certainly. Accidents, whether vehicular or otherwise. Domestic abuse. Sexual abuse. Bullying. Racism. Crime victimization.

The link above includes 12 ways to increase awareness of PTSD in the community. PTSD does not affect just returning veterans. It affects every community, and all ages. It is, in effect, a 12-Step program for community members to learn about living with trauma.

But soldiers and veterans experience something else – a different species of trauma. Because they are volunteers. Every single one of us volunteered to don the uniform, to strap on the boots, and to take up arms to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. That is a good thing. Its a morally right and defensible action. Love of country is part of the natural order. So what happens?

My friend Nan Levinson of Tufts University is a writer and PTSD researcher. She has written an incredibly insightful essay about “moral injury” crossed posted at Tom Dispatch and the Huffington Post. Entitled Mad, Bad, Sad: What’s Really Happened to America’s Soldiers, she calls these moral injuries “sacred wounds.” Here she tells the story of a soldier:

“Andy had assumed that his role would be to protect his country when it was threatened. Instead, he now considers  himself part of “something evil.” So at a point when his therapy stalled and his therapist suggested that his spiritual pain was exacerbating his psychological pain, it suddenly clicked. The spiritual part he now calls his sacred wound. Others call it “moral injury.”

Nan goes on to explain:

“While the symptoms and causes may overlap with PTSD, moral injury arises from what you did or failed to do, rather than from what was done to you.  It’s a sickness of the heart more than the head. Or, possibly, moral injury is what comes first and, if left unattended, can congeal into PTSD.”

She gives credit for the term “moral injury” to Dr Jonathan Shays, the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and Boston VA Psychiatrist who wrote Achilles in Viet Nam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Moral Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Coming Home There is an important academic paper on the phenomenon of moral injury entitled Moral Injury and Moral Repair in War Veterans published by in 2009.

It is no accident that the first National PTSD Awareness Day happened in 2010.

Awareness is not enough. Reaching out. As in combat, creating bonds under extreme conditions of stress and trauma. The VA has a new campaign called Make the Connection. Veterans share a common bond of duty, honor, and service. Some military Veterans served in combat overseas. We experienced things – life – that most people can’t fathom. We know. We get it. That’s why we have to reach out.



Memorial Day 2012 – Do Veterans Really Need a Welcome Home Gift? Or Just a Chance?

Recently, on May 6th, 2012, Admiral Mike Mullen co-authored a well-received editorial in the Washington Post entitled A Welcome Home Gift for Veterans: Jobs. Hard to argue with that sentiment…or is it?

Jobs are not a gift. A gift is a freebie. Something given, gratis. Free of any recompense or obligation to return the favor (supposedly, but we know how regifting works). But I am not so sure that “gift” is the right language or the right image we want Americans to have when it comes to the issue of veteran employment and re-entry into a post-combat, post-military civilian workforce.

In my eyes, veterans not only have earned the right to compete for a place in the workplace in the global free market, but are eminently qualified to perform and contribute as value creators. For those of you who have read the book Moneyball or seen the movie by the same name starring Brad Pitt, the central theme is that Billy Beane created value (both by winning a championship and by making money!) by finding and extracting performance from assets in a labor market that were overlooked by traditional baseball metrics. I submit that this is the fundamental dynamic that is at work as veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enter the civilian labor market today, and will continue to do so for the next decade.

From a hiring manager or employer’s point of view, hiring a veteran is no gift. It’s not a give-away. Its making a shrewd business judgement based on an evaluation of what that veteran can bring to the workforce. Its not an act of charity, but an act of self-interest. Its about finding and extracting value from a traditionally and currently overlooked asset in the labor market, where other employers are not making that same judgement. In that sense, it gives the hiring manager or employer a competitive advantage, in an economic environment where capital is scarce and fiercely contested, and everyone needs every edge and advantage one can get.

With all due respect to Admiral Mullen, and I appreciate his message, but jobs do not equal gifts. An article entitled Record Suicide Rates Highest Among Jobless detailed a study that found suicidal ideation far more prevalent among the unemployed. Another recent article The Best Medicine Might Just be a Job cites “Study after study correlates unemployment with suicidality” and a “two-fold to three-fold increased relative risk of death by suicide.”

Two thousand five hundred years ago, Thucydides observed in his History of the Peloponnesian War, that the Athenian politicians found it was easier to honor the dead than care for the living. What was true then remains true today. This Memorial Day, as we remember more than 6,000 dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 50,000 wounded, and several hundred thousand permanently disabled – lets remember the approximately million veterans who are unemployed and looking for work.

Jobs equal a chance for veterans to re-enter the civilian workforce and re-integrate into American civilian society, having earned the hard way – through blood and sacrifice and suffering – a shot at making their American dream a reality.

Paying the Cost of Security in Iraq

This is a guest blog and reprint from Todd Rosenfield, a graduate of the UConn EBV in Sept 2011. He published this blog at the NY Times blog At War: Notes from the Front Lines by James Dao.

JANUARY 9, 2012, 12:54 PM

Paying the Cost of Security in Iraq


In 2008, I returned home from Iraq, having served a year tour as a civil affairs sergeant attached to the 82nd Airborne. Back home for over three years now, I have had time to reflect on the war and my role in it, and to search for meaning amid the chaos and destruction of those days. My deployment, during what came to be known as the surge, was quite different than what I had hoped or expected it would be.

I had previously served in the Army Reserves while a college student, during peacetime. After 9/11, and specifically the week of Pat Tillman’s death in 2004, I decided to re-enlist. I had had a good job working for a medical company in the Boston area, but felt I needed to do something more. I thought that my civilian work experience, and desire to serve my country, would make me a perfect fit for civil affairs, a special unit that tries to alleviate suffering by building essential services and infrastructure in war zones.

Before I deployed in 2007, most of my training involved learning about things like opening schools, restoring hospitals and restarting electrical service. At that time, casualties were reaching record levels and the United States military wanted to shift control of the government back to the Iraqis. I thought I would play a role in doing just that.

Todd Rosenfield at Forward Operating Base Justice in Iraq in 2007.
Todd Rosenfield at Forward Operating Base Justice in Iraq in 2007.

But once we hit the ground, it was another world. During my first week in country, my team was sent on a mission to a local health clinic where United States Army medical staff provided medication, food and other essential supplies to civilians. The neighborhood was in a Shiite enclave in West Baghdad. It had been a hot spot of attacks, and we needed to “win hearts and minds.” After the operation, less than half a mile from the health clinic, my patrol came under attack, first with a roadside bomb and then with small-arms fire from militia hidden nearby.

We all made it back to base, leaving the ambush site littered with dead attackers. The idea of being ambushed so close to the health clinic, and the fact that we were attacked in an area usually crowded with civilians, made it clear to us that not only Iraqi civilians but also the military — which had deserted a nearby checkpoint — were probably complicit in the ambush.

Numerous other missions had the same outcome. We would rush in to protect fellow soldiers who had been attacked, only to find crowds chanting anti-American slogans and taunting us in the streets, or children hurling rocks at us as we tried to deliver food and medical supplies to communities.

These attacks occurred despite our best efforts to buy support from local leaders. Indeed, we regularly employed a strategy very different from what I had been taught in training. It was known as nonlethal targeting, and it went something like this: rather than killing or capturing potential insurgent leaders, we tried to buy them off.

My team would routinely pay tens of thousands of dollars a month to various sheiks and warlords. This was supposed to ensure that their tribes did not attack American forces in our area. It was nothing more than protection money. It often worked. But when the money dried up, the blood began to spill again.

I would regularly carry in excess of $50,000 in my cargo-pants pockets to be handed over to sheiks and warlords. To provide a “cover story,” we always said it was for some community improvement program, picking up trash or painting sidewalks and so forth.

But the real story is that the sheiks and warlords would skim half or more of the money for themselves, and, in exchange, provide their tribal support to assure our patrols were not attacked. Cash for safety was the formula.

In the many times I met with those sheiks and warlords, who I knew were wanted in connection with attacks on American forces, and the dozens upon dozens of times I handed over money to keep paying them off, the mantra I kept repeating to myself was that I was somehow, in some way, helping to keep a soldier from getting killed.

This mantra was, sadly, all we had to cleave to, because the killing and maiming simply did not stop. In our last week alone, there were two separate bomb attacks, one within earshot, which killed four more of our soldiers. These four soldiers were from the 101st Airborne, which was the unit I was attached to during the last months of my tour. Two thousand seven was to become the deadliest year for United States forces in Iraq. As an Army buddy once told me, “We went there to win their hearts and minds, and we ended up losing ours.”

In all this, my team and fellow soldiers performed exceedingly well. We were tasked with nearly impossible missions, and asked to serve our country amid sheer lunacy and brutality that I would not wish on anyone. I am proud of these soldiers, and of the work we accomplished despite the odds. These soldiers are the best of our country, our sons and our daughters. They deserve support, recognition and praise for doing exactly what our elected officials asked of them. But I wonder sometimes whether those elected officials learned anything from the war. Do any of them now ask themselves whether they were too reflexive in supporting the war? Do any of them regret not having a clear sense of what victory in Iraq should have looked like, or how we might have achieved it?

Since returning home, I have had time to reflect upon the war and its repercussions. I have learned that the nation’s focus shifts quickly, and that many people are now mostly concerned with the tough economy. The best place I can put my time and energy is helping fellow veterans. I have volunteered with the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a service officer for the last three years, assisting veterans to obtain health care, disability compensation and other benefits. This is now the most important mission for me.

Todd Rosenfield served with the United States Army in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 as a civil affairs team sergeant, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. He was awarded the Combat Action Badge and Army Commendation Medal, and was honorably discharged in 2010. He is 41 years old and lives in the Albany, N.Y., area, where he works for state government.


Start-up Nation

It takes a special mindset to volunteer to join the military in times of war. To leave the comforts of home, to leave family and friends, to go into harm’s way in far off foreign lands creates a complex mindset. It takes a certain mindset to brave the dangers of combat, to go outside the wire and engage the enemy on their grounds.

What is it, ultimately, that makes veterans different from civilians? I have been interested in this question since 1994 – my first recruiting tour of duty. Why did some people sign on the dotted line for four years or more, and some not? What was the unmoved mover that prompted the best and brightest of America’s youth to raise their right hand and take a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution? Over 6 years and two recruiting tours of duty, I never could put my finger on it. It remains a mystery to me, even now.

But there is a difference, and we are here tonight to celebrate that difference. It takes a special mindset to transition from a combat and military environment to a civilian business and entrepreneurial environment.

I just read a book entitled Mindset by Carol Dweck, a psychologist who studies success. In her book, she posits two fundamental mindsets, Growth vs Fixed. Growth mindsets have a tendency to learn experientially, a willingness to take on new challenges and explore new opportunities, and maybe most importantly, a proclivity for hard work. In other words, qualities we most often associate with successful entrepreneurship.

A body of academic research exists about why veterans the world over tend to be successful entrepreneurs. In the book Start-up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer explore the factors contributing to the entrepreneurial success of Israel, on a per capita basis, the most entrepreneurial country in the world. They assert one of the key reasons is Israel’s compulsory universal military service, which creates a common language and mindset for mission accomplishment and – once again – hard work.

There is something to this veteran-entrepreneur relationship. Here in CT, we have a population of approximately 235,000+ veterans; but more than 50,000 veteran-owned businesses, a better than 1-in-5 ratio.

Today, as I speak, the unemployment rate among disabled veterans is 25%, in some states as high as 30%.  Approximately 2.6 million Americans have served in the military since 9/11. Of that number, about 2.2 million have served in combat theaters in Iraq or Afghanistan. If 1-in-5 of those veterans started businesses – our nation would create nearly 500,000 start-ups.

We veteran-entrepreneurs, with our different mindset, with our extraordinary experiences overseas, with our Growth mindset – we are part of the solution to the present economic situation.

Let’s break it down.  2,500,000 veterans. 50 states. 10 years. 500,000 start-ups.  Basically, we’re talking about every state starting 1,000 veteran and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses for the next decade. 50,000 a year for the next 10 years.  This is eminently doable.

We can create a start-up state, and a start-up nation.

Wanted: A Good Job and Some Understanding? I’m not so sure…

Four articles caught my attention this past few days. The first was titled Army Sgt Born in CT killed in Afghanistan. Sgt Edward J. Frank, 26, of Hartford CT made the final measure of devotion this past weekend when he was killed by an IED. Sgt Frank was on his third combat tour, two in Iraq, and this third in Afghanistan. He leaves behind a wife and three young children.  May he Rest in Peace, and his family’s grief be assuaged. Unfortunately, he is not the only son of Connecticut to die in Afghanistan this month, as Chief Petty Officer Brian Bill, 31 and a Navy SEAL, of Stamford CT, was also killed in Afghanistan.

The second was an editorial in the NY Times by Jonathan Raab of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The editorial, Wanted: a Good Job and Some Understanding ends with a plaintive “Everybody wants to support the troops until they have to  share in the hardship and sacrifice,” I said. “Then all of a sudden that bumper sticker or that flag pin doesn’t mean anything anymore.”  I agree with the sentiment in general, but I have more to say. Look at the current politics – there is almost no talk about the wars, or about the effects they are having on the people fighting them, or their families, or society at large. Veteran unemployment in general is 5% higher than the civilian population; for disabled veterans it is twice, and in some states, three times as high as the general civilian population. In economic times like these – its every man for himself. People are worried about putting food on their own table, and about paying their own rent or mortgage. Unless they’re veterans or related to veterans – they’ve got other things to worry about. I submit we should not be looking for understanding from civilians – we should be looking to understand civilians, in the same way we tried to understand Iraqis or Afghans when we were deployed. In other words – civilians aren’t going to change. We’re not going to change them. We can win them over, we can overcome their fear and prejudices, just as we did with the civilian populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have an advantage – no one is killing them or their families on a daily basis.

The third article was in the Connecticut Post and was entitled Returning Veterans Face Struggles Returning to the Home Front. The article talks about veterans experiences in CT returning to a civilian environment, and the trials and tribulations thereof. The theme emerges, as quoted by Joy Kiss, founder of the homeless veteran shelter Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport CT – “The returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans are becoming homeless quicker than the Vietnam era veterans. They’re coming back to jobs they had, but they’re coming back different so they lose those jobs. And then, as a result of the loss of the job, they lose their homes. And then on top of the stress of combat, they may lose their marriages, they may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with whatever demons they’re living with. You just get layer after layer after layer.”

And last, this article More Homeless Female Veterans in NC, SC posted in the CT Post.The article quotes a female veteran who says she thought her work experience in the military would help her land a job “but instead potential employers seemed to dismiss her as a serious candidate.”

The message I take away is “We’re different.” And these articles, attempting to chronicle what its like to be a returning vet, actually entrenches that. And we are different. In fact, we’re special. We’re doers. We’re people who make things happen. Who accomplish missions under the most dire and difficult of circumstances. We’re people who negotiated with sheikhs and village elders and ran towns and districts and built bridges and energy grids. We’re not people who complained about not being understood or about being given a job. We went out and did what we did. That’s what we do. We don’t need civilians to understand us – we need to understand them!  Developing working relationships, doing economic development projects, accomplishing missions – these are all things we can do – whether its in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Connecticut.

With all due respect to the various authors of the articles, We don’t need civilians to understand us or give us a job.



UConnEBV Social Media Frenzy – We’re on Twitter!

A Social Media Neophyte Learns to Love Google+

I found this article by John Warrilow at BNet the Interactive Business Network

This is an interesting comparison between Facebook and Google+. Google is getting into the social media game, with a business focus.

Please take a look at this article. Maybe you'll find Google+ fits your social media needs as a start-up vetrepreneur.

And while you're at it – sign up to follow us on Twitter @UConnEBV

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying in the 21st Century

How to Start a Small Business in Just One Day

I found this article on the BNet Interactive Business Network by Jeff Haden. Again, he writes simple truth with flair. But I look at his articles through the lens of a disabled veteran starting a business.

There are a lot of things to do to start a business. But there are a few simple tasks that actually start the business. This is a quick list that helps you cut through the clutter, prioritize your task list, and take the first step.

and make sure you register your business as a Service-disabled, Veteran-owned Business! If you're a woman, or a minority, or your business is in a HUB zone – make sure you get it registered that way!