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VA Launches Rapid Retraining Assistance Program

four people looking at computer screen smiling

Job losses due to COVID-19 have strongly affected veterans; the U.S. Department of Labor reported April’s veteran unemployment rate at 5.3 percent. To assist veterans to reemployment, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched Veterans Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP).

Signed into law on March 11 under the American Rescue Plan of 2021, VRRAP offers education and training to veterans who are unemployed due to COVID-19.

Education and training programs approved under the GI Bill and Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses, also known as VET TEC, include 200 associates degrees, non-college degrees and certificate programs determined by the labor department to be high-demand jobs.

Programs include opportunities in healthcare, education, media, engineering and high-tech fields. Veterans eligible for VRRAP can receive up to 12 months of tuition and fees paid by the VA directly to the school. The veteran also receives a monthly housing allowance based on Post-9/11 GI Bill rates.
Veterans not enrolled in full-time programs receive a prorated housing allowance.

To be eligible to apply, veterans must meet all the following requirements:

  • Between the ages of 22 and 66, and
  • Unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and
  • Have an honorable or other-than-honorable discharge, and
  • Not eligible for Veteran Readiness & Employment benefits, and
  • Do not have any remaining GI Bill eligibility available, and
  • Not rated as totally disabled and unable to work, and
  • Not enrolled in any federal or state jobs programs, and
  • Not already receiving unemployment benefits, including CARES Act benefits.

The goal of the program is to give veterans new skills or complete a certification program in a high demand field and expand the veteran’s employment opportunities. Veterans do not need to be enrolled in a program full-time.
Veterans who have exhausted their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits or VR&E benefits may qualify for VRRAP if they meet other eligibility criteria.

The program began accepting applications May 3 and will be available until Dec. 11, 2022 or until the program enrolls 17,250 participants or reaches its funding limit of $386 million, whichever comes first.

To apply online or for more information, including a list of participating schools, go to or contact the Education Call Center from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday at 888-442-4551.

JAVC Fills the Gaps for Veterans

Over the past decade, giving a hand up and not a handout has assisted more than 3,000 veterans in a Northern Arizona county.

"I just like helping people,” said Jerry Ambrose Veterans Council (JAVC) Executive Director/President Dorn Patrick Farrell. "I don’t think anybody should be held down because they don't know where the resources are."

Based in Kingman, Mohave County, Arizona, the registered 501(c)3 organization is run by veterans for veterans, with programs focusing on direct individual assistance, veteran resource fairs, veteran treatment courts and its most current project, Operation 6: Transitional Housing for homeless and at risk of homelessness veterans.

"We fill the gaps," Farrell said. "A lot of programs just provide (veterans) housing and then forget about them. We figure out what their barriers are and then we work on removing those barriers. Then we work on making sure they have all the benefits they’re entitled to  ̶  if they can’t work, we’ll find them housing to make sure that they’re comfortable that way. But if they can work, we work on helping to find them a job. We're with them anywhere from a month to two years just depending on how many their needs are."

To help fill those gaps, JAVC works with a spectrum of federal, state and local agencies and organizations, local businesses, communities, individuals and volunteers to coordinate and provide veterans with the services they've earned. 

"The organizations that we work with and our volunteers, the different Arizona Departments of Veteran Services, the Arizona Stand Down Alliance, Veterans Affairs  ̶   we get grants from all over the place and that's what makes the difference," Farrell said. "We're working with everybody. It takes a village to do what we do, and I can't emphasize enough how everybody's part helps. There's nobody that volunteers or contributes that isn't needed."

One of JAVC's earliest projects opened its doors in 2014: a VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Kingman to bring primary care services to area veterans. Farrell also works with Continuum of Care and with HUD-VASH  ̶  a joint U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs rent assistance and case management program  ̶  to increase the number of vouchers made available to the county, demonstrating need by assisting with point in time surveys and through stand downs and veterans resource fairs. 

"Mohave County has been a leader in my opinion in getting homeless veterans housing," Farrell said. "The HUD-VASH program in Kingman just put in 48 in the Veterans Village project. We have helped about 50 veterans get housing over 10 years, but we are now the recipient of a VA grant to get 25 more homeless veterans off the streets. We're taking a whack out of it. But there's a lot more homeless veterans out there."

JAVC also has a program specifically designed to meet the needs of female veterans.

"Right now, one out of nine veterans coming out of the service is female," Farrell said. "They’re more likely to be exposed to military sexual trauma and post traumatic stress disorder, with one out of every three experiencing that issue. They also often have children with them, and that's an issue as well; how do you deal with your own problems, MST or PTSD and have kids and probably divorced, can't find housing, can't find good work or reasonable daycare. It's not fun out there for the women. We're trying to do everything we can to help them."

JAVC also assists the resource team for Mohave County Veterans Courts, a problem-solving court with the objective of serving military veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or recurring disorders.

"There's probably over 200 veterans that have graduated from VTC in Kingman, Lake Havasu and Bullhead City," Farrell said. "They received the help they need rather than going to jail and having that on their records. Instead of being out there getting into trouble, they're working on getting jobs and returning value to the community and they're no longer considered second class citizens, let's put it that way. They're contributing members of the community."

JAVC's programs are driven by the needs of veterans, Farrell said.

"What we do comes from the veterans we talk to," Farrell said. "Listen to their stories, it'll tear your heart out. Their needs and their wants  ­̶  we looked around and we found where we could get most of them, that we could provide them or get them somewhere they could be referred to."

A U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran, Farrell served on the flight deck as an avionics technician from 1968 to 1971 with the 14th Fighter Squadron on the USS John F. Kennedy.

Images of sailor Dorn Patrick Farrell

"I signed up as soon as I could, as soon as I turned 18,” Farrell said. “My dad was in World War II in the U.S. Army Air Forces. I thought it was the honorable thing to do because we were at war. It was a great country – it still is no matter what anybody says."

Farrell's service taught him to, "lead, follow, or get out of the way," he said, traits that served him well in his post-military career with the U.S. Postal Service. After retiring from the postal service, Farrell and his wife Casey moved to Kingman. When he got bored with retirement, Farrell got a job working as a veterans' representative for Arizona Department of Economic Services.

"I saw that there were a lot of gaps for our veterans and there's a lot of information for available services that they just weren't aware of," Farrell said. "So when I got out of the DES, I joined the JAVC and we fill the gaps. There's a lot of gaps out there. We have built ourselves up from being a real small organization to when we get done with our building, we’ll be a multimillion-dollar organization."

The brainchild of two former marines – Jerry Ambrose and Gene Crego  ­̶  JAVC began in 2010 as the Kingman Veterans Council. Four months after the council was formed, Jerry Ambrose died and Crego requested the organization's name be changed to honor him.

Farrell was the first president elected and has been the only president of the JAVC following Ambrose's death. He has also served as president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #975, AZ State Vietnam Veterans of America vice president, Incarcerated Veterans program coordinator, chapter service officer for the Disabled American Veterans, and belongs to the VFW, American Legion and Elks. In 2015 he was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame.

"I am nothing without all of the volunteers that we have and the organizations that we work with," Farrell said. "I’m just lucky in that I get to take the credit. I don’t do much.

"I would ask that people appreciate what our veterans have done. They don't ask much, just what they're entitled to and what they've earned. Saying 'thank you for your service' every once in a while is pretty cool and if they're Vietnam veterans, please say 'welcome home.'"

Helping Veterans Avoid Scams

Identity theft word collage

U.S. Postal Inspection Service, AARP and Veterans Affairs Privacy Service have joined forces to help veterans avoid being scammed of their money, their identity or their benefits.

Operation Protect Veterans works to educate our nation’s veterans from scams that are specifically targeting them.

“According to a recent AARP survey, veterans are twice as likely to unknowingly participate in a scam as compared to the general population,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Carroll Harris in a hearing before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. “The survey also found that the vast majority of veterans encounter scams that have been tailored just to them ̶ Operation Protect Veterans seeks to prevent scams through education.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement and crime prevention arm of the U.S. Postal Service.

Veterans may be more vulnerable to scammers that claim to be members or former members of the military or to the claim that the caller is a representative of a government agency or veteran support group. Because of their military experiences, veterans may find it more difficult to recognize and resist
the emotional manipulation used by scammers.

US veteran saluting

Through its website at, Operation Protect Veterans teaches veterans to recognize scams and offers information to help veterans protect themselves and their personal information. The program also encourages reporting of scam attempts, regardless of whether or not the scam was
successful. Veterans can report scam attempts by calling 877-908-3360 or online at or

The program offers the following tips to help veterans protect themselves and their loved ones from scams:

  • Don’t give personal information over the phone. This includes bank account numbers, credit card numbers or social security numbers.
  • Don’t send money or gift cards to anyone you don’t know well.
  • Don’t feel pressured to act immediately. Legitimate organizations won’t try to pressure you to act before you have a chance to research and think about it. If an organization calls and pushes hard for the information or money, just say no and hang up.
  • Consult a friend or your local Veterans Affairs office before acting.
  • Verify any charity asking for money before sending a donation. Online services such as Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and Guide Star can help determine whether or not a charity is legitimate.
  • Do your homework and get credible information on how to qualify for veterans’ benefits by contacting your state Veterans Affairs agency online at

Cell phone in hand with unknown caller on screen

USPIS reports that by far the most common scam targeting veterans across the United States are credit card scams which use robocalls to promise lower credit interest rates. Other common types of scams include charity scams, phishing scams, tech support scams and loan scams including the following
specifically targeted scams:

  • Fake Charitable Giving Request Scams. Scammers solicit donations and make fraudulent claims about charities benefiting wounded service members.
  • IRS Tax Scam. An imposter calls or leaves a message that they work for the IRS and that the veteran owes them money.
  • “Secret” Veteran Benefits Scam. Veterans are told they qualify for secret government programs or benefits worth thousands of dollars but first the veteran must provide personal information or a fee.
  • Benefits Buyout Offer. Scammers offer a quick upfront buyout of future disability or pension payments, usually at a fraction of the value of the benefit.
  • VA Loan Scam. Veterans are offered the opportunity to refinance VA loans at extremely low rates.
  • VA Phishing Scam. Imposters pose as Veterans Affairs employees to get access to personal information.
  • Update Your File Scam. Scammers pose as government agency representatives asking for a veteran’s personal information to “update their file, so that the veteran can maintain their benefits.”
  • Veterans Choice Program Scam. A phone number nearly identical to the number veterans dial to determine if they are eligible to use approved health care providers outside of the Veterans Affairs system is set up by scammers. When veterans call the fake number, a message prompts them to leave their credit card information in return for a rebate. The correct number for the VCP is 866-606-8198.
  • Fraudulent Records Offer. Scam artists try to charge veterans a fee to access military records or government forms. This information is free through the National Archives (for military records) and for local Veterans Affairs offices (for forms).
  • Bogus Employment Scam. Scammers post fake job descriptions to collect personal information from a veteran’s job application or the scammer charges an employment fee.
  • Aid and Attendance Scam. Veterans or their family members receive an offer to move their assets into a living trust so that they can qualify for financial assisted-living benefits.
  • GI Bill Education Marketing Scam. Scammers use deceptive marketing tactics and provide false information to push expensive for-profit educational institutions to veterans seeking to take advantage of the GI Bill for college courses. Veterans Affairs offers an online comparison tool at to help veterans locate a school and determine their benefits.
  • Special Deals for Veterans Scam. Offers of special discounts for veterans on a range of products such as loans and car purchases. The products are not discounted at all or they don’t exist.
  • Rental Scam. A scammer posts a fake rental property on a classified ad website offering discounts for active-duty military and veterans. Once they receive a security deposit, it is discovered that there is no rental property.
  • Romance/Catfishing Scams. Scammers steal a veteran’s photo and creates a phony profile on a dating site to catfish singles looking for love.

The partnership also supports the VA’s More Than a Number campaign, an identity protection program that provides information to educate veterans on protecting themselves from identity theft. Veterans who want more information or suspect their identities may have been compromised can call the VA
Identity Theft Help Line Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern at 855-578-5492.

Honoring Vietnam Veterans

John Podlaski originally intended his website to help market his fictionalized memoir, Cherries: A Vietnam War Story. It has since grown into an amplifier for stories that still need to be told.

“We weren’t there for politics and we weren’t there for our government,” Podlaski said. “We did go because the government asked, but we were actually there for each other and we did what we could to help each other survive and be able to go back home.” serves as a repository for more than 500 personal and contributed narratives, photos, videos, movies, artwork, book reviews and music of the time.

“I initially set this up in 2010 and it was going to be a place to let people know about Cherries, the first book,” Podlaski said. “I had written articles about what it was it like to hump out in the jungle, what were the insects, how did mother earth greet or treat you  ̶  going out and wearing the same clothes for 30 days and they might be in shreds. There was an episode where we got hit by a typhoon and we were out in the jungle and we had to tie ourselves to trees.”

Author John Podlaski First day in the Army uniform portrait

Strong reader support and active commentary on his posts provided opportunities to expand the website to include historical information and the personal stories of warriors who served, Podlaski said.

“It’s just a wealth of things that I consider an opportunity to keep the legacy of the Vietnam soldier alive,” Podlaski said. “When I would relay some of the facts from the book, it got (Vietnam veterans) to open up a little bit. I also have had Iraq and Afghanistan vets write, ‘substitute scorpions and sand for spiders and snakes and you’ve got my story.’” 

Podlaski served as a U.S. Army infantry soldier in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971 with both the Wolfhounds of the 25th Infantry Division and with the 101st Airborne Division, earning among other awards, the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, two Air Medals, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

“For every 25 air assaults that you would make, you qualified for an Air Medal and I got two of them,” Podlaski said. “Each time you went into a landing zone you had no idea what to expect until you were on the ground. You had the anxious feeling each time that you went, filled with dread and then sometimes there were people waiting for you and you had to react the way you were trained to react. Looking back, I’m surprised that I did survive.”

5 25th Div Michelin Rubber Plantation night defensive position 

Podlaski’s service spanned combat in the flat jungles of the south and the steep mountainous terrain of Northern Vietnam.

“The difference  ̶  down south we battled against the Viet Cong which were soldiers that lived in nearby villages,” Podlaski explained. “Up north in the 101st we fought against the NVA, the North Vietnamese Army, which were trained soldiers. They had uniforms, they studied tactics, they had modern weapons and so forth and so the challenges were much greater up north than they were down south.

“I experienced things that I never thought possible; you’re carrying 80-100 pounds on your back, you’re going up a mountain that is a 30-degree grade and you have to pull each other up. It takes 3 days to climb this mountain so for two nights you have to be tied to a tree so that you don’t roll downhill," Podlaski said. "We did have soldiers lose their balance and fall and break a leg and so forth, but it was quite night and day difference between down south and up north.”

Six years after the publication of Cherries: A Vietnam War Story, Podlaski published his award-winning second book, When Can I Stop Running.

Steve Blackburn and John Podlaski on patrol

“I decided to write a second book based on one night out on the listening post,” Podlaski said. “Two of us about 300 meters outside the wire to listen and be an early warning system for the base camp in one of the more notorious areas of the country. We had a platoon of enemy soldiers stopped for a break not more than 10 feet away from us. If you were detected, you would have died right on the spot.”

Events from that night formed the nexus of his upcoming book, Death in the Triangle.

“It’s a sequel to When Can I Stop Running, coming out in June or July,” Podlaski said. “When we got back to the base camp we had to turn right back around and go back out; what was supposed to be a couple hour thing ended up three days long.”

These days, Podlaski spends each Sunday responding to emails and comments, posting on social media and adding new articles to his website.

Recent photo of author John Podlaski

“It’s a job,” Podlaski said. “But I do it not for the recognition but for the appreciation of the people who read the stuff. I enjoy reading the comments from the wives, from the mothers, from the other soldiers and actual Vietnam vets who continue to look forward to my articles and to share them with their family. Soldiers who say I’m telling what they couldn’t so that their family can understand what they’ve gone through. That gives me a great feeling to be able to do that.”

Book Chronicles Purple Heart Recipients of WWII

Among U.S. Navy Commander David Schwind’s personal collection is a small box containing a Purple Heart medal posthumously awarded to U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. William Hatton, pilot of the B-24D Liberator Lady Be Good, which disappeared without a trace in the Libyan Desert April 4, 1943 while on its first combat mission.

“I had known about the story of the Lady Be Good since I was a kid and the story itself always fascinated me,” Schwind said. “And I just happened to get really lucky and happened to acquire the pilot’s purple heart in my personal collection and so obviously I had to write about it because this is one of the stories I grew up with. It really struck a chord with me through most of my life.”

The story of the Lady Be Good and her pilot and crew are among more than 300 profiles of military members from all branches of service in Schwind’s most recent book, Sacrifice Remembered: Posthumous Awards of the Purple Heart Medal in the Second World War.

The result of two years of research, Schwind brings together the stories of service members from the Army, Army Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Public Health Service, along with detailed color photos of their medals and accompanying documents to create the most complete reference book available on the Purple Heart and all U.S. valor medals of World War II.

Sacrifices Remembered Book Cover with image of Purple Heart Medal 

“There are a lot of variations of Purple Hearts, and they range from whether it’s a Navy Purple Heart made by the U.S. Mint and engraved in a certain style or whether its is a Purple Heart made for the Army under contract by The Robbins Company of Massachusetts,” Schwind said. “Finding out how they were manufactured, and the different styles really raises the level of appreciation for the actual object. I like to make books that are the most value added possible, so I also included all the rest of the person’s medals earned, which means there are also up close and personal pictures of Medals of Honor, Silver Stars, Distinguished Service Crosses, Navy Crosses and more.”

Available on Amazon and through publisher Medals Press, the 593-page book is divided into five parts, including an introduction detailing the origin and history of the Purple Heart and thirteen chapters profiling awards by branch, theater, and battle, with separate chapters on awards to fallen prisoners of war, families that lost multiple children and non-Purple Heart posthumous awards of valor. The final chapter details the casualty process to notification of next of kin and contains photographs never previously published. Four appendices tailored for collectors, historians and researchers address Purple Heart award boxes and shipping containers, Purple Heart types and engraving styles, information on researching the history of Purple Hearts and one appendix lists the 14,379 known, traceable and identifiable numbered Purple Hearts. The remaining pages include bibliography, references and index.

picture of pages inside the book with Medal of Honor and Purple Heart Medal on them.

“You don’t have to have earned a Purple Heart or to have even served in the military to really appreciate what it represents, the sacrifice that it represents,” Schwind said. “I wanted to convey those thoughts through the book and particularly to people who are collectors or historians who weren’t people who have served in the military. That’s really 85 to 90 percent of why I wrote the book, to say this medal that you’re holding in your hand is not just a collector’s item, this represents a person and the sacrifices they made for our country; to really convey the depth of what it represents and in particular the posthumous Purple Heart and what it meant as far as being the last tangible reminder of someone’s life on earth.”

In the course of his research, Schwind conducted interviews and photographed more than 1,700 Purple Hearts held by museums, historians and collectors and Gold Star families.

“As a historian, it was really amazing,” Schwind said. “Being able to go and share with the families the stories of what their family member had done during the war, what they had done to earn these awards, that was the emotional part of it. A number of times families teared up… the stories had been lost and I was able to convey to the families that what their family member did was literally heroic and, in some cases, it put a new respect for their dad’s, uncle’s or grandfather’s lives. That to me was worth everything I invested in writing the book.”

Book page with Purple Heart Medal and Air Force Cross Medal

Retiring from the Navy in Norfolk on April 30, Schwind is currently working on a companion volume on posthumous Purple Heart Medals awarded post-Second World War.

“I honestly had enough Purple Hearts from the Second World War to do several volumes just from the Second World War, but it’s one of those things where time and money and everything else competes,” Schwind said. “That was tough because there were some really good stories that I wanted to include and unfortunately I just didn’t have room for them.

“Then what I decided to do was a second volume with the stories of men and women who have given their lives for our country from the Korean War all the way to the current Global War on Terror with Afghanistan, Iraq and quite a few in-between.” 

Book page with both sides of the Purple Heart Medal.

The in-person interviews with recently bereaved families are the most poignant, Schwind said.

“The amount of emotion that goes with those is something that you just can’t effectively convey,” Schwind said. “I’ve talked to a lot of families and I‘ve seen a lot of tears. They’ve been telling me the story of their loved one and it’s made me have an even deeper appreciation for what I’m writing about and made me want to honor them even more. It really drives home the importance of what the medal represents.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

Dan Kyle a Sailor Turned Actor

Actor Dan Kyle in US Navy sailor uniform.

Transitioning from military to civilian life often takes people in unexpected directions; for one former U.S. Navy aviation electronics technician, post-service life has included spending time as a zombie, an orc, cop and even as a soldier.

“It’s fun,” said actor Dan Kyle. “I always had this thing about wanting to entertain people and I loved movies growing up – when I was in high school, I was always encouraged to go out for drama, but usually the kids that went out for drama were the weird kids, so I never took that initial step. Then later in life you find out you’re one of those weird kids.”

Born to a military family – his father served with the Navy in Korea and his grandfather with the Army in World War I  ̶  Kyle enlisted in the Navy apprenticeship program after Iraq invaded Kuwait the summer before he graduated from high school. He ended up in Norfolk, VA attached to the then newest aircraft carrier USS George Washington and he made third class petty officer before heading home to Oregon.

Dan Kyle on carrier in front of airplane.

For eighteen years, Kyle worked as a union iron worker. One summer when work was slow, a good friend who was hired to do uniforms and firearms for films and video games invited him to work as an extra.

“He said, ‘Come to the set and I’ll dress you up and get you into your GI uniform and you just stand around and eat,’” Kyle said. “I also have a couple of firearms from WWII, registered with the ATF, and a Thompson machine gun that was my grandfather’s and safety and blank adapted. He said, ‘Bring out the gun and I’ll pay you.’”

As his experience on set increased, Kyle’s interest in acting grew.

“I was thinking I want to be the guy who is in front of the camera,” Kyle said. “I started taking some private lessons with a really good friend of mine and from there slowly progressed into finding work on my own because I wasn’t represented at the time with an agent. Want ads, open calls, stuff that you can get your foot in the door where casting directors can see you: you have to build a resume.”

Portrait of Dan Kyle in black and white with American flag baseball cap.

Kyle said his military experience strengthened his transition to a career in front of the camera.

“A lot of times people ask me what life was like on a carrier with over 6,000 personnel and 90 aircraft and on a big ship how does it work,” Kyle said. “Everybody has a specific job that we have to do in order for that ship and that community to function. From the commanding officer to the executive officer and everybody on that ship has to work efficiently and at 100 percent, work as a group, as a team to get the tasks done.

“There’s similarity on set, everybody’s got a job to do, from lighting to actors to hair and makeup to people who make the food and the goal is to make this machine run smoothly and as efficiently and as quickly and safely as possible. And it’s basically the same thing in life, whatever you’re doing.”

Known for his work in the crime series South of Heaven: Episode 3 – The Long Walk Home and as a cyborg talker in Z Nation, Kyle’s work spans a range of genres including commercial, thrillers, horror, fantasy, comedy-musical and adventure.

“It was transition from military life and military bearing to my union iron work and eventually all that stuff transitioned to my acting,” Kyle said. “In the military, what do you do? You train and you train, and when you’re sick of that you train some more – so when that time comes and you get called up or there’s an emergency situation, you know what to do. You are there at the right place at the right time and you’re ready. That’s basically what acting is too. You work and you work until that training is done and when it’s time, I know how to work because I’ve done all this other work where I never got cast or where I never got a call back – but I did the work, so now I get the call and I’m ready to go.”

Dan Kyle in monster makeup on movie set.

Though the COVID-19 shutdown slowed things for the industry, Kyle said projects that were postponed last year are shooting now and the past few weeks have been busy. Postproduction work has resumed on several projects, including Jason Rising: A Friday the 13th fan film expected to be released later this year.

“I'm playing Jason Vorhees, the main bad guy,” Kyle said. “Last year I also worked on my own role, a mini-biography/documentary that we’re finishing up on the relationship between body building and acting and how the body building and the acting cross. It’s only about 7 minutes long and it was a lot of work being the executive producer. That’ll be coming out later this year.”

The more challenging the real or imagined character, Kyle said, the more he wants to play it.

“Monsters are fun, you can get away with your own take on it,” Kyle said. “Well, what does an Orc do? What does an orc do swinging an axe? Getting together with the people making the prosthetics and the writer along with your (own) vision, it becomes a team of people working together to bring this character to life and that’s the challenge that I like.

“With real people from history, the challenge is how did that experience feel and how am I going to be that in a way that is realistic. I’ll never know, a lot of us will never know what certain combat is like or to be scarred or disabled because of war, but as an actor we try to get as close as we can because it’s an honor and a privilege to play some of those characters and you want to do it right.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

VA Offers COVID Vaccines to all Vets

Doctor giving shot to elderly woman

The Department of Veterans Affairs will soon provide COVID-19 vaccinations to all veterans, their spouses and caregivers regardless of whether or not they receive their healthcare through the VA.

Signed into law at the end of March, the SAVES LIVES Act removed some of the legal limits on the medical care VA can provide to veterans.

“The SAVE LIVES Act increases the number of individuals who are eligible to get lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines from VA from 9.5 million to more than 33 million,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in a release. “Meeting the task of vaccinating this expanded population will be a tremendous undertaking for the VA and will require a significant increase in our allocation of vaccine supply, but I am confident that VA’s workforce is up to the task.” 

All veterans, those currently receiving care through the VA or not, can sign up online.  When a vaccine comes available, their local VA facility will notify veterans of appointments or vaccine events availability by phone, text messages from 53079 or e-mail from a e-mail address.

Doctor with syringe

Public Affairs Specialist Joe Williams, Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs shared additional information regarding the program.

“Please check out your local VA medical center websites for the latest updates regarding vaccine availability. Several pilot facilities with adequate vaccine supply have already started rollout of the SAVES LIVES Act and it is anticipated the number of VA facilities able to provide vaccination will gradually increase as the allocation of vaccine increases in the coming weeks,” Williams said.

To find a nearby VA medical facility call MyVA411 main information line at 800-698-2411, TTY 711, or go online.

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

When Should I Wear My Army Ribbons and Medals?

Image of US military Medals rack

How to wear military medals and ribbons while in uniform is ordinarily covered by the regulations of each branch of service. For example, an Army soldier can get answers about how to wear military medals and ribbons by reviewing Army Regulation 670-1.

Uniform service regulations stipulate in great detail how to wear military medals and ribbons. A quick online search will turn up a uniform regulation, but when in doubt, turn to the experts and ask a non-commissioned officer in the chain of command if you can’t find it.

But if you still have questions about how to wear military medals and ribbons, here are a few general tips. We strongly encourage you to review service specific regulations on how to wear military medals and ribbons.

  • Formal evening attire such as tuxedos and formal evening jackets, require the use of miniature medals and badges. Ribbons are not worn on this uniform.
  • The use of large medals and badges is reserved for daytime attire, but ensure not to wear large medals and ribbons at the same time. The exception is the wear of unit ribbons on the right side on the Army uniform.
  • When wearing civilian attire, ensure you comply with the same rules as if you were in uniform. Mini medals go on a civilian tuxedo (formal wear) and do not wear medals or badges on casual clothing, like a polo shirt.
  • Follow the order of precedence when wearing your awards.
  • Many retirees choose to wear just their highest award’s lapel pin when in business attire. Some also wear small badges. There are no real regulations governing these acts, just exercise common sense and do not bring discredit to you or your hard-earned awards. Remember, lapel pins are worn on the left lapel (just like medals on a tuxedo). And it is generally accepted that you can wear one, but not several.

When in doubt, check your specific branch’s regulations for guidance on how to wear military medals and ribbons.

Why Are There Two Dog Tags?

Antique photo of older styled dog tags one with fingerprint on it

If there is one issued piece of equipment given to military personnel that is swirling with urban legend and myths, it is dog tags.

The origins of the dog tag are unknown. Some military historians believe the practice started with the Roman Empire. Like most good military ideas, it is not surprising the Romans would be given credit for developing the dog tag.

Other researchers believe the practice of tagging military personnel started to take shape during the Civil War when soldiers wrote notes with their personal information on them so they could be identified if they became a casualty.

The U.S. Defense Department supports the argument that dog tags, officially known as identification tags, came about during the Civil War because soldiers were afraid of being unidentified and buried in unmarked graves. Soldiers marked their clothing, pinned tags of paper and cloth onto their uniforms, used old coins or bits of metals to identify themselves, and some men carved their names into wood pieces strung around their necks. 

Their concerns were legitimate. By the end of the Civil War, more than 40 percent of the Union Army’s dead were unidentified. For example, of the more than 17,000 troops buried in Vicksburg National Cemetery, nearly 13,000 graves are marked as unknown.

After the Civil War, the U.S. military embraced better practices of casualty identification. At the end of the Spanish American War, service members were issued identification tags in 1899 after U.S. Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, an officer in charge of morgue operations in the Philippines, recommended the Army outfit all soldiers with the disks to identify those who were injured or killed. 

The U.S. Army started to issue the tags in 1906. The tags included personal biographical information that could be used to identify a casualty. The half-dollar size tags were stamped with a soldier's name, rank, company and regiment or corps, and they were attached to a cord or chain that went around the neck. The tags were worn under the field uniform. 

According to the Defense Department, in July 1916, the U.S. Army amended its initial order and required a second disc. Why two dog tags? The first tag was to remain with the body, while the second was for burial service record keeping. Like all things military, it is likely the military figured out the need for two dog tags amidst operations. Remember, Donald Rumsfeld’s famous words: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

The U.S. Navy didn't require dog tags until May 1917. By then, all U.S. combat troops were required to wear them. Toward the end of World War I, American Expeditionary Forces in Europe added religious symbols to the tags. 

During the Korean War, the answer to the question why two dog tags got a new answer. One of the tags was put on a much shorter chain and attached to the main chain. However, it was never placed in the mouth of a deceased soldier as military folklore suggests. Instead, the tag on the shorter chain was used as a toe tag when a soldier was killed and his body was being processed. At the end of the 1950s, after the Korean War, procedures changed to keep both dog tags with the service member if they died.

In Vietnam, combat troops started to lace their second tag in their boots. So, the answer to the question, why two dog tags, was for the most part, the same reasoning for issuing two dog tags in Korea. One stayed with the body, the other was used as a toe tag.

Regulations have vacillated regarding how the two tags should be used. Many still ask, why two dog tags? And should the tags stay together or be separated?

Today, service personnel are issued two dog tags on a long and short chain, but given the advances made in DNA forensics and in utilizing medical profiles and information to identify the fallen, the role of the dog tag is still important, but only a piece of the process of identifying our nation’s war casualties.

Why two dog tags? Because as a nation we need to ensure that those who fight for our country get the recognition they deserve. They are entitled to be known to us and the world and if two tags help, then we owe them that.

The History and Mysteries Behind Dog Tags

 Antique Dog Tags and broken key on chain

One of the most gruesome rumors to ever circulate throughout the military ranks is still alive today. Ask some of the older men and women in uniform about dog tags, and specifically, notched dog tags and you will get horrid tales of about how war dead are treated. Fortunately, the tales are untrue and U.S. casualties are treated with respect and dignity.

In the 1940s and for about 30 years, U.S. military dog tags, the M-1940 dog tag to be exact, had this noticeable notch in it along the edge. Soldiers tell stories, as soldiers do, so when people started asking, why were dog tags notched, military personnel began to tell tales of how when a soldier died on the battlefield, medics would take the notched part of the dog tag and place it between the teeth of the deceased soldier. The medic or mortuary affairs member would then nudge or kick the jaw so the tag could become lodged between the soldier’s teeth. Why was it necessary for it to stay lodged between their teeth?

For starters, transporting a dead soldier across a battlefield in the 1940s was an arduous task and there were plenty of opportunities where a soldier’s identity could be lost. If a tag was secured between the teeth, this aided the identification process, despite how uncivil the act might be. Why were dog tags notched? Hint, it wasn’t because of the challenges the U.S. military faced in removing the dead off the battlefield in the 1940s.

Another reason for notched dog tags was popular for many years and has since subsided. The tale went that once a soldier was taken off the battlefield, their bodies would produce gases. In order to allow the gases to escape the dead body, a dog tag was placed in the mouth, between the teeth, to keep the body’s mouth open to allow the gases to escape. This was another reason offered when people asked why were dog tags notched?

The truth is, neither of those two stories are true. They make for dramatic anecdotes and war stories, but they are completely false. It is true that dead bodies bloat from gas buildup, but venting them with an open mouth would have no impact on the bodies since gases do not pass through the mouth and are present throughout the body.

Why were dog tags notched? The truth is far less compelling.

The notched dog tags used until 1970 were part of a casualty identification process that included a tag that was created using a machine that allowed the tag-making apparatus to hold the blank tag while it was stamped with the soldier’s personal information. In other words, the tag was there to help the machine hold the dog tag in place as it was stamped. Current dog tags are manufactured by machines that do not need the notch to hold the tags in place.

handheld gun-like tool called the Addressograph Model 70

But there is more to answer the question, why were dog tags notched? If a soldier was a casualty, the dog tag was removed from his body and it was placed into a handheld, gun-like tool called the Addressograph Model 70. This device would transfer the soldier’s information from his dog tags to his medical records. The importance of the notch, again, was to hold the dog tag in place in the Addressograph which was a medical imprinter.

Known as the “locating notch” in military manuals, the notch helped medical personnel properly seat the dog tag into the imprinter. The Model 70 allowed medical or mortuary affairs personnel to transfer a soldier’s personal information on the dog tag and imprint it directly onto medical documents. They would squeeze the handle of the unit and it would imprint dog tag information onto a document like an old typewriter ribbon.

So if you hear someone telling tall tales about dog tags and why they were notched, remember, you know the real answer to the question, why were dog tags notched?

Given the advances in DNA technology, along with advances in record management by the U.S. military, today dog tags aren’t a necessity for the identification of casualties. The identification of remains is a forensic process, reliant on more than just dog tags.