TIME Health Care

Veterans Affairs Chief Announces Big Restructuring Over Wait Times

Announcement comes on the eve of Veterans Day

The Department of Veterans Affairs will undergo a large organizational restructuring following the explosive revelations that hundreds of veterans were subjected to long wait times before receiving health care, Secretary Robert McDonald announced on Monday.

Disciplinary action had been taken against 5,600 employees within the last year and more firings were to come, McDonald told CNN, adding “we are acting aggressively, expeditiously, and consistent with the law.” The day before McDonald’s announcement, he acknowledged plans to hire around 28,000 medical professionals—including 2,500 devoted to mental health care—to join the VA’s hospitals and reduce the lack of timely appointments. He also said he intends to recruit young doctors with incentives like student loan forgiveness.

Since the scandal came to light, there have been more than 100 investigations of VA facilities take on by organizations from the FBI to the Department of Justice.

[CNN]

TIME Interview

#LightBoxFF: Using Instagram to Help Homeless Veterans

Welcome to this week’s edition of TIME LightBox Follow Friday, a series where we feature the work of photographers using Instagram in new, interesting and engaging ways. Regularly, we introduce you to the person behind the feed through his or her pictures and an interview with the photographer.

This week, LightBox speaks to Pablo Unzueta (@unzueta_), a freelance photographer based in Los Angeles who has been using Instagram to draw attention to the persisting problem of veteran homelessness. TIME LightBox selected Unzueta’s work as part of #TIMEvets, an initiative launched ahead of this year’s Veterans Day to explore the profound effects of war on soldiers and their families. Visit the #TIMEvets page for more information and for details on how to contribute your own images and stories.


LightBox: Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in photography.

Pablo Unzueta: I come from a family of photographers. The person who has influenced me the most was my grandmother who did documentary photography covering the landfills in Central America. She also was a wedding photography in Los Angeles. More often than not, I would find myself in the darkroom watching her develop rolls of film. At the time, I was not aware that I would become an aspiring photojournalist. I was only five or seven years old. Early on at 17, I began to document street life in Los Angeles. There, I began to develop my aesthetics; but also, I became aware that it wasn’t always a happy life for everyone. I felt that no one cared about poverty, war, corruption, etc. I found photography [could be] a source to generate some advocacy.

LightBox: What does Instagram provide you and this project specifically that other platforms don’t?

Pablo Unzueta: Instagram allows me to share with my followers these stories on a personal level. There are no guidelines, no AP style as to how you want to tell the story. It’s just me putting the context with the picture and allowing my followers to decide how they want to react. A lot of people have an account, so it makes it a great source to share stories and opinions, without getting [rejected] by news outlets.

LightBox: What is the purpose of your project?

Pablo Unzueta: The purpose for this project is to make people think critically and question why there are so many war veterans living on the street. More things should be done to prevent poverty rates from growing each year. The stories of these war veterans reflect the loss of hope. Overtime these people accept their lives the way they are. Many believe that shelter programs are “unreliable” and “unsafe”. Eventually, the street life molds into a long-lasting lifestyle. This issue is fairly complex to understand, personally speaking.

I was browsing through my feed and I accidentally deleted Gregory Thomas's story. So I'm Reposting, don't mind me: Downtown Los Angeles, Calif. | "The Alameda St. Man" • A portrait of Gregory Thomas, a Vietnam war veteran has been homeless since the 1980s. I got to know Thomas on several occasions during my trips in the city. He doesn't speak much, but I was told by street residents that he never leaves Alameda St. Thomas sleeps a few dozen yards away from the Arts District where gentrification has been highly in effect for the past several years. Thomas, to me, appears to be a person who is sick, quiet, but also in peace. His shoes are worn down past the sole. Every time I see Thomas he is given a few shirts. Poverty is a sociological illness that should be confronted by all of us. Gregory Thomas is an everyday man living in everyday USA (@everydayusa). #bw #blackandwhite #bnw #losangeles #LightBoxFF #poverty #portrait #photojournalism #photobw #journalism #documentary #streetshot #streetphoto #socalmoments #streetphotography #streetphotobw #allshots_ #everydayusa #everydayeverywhere

A photo posted by Pablo A. Unzueta (@unzueta_) on

Gregory Thomas. November 30, 2013 Alameda St. Los Angeles, Calif.

LightBox: Tell us about your process creating the work. How do you approach these homeless veterans?

Pablo Unzueta: I carry two black trash bags with clothes in the back of my trunk and I drive around looking for homeless residents. If I don’t have clothes to give, I carry food and coins. This gives me a reason to approach them with a camera in hand. I [often] spark conversation with a simple handshake. If they open up to me, I’m usually allowed to take their portrait. Sometimes it takes a few visits for a picture, but that’s what makes the process all worth it. Most of my conversations are recorded on my iPhone, sometimes on a black notebook.

LightBox: Many photographers who started with analog or digital photography find themselves adapting to smartphones and Instagram. You started photographing at 17, and you are now 20. Can you call yourself an Instagram native? Do you find it liberating to be able to produce and distribute work instantaneously?

Pablo Unzueta: I think I can call myself that. I always loved Instagram. When I first started using it, I uploaded photographs from my DSLR. Every once in a while, I do a series with just iPhone photographs. I think it’s easy for someone to call themselves a photographer because of smartphones. But there is much more to it than just taking a picture with a phone. Going beyond your comfort zone and photographing something meaningful that contributes to a good cause automatically separates you from the category of “photographer”. It is important that we have a variety of documentarians in this world who present us with information, so why not use smartphones to illustrate the world with something informative and influential. Instagram is a perfect example of that. I am starting to see more and more Instagramers publish photographs with stories, which inspires others to do the same as well. It’s like a domino effect. Storytelling is imperative.


Pablo Unzueta is a freelance photojournalist in Los Angeles. He has been documenting protests, poverty and homelessness.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


TIME Business

Job Fairs Are Not Enough

soldier saluting flag
Getty Images

Mike Stajura is a doctoral candidate at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. He served in the U.S. Army from 1995-2002.

Our military drawdown overseas means more veterans will be hunting for employment at home. How can we find them meaningful work?

As the military drawdown in Afghanistan continues, the United States will add an additional 80,000 veterans from the Army alone to the civilian workforce. This is on top of the normal annual rate of separations from military service. On this Veterans Day, let’s think about all of America’s soldiers who are receiving pink slips.

Members of the military receive rigorous training from a very selective institution, and they served their country under difficult circumstances that required adaptability, perseverance, teamwork, and maturity. What more could an employer want?

It would seem a lot more. Despite the many veteran employment initiatives out there—put forward by the White House, mayors’ offices, corporations, and nonprofit organizations—it’s still difficult for veterans to find work, let alone jobs that use them well. The Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families offers one explanation that applies to me and other veterans I’ve talked to: many veterans take work that is a poor fit for their knowledge, skills, ability, and experience. This leads to dissatisfaction, lower performance, and job-hopping.

If you were a helicopter mechanic in the military, then it makes sense to seek work fixing helicopters as a civilian. It’s harder for veterans whose primary military job skills don’t directly translate to the civilian workforce. As an infantry officer for the Army (who left before the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started), my work included managing a fleet of armored vehicles, supervising the distribution of water in Honduras, and assisting a State Department official in Bosnia-Herzegovina. When I completed the coursework for my doctorate degree in public health, I started applying for emergency management and disaster services positions.

I wasn’t even getting called for job interviews, though. Rather, I’d get letters saying that I met the education and skill requirements, but didn’t have the “right” experience for a job. They were looking for specific junior job titles on my resume that I would never have unless I was to start at the lowest rung of the career ladder at 41 years old.

I was rejected from about a dozen jobs in three months. Even after working with mentors and consulting with guides to help veterans find civilian work, it was hard to figure out how to present my skills and experience. The “skills translator” at www.military.com said that in civilian-speak I was trained in “message processing procedures.” Seriously?

I got my next two jobs precisely because I am a veteran. The first employer emailed a job announcement to a group of Los Angeles veterans because he had a contract with the Army and needed someone who could “speak Army.” I became highly prized for my ability to produce PowerPoint slides and “decision-support matrices” according to Army norms.

My second job involves an organization that serves veterans and their families. During the first three months, I worked on occasional tasks but I could not even explain to other employees what my job was because I didn’t have an official description or direct supervisor.

This was very different from the Army, where everyone has a clear task and there’s constant interaction and feedback. Things finally changed for the better after I explained that I needed a project and accountability.

Michael Poyma, an employment specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Michigan, has heard many stories similar to mine. And he thinks some of the most common approaches to matching veteran job seekers and employers need to be rethought. For example, both job seekers and employers have told Poyma that many job fairs are a waste of time. While some people find jobs this way, it’s a drop in the bucket. They also create high-pressure, high-expectation situations that can magnify disappointment.

Poyma and others have also noted that veterans gravitate in disproportionate numbers towards certain fields: government service, law enforcement, government contracting, work with veterans. These jobs allow veterans to continue working in a familiar environment related to public service.

But isolation can just entrench the misunderstanding. This is why Chris Marvin of Got Your 6, and previously, The Mission Continues, has embarked on projects to help veterans integrate fully into the civilian world that they have rejoined. The Mission Continues, for instance, puts veterans to work painting houses, tending community gardens, or mentoring kids at a wide range of community and nonprofit organizations.

Poyma and other VA representatives are about to start pilot seminars will seat potential employers and veterans on opposite sides of the room, separated by a “demilitarized zone.” He will conduct exercises to dismantle the demilitarized zone by discussing systemic barriers to employment (some of which I’ve already talked about, but others such as the cost of retraining for civilian licenses), the stigmas that follow veterans, and each side’s particular acronyms and jargon. In the end, he hopes to demonstrate that there is hidden value in a veteran’s resume if employers will only take the time to look.

Mike Stajura wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME portfolio

Life After War: James Nachtwey’s Photographs From Walter Reed

Last week, TIME contract photographer James Nachtwey visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md, to photograph combat veterans and wounded soldiers recovering at the facility.

“He was patient enough to listen to what happened to me,” says Army Master Sergeant Cedric King, a bilateral leg amputee and the main subject of a ten-page photo essay published in this week’s TIME magazine. “When it was time to get his shot, he explained exactly what he wanted.”

In August 2012, King woke up in the Walter Reed Bethesda to his mother and wife beside his bed. Both his legs had been amputated. A week before, King was on a combat patrol in an explosive-making factory in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked. While trying to get his fellow soldiers to safety, King stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED), which immediately threw him out into the air and blew his legs off.

King, from Norlina, N.C., appears confident and comfortable in front of the camera. He believes his injuries had gifted him strength and wants his family as well as the readers to see his positivity.

“It’s not about what happened to you, but what happens in you,” King says.

Army master sergeant Cedric King finished his first New York City Marathon on Nov. 2—despite breaking his prosthetic legs twice. Lindsay Deckard

One year after his injuries, King began running. Last Sunday, he took up the challenge to run the New York City Marathon, during which his prosthetics broke in Brooklyn, forcing him to stop and get them fixed.

His make-or-break moment came when he was close to the 59th Street Bridge. Volunteers have already started cleaning the streets and getting ready to go home. King was exhausted, both his mind and his body.

“I kneeled down the bridge and I just started to pray,” King said. “I just put one foot in front of the other. That was the only thing I could do.”

After 10 hours, He was among the last 10 people to kiss the finish line.

The New York City Marathon was not his first marathon. In April this year, King completed the Boston Marathon and participated in a Ironman 70.3 competition in Georgia in September.

King is going to retire from the military and leave Walter Reed in July, 2015. He plans to run about 400 miles from Walter Reed to North Carolina in two and a half months to raise funds for a new home.


James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer, documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

With reporting by Olivia B. Waxman from Bethesda, Md.

See TIME’s #TIMEVets project.


TIME movies

How Fury‘s Director Made the WWII Film as Realistic as Possible

Columbia Pictures

Director David Ayer met with vets to learn what life in a tank was really like

Perhaps more than any other historical event, World War II has provided fodder for Hollywood. From The Bridge on the River Kwai to Saving Private Ryan to Schindler’s List, directors keep turning to “the good war.” This year alone, Fury (in theaters this weekend), Imitation Game and Unbroken all feature World War II heroes and will all battle for Oscar buzz.

Fury director David Ayer, who is a veteran himself, wanted to distinguish his World War II film with an air of authenticity. The movie takes on a single day in April 1945, when the Allies had for all intents and purposes beaten Germany. But American soldiers were still fighting on the front and, some would argue, needlessly dying. Calling into question the glory of war, Ayer and the movie’s actors—including Brad Pitt, returning to the time period he visited in Inglourious Basterds—met with veterans to get more intimate details on the challenges of fighting in a tank crew, the Credits reports.

According to the vets, the life expectancy of a tank crew member was only six weeks. Ayer incorporated this and other details he learned from veterans into the movie, like that every fifth bullet from a gun’s machine is a tracer, which is ignited with a burning powder that glows brightly so the shooter can follow the trajectory of the bullet with the naked eye. The actors also learned that the soldiers would differentiate between outgoing and incoming artillery by the whistling sound a projectile make when coming towards you (but not away from you).

Read about the connection between reality and another WWII movie, The Monuments Men, here in TIME’s archives: George Clooney’s Art of War

[The Credits]

TIME Military

Obama: ‘Do Not Turn Away’ From Injured Veterans

The newly opened Americans Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial is a reminder not to "rush into war"

President Barack Obama somberly thanked veterans for their service and acknowledged that the U.S. hasn’t always provided enough support upon their return home during a Sunday speech at the opening of Washington, D.C.’s Americans Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

“With this memorial we commemorate, for the first time, two battles our disabled veterans have fought: The battle over there and the battle here at home,” Obama said.

The memorial, which the President says is a reminder not to “rush into war,” is the first one on the National Mall to specifically honor veterans who were injured in combat, ABC News reports. It joins the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials that exist around the Mall.

Obama’s remarks come during the same year the Veterans Affairs scandal put the conversation around veterans’ physical and mental health at the forefront.

“If you’re an American and you see a veteran, maybe with a prosthetic arm or leg, maybe burns on their face, don’t ever look away,” Obama said. “Do not turn away. You go up and you reach out and you shake their hand and you look them in the eye and say those words every veteran should hear all the time: Welcome home. Thank you. We need you more than ever. You helped us stay strong. You helped us stay free.”

[ABC]

TIME Afghanistan

Senior Democrat: We Should Be Proud of Afghanistan Progress

Levin Briefs On Investigation Into Private Security Contractors In Afghanistan
Carl Levin, retiring chairman of the armed services committee, thinks Americans have a "distorted" view of what the U.S. has accomplished in Afghanistan. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D—Mich), chairman of the armed services committee, says things are getting better all the time in Afghanistan

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the armed services committee, is leaving the Senate after 36 years. He spent Wednesday’s breakfast with a bunch of defense reporters responding to their questions on the U.S.-led attacks against Islamic militants and the Pentagon’s budget crunch.

Levin is no bomb-thrower or partisan hack. When we offered him the chance to say a final word at the end of his final breakfast with us, we listened:

Thank you for the years that we’ve been having breakfast together. I guess my one request, which I have feelings about, is our view of Afghanistan. I’ve been there a dozen times…they’ve made some amazing progress…The people of Afghanistan, by al measure, are glad we came. Eight million kids in school now, versus 800,000 kids under the Taliban; 40% girls, 40% women teachers. Universities now have formed.

Kabul, you can move in. Yea, there’s bombings and they’re covered all the time, and I understand it. But is it a glass half full? I think at least half full and I think, more importantly, it’s getting fuller…

I feel so strongly that the American public view of Afghanistan is distorted—it’s highly negative, they feel we failed. They have a right to feel some real satisfaction because we didn’t fail—quite the opposite. They haven’t succeeded yet, but with our help they have made some real strides, and it doesn’t come through.

So my plea would be, since this may be my last opportunity, would be to somehow or other cover the positives that have occurred in Afghanistan…

I just quote these public opinion polls: Americans, 70% or 65% think we have not achieved anything. In Afghanistan it’s 70 or 80% think we have. How does that happen that the people who are in the middle of that war think we’ve really done some good, and the people who are 10,000 or 15,000 miles away think we haven’t?

Particularly our troops and their families, they’ve got a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have.

The American people, taxpayers, have a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have…

I’m just going to hope that somehow or other [ex-defense secretary Robert] Gates’ point, his statement, will no longer prove to be true after a couple of more years. The statement that he made was that Afghanistan is the only war he’s ever seen that the closer you get to it, the better it looks.

I believe that that’s true, and I hope a couple of years from now, when I find a way to visit Afghanistan, that we’ll not only see more progress, but the American people finally realize that `Hey, it was worth it.’

 

 

U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Afghanistan
Carl Levin, center, on a 2011 visit to Afghanistan. U.S. Navy / Getty Images
TIME Drugs

Pro-Pot Group Giving Free Weed to Colorado Vets

A worker cultivates a special strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte's Web inside a greenhouse, in a remote spot in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Feb. 7, 2014.
A worker cultivates a special strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte's Web inside a greenhouse, in a remote spot in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Feb. 7, 2014. Brennan Linsley—AP

The organization Grow4Vets is giving free marijuana to veterans Saturday

Marijuana-smoking veterans may find themselves flocking to Denver, Colorado Saturday, when a pro-pot organization will host a weed giveaway to get grass in the hands of military veterans who seek it.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Quality Inn in Central Denver, the group Grow4Vets will give out cannabis products worth more than $200 to veterans who RSVP for the event by noon Friday. Others will be asked for a $20 donation at the door and get more than $100 in pot products in exchange, organizers told ABC7 News Denver.

Grow4Vets exists to “reduce the staggering number of Veterans who die each day from suicide and prescription drug overdose” by providing vets “with the knowledge and resources necessary to obtain or grow their own marijuana for treatment of their medical conditions,” the group’s website says.

A repeat of the event will be held September 27 in Colorado Springs.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 18

1. Islamic State is hunting for Syrian chemical weapons that eluded international inspectors.

By Paul D. Shinkman in U.S. News and World Report

2. The true promise of education technology is in differentiating learning to meet the needs of each student.

By Jennifer Carolan in EdSurge

3. A robot’s ethical dilemma: How would a self-driving car weigh the safety of its passengers against the risk to other motorists?

By Aviva Rutkin in New Scientist

4. A disaster relief organization is giving military veterans a chance to do good and recapture the spirit of their service.

By Jonathan Lesser in Medium

5. Future social scientists will have a wealth of data from Facebook likes and shares to truly understand what moves us.

By Jonathan Wai in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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