SFTT News Highlights: Week of Nov 18, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Poll of U.S. Military Shows Mixed Reaction to Trump Presidency
Despite overwhelming support for President-elect Donald Trump among active-duty troops, one in four service members worries he may issue orders that violate military rules or traditions, according to a new Military Times/Institute for Military and Veterans Families Poll.  The poll surveyed 2,790 active-duty troops. Among those who voted, 51 percent said they supported Trump. Many expressed optimism at his election, predicting a stronger military and better quality of life for service members.  Read more . . .

Changes Needed in U.S. Military to Keep America Safe?
Throughout the year, news organizations have feasted on stories of terror attacks, saber-rattling provocations and outright wars. Is the world really as dangerous as all that? And is the military’s ability to protect us against these dangers really on the decline? Unfortunately, the answers to both questions are: “yes.”  The adequacy of U.S. military power must be assessed in terms of what our troops must be prepared to deal with: the “bad actors” that threaten our vital interests.  Read more . . .

Concerns Expressed about U.S. Military Awareness
There are “significant concerns” about the U.S. military’s strength and its ability to combat global threats, according to a report released Wednesday by a leading conservative think tank.“Clearly, the takeaway on this … is that the military is too small,” said Dakota L. Wood, editor of the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength. “It’s much too small to handle the tasks being assigned to it.”This is the foundation’s third annual report on U.S. military strength in the context of global threats and opportunities. And as with the first two, it blames the military’s perceived decline on reduced funding — the mandatory spending caps known as sequestration.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Resigns Citing Retaliation
A Department of Veterans Affairs employee who told Congress the agency was using unauthorized wait lists for mental health care in Colorado has resigned, saying he was subjected to retaliation for speaking out. Brian Smothers told The Associated Press Wednesday the VA had opened two separate inquiries into his actions and tried to get him to sign a statement saying he had broken VA rules. He said he refused. Smothers also said the VA reassigned him to an office with no computer access, no significant duties and no social contact.  Read more . . .

PTSD Support Veterans

PTSD as an Excuse for Illegal Behavior
I’ve written about post-traumatic stress disorder dozens of times over the past seven years. I’ve discussed specific topics such as effective, ineffective and alternative treatments. I’ve opined about the benefits (or lack thereof) of changing the name by dropping “disorder” from the title. I’ve even railed against bureaucratic obstacles that get in the way of helping veterans gain quality care.  However, one aspect of PTSD that I’ve yet to spend much time on is one that’s rather controversial and rarely talked about — using PTSD as an excuse for illegal behavior. Read more . . .

Online Resources for Military Veterans
We’re lucky to live in a country that cares for its veterans. We can all level criticism at the VA, but it is getting better and there are plenty of good-hearted people willing to pick up the slack by offering their time, patience, and expertise. I’ve written previously about job training and mobile applications that are just for veterans, and today I want to cover online resources. These five websites offer a lot for veterans of the US armed forces: Whether you need job training, a home loan, emergency help, or info on how to use your well-earned benefits, it’s all right here.  Read more . . .

10 Good Reasons to Hire Military Veterans
Companies take note: hiring a veteran of the U.S. Military comes with a host of benefits.  A number of Quora users responded to the question “What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the U.S. Military?” Of the responders, retired Marine sergeant and current hiring manager Jon Davis outlined ten key reasons employers should hire military veterans.   Read more . . .

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider becoming a member of Stand For The Troops

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ARCHI’s ACRES – Sustainable Employment for Veterans through Sustainable Agriculture

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COLIN AND KAREN ARCHIPLEY ARE TWO-TIME NATIONAL TREASURES!

 

The first occasion was defending the nation as a Marine Corps husband-wife team. Colin was not only a Marine Rifleman, he was a Marine noncommissioned officer. While media pundits and politicians focus on super fighter jets, unmanned drones and the Hollywood virtues of thermobaric Hellfire missiles, combat soldiers know that the most lethal, versatile and effective weapons systems in the American arsenal are sergeants. In combat they are responsible for making the very first tactical decisions, usually before anyone else even knows what’s happening. They can turn a bad plan into a brilliant victory while without them the best plans are often worthless. In my experience, the collective quality of these professional warriors defines a unit’s “elite-ness” more than any other factor. 

 

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Sergeant Archipley repeatedly led Marine Infantrymen at the point of contact in Iraq, including through the brutal fighting in Fallujah in 2004. After three combat tours, the Archipleys decided the time was right to serve in other ways and the seeds of what would grow into a second national treasure were literally planted.

 

Before Colin deployed to Iraq for the third time in 2005, the Archipleys purchased a small 200-tree avocado farm, which they christened “Archi’s Acres.” The three-acre farm is nestled in a scenic semi-rural valley near Escondido, California, right behind the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton where Staff Sergeant Archipley was stationed.

The Archipleys might have been content nurturing their avocado trees and growing tomatoes if not for their first month’s $850 water bill – which sent them searching for a more financially sustainable way to run their farm. 

 

Archi's Acres. Two hydroponic green houses and avocado tree orchards framed by the 'Back 40' of Camp Pendleton in the background.

Archi’s Acres. Two hydroponic greenhouses and avocado-tree orchards framed by the ‘Back 40’ of Camp Pendleton in the background.

They discovered a solution to more than just their water-bill problem in hydroponic farming. When Colin returned home from his final deployment, they built a greenhouse and started growing basil. The soilless organic hydroponic system they built uses only one tenth of the water needed for an equivalent crop on a traditional farm and Karen was able to secure contracts to supply their organic produce to local super markets, including several Whole Foods stores.

 

Colin left the Marine Corps in October 2006 but wanted to maintain more of a connection to the Marines than afforded by the view from their home and farm of the hills of Camp Pendleton’s “Back 40.” That desire germinated another place for the Archipleys on the list of America’s national treasures — the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program– VSAT in proper military acronym form.

 

Through the VSAT program, Colin and Karen share their knowledge and experience with transitioning Marines and other veterans and help them replicate the success of Archi’s Acres. The six-week course they developed and teach not only provides veterans with enough knowledge of hydroponic greenhouse agriculture and the technical skills to set up and run their own greenhouse-centered farms, the Archipley team also teaches them the business and marketing skills to succeed as a business as well as a farm.

 

The greenhouses at Archi's Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automated to adjust for weather conditions.

The greenhouses at Archi’s Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automatically adjust to weather conditions.

The program’s title as a ‘training’ program insufficiently describes what the program really achieves. Even a lengthier descriptor such as a “seed-to-market sustainable organic agriculture entrepreneurial incubator” falls well short of the mark because VSAT provides far more than a skillset and post-graduation support.

 

The key to VSAT’s extraordinary potential is how Karen and Colin structured their program. From the outset they teamed with the nearby state university Cal Poly Pomona to get nationally-recognized accreditation. The university awards 17 college credit hours on completion of VSAT. The Archipleys also specifically engineered VSAT to meet the US Department of Agriculture’s experience requirements —  completing VSAT is equivalent to one year of farm management experience or a four-year degree in soil science — and so qualifies for a USDA-guaranteed farm loan. Combined with start-up equipment discounts the Archipleys negotiated with several leading national suppliers of agricultural equipment, meeting the requirements for a government-guaranteed loan provides Vets with the all-important financial resources to go into business as well as the technical know-how.

 

The Archipleys’ foresight enables Vets to take advantage – with their existing educational benefits – to cover the program’s $4,500 tuition. Since VSAT is a college-accredited program, Vets and even active duty service members can use the GI Bill, VA Vocational Rehabilitation or tuition assistance.  Several Veteran-serving nonprofits such as the Marine Semper Fi Fund, DAV and Armed Services YMCA also provide tuition grants for qualifying veterans.

 

Although not exclusively for Vets and transitioning service members, over 80 percent of their students are Veterans and many are struggling with invisible wounds and other service-connected disabilities.

 

“Agriculture is blind to invisible injuries,” Karen told me. And that was what first interested Stand for the Troops in Archi’s Acres— leading them to dispatch me on assignment to visit the Archipleys in the summer of 2014. Karen and Colin where successfully solving some of the biggest challenges of disabled-veteran employment AND healing.  Simultaneously.

 

Invisibly wounded warriors face substantial barriers to achieving full and persistent employment. According to the experienced former military physicians who created the Veteran-serving nonprofit  Military Disability Made Easy, a typical combat Veteran rated at only 50 percent disabled by Posttraumatic Stress Disorder:

 

“… may try to work, but will not be able to hold a job for more than 3 or 4 months because of their inability to remember or follow all directions or other similar reasons based on the symptoms or circumstances described under this rating. (In other words, they wouldn’t lose their job simply because they have anger issues and would regularly get in fights. A person like that could also not hold a job more than 3 or 4 months, but they would still be considered able to work). This individual would only be hired for jobs like cleaning, picking up trash, or other simple-task jobs.”

While the Americans with Disabilities Acts legally obligates employers to make reasonable accommodations for Vets with combat disabilities like PTSD, the reality is that there is little understanding among employers or even among Veteran-employees of how to accommodate invisible injuries with their multiple insidious, inconsistent and difficult to predict mechanisms of disability. In many cases even reasonable accommodations are simply not enough.

 

But where even the best intentioned accommodations fail, Archi’s Acres succeeds. The keys are flexibility and scalability. For a combat Vet functionally impaired by invisible wounds, greenhouse agriculture enables a level of flexibility uncommon in most jobs. While nature dictates that some tasks must be done at certain times, for the most part a Vet can adapt his schedule to his own needs, health and abilities, providing the most effective and timely workplace accommodation. The owner of an Archi’s Acres-style hydroponic greenhouse agriculture business is able to scale both the scope of the business and his or her personal workload. A greenhouse farm as small as one-tenth of an acre can be run profitably. Alternatively, a Veteran with a larger farm or limited in the number of hours he or she can work can hire employees to do the work the Vet cannot. At the time I visited them, the Archipleys employed one full-time and two part-time employees to work their three acres (expanding to six) of avocado trees, tomatoes and greenhouses, freeing Karen and Colin to focus most of their time on running the VSAT program.

 

By June 2014 the Archipleys had coached and mentored 240 graduates through their VSAT program. Two-thirds of the those graduates now either own or manage farms. Impressively, Karen and Colin have been able to do so much for Veterans within the framework of a self-sustaining B Corporation (a special category of for-profit corporation that provides a significant public benefit) instead of a donor-dependent non-profit which means the Archipleys will be able to continue independently serving the Nation’s Veterans for years to come.

 

To learn more about Archi’s Acres and the VSAT program, visit their website at Archisacres.com, and watch this five-minute video and this 24-minute documentary.




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