Team Red, White & Blue

Helps Wounded Veterans Reintegrate into Stateside Society

TEAM RWB -Photo by Andrea Olivas

Team RWB was one of many teams to participate in Pasadena’s inaugural Rock and Roll Half Marathon this past weekend. Endurance events like the Rock and Roll Marathon allow the Team RWB community to come together and honor the commitment and dedication of our veterans – both in service and now during their struggle for reintegration.

The team had 11 participants who ran the race while carrying old glory, 6 of these people are veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars according to one organizer, the remaining civilians are strong supporters of the Team RWB. The Team RWB for the Pasadena Rock and Roll Half Marathon included Veterans: Stephen Trush, Daniel Piña (also, wounded in Iraq), Ryan Ruz, Luis Madrazo, Levi Hand and Jaclyn Embry. Non-Veterans: Daniela Piña, Erin Lynch, Katie Roth, Michelle O’Droske, Robert Calderon. Support Crew consisted of Andrea Olivas, Gabrielle Gonzalez and Seth Maxwell.

More specifically, these events help raise awareness and funding, and connect Team RWB members with other like-minded individuals to inspire personal appreciation and caring for war service veterans and their families. Athletes are encouraged to represent Team RWB in any event that is of interest to them and/or host their own events in support of Team RWB.

The event (Rock and Roll Half Marathon) combined a half marathon, concerts and parties into a day of activities centered around the race which started Rose Bowl and with the ultimate goal of helping children. The race in Pasadena this past weekend is part of the 14-year-old Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. The series is now held in 23 cities in the U.S., Europe and Canada.

Team RWB2 -Photo by Andrea Olivas

The marathon is one of many events that Team RWB has participated in with the goal of educating the public of the difficulties our military men and woman face when returning from combat and rejoining civilian life.

Almost all service members “will have reactions after returning from deployment. These behaviors and feelings are normal, especially during the first weeks at home. Despite the challenges of reintegration, most service members will successfully readjust with few problems.” This is according to the federal government’s website. Statistics, however, have proved the government’s figures grossly inaccurate and returning veterans and their families tell a completely different story.

Military men and women who are returning to the United States in record numbers this year face problems perhaps unforeseen by those who sent them into harm’s way . Now that they are home, the government’s help and resources are far more limited than promised. Hence the reasons for organizations like Team RWB.

The Wall Street Journal among other publications published a brief summary of a US Veterans Affairs Department study on discharged veterans’ employment and wage prospects in 2009. The report paints a devastating picture of surging unemployment and low wages for returning veterans. Three years later the picture is no brighter.

The report found that the percentage of veterans not in the labor force-due to unemployment, having returned to school for further training, or having given up looking for work-had more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, jumping from 10 to 23 percent. Veterans aged 20-24 had an unemployment rate of 12 percent, 50 percent larger than the overall US unemployment rate for adults aged 20-24, which stands at 8 percent. On March 27, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, writing on the same report, noted that 18 percent of veterans reported being unemployed.

Many employed veterans earn salaries leaving them at constant risk of financial hardship. Twenty-five percent reported earning less than $21,840 a year. Half of those aged 20-24 earned less than $25,000 a year. Many more are simply unemployed and/or homeless.

The report also exposed one of most commonly promoted claims of military recruiters: that recruits will gain valuable gain job skills for future civilian life.

The Journal wrote: “The report found that most of the returning veterans were unable to find civilian jobs that matched their previous military occupations. The only exceptions were the veterans working for private security firms such as Blackwater or in the maintenance and repair fields.”

The Journal added: “The Veterans Affairs Department offers educational-assistance programs for young veterans, but the report said the initiatives had little impact on the employment status or salaries of the former military personnel.”

Enter nonprofit groups and those who know best, former vets who help their fellow vets get through a difficult transition. Team RWB is one such organization trying to do the seemingly impossible. Help reintegrate vets into American society. Help restore vets’ courage in a different kind of battle.

We choose to focus on this particular team as the struggle for veterans’ rights continues long after the troops return home, often with severe disabilities, some with both physical and those far less visible, emotional stress related disorders like PTSD as it is often called.

An article by the Associated Press about corrections officers who return from Afghanistan and Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder reports that nationwide, law enforcement groups are taking notice of veterans starting or returning to jail or prison jobs and quotes John Violanti, research associate professor of social and preventive medicine. The article appeared in multiple news outlets throughout the U.S. and Canada. But the situation is even direr than one could imagine with so many men and women returning now, especially from Iraq.

Unemployment has long been a problem for returning vets, but the Washington Post reports that each year, more than 1,000 returning troops say they have lost jobs or been penalized due to their service, despite the fact that such treatment is against the law under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The employer most often at fault is, allegedly, the federal government.

Of the 1,548 complaints filed in fiscal 2011, more than 18% involved federal agencies. “On the one hand, the government asked me to serve in Iraq,” says a retired reservist who was fired from his contractor job with US Customs and Border Patrol after returning from service. “On the other hand, another branch of government was not willing to protect my rights after serving.”

While a lot has improved, in the post-Vietnam war era, “some polarization between veterans and our society still exists today,” according to Team RWB’s website. The site continues to say that “Strong relationships between wounded veterans and their fellow Americans are critical to veterans’ reintegration into civilian life as well as our nation’s success.” Team RWB’s mission is to therefore in existence to “enrich the lives of wounded veterans and their families.”

During a June 2010 study of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans, almost all veterans surveyed expressed interest in services to help adjust to civilian life. Additional research has shown that 90 percent of today’s war service veterans actively search for information and connections online.

Team RWB is slated to start a social leadership-based network using social media and other interactive tools to meet both of the needs of returning veterans, achieving local impact on a national scale. Once complete, will hopefully enable all interested team members to create relationships within and outside their local communities. This network/community “will serve as the backbone for raising awareness and funds, and connecting wounded veteran families with athletes, advocates and others.” According to RWB officials.

Today’s veterans face many challenges to successful reintegration into society following their experiences in a combat zone. Short-term solutions can include medical prescription drugs or counseling; however, research has shown that veterans’ reintegration challenges can be compounded by feelings of isolation from no longer being part of a “unit” or team. Team RWB aims to combat these challenges by connecting veterans and their families with others (known as “advocates”) through meaningful, friendship-based relationships. Wounded veterans and advocates define the exact nature of their relationship, ensuring each relationship is mutually beneficial and unique. To better meet veterans’ needs, advocates will focus on the “everyday” – not the spectacular: being a friend, spending time together and performing small acts of kindness on a personal level.

Team RWB goals: Impact wounded veterans through one-on-one relationships; Host community level events with wounded veterans and Team RWB advocates; Use athletic events as a tool to inspire people to action, raise awareness for our mission and fundraise to support the Team RWB advocate program and finally: Provide opportunities for everyday Americans to get involved to support wounded veterans by utilizing their unique skills.

You can follow/join future events at Team RWB’s Facebook site:

For more information on how you can help returning veterans please go to:

February 23, 2012

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