Sunday, February 28, 2010

Women veterans face extra hardship

This story was published last Sunday by CBS News:

"War does something to you where it just twists everything," Peacock said. "I don't look the same, I don't act the same, I don't have the same mannerisms."

For Women Veterans, Battles Go On At Home
Female vets face lower pay, higher incidence of homelessness and fewer services than their male counterparts

by Russ Mitchell
(CBS) More than 212,000 female service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan - 11 percent of the total force. One hundred twenty have been killed in action and more than 600 wounded, but the losses don't end there. CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports on the battles these female warriors face after they return home.

Angela Peacock is just 30 years old, a veteran of the Iraq war who was discharged from the Army for health reasons and became homeless.

"Why does it have to be so hard," she sobs, "to just have a home and to just have a normal life?"

Peacock says she was living "from couch to couch" and "cleaning people's houses so I could stay with them."

"It's disgusting," said Paul Rieckhoff, head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association. "It's a national disgrace that these heroic people are coming home and ending up homeless."

Rieckhoff's organization issued a report that says homelessness among young returning female fighters is on the rise.

The report, "Women Warriors," says female veterans earn on average $10,000 a year less in civilian jobs than male vets, making it harder to afford a home. And less than 5 percent of the homeless shelters run by the Veterans Affairs Department offer women separate housing from men.

"There are a variety of reasons why someone can end up homeless. A core factor many of them face is untreated mental health injuries like post traumatic stress disorder," Rieckhoff said.

Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD was the reason Peacock was sent home from Iraq .She had spent her time in Baghdad driving in unarmored trucks and fearing roadside bombs.

"You don't ever know is today going to be the day," Peacock said. "A lot of us wrote letters home like, 'If I die give this to my mom.'"

Her downward spiral accelerated when she returned from Iraq. She became addicted to prescription drugs. Her husband left her, making her homeless. She found it hard to readjust to life back in St Louis.

"War does something to you where it just twists everything," Peacock said. "I don't look the same, I don't act the same, I don't have the same mannerisms."

"Almost half the women who we see today that are homeless are under 35," said Peter Dougherty, director of the homeless program at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA says on any given night there are an estimated 6,500 homeless female vets. That's double the number a decade ago.

Angela Peacock now rents a house and has new support: GI Joe - a companion dog provided by the VA to help her cope with the PTSD when she's in public places.

"I have my days that are hard to get out of bed, and if fireworks or something goes off I'm just like done for the day," Peacock said. "But it's much better than it was. Much better."

For its part, the VA recently announced a five-year plan to wipe out homelessness among all veterans - male and female.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What's up at Bowie HS?

Well, today, we had a different sort of experience at one of Austin's high schools. Hart, Bobby and I set up our table at Bowie HS as we had scheduled to do through the school's on-site coordinator. We've tabled there in the same spot just outside the school cafeteria, either once a year or once a semester for the past 6 or 7 years. And, as often happens at Bowie, our table drew the attention of JROTC students who stayed and talked with us for a while. I really like this because it gives a chance for them to talk with military veterans who may have a different viewpoint of war than their JROTC instructors. Bobby and Hart have both been in Iraq, with the US Marines and Army, respectively. The JROTC students today had good questions and comments for Hart and Bobby, who responded with good questions and comments, too.

But, just as the first lunch period was ending, Bowie's principal came over to our table and told us we had to leave. Why? He said a parent had contacted him with concerns about our "anti-war and anti-military" views. The principal took some of our literature to look at, which we encouraged him to do. It's essentially the same literature we've been distributing (trying to keep it updated so the info is accurate, of course) for most of our years of tabling, and we'd vetted it with Bowie's previous principal a number of years ago. I suggested we meet with him after packing up our things, but he said he was too busy. I tried to make an appointment with him when we were back in the administrative office, but the woman I spoke with said she'd have to get back with me.

It was such a surprise and disappointment to be told to leave like we were. We were not violating any school policy, and we'd gone through the proper channels as always.

Over the years, we've been welcomed by school staff in the AISD district. Even those who disagree with our views tend to honor our right to present the information we do so that students have a wider choice of options to consider for themselves when it comes to issues as serious as war, peace and military service. Also, school staffpersons realize, I think, that we are volunteers who adjust our work schedules to be able to visit schools during the day. Bobby drove from San Antonio this morning just to do this.

We are clearly anti-war -- and pro-peace. Our "peace wheel of fortune" is a peace education tool, showing some of the nonviolent methods that people have used over time to achieve liberty and justice. We are critical of the military as a system because we have seen firsthand how it harms people -- both the soldier and the civilian. We are pro-human, and every person in the military is human. The veterans in our group are able to talk to students about the military with direct experience. Some of us have different views about whether or not any country needs a military force. We want high school students to think more deeply about these things for themselves. Let's not be afraid of discussion. These are crucial issues for their age group.

Monday, February 22, 2010

By youth, for youth: Student Peace Alliance holds national conference in Georgetown, Texas this weekend

This coming weekend, just up the road in Georgetown, TX, the Student Peace Alliance will be holding its second annual national convention at Southwestern University. The conference is expected to draw up to 500 young people from across the country. A friend sent a message today saying that free registrations are available if you go to the registration site at this link and enter "scholarship2010."
According to the website, the conference will include speakers and workshops on the following:

*People on the Ground Building Peace in Israel, Palestine, and Afghanistan
*Learn how to stop tomorrow’s war today
*Learn about how nonviolence drops murder rates in Providence, RI and Chicago; how restorative justice works in Baltimore and Fort Worth, and about prisoner rehab. in Texas
*Meet 500 young people from across the US
*Train in Nonviolent Communication, Organizing 101, Fundraising

Friday, February 19, 2010

Austin Bat Cave gives words wings

Here's an exciting local writing program you may want to check into. The Austin Bat Cave is seeking submissions for an anthology of writings by high schoolers. Here's the article in this week's Austin Chronicle that describes the opportunity:

A Generation Gets to Talking
Literacy program the Austin Bat Cave anthologizes the words of local high schoolers

by Kimberley Jones

In a Clarksville house with clapboard siding and gently sloping hardwood floors, a few of the Austin Bat Cave's key players gather to talk. Twice a week, the house teems with young people, ages 6 to 18, who come for the free afterschool tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And year-round, kids congregate at the center for creative writing workshops – on topics as diverse as hip-hop poetry, songwriting, and newspaper reporting – taught by local creatives like Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff and Texas Monthly Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein. But on a gray day in mid-February, staff and volunteers are confabbing not about how to bring kids in to the Bat Cave, but about how to get the word out to them.

Call Roger Reeves a chief emissary. A poet and fellow at the University of Texas' Michener Center for Writers, Reeves is spearheading an effort at ABC to create a citywide anthology featuring writing from Austin's high schoolers. This winter, he's canvassed local schools, soliciting poems and short stories and conducting workshops. (Students can also submit online at As Reeves explains it, "We're going to put all these kids from all over the city together to think about, what are you guys saying individually and what are you saying collectively."

The theme of the debut anthology, to be published in May, is Reflections of a Generation. Reeves was inspired by a CNN article online that quizzed 10-year-olds on their impressions of the new millennium.

"I thought, that's what we need to have: What does this generation think of the first part of the millennium. What does that mean? They don't know that most of their lives there was no such thing as the possibility a black president. Like, the possibility of a black president is very much a last four or five years thing."

Austin Bat Cave Executive Director Courtney Robinson jumps in. "And hip-hop has always been around for them. Hip-hop to them is like any other genre – jazz or country or R&B. It's not new. So how do they feel about music?

"And we've been at war for a long, long time," she continues. "These kids – some of them were 7 and 8 when we went to war. Now they're in high school."

"And potentially could go to war themselves," Reeves points out.

Final selection of submissions to the anthology will come down to the discretion of Reeves and Houston-based writer Nick Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir). Austin Bat Cave co-founder S. Kirk Walsh explains Flynn's involvement.

"He taught in the New York City public schools for seven years and is just really behind this kind of work. He came here for a reading last year, and I kind of roped him in," she laughs. "He's very generous."

Flynn isn't alone in his enthusiasm for the program. Robinson praises the "humongous volunteer base," while Reeves points to the "really great energy" surrounding ABC, which was founded in 2005 and is an affiliate of 826, the now national literacy program that was started by Dave Eggers and others at a storefront on 826 Valencia in San Francisco.

This past year has seen the hiring of Robinson as ABC's new executive director, as well as more focused fundraising efforts for the nonprofit via the monthly Story Department events. Inspired by the Moth series in New York, the Story Department presents themed nights of live storytelling at various drinking holes around town ("those are for the grownups," Robinson says). The organization is also fast growing out of its current digs in West 11th. All told, it feels a little like the Bat Cave is at a moment on the brink.

"A year ago this time, we only had one foundation behind us, and now we have six," says Walsh. "They're not huge amounts, but we have some traction.

"We haven't quite hit the tipping point yet. But the citywide anthology is helping us to say [to the community], 'We're serious.' ... There's a lot of enthusiasm behind the Bat Cave, but the challenge is in galvanizing that enthusiasm. This kind of project is doing that – it's creating a container for that enthusiasm."


The Austin Bat Cave is now accepting submissions for the citywide anthology. For more information, including upcoming workshops and volunteer opportunities, visit


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Our visit to the Phoenix Academy

Yesterday, Feb. 2, we did a presentation at the Phoenix Academy in South Austin, where we'd been invited by school staff. I introduced Bobby and Sara, who spoke respectively about military realities not usually mentioned by recruiters, and Americorps as a nonmilitary option.

The Phoenix Academy is a residential school within AISD that assists students who have had issues with substance abuse. We were told that some students come to the school voluntarily and some are referred. We were given a tour of the academy by two students and learned that residents' schedules are regulated carefully. They attend classes from 8 - 2 and follow AISD curriculum. They start their days very early (5 am for the girls!), participate in a variety of group therapy meetings, and have work assignments on the campus.

For Bobby and Sara's talk, the students gathered in their study hall room, boys on one side and girls on the other. They listened and asked very good questions. Bobby mentioned that often soldiers wind up trading meds, sometimes selling them to one another on a kind of black market, which leads to some taking dangerous amounts or combinations of meds just to ease pain. Self-medication with everything from alcohol to prohibited drugs is common in the military -- a real risk for young people who already have had trouble with substance abuse.

One student asked Bobby, who was injured in Iraq as a Marine, if he had gotten anything good from his military experience. Bobby thought a minute and said that he'd learned through it that war is not an acceptable way to resolve conflict. He also said he learned that people around the world want the same things: they want to be loved, to have jobs, to take care of their families, to hang out with their friends. He said that anything good he learned from the military was not taught to him on purpose.

One student asked Bobby about his tattoos. Bobby explained that he'd gotten the HUMAN tattoo on his right forearm because that's what the military tried to take away from him, and now he was reclaiming it.

Sara engaged the students in her talk about her two experiences in Americorps programs: a summer program in Arkansas on a Heifer Project demonstration farm, and her current position working at the local immigrant shelter, Casa Marianella. Sara speaks Spanish and is able to use that skill, as well as to earn a living stipend (about $400 every two weeks) and an educational award of about $4,700 for a year of service (about $1,700 for the summer).

None of the students had heard of Americorps, so it was a good eye-opener for them. Sara's enthusiasm for the program was evident, and students had quite a few questions about it. In addition to the educational award, Sara stressed that employers and college admissions folks tend to look positively on Americorps experience, so it's good for the resume as well as being good for the community.

Thanks to Bobby and Sara, and to the friendly staff and students at the Phoenix Academy for inviting us!

photo of Bobby at the MLK Day March, January 18, 2010
photo courtesy of Alice Embree's flickr site

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New! Texas Green Jobs Guidebook

An article in Monday's (Feb. 1, 2010) Austin American-Statesman announced a new guide just produced by the Environmental Defense Fund that lists green jobs and job training possibilities across Texas. The Texas Green Jobs Guidebook is available as a pdf online at Printed copies are available free for guidance counselors.

According to the Statesman article, "The guidebook identifies a variety of jobs related to energy efficiency that people with a high school diploma or an equivalency certificate can pursue. The jobs, such as blowing insulation or installing solar panels, pay $20 to $30 an hour."