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Veterans Advantage Blog

Fieldy and Caseres
Corp. Nick Caceres and Fieldy, a K9 Vet that served 4 tours locating IED’s in Afghanistan

March 13th is National K9 Veteran Day, and represents the birthday of the U.S. Army Canine Corps. The first military service dogs graduated from the Dogs for Defense program in 1942, following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, "war dogs" are primarily used to help our military sniff out Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s), and to provide emotional support for those stationed in war zones.

American Humane, a national animal welfare organization, recently launched a new program that aims to train shelter dogs as emotional support animals for vets struggling with Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injuries. They also help to re-unite retired military service dogs with their former handlers, and award the most outstanding military service dogs the American Humane Lois Pope LIFE K-9 Medal of Courage each July.  

One of the 2016 recipients of the award is Fieldy, a black Labrador Retriever that served 4 combat tours detecting I.E.D.’s in Afghanistan, and now continues to do his duty as an emotional support animal for his former handler, Nick Caceres, a Corporal in the U.S. Marines.

"Fieldy was the one who did all the work, I was just the puppet!" says Caceres of the award. "When I take Fieldy on walks around my neighborhood, people just see a dog wagging its tail—no one would know by looking at him that he’s done what he’s done. It’s pretty cool that I have a dog that’s accomplished so much."

Caceres fought hard to adopt Fieldy after the dog was retired from service--the team had been separated for almost 3 years while Fieldy continued to sniff out explosives in Afghanistan. Caceres believes that service dogs like Fieldy are very therapeutic for vets suffering from PTS, and considers himself lucky that he got to adopt the patriotic pooch.

"PTS is an emotion. You’re reacting to something, like a memory. Something has triggered you," Caceres says. "The dogs feel it, and there’s no judgment. Even Fieldy struggles with PTSevery now and then he will have bad dreams, or if there’s a loud bang he will act a certain way, and I know that it’s triggering that in him. We look after each other and calm each other down."

While organizations like American Humane strive to simplify the process of placing K9 Vets and trained service dogs with the veterans who need them, it can still take a long time. Currently, some wait lists demand that vets wait up to 3 years to be paired with a dog.

Marine Captain Jason Haag, a retired vet who served 3 tours in the Middle East, is no stranger to how crippling PTS and TBI’s can be, and how service dogs can help. Though he now serves as the national spokesperson for American Humane, before he adopted his service dog, Axel, he struggled with drug and alcohol abuse--a common way that soldiers returning from combat cope with their trauma.

"I came home and isolated myself. I spent about a year and a half in my basement, and I was at the end of my rope," says Haag of returning to civilian life. "I decided that my last hope was a service dog because I had tried everything else. There’s no doubt about it, Axel saved my life."

Haag, in uniform, with his trained service dog, Axel
Haag, in uniform, with his trained service dog, Axel

American Humane hopes to begin training service dogs to serve as companions for vets struggling with PTS this spring, and the organization is excited to continue their support of K9 Vets. They provide lifetime medical coverage for all retired war dogs that they care for, and go above and beyond to reunite canine vets with their former handlers.

"Service dogs may not work for everyone, but at least fill out the application," Haag urges fellow vets. "It could be the one things that sets you on a path to save your life. I’ve lost way too many friends here at home--more than overseas, actually."

To learn more about K9 Vet’s Day and find out how to celebrate, visit their Facebook page. You can explore the mission and impact of American Humane at their website, www.americanhumane.org or donate funds and sign up to volunteer right here.

The organization is currently accepting nominations for 2017’s American Humane Lois Pope LIFE K-9 Medal of Courage. Do you know a military service dog or K9 Vet that deserves to be recognized? Nominate your furry friend by emailing taral@americanhumane.org.

We hope you enjoy this week's Cover Story about Tom and Joan Kelley. Many of you know Tom for his acts of heroism that made him a Medal of Honor recipient. You may also be interested in knowing his long and winding road to find a soulmate, and a fellow Navy veteran. Go Navy!

I am almost done with the book, and I have found it terrific. What's neat is that it is a surprising departure from your typical military memoir. It's filled with the test and tribulations that vets can normally associate with, while also touching on deeply personal and emotional themes that give one hope on the power of human relationships and family life.

We also want to give a special shout-out to our latest Veterans Advantage partner, Your Mechanic. It has developed a pioneering technology that brings a more personalized experience to the messy business of getting your car repaired. Better pricing, more transparency, and the convenience of having a mechanic visit your home or office - so you no longer have to go through the logistics of car drop-offs and pickups ever again.

You can get started today with a special $20 discount because you are a Veterans Advantage member.Check it out today

I was pleased to hear the news that Medal of Honor recipient Tom Kelley's hard work has finally paid off. He, along with the co-authorship of his wife Joan, are now published on Amazon.com with the Release of “The Siren's Call and Second Chances.

The book's subtitle is “A Story of Perseverance, Service, Heroic Courage and Love,” and – knowing Tom and Joan – they poured every ounce into demonstrating that. This come-to-life memoir shows how they both took divergent and challenging paths to serve our nation in the Navy and eventually found each other as soulmates.

In the book's foreword, world-renown journalist, and daughter of a career Army father, Judy Woodruff calls it a story of hope:

I can't imagine reading this story by Tom and Joan Kelley, who don't meet until each has already led a full life, and follow their love for each other, for country, and for the men and women who serve it, without a sense of hope. Both turned moments that could have made them bitter, into a reason to give back. I was inspired, as will all of you who turn the page will be.

In touring the country and meeting lots of Medal of Honor recipients over the years, I know that those looking from the outside are always mesmerized by what makes these remarkable Americans “tick.” They always respond to the accolades with the utmost of humility and respect for the country they swore to defend, and their fellow men and women they regard as blood brothers and sisters for the rest of their lives. Tom and Joan exemplify that same high standard of dedication that endures and inspires.

I already ordered a bunch of the books to circulate to the staff and Advisory Board, here so they may be able to touch the spirit embodied by Tom & Joan – even if it is only through their words, it is an invaluable education no school can ever teach.

Learn more: Pick up your copy of The Siren's Call and Second Chances from Amazon.com today!

Morgan Freeman Air Force Oscar Winner
Morgan Freeman
(Photo Credit: Invictus Games 2016)

With the Oscars this month, we wanted to recognize the indomitable spirit and extraordinary talent of Morgan Freeman. As you can read in this week's CelebVet feature, he is a man of deep insight and lives with a sense of purpose. He took what inspired him as a young kid, and made his life a success through persistence, a belief in himself and a sense of importance of giving back.

In many ways, Sidney Poitier - who broke the color barrier and became the first black actor to win the Oscar in 1964 - changed Freeman's life and inspired him to land his breakthrough role in "Driving Miss Daisy" - "It meant that I could (win an Oscar) too. His whole life meant that I could. His whole career informed me," Freeman told Variety Magazine last year.

When we attended the Invictus Games last year in Orlando, I remember how the crowd cheered for Morgan Freeman, an Air Force Veteran, as he narrated part of the opening ceremonies. All I kept thinking was they got the right man for the job. A role model for all. I'm am proud to call him a fellow veteran.

For those of us in the northeast, it's been an unusually warm January. But don't let that distract you from the special days this time of year. This week's newsletter highlights travel options for a romantic getaway, or a trip to Super Bowl 51 in Houston this weekend, or a special Valentine's gift for someone special in your life from 1800flowers. 

On the breaking news front, surely all eyes are on Washington these days. This week's cover story on the No Heroes Left Untreated Act is an opportunity for Congress to address the issues of PTS and TBI that so many of our military and veterans suffer from. 

There is great potential in Magnetic E-Resonance Therapy - an individualized non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive neuromodulation procedure that applies magnetic stimulation to help facilitate restoration of proper brain function. The therapy has shown remarkable results in clinical trials. Congress should act now to pass this

Peter Sarsgaard Natalie Portman Jackie movie
Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy and Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy in "Jackie."
(Photo by William Gray. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)

Most know January as the time for football playoffs and the upcoming Super Bowl. Just as many Americans, however, view this month as the beginning of Oscar season. Destined to get a lot of Oscar hardware this season is the blockbuster film Jackie, featuring VetFamily Peter Sarsgaard. Peter lived the military brat lifestyle, brought military life to the silver screen, and now is co-starring in the role of a lifetime.

It was in Sarsgaard’s moving depiction of Gulf War I Marines in the 2005 film Jarhead that we caught our first glimpse of military life in the post-9/11 era. It set the stage, remarkably, for a lot of movies which came after it, and all the societal subjects and issues that we deal with today.

That first war in Iraq started 26 years ago this month. So many of Veterans Advantage's members are from that era. I want to take a moment to recognize these veterans and their families here today for their service and sacrifice. We are most grateful.

Just days after we recognized Fisher House Chairman Kenneth Fisher, here’s exciting news for the military and veteran community: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced 14 more Fisher Houses are on the way.

“Fisher House is simply one of those best-in-class organizations and we want to do everything that we can to support their important and noble mission,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald said in a press release announcing its recommendation for new Fisher Houses around key VA medical sites. “Their goal is selfless: to serve the families of Veterans who served our nation.”

Fisher House Foundation President Dave Coker said he expects construction on the 14 to start as early as next year. The Fisher House Foundation has already built and donated 31 Fisher Houses to the VA and 40 Fisher Houses to the Department of Defense. 

And it gets better. Fisher House also announced its launch of a free search tool to help troops, veterans and families find educational scholarships created for them – an estimated 3,000 of them!

Click here to learn more about the Scholarships for Service search tool.

In an interview with the Military Times, Kenneth Fisher says the search tool’s launch comes thanks to feedback from the military and veteran community. “We routinely received calls asking if we knew of any other financial resources available to help service members, veterans, and their families with college funding. We did the best we could to pass on information about other scholarship programs, but we came to recognize that we were only scratching the surface and needed to do more.”

Veterans Advantage originally honored Kenneth Fisher with its VetFamily Award in 2010, and once again last year, after the U.K.’s Prince Harry asked Kenneth to chair the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.

Happy Holidays from Veterans Advantage!

At our annual holiday party in Connecticut, we honored Ken Fisher, the Chairman of the Fisher House Foundation, and Chairman of the Invictus Games in Orlando. Working non-stop over the last year, Ken devoted himself to organizing the Games. It was an enormous effort. Ken provided the leadership that created an extraordinary experience for the veteran athletes of 15 countries and raised awareness of the urgent need to recognize the invisible wounds of our warriors.

Veterans Advantage's Scott Higgins and Fisher House's Ken FisherNo one has done more to serve our nation’s servicemen and women than Ken. We honored him with our VetFamily award. VetFamily honors those men and women of high achievement in the public or private sector, whose family includes a veteran or active duty serviceperson. In Ken’s case, his father Arnold served in Korea​.

As the year nears a close, we want to give special recognition to three of our longest serving partners for their dedication and support of the military and service members: United Airlines, Amtrak, and Dell. They lead the way for so many of our nation's great brands who have stepped up to honor you through Veterans Advantage.

Veterans Advantage wishes you the very best this holiday season, and a prosperous 2017.

With a focus on three new benefits for 2016 - Harry & David, Wolferman's and Extended Stay America - Veterans Advantage is delighted to provide timely discounts to help you this holiday season.

Harry & David is a legendary brand for the holiday season, and the latest addition to the 1800flowers.com family of leading giftgiving brands. Wolferman's is a leading baking retailer since 1888, so it's a brand you can trust. And Extended Stay, is a great place to stay when you take longer trips to visit family, students at college, or active duty personnel.

Finally, as I noted in a blog post last week, we also mark the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. With less than 900,000 WWII vets still alive, we are reminded of our "greatest generation" and their extraordinary contribution to preserving our freedoms. We express our profound respect and gratitude to all of them.  

This Wednesday, Dec. 7 marks the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), which – until 9/11/2001 – was known as the greatest attack on U.S. soil. We lost 2403 brave Americans serving that day. An additional 1,178 were wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. Our nation was stunned by the surprise attack, as we were completely unprepared. President Franklin Roosevelt declared Dec. 7, 1941 a "date which will live in infamy." Pearl Harbor pulled America immediately into World War II. 

Those who perished at Pearl Harbor remind us that the freedoms we enjoy today are not free. They come from the brave service and extraordinary sacrifice of those who serve and their families.

As the Colorado Springs Gazette just reported, the oldest living survivor of the attack, Retired Navy Lt. Jim Downing, 103, is due to speak at the Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremonies. He continues to remind us of the price of freedom.

"Keep America so strong that no tyrant will ever be tempted to attack us," said Downing, speaking before Colorado Springs middle school students just last week.

In 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that less than 2 million of the original 16-million-plus Americans who served during WWII were alive. The number is now less than 900,000, including two we recently recognized, TopVet Norman Lear, who is 94, and HeroVet Sumner Redstone, who is 93. 

Please take a moment to remember all of our World War II veterans.



I am a U.S. Veteran, active duty, retired military, current or former National Guard or Reservist.
I am immediate family: Spouse, father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter of a Veteran, Guardsman, Reservist, or servicemember (living or deceased).
I am a U.S. Veteran, active duty,
retired military, current or former
National Guard or Reservist.
I am immediate family: Spouse,
father, mother, brother, sister,
son or daughter of a Veteran,
Guardsman, Reservist, or
servicemember (living or deceased).


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