Benefits Topic at Veteran Breakfast

November 8, 2012
“It is the veteran, not the preacher, that gave us the freedom of religion. It is the veteran, not the reporter, that gave us the freedom of the press. 

It is the veteran, not the poet, that gave us the freedom of speech. It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, that gave us the freedom to assemble. It is the veteran, not the lawyer, that gave us the right to a fair trial. It is the veteran, not the politician, that gave us the right to vote. It is the veteran, who salutes the Flag, who serves under the Flag, and his coffin is draped with the Flag.”

Those were the words David Hosking of the Madison Veteran Center chose to leave with the veterans who attended a Veteran Appreciation Breakfast on Monday, Nov. 5 at the Sun Prairie Colonial Club Senior Activity Center.

The event, hosted by Lighthouse of Sun Prairie, began with an 8 a.m. breakfast of eggs, bacon, fruit, pastries and coffee. Afterwards, Hosking took center stage to inform those present about some of the benefits available to veterans young and old.

Many veterans do not know about Madison’s Vet Center, which was made evident when Hosking asked how many of the veterans present had heard of the facility, and none raised their hand.

According to Hosking, Congress created Vet Centers in 1979, and for almost 34 years, they have been helping veterans suffering with life readjustment problems related to their combat experiences or as a result of sexual assault/harassment that occurred while on active duty.

At least 65 percent of Vet Center staff must be combat veterans. At the Madison Veteran Center, that number is 100 percent; statewide, 90 percent of Veteran Center staff are combat veterans, according to Hosking.

“Why is that important to us? It is veteran to veteran. We’ve been there, we know what it is like, we know what our family went through so we can relate very easily to the people that come in for our services,” Hosking said.

Readjustment problems can be anything from referrals for benefits assistance and drug/alcohol problems to marital, family and bereavement counseling.

Unlike nuclear families, which consist of a mother, father and children, the Madison Vet Center takes a broad approach to families.

“To us your family is the veteran, a spouse, their children, their mother, their father, their sister, their brother, their girlfriend, their boyfriend, their fiancé,” Hosking said. “I’ve been in two wars, I’ve been in Vietnam and I’ve been in Iraq. I am no more a veteran than my family. My family stayed home, they worried, they worried, they went through the load of carrying two jobs. My wife took care of the family plus she worked her regular job. In my opinion, they are as much a veteran as I am, so we do take care of the family.

“When a unit deploys, I always tell them, ‘If mom is stressed out, tell her to come and talk to one of our counselors. You come on in here, don’t sit home and stress by yourself, we are here to help you, come in and talk to us,” he continued. “It will never cost them anything. You will never hear me say it is free. It is not free. When that veteran puts that uniform on, he paid a higher premium than anyone else ever will as far as having counseling service.”

Without counseling, stress can creep into a person’s life, dragging him or her down, similar to how a person hanging on to a bag of rocks will have trouble standing or moving.

“I’ll tell you what stress is. This is stress right here,” Hosking said, picking up an accordion folder and holding it in the air at his side. “I can hold that out here and I can hang onto that for say five minutes, not a problem. A half hour is probably going to weigh on me. Tell you what, if I hold it all day long I will probably get in an ambulance and go because my muscles will probably be torn apart in my shoulder. That is what stress is to all of us. What we need to do is unload stress, and we at the Vet Center try to help our veterans pour some of that stress out of that pitcher full of stress.”

Hosking also stressed that it is OK to get counseling and said that it is no different than getting a flu shot. He himself sought counseling after his youngest son committed suicide at the age of 18.

“When I talk about counseling and how it can make a difference, I know counseling can make a difference. I would never have got back on the Blackhawk without it, and I tell you what, I wouldn’t be standing here without it either,” he said.

While Madison’s Vet Center can be a lifeline and resource center for veterans, it is not the only place a veteran can turn to for help.

• County Veterans Service Office. The county office handles veteran benefits, Hosking said. Even if a problem does not present immediately or takes years to develop, such as the constant ringing Hosking experiences 24/7 as a result of 28 years spent around military aircraft, the County Veterans Service Office can help.

“Even if your rating comes in at two percent or whatever, it will also mean that down the road if you need hearing aids, it will be covered by the VA,” Hosking said. “I feel very, very strongly about this – none of these things are gifts – you paid a high price for any benefits you get back. For loss of hearing, for you to get a hearing aid, that is pretty cheap for what you have given up.”

If a veteran earned medals during the cost of his or her service, and those medals become lost over time, the county office can assist with replacing those medals, as well as getting a copy of military records, such as the DD214 that is needed for treatment at the Veteran Center.

“They will help you get a DD214, they will help you get a copy of your records, they will help you get all that kind of stuff. Don’t think you are imposing on them, because if it wasn’t for you veterans, they wouldn’t have a job,” Hosking advised.

For more information, contact William “BJ” Ganem at 608-266-4158.

• Career services. While some of the older veterans, such as WWII veterans, may not be looking for a job, the men and women coming back from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan probably will be, and the Work Force Development can help.

Hosking said a veteran’s military experience and discipline are two qualities many employers look for, but Work Force Development can assist with other skills necessary to obtaining a job, such as interviewing and writing a resume.

For more information, contact Mike Beck at 608-242-4910.

Vocational Rehabilitation offers additional training for veterans seeking a career change.  Joel Wolfgram (608-256-1901, ext. 16901) is available to help veterans with education, schooling and training in preparation for a new career.

• Madison VA Hospital. When Hosking developed red spots on his face back – spots which he thought stemmed from temperatures upwards of 145 degrees when he was deployed in Iraq – the Madison VA Hospital came to the rescue. After being directed to dermatologist Mildred Bridgewater, Hosking was told he had skin cancer.

“I said ‘I’ll be darned…what are you going to do about it?’” Hosking said. “She said ‘We are going to cut it out,’ and I said ‘Is there any chance you could freeze it first before you start cutting it out?’ because she was just going to cut it out. She looked at me and didn’t smile. She said ‘Aren’t you a big tough Army guy, can’t you bite a bullet?’ I said ‘No ma’am, I’m in aviation. Them tough Army guys are on the ground, they could probably bite a bullet, but in my case you better freeze this first.’”

With the help of the Madison VA Hospital, Hosking traded in the red spots and skin cancer for a bandage on his nose and sympathy from the wife.

Today, the Madison VA Hospital greets veterans with a “What can we do for you,” Hosking said, and veterans are not required to prove that their medical condition resulted from their service.

For more information on patient registration and eligibility, call 608-256-1901, ext. 17038.

• Guitars for Vets. No matter their age or period of service, Guitars for Vets, located in the Madison Veteran Center, offers 10 free guitar lessons to veterans, complete with a guitar and soft carrying case upon completion of the tenth lesson.

Interested veterans should contact the Madison Veteran Center at 608-264-5342 and ask for Julie.

After finishing his speech about the services available for all veterans, Hosking closed with a lesson. Although directed to the veterans in the room, his lesson is one with value for all: focus on your priorities.

“This professor had a business class and he walked up front one day and had a bunch of business students up there, really ready to excel. He said today we are going to have a quiz, don’t worry about pencil or paper, we are going to take this big quiz together,” Hosking began. “He took a big jar with a big open top on it and set it on the table. He took about a handful of rocks about the size of his fist and he placed those in the jar until it was all the way to the top. Then he said to the students, ‘Is the jar full?’ and they all yelled ‘Yes!’

“He said ‘Really?’ and he reached underneath the table and got a bucket of gravel, and he poured it down among the big stones and he shook it and he poured it all down and got it all the way to the top. Then he said to the class, ‘Is the jar full?’” Hosking continued. “They said ‘No, not really.’ He said ‘Good, you’re right.’ He reached underneath and got a jar of sand. He poured that in there and he shook the jar and shook the jar [until] the sand was all the way to the top.

‘Well class,’ he said, ‘is the jar full?’ They said  ‘Probably not.’ He said ‘That’s good, you’re right.’ He took a jar of water and he poured the water in until it was all the way level with the top,” Hosking said. “He looked at them and said ‘What did this illustration prove to you?’

“This one young go-getter jumped up and said, ‘It just proves that if your schedule is full and you try hard enough, you can fit something else into your schedule.’ The professor looked at him and said ‘No, no, you are not even close,’” he continued. “He [the student] looked at him and said ‘What do you mean professor?’ and he said ‘It just shows you that you have to put those rocks into the jar first. The big rocks got to go in first. You put everything else in first, the big rocks are not going to fit.’

“He [the student] said ‘Yeah, yeah, OK, that’s right.’ He [the professor] said ‘You know what those big rocks are? Those big rocks are your loved ones, your faith, helping another human being and maybe some worthwhile project you are involved in,” Hosking concluded. “So tomorrow morning when you wake up, I want you young folks to think about what are the big rocks in your life, and the one thing you want to do is make sure you put those big rocks in the jar first because if you don’t, they won’t fit. And if you want to have a successful life and a good life, you will always make sure the rocks go in the jar first.”

Written by Rachel Wittrock

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