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Veterans Advantage Blog


Highlighting the passing of comedian and Navy vet Don Rickles and several of his old pals from the famed "Rat Pack" no doubt will prompt a "Wow, I did not know they were vets!" reaction from our readers. As many from my generation will remember, service was so pervasive at a time when the country was knee deep in international conflict - between WWII, Korea, and Vietnam - over the course of three decades.

Others from the Rat Pack who served were Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop, all three of whom served in the Army during World War II.

But Rickles's sharp wit had a remarkable ability to stand the test of time. He was beloved by generations, and became a bit of a cult hero in his later years, appearing on late night talk shows. The way news of his passing spread on social media is a testament to how influential he was for so many Americans.


Phil Mickelson Masters Veterans AdvantagePhil Mickelson

If you're a golf fanatic like I am, you are probably glued to the TV watching the Masters this weekend. One of the stars I always keep my eye on is Phil Mickelson, who also happens to be the son of a Navy veteran. Dad first put the club in Phil Jr.'s hands when he was only 18 months old, and it has been a wonderful ride ever since.

Phil Senior’s Navy background, no doubt, is where Phil Mickelson gets his world-class discipline - he has had an illustrious career, winning three Masters titles.

We recognized Phil with our “VetFamily” award soon after he received his third Master's title, profiling the recovery of his wife and mother from cancer. They both, thankfully, prevailed, and Phil continues to withstand the test of time competing at the highest level – sometimes against kids nearly half his age.

 Win or lose this weekend, he will always be a fan-favorite at Veterans Advantage. 


As an avid golfer, I have always been an admirer of Arnold Palmer both as a world-class golfer and fellow veteran. He is sorely missed at this year's Masters golf tournament in Augusta, GA.

For the first time since 2006, The Masters will not be kicked off by golf legend and Coast Guard Veteran Arnold Palmer. Palmer passed away in September of 2016, leaving behind a legacy of remarkable sportsmanship. He touched the world not only through his mastery of golf, but also through The Arnold Palmer Foundation and Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation.

Chairman Billy Payne and Palmer’s widow, Kit Palmer, laid Arnold’s folded green jacket on an empty white lawn chair the opening of the 81st Masters at Augusta, a reminder of his absence. The crowd observed a moment of silence to honor the golf legend before Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus tearfully hit the ceremonial tee shots.

Veterans Advantage awarded Arnold Palmer our TopVet Award in 2014 for his accomplishments in business, and HeroVet in 2016 for his excellence in business and contributions to society, especially for the health of women and children. The “King” will be greatly missed.


We were pleased to see President Trump proclaim March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day. This is the first time the nation has designated a day to honor those who served and sacrificed in Vietnam. It was a long time coming, but March 29 now solidifies our national observance. This past weekend, my colleagues with the United War Veterans Council held their Vietnam Veterans Day commemoration at the NYC Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which President Trump and I help build when we co-chaired the Memorial Commission in the 80’s. This annual commemoration is a solemn and emotional affair, especially with the reading of the names for those 1,741 New Yorkers we lost in the Vietnam War. The service has brought a new meaning in recent years, as we are also reading the names of those we lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and other post-9/11 operations. 

As we commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day, I am also reminded of the “Welcome Home” parade we organized in New York. After ten years of a war that officially ended in 1975, Americans wanted to forget Vietnam. Unfortunately, there continued to be much confusion between the war and the warrior, to put it mildly. Vietnam Vets simply were not properly recognized for their service. In fact, quite the opposite was true. But, May 1985 changed all that. The parade in New York City turned out to be the largest ticker tape parade in the history of the city. It was cathartic, an extraordinary act of healing. The million who cheered realized they needed the parade as much as the 25,000 Vietnam vets who marched. That sentiment spread across the country and today, we greet our servicemen and women with “thank you for your service,” regardless of how we feel about a particular war. 

With all that in mind, we hope you enjoy reading this week's TopVet profile of Jim Skinner, a fellow Vietnam Veteran and the executive credited to bringing the iconic restaurant brand McDonald's to its highest levels of profitability in that company’s history... and a stunning turnaround from financial challenges that mystified his predecessors. Jim is a world-class CEO and a humble believer in the value of service. We honor him, and wish him well in his current role of Executive Chairman - Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., the parent company of the Walgreens chain of pharmacy stores.  


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.

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