“The Fight Doesn’t End When They Get Home”

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Soldier On

The Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, Mass.

Dealing with the nation’s veterans – both those who have served since 9/11, and the older ones who came before – has always been a challenge. That’s what makes the approach being championed by Soldier On in Massachusetts interesting.

It’s a veterans’ outreach nonprofit in the western part of the state that believes that only by letting vets earn a stake in their own home can they begin to climb from the depths many find themselves in after waging the nation’s wars. And it’s growing: the Department of Veterans Affairs gave Soldier On nearly $3 million last month to help fight veteran homelessness in New Jersey and New York.

“The fight doesn’t end when they get home,” declares Jack Downing, Soldier On’s voluble president, reciting his agency’s motto. But the welcome that Soldier On offers addicted, convicted or homeless vets – some are all three – is total. “You can’t fail here,” Downing says. “There are no rules here more important than the person.”

Battleland toured Soldier On’s Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, Mass., last week with Downing. The neat community of 39 small apartments, clustered around a central courtyard, is named for a former VA deputy secretary who hails from Pittsfield, and who was severely wounded as a company commander in Vietnam. It’s an approach Downing wants to spread around the country.

“Soldier On’s development and growth in western Massachusetts has developed a model of outreach and services for underserved veterans that is now being recognized as a model for other states,” Downing says. “We look forward to continue the growth and development of this model.” Veterans can gain partial ownership of one of the units for $2,500 down and $580 a month.

At Soldier On, in both the permanent and transitional housing (different buildings for each gender), panels made up of residents – vets – are the ones who set the rules, counsel the vets and encourage, cajole and nag newcomers to shape up. They speak highly of the organization and housing that have given them hope and restored their sense of self-respect; one likens it to “Disneyland.”

Downing – perhaps because he comes from the world of helping the addicted and homeless, rather than the military – isn’t shy about declaring where he believes the system is failing. “We’re trying to challenge the whole VA system,” he says, while noting that more than 85% of his outfit’s funding comes from the VA.

Last month, he called VA Secretary – a former Army general, chief of staff and wounded veteran – Eric Shinseki on the carpet for his remarks at the 4th annual Pentagon-VA suicide prevention conference. “Veterans who commit suicide, perhaps as many as two out of three, are not enrolled in the VA health care system,” Shinseki said. “So as good as we think our programs are — we don’t even get a shot at these veterans.”

Downing suggests Shinseki has it backwards. “The model that the veteran needs to find the VA, rather than the VA needs to find veterans, is at the center of what is wrong with the VA today,” Downing said. “We cannot continue letting young people die and say ‘too bad they didn’t come for help.’ It is our duty to seek out the men and women who were willing to die for us.”

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Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

Research shows that a great leader exudes

charisma, ensures inspirational and intellectual stimulation, pays individual

attention to the people below him and does not manage by exception or adopt a

laissez-faire leadership. Close your eyes and recall a time when you worked with a leader you rank

among the best in your life. The chances are that you will think of them as

leaders because they had charisma, inspirational and intellectual stimulation,

individualised consideration, contingent rewards, and did not manage by exception or adopt a

laissez-faire leadership. The

work of Bernard M Bass and Bruce J Avolio of the Centre for Leadership Studies at the School of Management in State University

of New York Birmingham deserves special mention. The duo's seminal model on

leadership factors-enlisted in their work Improving Organizational

Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadership-has since been used by many

researchers to either drill deeper or aim for a higher abstraction. This article summarises the

evidence of a new set of studies done on the Multifactor Leadership

Questionnaire that Bass and Avolio created to measure the six factors that help

describe a person's leadership style. Some key points, the definitions of the components

of The Full Range Leadership Model the authors described are important. The

definitions are: Charisma Provides followers with a clear

sense of purpose that is energising, role model for ethical conduct and builds

identification with the leader and his/her articulated views Intellectual stimulation Gets followers to question the

tried and tested ways of solving problems and encourages them to question the

methods they use to improve upon them Individual attention 

Focus on understanding the individualised needs

of the followers and works continuously to get them to develop to their full

potential Contingent reward Clarifies what is expected from

followers and what they will get if they meet expected levels of performance Active management Focus on monitoring task

execution for any problems Avoidant

leadership Tends

to react only after problems have become serious to take corrective action and

often avoids making any decision at all. This has some sub factors. The authors

found that the best leaders seemed to have a mix of both transactional and

transformational leadership. Languages, like our bodies, are in a perpetual flux, and stand in need

of recruits to supply those words that are continually falling through disuse.

-Cornelius Conway Felton, educator (1807-1862) that

may arise and correcting those problems to maintain current performance levels  I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA


Soldier On is a FRONT for the 12-Step religious cult industry; homeless veterans who refuse to convert to the 12-Step religious cult are left on the streets!


There is a misconception about the VA that the civilian world needs to get straight:


They aren't an entitlement.  They aren't welfare.  They are EARNED by honorable military service.  I fully agree that the VA has it completely backwards in saying that vets should seek them out.  This is like saying an employer won't give the employee the health care they get as part of the conditions of being hired unless the employee asks for it.

With the misconception so prevalent in society that VA benefits are some kind of hand-out (which is anathema to the right-wing) many vets who follow right-wing dogma don't seek out what is theirs by right, labor and blood.  They HAVE ALREADY paid for it up front.  And the VA does nothing to ensure those who served get what they deserve and have paid for by their service.  But because these good and honorable men and women, along with society, think that VA benefits are "welfare", they avoid it.  That should never happen.

Another popular misconception is that the VA is run by the military. It isn't.  The DVA and the DOD are separate and independent organizations.   The DoD and the DVA don't even talk to each other.  Records (especially medical and psychological records) DO NOT TRANSFER from the military to the VA automatically.  The VA has no idea what happened to a Vet until the records are obtained from the DoD.  To even further confuse the issue, retired vets can get their care from both the VA and the military, which leaves them in a constant state of making sure each side knows what the other one did.  That lack of communication causes unnecessary delays that can cost many more dollars and lives.

Speaking of dollars, iIf the funds set aside for the floundering F-35 program ALONE were instead allocated to the VA, it would fund the VA for seven years.  By contrast, total us health care costs were over 2.6 TRILLION dollars PER YEAR.  The veteran population of the United States is about 5-7%, but they use less than 6% of the total spent on healthcare in the United States, making the VA far more cost-effective for those perennial penny pinchers out there.

To top it all off, Congress keeps playing games with the VA and the DoD.  They close bases without necessarily ensuring retiree benefits are transferred to the closest VA medical center, making continuity of care and benefits a total joke.  Funding is another matter as well when Congress sends millions into long-term conflicts without funding long-term revenue to deal with the inevitable and easily anticipated consequences.  Instead, they leave it up to society to absorb that cost, which ends up being considerably higher in lost productivity and lives than it would have been to just make sure those who served honorably are honorably served in turn.

And yes, I'm a vet. HM3, NRMC Charleston SC, 1977-1981


While much of what you discuss is of merit, you also add fuel to a fire that the VA is always trying to extinguish.  Too often, in DC, both sides of the aisle use the VA as a political weapon.

However, when you write, “[w]ith the misconception so prevalent in society that VA benefits are some kind of hand-out (which is anathema to the right-wing) many vets who follow right-wing dogma don't seek out what is theirs by right, labor and blood.”

Your expressed partisan political views only exacerbate a problem with the VA in that with the change of an administration’s political party, there’s the perception that ideology seems to enter into the service and care the VA provides.   (It may only be a guess, but I think that you see many, if not most, vets as being followers of "right-wing dogma.")

What it seems you’ve stated, with no attempt at subtlety, is that democrats and their administrations good; republicans and their administrations bad; liberal vets smart; conservative vets stupid. (To take some of the politics out -- maybe if when we entered a VA facility, it would be best if the first thing we saw was not a picture of the current president smiling back at us.)

I too am a vet (22 yrs svc) with a VA recognized service connected disability. And despite perceived or real ideological differences at the VA, I can say that I’ve had both very good and very bad medical service from the VA under administrations of both political parties.

When I'm at the VA, I see a lot of vets, but I'm not sure which ones are the "left-wing vets" or the "right-wing vets."


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