Supporting Our Veterans

By: Thomas Powell

In today’s world, American citizens have some pretty incredible rights. We get to argue over things, disagree with each other, openly debate topics, and try new things. Each morning we wake up and can make decisions that guide us toward success, failure, and even where we rest our heads. We drink coffee that costs $5.00 per cup, and we throw away leftover food. Over the course of 200 years, men and women have served each day to make sure that these rights are never relinquished. They have served when people spat at them, cheered them, jeered them, and when they were all alone in unique places. These men and women permeate all areas of American society, even within the scuba industry. Veterans lead equipment manufacturing businesses, they work within training agencies, they teach new students, and they ride on local dive boats every day. In my personal case, my first dive shop was developed and grown while my business partner was still actively serving in Afghanistan.

In recent months, there has been a surge in the number of businesses and programs working hard to support veterans. We see videos on the internet, advertisements, and even feature films that were made for and by military veterans trying to support one-another. Problems associated with veteran support have been discovered, and people have fussed, but every day I still speak with veterans who went to war for us and who do not have anyone to call. While writing this article I even received a call from a former special warfare operator whose benefits were retracted after business hours (via email sent within his time zone) so he could not call and complain.

These men and women face challenges, develop teamwork, and sometimes even fight battles simply as Americans

For those of you have never served in the military, there are a few things that should be understood. Young enlistees leave home and grow up during training programs where there is no longer a focus on race, religion, and background. Instead, these men and women face challenges, develop teamwork, and sometimes even fight battles simply as Americans. They wake every morning serving their country wearing matching uniforms and knowing that when things go bad, their team fire team (etc.) will stand next to them, not behind them.

Leaving the military world is difficult. You walk out one day and the rules are gone. The focus, order, regulations, and structure no longer apply to daily activities and personal actions. Simultaneously, you walk into a world where people hate each other because of issues that did not matter during training or in “fox holes.” Trivial fights push society forward and “prior-service” warfighters rarely even know how to cope with this type of environment. The personal views and thoughts of business owners or corporate leaders may even establish a scenario in which veterans are refused employment because of their service actions. A few months ago, you might have seen divers all over the world doing push-ups every day representing the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day. This was a good start. It raised awareness and created solidarity among some people within our small community.

Many veterans leave service with ailments and disabilities earned under fire, in training, or even from constant stress. When a person leaves service, they are told about how to reenter society and pushed out the door. In typical situations, commands do not know to inform personnel of specific benefits or how to avoid problems. The structure just does not exist to send men and women home for good. They have never heard of the Care Coalition, state veterans programs, Vocational Rehabilitation, and other programs. These individuals suddenly find themselves trying to understand unclear information about who to call, facing uncaring government employees, and battling frustration at every turn. Not too long ago it took almost two years for a veteran to even be deemed “disabled.” Once that factor was determined, it could then take months or years to begin to get approved for benefits. Four years ago, a man entered my dive shop asking to squeegee my windows in return for donations. He could not take a job for fear of losing his disability but he had to earn money to care for his children. He hobbled around and squeegeed a window. Of all the drama I see every day on social media, nothing can inspire anger more than seeing a combat veteran brought to that level by the people he served. Similarly, you have to respect that fact that he was willing to do anything it took to care for his children.

Things are starting to change.

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is starting to hire veterans. Medical disability approval times are shortening. Despite these positives, we as an industry can help even more. We you need your boat serviced, your shop cleaned, or your warehouse organized take the time to see if there is a veteran group nearby who could recommend some valuable employees. In some states, major groups have been developed to help place veterans into homes, jobs, and vocational education programs. Reach out to one of these groups and see what resources for veterans may also be able to help your business operation.

On a regular basis, I deal with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) trying to assist veterans with obtaining benefits that can help them become dive professionals. I fight counselors, managers, state governments, and people that will never earn my respect. On a few occasions I have sat and listened to new “mid-twenties” VA employees tell 35 or 40 year old veterans they (the veterans) are wrong about what they want in life and do not know what they need to be successful. This is just wrong. During my time in the dive industry, International Training is the only training agency that has fought for veterans every time I have made a request. They have given time, resources, materials, and support at every turn. It is time we take a page from that book. Imagine if we all worked hard to help get veterans the support they deserve. If businesses, congressmen, and individuals raised concerns, hired veterans, and supported disability programs, some real change could be established (even if it is just for the people we help). Even VA-based programs are starting to show some real change. In the past year, new counselors and supervisors have been hired who not only served, but used vocational programs to improve education and gain employment within the VA system. If the system can create change, so can we as an industry.

Yesterday I saw a company I use has recently hired 25 new employees. Each of these employees is a veteran who needed work. As a dive industry, we can help. There are programs through the VA and using governmental education support that can allow a veteran to work with you, learn the dive trade, and become an active professional. This lets your operation earn a profit while helping the veteran grow, learn, and support his or her family. I have worked and served with many veterans and public safety personnel over the years. People who commit to service can often accomplish many things. As a team, they are almost unstoppable.

Let us take some time to think about the people we can help

As we all look to bolster, grow, and bring new life into our industry, let us take some time to think about the people we can help. Programs such as Divers 4 Heroes and Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba have already taken huge steps toward supporting the veteran community, but as a whole, we can bring them into the fold and develop a stronger community. What have you done lately to support veterans? Did you find a way to make money together or to further support other veterans? Those roads are already paved, you just have to look for them. If you are interested in more information about veterans programs, governmental support, Divers 4 Heroes, or Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba please contact International Training headquarters and let us see how we can all work together to build a stronger community that focuses on fixing some real problems going on in our communities.

Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Clayton, NC

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