Articles tagged with: featured

Coming Together — So That Our Veterans Don’t Fall Apart — the Veteran Mission Possible Campaign Veterans Day Update

Coming Together — So That Our Veterans Don’t Fall Apart — the Veteran Mission Possible Campaign Veterans Day Update

Most of us have seen the distressing headlines about our veterans: their rate of suicide, homelessness, drug abuse, incarceration rate, debt and more. Some have also read about the VA attempts via Mission Daybreak to specifically reduce vet suicide — even throwing $20 million dollars in prizes into the mix for organizations that they feel have innovative ways in which to specifically reduce vet suicides.

Several of VMP’s members competed — one successfully: Marine Veteran Rick Johnson CEO of Voi Health and Voi Technology.

But the overall experience was disappointing.

Innovation seemed to be less important than a solution’s ability to fit within the existing VA bureaucratic process. Contestants were put in silo’s, with no real attempt to create a community or develop cross-pollination. Previous contracts won through the VA moved a contestant’s proposal to the top of the judging stack. To make things worse, only 40 participants out of 1,371 entries “qualified” to share in the pot. Only 40???

Thus, the emergence of VMP and its energetic cadre of risk-takers and out-of-the-box thinkers and their supporters who were among the 1,340 who didn’t win a spot. We decided to create a community out of this disparate group. And, to locate and invite others also with good solutions but who were not aware of Mission Daybreak to join with us in a campaign that runs from 11/1/22 through 1/31/23. Veteran Mission Possible.

We intend to equal or better in featuring our members’ impactful solutions. But, how?

The importance of media

Equal to the need to ferret out and refine the thought leaders and their solutions is to see that their inventions and approaches are brought to public attention and especially to the ultimate recipients — the veteran in need and their advocates.

If they don’t know about you, they can’t do anything about you. To ensure that needed awareness, VMP is constructing a web of media specialists and journalists within and outside our community to tend to this. Nothing beats a press kit containing recent newsworthy items.

In the works:

Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ) is working with VMP to develop an onsite and online “media pool” of experienced professionals whose efforts will be harnessed to write those stories and do those interviews. Today, Veteran’s Day 2022, I will be attending their discussion on military, veterans news coverage at the National Press Club — featuring an appearance by former Navy veteran Bob Woodward.

Cary Harrison, VMP Director of Broadcasting and Streaming Media, is using his sway as a highly regarded radio personality to develop in tandem with famed KPFK 90.7fm in Los Angeles a weekly one-hour program devoted to veterans issues and their spokespeople for distribution through Cary’s affiliate stations across the U.S. “The emphasis will be on solutions, not just the problems,” as Cary describes it.

Cary and KPFK on Veteran’s Day last year featured a one-hour fundraiser for the RIP Medical Debt charity to bring attention to veteran medical debt. Enough funds were raised to abolish almost $500,000 in such debt. Imagine this promoted nationally — with veteran debt as the sole focus!

Host of “Ask a Doctor” on VoiceAmerica Radio Virgie Bright Ellington, author of Crush Medical Debt and an VMP benefactor interviews me about our mutually (un)favorite subjects of medical debt and veteran suicide just in time for Veteran’s Day. Visit this site and skip over the first part to start this latest segment at 32:27. You will not be put to sleep.

In fact, the overall approach of VMP and its allies and supporters is to Wake America Up!

In the most gentle but urgent ways possible to the wrongs that need to be righted and the actions that need to be taken. More details for those who might want to be part of this campaign can be found here:

Don’t dawdle, a veteran needs your help. More than one veteran, to be exact. Thousands of them.

Filmmaker/Image Maker Patrick de Warren Named Let’s Rethink This “Impact Artist” for September 2022

Filmmaker/Image Maker Patrick de Warren Named Let’s Rethink This “Impact Artist” for September 2022

It is with great personal pleasure and that of Let’s Rethink This to announce our September’s Impact Artist as filmmaker and image maker Patrick de Warren. This French-born expatriate to the U.S. arrived on these shores in 1988 wanting to experience a new adventure and step into the unknown.”

Patrick started working as a Fashion Photographer when he first picked up a camera in 1991 to in 2000 becoming a Creative Director for New York’s Pier 59 Studios. A move down to Miami to become an art Director for the Opium Group in Miami and then a move back to NYC to be invited by Sotheby’s to work as  a Collections and Work of Art Photographer where he worked on a project by project basis on and off for seven years.

Tucking that safely away into his resume, he proceeded to satisfy his wanderlust by making a transatlantic crossing of the Atlantic ocean on a 32 ft Sailing Boat, sailing from Westport CT to Sagres, Portugal. “Passing by Bermuda and the Azores and sailing three weeks without seeing land was a transformative personal experience,” Patrick describes it.

Patrick in front of OWS signPatrick flew back to the U.S. and NYC in 2011 just in time to walk into Zuccotti Park to film a once-in-a-lifetime event that shifted America’s conversation and awareness about its internal ills – Occupy Wall Street. At first it was filming “out of curiosity” but it turned into something bigger. “I captured some remarkable footage – everything needed to make a meaningful black and white film, sharing the story as I experience it,” he says.

Patrick and I met at the Bernie Sanders rally down on Washington Square park in 2016  (where I was covering the event  for my Huffington Post blog) and our conversations served to shift his attention America’s healthcare debacle. Coming from a country where healthcare debt is of little concern, he felt compelled to turn his attention to my work.

A tale and trail of mutual interest

Patrick de Warren and Jerry Ashton, NYC
Patrick de Warren and Jerry Ashton, NYC

As co-founder of RIP Medical Debt and needing someone to help chronicle our work which started in 2014, I invited Patrick to film not only the general mood of Americans awakening to the outrage being done to our citizens – that fact that one can lose a home or go bankrupt simply by getting hurt or sick – but to record the pioneering work our charity was doing to right a portion of these wrongs. Specifically, abolishing that medical debt.

This led to Patrick covering some of RIP’s early organizing meetings, two of our first-ever summits on medical debt, an End Medical Debt evening in Washington DC and numerous other mini happenings.

When I retired to the RIP Board in late 2020 to start Let’s Rethink This, I invited Patrick into accepting a role as our Director of Photography and Film to cover my new focus of activism – to record and illuminate the trials and tribulations of America’s warriors, our veterans. 

LRT is now involved in a two-fold campaign. The first is to see that some $6 billion in unpaid medical debt burdening our vets be made available by the VA system for full and complete forgiveness – no strings attached. Visit #EndVetMedDebt where you will find Patrick’s filmed interviews with veterans and learn more about this important effort. 

The second is to reduce the horrific quantity and rate of veteran suicide – ranging by estimates from 17 to 30 per day! Here, we have formed a veteran-civilian collaboration in a year-end campaign – to which we invite our reader to join – we call Mission Possible located at MediaIgnite.

Patrick’s personal stake – his Great Aunt’s World War II experience.

“In World War II, my great aunt was a nun in the monastery of Jouarre in France at the time and hiding an American Nurse being hunted by the gestapo. The city was liberated by General Patton with whom they developed a friendship, and this became a treasured part of our family lore. To this day, Patrick’s family maintains a friendship with members the Patton family.

“The work I am doing now with today’s American veterans is in a way an homage to that Legacy. Sharing veteran’s stories is part of my current film project as I work to help raise awareness about their issues,” he adds. “The goal of these years of work is to make a film with a different view about U.S. approaches to healthcare, the environment, economics, politics and social justice and connect the dots as filmed through the lens of the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

Patrick’s larger motivation? To tie all his Occupy/RIP/LRT/Activist work together in a film which will share the stories without trying to tell the viewers what’s right or wrong – “just let them decide for themselves.”

In order to connect with Patrick, write him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For a more extensive view of his work, visit and

Throwing the Dice for $20 million to Reduce Veteran Suicides — A Major VA Gamble

Throwing the Dice for $20 million to Reduce Veteran Suicides — A Major VA Gamble

What do you do when you exhaust your tools and approaches to what has become an intractable problem, and find yourself at an impasse?

If you are the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs, which has tried for years to substantially lower the incidence of vet suicides (currently averaging 18 per day), you go bold.

That “bold” constitutes in this case a challenge to the general public, and particularly the veteran advocacy community, to come up with ideas, approaches or inventions that will actually and materially change those statistics for the better — Mission Daybreak.

The premise behind this call to action is part of a 10-year strategy which posits that a comprehensive public health approach is required to address this scourge.

“Suicide has no single cause, and no single strategy can end this complex problem,” their website declares. “That’s why Mission Daybreak is fostering solutions across a broad spectrum of focus areas. A diversity of solutions will only be possible if a diversity of solvers — including veterans, researchers, technologists, advocates, clinicians, health innovators and service members — answer the call to collaborate and share their expertise.”

To motivate this community, the VA set in place a two-phase grand challenge. Phase I being open to all eligible solvers to submit detailed, 10-page detailed concept papers. This ended on July 8. A team of over 300 judges have now set about to determine the 40 finalists to be announced in early September.

1,373 Responses for the 40 Competitive Slots

Over 1,300 individuals and organizations submitted their papers, my organization Let’s Rethink This (LRT) being one of them. Each of them/us hoping to make it into that final tranche. Each of us realizing the odds are against us (close to 50 to 1) no matter how unique or important we believe our approach might be.

On our own, LRT reached out to fellow members of this “Solver Community” to learn a bit more about the solutions they offer and to question their participation once the forty finalists (only 30 of which will advance to the final competitor list) have been selected. Win/Lose or Draw, what will they do if they don’t move into the Accelerator Stage?

Of the dozen or so responding, we were amazed at the range of both skill and offerings. One offered a camping experience on a property he owned by a river. Conversely, another offered a grand plan of establishing 150 therapy-oriented resorts with golf course driving ranges - along with a list of 20 more solutions.

One offered art therapy, another a sophisticated “tactical film service” for veteran entrepreneurs. One conceived of creating a major “community solution” engaging vets by way of helping them actually generate revenues within the community.

A few kept their cards close to their vest and shared little of their approach, others shared their complete concept papers. Many emphasized mental and physical therapies involving camping and treks — many involving the transition from military to civilian life.

At least two pure medical approaches ranging from repurposing existing drugs to bring about better treatments for TBI and PTSD to curing prostate cancer were among the offerings. Technology showed up in the form of cellphone apps and online volunteer or therapist “time banking” addressed the problem of social isolation.

Can there actually be losers?

In the sense that at least 1,300-plus individuals and organizations put out their best and most creative solutions into public awareness — no. No one has heard of these people, much less their ideas! Some of them, with this new awareness, might luck out like some contestants in TV’s famed Shark Tank who fail to win over any of the deep-pocketed sharks, their very appearance on that show attracted other investors who did move forward with investments.

But the odds! Think of it.

For every one “winning” solution chosen, almost 50 other approaches were passed by. Judges erred in not making that selection. (We may never know, unless the VA makes available a list of the runners-up along with their Concept Paper. Surely, a VC, investor or philanthropist just might find it worth the while to sift through those entries.

The bottom line: It’s all about gaining awareness. If people don’t know about you, they can’t do anything about you.

So, a salute to the VA for this noble experiment. It will get press, and perhaps generate enough public consciousness about the prevalence and horror of vet suicide that public interest will enable the hard work of this Solver Community to bear fruit.

It’s one thing to be aware of a problem. An entirely different thing to do something about it. Don’t gamble on someone else stepping up — the stakes are too high.

Let’s end Veteran Suicides — for good!

Fellow Veterans – To Tell a Story – BE the Story

Fellow Veterans – To Tell a Story – BE the Story

As part of my participating in the filming of a documentary on vulnerable veterans with Let’s Rethink This founder Jerry Ashton and acclaimed documentarist and filmmaker Patrick de Warren I arrived in NYC in late July from Phoenix, AZ.

nyc dept homeless servicesFor this documentary to work I actually participated in the process of going ‘homeless’ (which I was) and registered with the New York City Dept of Homeless Services located on 30th St. in Manhattan – just seven blocks from the Manhattan Harbor VA. The men’s shelter is an eight-story former school with classrooms serving as offices and 2–5-man rooms. It was quite an experience.

 Everyone entering the building passes through a metal detector and belongings are thoroughly inspected. There are no weapons allowed or any item that could be used as a weapon. No outside food is allowed, and no food can be removed from the dining area. There is security and staff everywhere.

veterans residenceAlthough formidable, the result is a calm, peaceful environment with tons of support from case workers from multiple agencies (including the VA with an onsite veteran’s case manager three days a week). There are laundry facilities, hot meals, showers, and comfy beds. Essentially, it is a steppingstone intake for the hundreds of temporary residents who will be referred to other short-term housing and supportive programs.

What is amazing is that Veterans experiencing homelessness are immediately identified and fast-tracked to a number of transitional programs regardless of military discharge status. 

I was transferred to the Borden Avenue Veterans’ Residence in Long Island City in Queens; a large sprawling building with hundreds of beds in open bays and 6 x 9 ft cubicles. Here, the cubicles are provided to veterans that qualify for HUD/VASH and all the veterans are provided a safe haven with meals, showers, counseling services, and access to mental health and medical providers.

I was immediately assigned a case worker to assist in obtaining permanent housing, whether with HUD/VASH or any number of veteran-supportive housing programs and employment opportunities structured around a vet’s needs. As a 62+ veteran with physical and mental health disabilities, they made sure that I would be aware of need-specific options available through agencies on the federal, state, and city levels. Thorough!

The NYC-Phoenix Difference for this Vet

veteran housingMy start at the 30th St. men’s shelter in two weeks has positioned me to be approved for a HUD/VASH voucher for which the Phoenix VA and CRRC refused to allow me to apply! This provided me an immediate confirmation that these people were on my side.

In that same, short time I was also accepted to participate in an SSVF program providing business opportunities and housing to veterans. I’m surrounded by an amazing staff of case workers and counselors, and a security staff and feel accepted, respected and safe. 

It is no wonder why the per-capita suicide rate of New York is less than half that of Arizona. It is proof-positive that the Veteran-based support policies and programs for at-risk and vulnerable veterans being done in NYC reduces stress and contributes to saving lives. I expect to count mine among them. Tim Pena, Veterans Justice Project.

Radio “M” Out of Neutral Switzerland — Not Your Grandfather’s Radio Station

Radio “M” Out of Neutral Switzerland — Not Your Grandfather’s Radio Station

Cary Harrison, the highly regarded social commentator for public radio station KPFK-fm in Los Angeles, returned this summer to his boarding school roots — Institut Montana Zugerberg — to introduce a fresh crop of students into the mystery and magic of … radio? Well, somewhat.

This is not a terrestrial radio station built along analog transmissions with giant towers, licensing, and massive staffing. Rather, it is a streaming station called “Radio M” after its Institut home in the Swiss mountains and is staffed by students ranging in age from 10–16 hailing from a literal United Nations of 34 countries. As its creator and instructor and at the invitation of the Institut’s accomplished leadership, Cary had to carefully craft and adapt his years of real-world thinking to their generational interests.

This effort has now materialized into a combo video/radio station and the first of its kind as being international. The voices heard range from students from the US to Russia and from Ukraine to Saudi Arabia — an astounding blend of the of youth communicating intelligently about matters that affect them.

Harrison explains, “It uniquely benefits from being politically agnostic and without patriotic bent. I like to think of it as ‘Hotel Earth,’ where everyone gets a room.”

Or, as the student’s motto makes clear: “Not your grandparent’s radio.”

The mechanics and the passion

This is a two-week course in leadership and Media which will result in an ongoing working station to showcase independent young student voices without undue censorship or corporate bias in the safety of a neutral country. The course contains basic journalism, media training, technical aspects, audio and video production, social media, and accountability.

“It’s a groundbreaking undertaking and this forward-thinking school will be the first to broadcast the offerings of the finest young minds assembled in one place,” Harrison says. “Is it about saving the world? That is their goal,” Cary affirms. “A fresh perspective untainted by cynicism or political bent as these exceptional students rethink all the obstacles we currently face.”

A final pilot will be broadcast on Los Angeles Public radio (KPFK 90.7FM) and a dozen sister affiliates around the nation, plus several affiliated stations in Europe.

Let's Rethink This is licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) 4.0 License


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