2017 Veterans Benefits Scholarship Winners Announced

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2018

Editor's note: We are no longer offering this scholarship.

VeteranAid.org Announces 2017 Veterans Benefits Scholarship Winners

After over 100 applicants submitted their essays, three emerged as clear winners in this year’s scholarship program.

VeteranAid.org is the leading free resource for information on the Veterans Aid and Attendance pension benefit. VeteranAid launched its annual scholarship program in 2017 as part of an initiative to bring awareness to younger generations of the unique benefits and challenges of being a senior veteran, while helping to fund the costs of higher education for the recipients.2017 Veterans Benefits Scholarship Winners Announced

Though it was difficult to choose winners from the many incredible essays received from over 100 U.S. and Canadian students who were asked to write an essay giving an example of a known veteran’s benefit and how it helps senior veterans; and then to propose a new benefit that would help seniors. VeteranAid.org is pleased to announce the winners of the second Veteran Benefits Scholarship.

Three students were chosen to receive the $2,000 Veterans Benefits Scholarship award and the winners are:

Luke Dixon

Luke comes from a military family and is currently an undergraduate at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, where he is majoring in mechanical engineering. His proposal for a new benefit involves providing social support and mentoring opportunities for veterans interacting with ROTC students or children of veterans.

Luke’s essay:

The Veterans Benefits Administration offers numerous opportunities to veterans of all ages. The amount of benefits available specifically to senior veterans is more limited, but may be doubly impactful. One benefit to help senior veterans is Aid and Attendance (A&A), which relates to veteran pension programs.

The A&A benefit was initiated as a part of an Improved Pension Benefit, which is less renowned than other Veteran Benefits. A&A is akin to the monthly Pension benefit, in which a fixed amount is paid to a veteran or surviving spouse. However, A&A provides funding in addition to the regular Pension, for veterans in need of the attendance of another person to help with daily activities. This benefit is designed for elderly veterans who struggle with adjusting prosthetic devices, have a physical or mental incapacity requiring care, or need help staying safe from hazards in their environment. A&A also aims to facilitate life for elderly veterans who need help eating, dressing, going to the bathroom, getting out of bed, or moving about their home. A&A is intended to help offset the cost of having a personal assistant to help with these activities. Bedridden veterans, visually impaired veterans, and veterans living in nursing homes are also eligible for the A&A benefit.

The most obvious benefit of A&A is its monetary value. If an elderly veteran had to pay the federal minimum hourly wage for help with daily activities for eight hours each day, it would cost them roughly $1600 monthly. Thus, without A&A, critical help with daily activities could be completely unaffordable to elderly veterans. The presence of an assisting person also improves the daily life of elderly veterans. A veteran who was previously lonely benefits from having someone to talk to and share their stories with. A&A not only provides help with basic aspects of daily life but improves an elderly veteran’s overall quality of life.

Although there are many Veteran Benefits that provide money for living expenses and healthcare, many elderly veterans need mental and emotional support or rehabilitation. Existing programs for such mental and emotional support are largely impersonal, providing services through medical institutions or basic monetary stipends. Medical institutions may fall short of fully supporting veterans due to the difficulty in fully comprehending each veteran’s unique challenges when caring for thousands of patients. Monetary stipends for emotional health may also fail because elderly veterans may not know how to best invest the funds. In addition to these options, I propose a new Veteran Benefit for elderly veterans in need of mental or emotional rehabilitation. This new benefit would provide funding to Veteran-specific retirement communities or assisted living centers to allow a selected young adult to live among the elderly veterans. The selected youth would be a non-scholarship ROTC cadet or a child of a veteran seeking inexpensive housing during college. The youth would provide the elderly veterans with mental and emotional rehabilitation in the forms of artistic, musical, or technological support and assistance.

Both the veterans and the youth have much to benefit from this arrangement. The elderly veterans would experience rehabilitation through the presence and help of the young adult. The young adult would bring vibrancy to their lives by living in their community. Further, the elderly veterans would feel a heightened sense of purpose through opportunities to interact with the young adult and provide advice. Elderly veterans would have someone new to share their stories with, which further strengthens their mental and emotional stability.

Likewise, the ROTC cadet or veteran’s child would benefit from free housing during higher education. Many youths, especially those facing the prohibitive costs of living on a college campus, would eagerly accept this opportunity for free housing while giving back. Further, they would have the opportunity to learn from the experience of the elderly veterans. For example, an elderly retired officer could provide advice to a cadet on how to build a successful career in the military.

This Veteran Benefit is sure to be successful because a similar idea has been implemented in colleges throughout the world. For example, a music student at Drake University receives free room and board at a nearby nursing home in return for musical entertainment. In this Proposed Benefit, Veterans Affairs would provide free room and board to selected students in participating veteran retirement communities in exchange for the student’s help in rehabilitating the veterans while building relationships. Both the veterans and the youths would find immense value in the opportunity to learn from a different generation.

Roger Ourthiague Jr.

Roger is a U.S. Navy veteran earning his Masters of Fine Art in Printmaking at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. His passion and proposed new benefit involves helping others by sharing his story and artistic expressions as a way of healing.

Roger’s essay:

Among many truths about veterans is the fact that the veteran population faces higher rates of substance abuse and mental health issues than that of the civilian population. It is a tough pill to swallow. Reassuringly, the Veterans Administration attitudes towards this problem have changed for the better and our government has made marvelous strides in recognizing the epidemic we face as a country. The resources that have been allotted to battle these ongoing issues are significant and reassuring. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step in any recovery. For senior veterans, the duel-diagnosis model of treatment for those that suffer from a substance abuse problem in congruency with a mental health disorder is of particular importance. A co-occurring disorder can include PTSD, early dementia, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder and are all too common among veterans, especially those with combat experience. The triple-whammy of being an older veteran, having mental or cognitive issues, and suffering from addiction is, no doubt, a heartbreaking challenge for the VA.

One benefit for senior veterans that I tout above all others regarding the duel-diagnosis model of recovery is the VA’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC). This is a comprehensive inpatient program addressing many forms of mental disorders, drugs and alcohol addiction, prison recidivism, physical health, and/or homelessness. The program is a hub for new clinical ideas and creative energy. Dr. Jennifer E. Boyd, who runs the San Francisco program, says veterans of any age can “select from dozens of activities that help them with social skills, self-expression, coping with symptoms, and striving for personal goals. In addition to offering classes, the program also pairs Veterans with staff Recovery Advisors who help them define and strive towards those personal goals.” The facility is on the frontlines of new approaches and fresh modes of educating patients. The course catalog for the PRRC offers dozens of classes such as “Community Discovery,” “Veteran’s Art Guild,” “Building Relationships,” “Duel Recovery,” and “Ending Self-Stigma.” Seniors are taught the values of different therapies and works for them and health workshops are offered on a weekly basis. They are able to address mobility issues through physical therapy and previously neglected medical needs while at the PRRC.

Inspired by my research into the PRRC, I want to propose an equally lofty benefit to help senior veterans, but rather than a facility for those in recovery, the goal will be on the quality of life for older vets. My proposed benefit to help senior veterans is the Golden-Aged Creativity Center for Veterans (the GACC for acronym-loving former service members). For decades, the research into creative activities such as art, music, and dance has shown that creativity is one of the healthiest actions for the well-being of older individuals. Artistic expression creates confidence and self-awareness, music is calming to listen to and great for the brain to learn or play, and dance (or any low-impact creative movement) does wonders for strength, balance and dexterity. The benefit I propose is a model to address three things: to educate in the positive impact of creative expression to deal with trauma, provide space and materials for that expression, and be a nationwide network of ideas for art therapists, psychologists, doctors, teachers, and volunteers with ties to the center. The focus of the GACC will be to create community and long-lasting relationships to avoid the degenerative pitfalls of isolation common in older veterans. The center will offer classes and assistance for all vets of a certain age and older. For those with mobility issues, offsite case management and assessment for elderly veterans in late stages of decline would be available. If deemed necessary, volunteers and art therapists making hospital room, retirement center, or house visits making sure all vets that want to participate will be permitted. Volunteers trained at the GACC would be able to make house visits or teach classes at Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) establishments. With a particular emphasis on creativity, community, case management, I am hopeful that a benefit such as this could do wonders for senior veterans. I know if it existed that I would be excited to join the center in my own golden years.

“Art is a constant agent of transformation and is indeed the soul’s drive to health.” - Cathy Malchiodi, "The Soul’s Palette"

Shane Guzman

Shane is an active service member in the Air National Guard and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. His new veterans benefit involves harnessing the strong leadership background and tenacity of veterans to power volunteer programs with a system that allows for corporate sponsorship to reward veterans based on their volunteer work.

Shane’s essay:

An important benefit for all veterans is for burial & memorial services. Plainly, there is one absolute certainty in this life and this veteran benefit helps lift this morbid weight not just for veterans but for their families as well. I know this is a topic that people tend to shy from but it is a necessity because it is the common junction in all of our lives. My father and I have both served in the armed forces and these are things that both of us will eventually have to confront. It means a great deal to me that when the time comes for our passing, our family will not be terribly burdened with the costs of funerals on top of their grieving.

The department of veteran’s affairs offers a plot for burial, headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential memorial certificate at no cost to the family (VA). If the family does not want a burial at a national cemetery, the VA has a burial allowance maximum of $2,000. With the average cost of a funeral between $7,000 and 10,000, the burial allowance would mitigate costs of a traditional funeral service (Parting). Furthermore, the VA will furnish a headstone or marker at no cost upon request, mitigating a huge cost to the families. The benefit also honors the veterans service to country with military honors and a Presidential memorial certificate. What is really given here is not a benefit or financial ease but peace of mind.

As a veteran, I take advantage of benefits such as the VA home loan and sometimes a military discount from vendors. I use military discounts to buy presents for my family that I would not be able to afford otherwise. Some veterans, young and old, may not be financially sound or be struggling to afford minute gifts for their families. I propose a catalog based volunteering program that is sponsored by corporations that rewards veterans based on volunteer work. Specifically, I would like the rewards to favor the senior veterans overall to prevent any financial difficulties affecting their retirements or pensions. Using the following equations, reward points could be earned and spent on a reward catalog sponsored by businesses that support the armed forces.

This system will favor senior veterans as their age approaches L or is past it while still maintaining the spirit of volunteer work amongst younger veterans. Beyond the veteran, this program would benefit the sponsors with visibility, the armed forces with good publicity, the community with needed support, and the possibility of fostering wisdom and leadership in youths from participating veterans. Sometimes, certain veteran-only benefits are well deserved but other times the real benefit is growing prosperity among the veterans, the community, and those who support both.

Veterans have a strong background in leadership, workmanship, and are driven to do a job to their fullest. A volunteer program powered by veterans would be a powerhouse to the community. Providing this system would draw more veterans into charity and renew their sense of purpose in life while provisioning a system to reward and not financially impact senior veterans. I do believe that no good deed goes unpunished. Especially when it comes to our eldest of veterans.

Congratulations to all of our winners, thank you for your service and your passion for serving veterans. We wish you the best of luck in your future!

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