Leveraging the Power of Community to Help Our Veterans
By COL (RET) DJ Reyes
*This is an article from the Winter 2022/2023 issue of Combat Stress
As the Senior Veteran Mentor Coordinator, 13th Judicial Circuit (Tampa, Florida) Veterans Treatment Court (VTC), I lead a team of fellow Veteran volunteer mentors who assist assigned Veteran defendants while they engage in their respective medical treatments and therapies while enrolled in the VTC. In doing so, it is common to learn of the many challenges that these Veterans face, which, if not resolved, can impede or even negate effective recovery, wellness, resiliency, and ultimate reintegration back with their loved ones and their local communities. But perhaps what is the most critical challenge noted – and in fact is a national problem – is obtaining low cost, attainable Veteran housing.
Enter CDS Life Transitions, Inc.
A Rochester NY based corporation that specializes in low cost, attainable housing with associated ‘wrap around services’ (community and federal supported medical and other support services that address veterans’ health, employment, educational and other challenges), CDS Life Transitions focuses on two categories of those most in need of their services: the developmentally disabled, and Veterans with medical conditions or disabilities. Already engaged with the Tampa based “Baytown Apartments” Housing Initiative, and in partnership with the local McDonalds Training Center to assist the qualified developmentally disabled residents, CDS is now looking to expand its support to the Veteran community in Florida.
Last year I was contacted by CDS Life Transitions and, after understanding their strategic Vision and Mission supporting Veterans, agreed to join their team in developing this initiative in the State of Florida. As the most Veteran-populated County in Florida (which is the 3rd most Veteran-populated state in our Nation), it made sense to initially develop the Florida market in the greater Tampa Bay Region. Over the past year, I have been fully engaged in community outreach and education for this initiative, as well as briefing various local city, county and state officials to garner the necessary legislative and budgetary support.
Recently, I traveled to Rochester, NY and served as the keynote speaker at the CDS Wolf Foundation and Warrior Salute Services Program Gala event to raise donor funding for this important program. Prior to the event, I had the opportunity to tour the CDS Housing’s “NuCor House” – transitional housing for Veterans receiving wrap around services to return them to a higher level of wellness. The NuCor House is one of two initiatives I am working on with CDS leadership to bring to Tampa Bay. Of the 4 Veterans I had the chance to speak with was Mr Kelly. A Marine (MOS 0311 infantryman), I was particularly encouraged – because he is currently enrolled in the Buffalo VTC program and is currently set to graduate after 3 years in the program! We spoke at great length, which certainly generated a great deal of pride in him, as well as all the Veterans in the NuCor House who are utilizing these wrap around services being offered. This program works and helps to save lives – one Veteran at a time!
The Gala event that occurred later that evening was a huge success. I met with so many wonderful community and state leaders, advocates, and donors from this great City of Rochester. Congratulations to President/CEO Andrew Sewnauth and his incredibly dedicated CDS teammates for this gala event and their daily efforts in helping their local Veterans!
As I later reflected on the wonderful CDS Wolf Foundation and Warrior Salute Gala and Fundraiser experience, I wanted to share two specific and quantifiable impacts that these programs have had, not only on the CDS residents (which includes the employed developmentally disabled, and Veterans with various medical disabilities), but on the “ultimate customers” – our deployed military Service Members noted below.
CDS Unistel, in partnership with the Department of Defense’s L3 Harris (an American technology company, defense contractor, and information technology services provider that produces communications and electronic systems and products, wireless equipment, tactical radios, avionics, night vision equipment, and both terrestrial and spaceborne antennas for use in the government, defense, and commercial sectors), provides unique employment opportunities to assemble a very simple, but critical, piece of supporting tactical satellite communications, or SATCOM, equipment and ground radio equipment – the rubberized terminal cap cover. Given the harsh climatic conditions in which our deployed Service Members operate, this simple piece helps protect the terminal ends required for successful communications between ground – ground and ground – air units. The other incredible employment opportunity directly supports our Nation’s deployed troops’ quality of life – with the blending, processing, packaging, and global distribution of “Salute Seasoning” – an impressive array of herbs and spices that can be found (and consumed) in military dining facilities (DFACs) throughout Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. The impact of tasty spices while deployed, often thousands of miles from home, offers a brief respite, and perhaps a distractor – one meal at a time – from the daily 24/7 operations and stress commonly experienced. “From little acorns grow Mighty Oak Trees” was my impression of the global impacts that these two programs have on our military Service Members.
COL (RET) DJ Reyes (left) with CDS Life
Transitions Inc President/CEO Andrew
Sewnauth, in front of CDS HQ, Webster NY
CDS Life Transitions, CDS Wolf Foundation and the supported Warrior Salute Program are wonderful examples of Sankar Sewnauth’s (previous President/CEO) and Andrew Sewnauth’s vision and mission to help our Veterans with an “all in” community network and support approach. It is my hope that we can successfully expand these programs’ footprint in the Sunshine State, and ultimately, throughout our great Nation. By doing so, we live up to the solemn promise “leave no Veteran behind” on the battlefield or right here at home.
(For more information on these programs that directly help our Veterans in need see the CDS website at cdslifetransitions.com)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DJ Reyes is a retired U.S. Army Colonel with over 33 years of faithful service to our great Nation. Earning his bachelors, masters, and juris doctor degrees from the University of Notre Dame, the U.S. Naval War College, and Temple University School of Law, DJ also commanded or served in primary staff positions in special forces / operations, military intelligence, infantry, airborne, air assault, Joint/ Interagency, and Multi-National organizations. His combat and contingency deployments included tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti. In addition to providing independent consulting for organizations supporting Veterans, military families with special needs, and victims of human trafficking, DJ previously served as a Department of Defense contractor assisting local Florida Veterans and their spouses with employment opportunities. DJ currently sits on the following advisory boards: National Veterans Court Alliance, Washington DC; U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL 12th) U.S. Service Academy Nomination Committee; U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL 14th) Veterans Advisory Committee; Florida Department of the VA Executive Director Danny Burgess’ “Forward March” Veteran Program Legal Sub-Committee; and Legislative Chair, Florida Veterans Council, Orlando. Finally, DJ devotes significant time and energy in his community service role as senior military advisor and mentor to the 13th Judicial Circuit’s Veterans Treatment Court, or VTC. The VTC identifies those Veterans in trouble with the law resulting from some disorder or disability incurred during military service, obtains the necessary medical treatment and therapies for them, assists in the rehabilitation process, and promotes their successful reintegration back into the Veterans’ local communities. Within Tampa Bay, DJ was recognized in 2014 with the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s “Heroes at Work” Award for his continuing public service as a Veteran–owned business consultant supporting both military and special needs communities. In 2016, DJ was awarded with the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s highest award – the Liberty Bell Award – for his exemplary efforts in promoting, and advocating for, the legal judicial system and process as it supports the local Veterans and special needs communities. The Hillsborough County’s Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council also announced DJ as the 2016 recipient of the Raymond E. Fernandez Award. This award is presented each year to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the criminal justice system. In January 2020, (NHL) Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik’s Foundation announced DJ as this year’s recipient of the Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero Award. Finally, the Notre Dame Club of Greater Tampa Bay recently announced DJ’s nomination for the 2020 Father Corby Award for Distinguished Military Service. He is also one of many Veterans impacted by the effects of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Combat Stress Magazine
Combat Stress magazine is written with our military Service Members, Veterans, first responders, and their families in mind. We want all of our members and guests to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each of them. Stress is unavoidable and comes in many shapes and sizes. It can even be considered a part of who we are. Being in a state of peaceful happiness may seem like a lofty goal but harnessing your stress in a positive way makes it obtainable. Serving in the military or being a police officer, firefighter or paramedic brings unique challenges and some extraordinarily bad days. The American Institute of Stress is dedicated to helping you, our Heroes and their families, cope with and heal your mind and body from the stress associated with your careers and sacrifices.
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