A Brooklyn Navy Veteran: From Hardship to Leadership

June 28th, 2017 by

We are proud of our very own Jeffrey Swansen who heads the operations at the UWVC and is a critical member to the success of the NYC Veterans Day Parade. Several years ago he was the graduate student speaker at Samaritan Daytop Village which offers a rich array of programs including treatment for substance abuse, services for veterans, and programs for homeless individuals, women and children, seniors and families. He was asked to speak at this year’s graduating classes ceremony.  Below Jeff shares his story from his time in the Navy, grappling with substance abuse, his time at Rikers and eventually finding sobriety and stability in his life. We could not be more than proud of him and his journey. Jeff distributed Unique Thrift Store gift cards to the veterans of the graduating class. The UWVC with Jeff co-leading the helm is partnering with Samaritan Daytop Village in a brand new rucking program to help participating veterans reintegrate back into society. Below is Jeff’s story.

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I was born in 1957 and grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, during the Woodstock era, where using marijuana was a regular occurrence all over the country. I started when I was 13 years old and was still smoking till I was 50 years old. Going to school and getting high was the norm for my generation.

My parents got divorced when I was 17 so I started drinking alcohol to cope. I graduated from high school I went into the Navy. I was 18 at the time. We couldn’t drink in boot camp, but I made up for lost time when I got home. My first duty station was in 1977 in the Middle East. There was hardly any marijuana there, but there was plenty of hash. So, I started smoking that with my Navy buddies. We would get high every chance we could, onboard and at sea. When we pulled into port we got drunk and always found something to smoke.

I remained in the Navy for 6 years. When I got out Eastman Kodak hired me to work for them in the Photofinishing market working with film and photograph equipment. My mother also worked for them. I was close with my Mom. We talked all the time about work and things. One day she went to the doctor and had been diagnosed with a heart problem and was referred to the hospital to have a valve replaced on her heart, but that never happened. I was called to the hospital, along with my brother. We were told that she would not make it through the night. After she passed away, my bother and I went out and got drunk. That night is when I was introduced to cocaine.

I had a good job that I lost because of my drug abuse. When I could not find a job in my industry, I changed careers to become a bartender. It was a good job. I made good money and I could drink for free. A friend of mine would come in to the bar where I worked and I would buy my pot and coke from him, so it was very convenient for me. Eventually this friend bought the bar and he was selling drugs out of the bar. When he would go home at night I would sell it for him. This went on for several years. Then one day my life turned for the worse.

As soon as I started work, on August 1, 2007, the bar was raided by the police. They came in with their guns drawn and one put a .45 in my face and told me to come out from behind the bar. I was put in handcuffs and brought down town. I was interrogated for two days. On August 3rd, I was put in front of the judge and was sent to the Island, not Long Island, but Rikers Island. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I was never arrested before, for anything. My first night was a trip. Everybody was yelling from all over the place in the different cells. I could not get any sleep. In the morning, the seagulls were making noise. It sounded like they were laughing at me for being so stupid.

After 4 ½ months there, I was sent to Samaritan Village through a legal referral. That was another eye opener for me. I spent 10 days in assessment. Then I was transferred to The Ed Thompson’s Veteran Center. The staff was friendly and I was treated with respect and dignity. But I still had to spend 18 months there. This was on December 17, 2007.

I started out trying to do things my own way, but that did not work out too well. One staff member said to me, “You are here to get your head and your butt wired together and move on with your life.” That made a lot of sense to me. So that is what I started to do. It was hard in the beginning but one day I woke up and everything started to fall into place based on what they were teaching me to do. I had to do the work. They can only teach you how. I had to do it. Then it started to be a lot easier for me.

While at the Ed Thompson’s Veteran Center I did community service work with the United War Veterans Council. They organize the Veterans Day parade, along with other services they provide for veterans. I have met a great bunch of people there, a mix of both staff and other clients

I had some problems along the way. Everybody does. I was no different. My girlfriend, who I was with for almost 5 years, left me for someone else. Staff warned me about it but I did not listen to them until it was too late. I wanted to leave the program but said to myself, why, it would do me no good. I would just have to go back to jail and then start all over again. No way was I going to do that. I came too far in this process to start over. So, I swallowed my pride and learned to live with it. It was hard, but with the help of staff and my veteran family I made it. We are still friends and would not give that up for anything. I have learned to except it and move on.

Time came for me to go to school. I took a computer course on how to use different systems, because all I really knew is how to turn the unit on. I learned windows and office 2007 and a little QuickBooks 2008. I graduated from school I got a job two weeks later. I got lucky, but I guess it was God’s will to start my new life quick. I have been working full-time for eight months and now I am a responsible, law-abiding tax paying citizen.

I completed ETVC on March 6th, 2009. I am living at my ex-girlfriend’s apartment with her daughter. She is helping me out until I can find a place of my own. I thank her very much for that.

Since I have left I still help with the United War Veterans Council. I make my meetings for N.A. and A.A. every chance I get. I am very thankful to the Samaritan staff and my new family for giving me another chance at life clean and sober. Once I made up my mind to change my life, there was nothing going to stop me. If I can do it so can all who come after me?

 

 

 

 

United War Veterans Council Launches VetTank Incubator To Assist Veteran-Owned Businesses and Support Groups

June 22nd, 2017 by

NEW YORK, NY June 27, 2017 – To help pave the way for a new wave of veteran entrepreneurs, the United War Veterans Council (UWVC) today launched VetTank, a free resource for veterans. This is incubator and co-working space to provide assistance and foster collaboration for new veteran-owned businesses and not-for-profit groups who provide support to veterans and their families.

VetTank, at 171 Madison Avenue at 33rd Street, is in space donated by Newmark Holdings Chairman Jeffrey Gural.

“It is an honor to provide this space so that those who served our nation can continue to serve by creating new enterprises which will employ or otherwise serve their brother and sister veterans,” said Mr. Gural.

“Thanks to Newmark Holdings Chairman Jeffrey Gural, we have created a space – VetTank – an integrated center for innovation and collaboration,” said UWVC President Dan McSweeney. “VetTank is a hub for veterans who are serious about building upon their legacy of service, natural teamwork skills, and proven leadership abilities.”

VetTank provides:

  • Business and non-profit incubation services and mentorship;
  • A resource and referral center staffed by a certified Veteran Service Officer;
  • Networking and co-working space;
  • An ongoing seminar series on diverse topics of interest to veterans, families, and supporters;
  • Regular social gatherings to promote camaraderie and community.

Supporting VetTank are Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, U.S. Army (ret.), Commissioner of the New York City Department of Veterans Services; Adam Swantz, Assistant Director, New York Regional Office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Ken Williams, Director of the New York State Division of Service-Disabled Veteran Business Development.

Capalino & Company, a well-known government relations firm, will help veteran-owned businesses secure New York State and New York City contracts.

Veterans are an important community resource. They serve as role models and connectors in American society. In New York, their value is exponentially greater due to the critical mass of the 230,000 veterans who live throughout the city and their access to world-class public and private entities.

With the proper support and guidance, these talented men and women will emerge as committed thought leaders and problem-solvers across all sectors, both locally and throughout the United States.

Please visit www.uwvc.org for more information or contact us at (212) 693-1476 to arrange a visit.

UNITED WAR VETERANS COUNCIL PARTNERS WITH MUSIC DRAMA MODERN WARRIOR TO DEEPEN UNDERSTANDING OF TRANSITIONING VETERANS

June 19th, 2017 by

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 19, 2017 To help raise awareness of PTS, Post-Traumatic Growth, and to build a civilian culture of understanding, the United War Veterans Council (UWVC), producer of the New York City Veterans Day Parade, has formed a partnership with the creators of music drama Modern Warrior, UWVC President Dan McSweeney announced today.

“We are honored to partner with Modern Warrior to help bring awareness to PTS while at the same time, recognizing the potential for growth in adversity,” said McSweeney. “This project is an ideal vehicle for educating the public about life in the military in an engaging way and shines a light on the hurdles facing veterans upon returning from service and transitioning to civilian life.”

Currently in the production and development phase, Modern Warrior is an autobiographical music drama of a soldier’s life in the military and transition home. Modern Warrior seeks to build bridges between veteran and civilian communities through live performances, collaborative workshops and panel discussions, in order to inform, entertain and inspire, while de-stigmatizing our veterans.

Staff Sergeant Jaymes Poling (co-creator of Modern Warrior) says, “By focusing on the relatable human experiences, we are able to build and strengthen commonalities between the civilian and veteran communities. This gives us a common starting point as we work to combat social implications of the PTS stigma, encourage communication between veterans and their loved ones and explore pathways to Post-Traumatic Growth.”

 Narrated by Poling – who spent 36 months in Afghanistan as an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division – with a musical score composed by trumpeter and co-creator Dominick Farinacci —- who served as the first Global Ambassador to Jazz at Lincoln Center under Wynton Marsalis — ModernWarrior creates an accessible platform for civilians to gain a deeper understanding of veterans, while providing an introspective journey for veterans themselves.

Farinacci says, “Music is an expression of the human condition and has always been that common ground between communities. Bringing together a powerful story through the lens of music, we want to help develop a better informed and empathetic community, nurturing a deeper culture of support.”

Once the full on-stage production is complete, the creators plan to establishModern Warrior residencies nationally at performing arts centers, schools, festivals, military bases (national and international), VFWs, and health centers, etc.; and are partnering with local and national veteran organizations, psychologists and arts and wellness programs to help provide concrete avenues of assistance for those in need.

As part of UWVC’s partnership with Modern Warrior, plans are in development to schedule a performance and a panel discussion to take place in New York City during Veterans Week. For further details visitwww.modernwarriorlive.com or connect on Facebook at http://bit.ly/ModernWarriorLive; and to learn more about the United War Veterans Council, visit www.uwvc.org. A trailer for Modern Warrior can be viewed at http://www.modernwarriorlive.com/modernwarrior-preview.

 

Basecamp: Veterans Day USA

June 7th, 2017 by
Episode Excerpt: “We have seen the growth of the parade reflect the growth of the community and the engagement of the community a show of strength and the dynamic nature of the community… everyone can put up a website, but not everyone can get thousands or tens of thousands to come out in the street in support of them.”   – Ryan Hegg
Air Date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017.

Host: UWVC President Dan McSweeney

Basecamp Guests:

-Stephanie Stone, Chief Deputy Director, County of Los Angeles Military & Veterans Affairs

-Steve Phillabaum, Treasurer, Philadelphia Veterans Parade

-Ryan Hegg, Advocacy, UWVC

-Jeff Swansen, Operations, UWVC

LISTEN: 

 

 

(Download)

Check out an excerpt of the radio show on Facebook Live

Stay tuned for more information on the next show; we invite you to listen in and join the conversation either on Facebook Live or call in at (212) 219-9695.

Mr. Kiss – How Will Your Film Not Sensationalize Veterans?

June 7th, 2017 by

By Javier Castro


Mr. Kiss, a short film by director Afonso Henrique, is a drama about a military veteran with PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress) who’s out for vengeance on a corrupt politician who passed a healthcare bill that destroyed his family. The 30 minute film addresses mental health, substance abuse and homelessness within the veteran community, issues that Afonso says is usually not looked into by the government or society at large. And like most veterans, Afonso, a Navy vet, took it upon himself to ‘get it done’ and bring awareness.

When asked how this film is different than most Hollywood sensationalized vet culture films, Afonso responded “you do it in a way that you go right for the problem, right for the jugular.”

He continued “The US has a problem, we focus on everyone else that we forget about vets. The regimented military lifestyle sets up veterans for failure when they come back to the civilian life.”

His cast, compromised of mostly veterans, also spoke about how veterans issues and how many buddies have been affected by the marginalization and lack of awareness. “Veterans get use to free commodities; housing, food, healthcare, then it’s gone. How is that sustainable?” exclaimed a cast member.

Suicide, prison rates, and lack of healthcare were also themes discussed as the conversation got more specific.

What was certain among all the despair, was that veterans are leading the fight to counterculture the negative stigmas of ‘wounded’ vets. Follow Afonso.J.Henrique on Instagram to get more updates on the film’s progress.

Mr. Kiss – A New Film by a Navy Vet About Love & Vengeance Coming to You Soon

June 4th, 2017 by

Mr. Kiss

By Javier Castro


Mr. Kiss, a short film by director Afonso Henrique, is a drama about a military veteran with PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress) who’s out for vengeance on a corrupt politician who passed a healthcare bill that destroyed his family. The 30 minute film addresses mental health, substance abuse and homelessness within the veteran community, issues that Afonso says is usually not looked into by the government or society at large. And like most veterans, Afonso, a Navy vet, took it upon himself to ‘get it done’ and bring awareness.

When asked how this film is different than most Hollywood sensationalized vet culture films, Afonso responded “you do it in a way that you go right for the problem, right for the jugular.”

He continued “The US has a problem, we focus on everyone else that we forget about vets. The regimented military lifestyle sets up veterans for failure when they come back to the civilian life.”

His cast, compromised of mostly veterans, also spoke about how veterans issues and how many buddies have been affected by the marginalization and lack of awareness. “Veterans get use to free commodities; housing, food, healthcare, then it’s gone. How is that sustainable?” exclaimed a cast member.

Suicide, prison rates, and lack of healthcare were also themes discussed as the conversation got more specific.

What was certain among all the despair, was that veterans are leading the fight to counterculture the negative stigmas of ‘wounded’ vets.