On Tuesday Oct. 1o, roughly 11:57 a.m., the invitation to speak at the DAV fall conference was extended by DAV Wisconsin Office Manager Diedre Flynn and by Thursday Oct. 12, DAV State Adjutant Matt Kempainen, past state commander, through email, notified me the state commander shot down the invitation.
“Commander Hilliard appreciates your energy and look forward to seeing you at Fall Conference,” Kempainen said in an email responding to the speech presented. “Unfortunately [sic], Commander Hilliard has already a full list of speakers and training for Fall Conference. But he would love for you to meet with Sr Vice Commander Greg Palo about your membership ideas. Sr Vice Palo is our membership chair and is in charge of the membership program.”
Fortunately, the views represented by Outpost 422 do not reflect DAV’s mission but honors DAV for providing the groundwork to lay down the foundation for success in college and winning an appeal with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
The prepared speech
Good morning fellow DAV compatriots and our supporters-
My name is Bradley Jason Burt. I served with the 10th Mountain Division as an artilleryman between 1994-1997. One of my favorite memories of service was being direct support to a West Point professor named Maj. Malcom Wright, as his command driver, who was our battalion executive officer with the 3rd Battalion 6th Field Artillery. Our time spent together built who I am today.
My transition into civilian life presented several readjustment and reintegration barriers though. What I would dream about on guard duty turned into a nightmare real quick without the benefit of having DAV representation.
That was, until I met my advocate, National Service Officer Joseph Fuenger, who stuck up for my denial of my claims for Post Traumatic Stress-Disorder starting in 2015. We learned my county veteran service office made clerical mistakes, which complicated my claim. Fuenger rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Upon our first meeting, we talked about my battle with dealing with untreated PTSD that lasted from 1994-2017.
I recognized something was wrong when I returned home from my first deployment to Port au Prince, Haiti, during Operation Restore and Uphold Democracy. By 2008, the VA had me on their opioid pain management program that lapsed in 2010, when my blood pressure elevated to 220/190 and the VA pharmacist cut me off cold turkey without treatment.
I later learned, after my near-death experience, sobriety was the only way to survive with PTSD. By 2016, I had enough. The battle with PTSD led to utilizing the company’s Employee Assistance Program as an alternative to being rejected by the VA for receiving post-deployment treatment that lasted for over 20 years. The crucible of untreated PTSD is hell. That was until DAV opened the door to membership and received my service connection. Fuenger assured me everything would be OK.
Today, I want to share with you how having my appeal decision overturned, thanks to DAV, led to becoming a passionate advocate as a published writer researching the benefits of funding the UW MIA Recovery and Identification Project. The project was my central focus for public affairs news reporting and eventually developed into a capstone and independent study that helps veterans stuck in classroom social isolation find opportunities to connect and stay in the academic fight.
Between 2017 to the present, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs provided the tools for support during my times of social isolation referred to as VITAL, which is an acronym that stands for the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership Program. I meet with a social worker on campus at Madison College to help discern the tricks and traps of rhetoric and communication with professors who did not serve in the military, which was the central focus of my Madison College honors literature review, analyzing the variables presenting barriers and facilitators for service members and veterans with their post-secondary success. Currently, I am prepping for my graduate school application for Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and want to share with you the gifts that college has provided along with the support of Fuenger and DAV.
I do not know how the hell I am going to pay for graduate school. Tuition costs $2,471.27 for one three-credit course. I am a disabled veteran fighting the war of sustainability with the VA’s Individual Unemployability identifier being rated 80 percent receiving 100 percent total and permanent disability.
DAV helps me and speak with Fuenger monthly, sometimes weekly who helps iron out the grey areas. My rent alone is $1,295 per month and Individual Unemployability, without a 100 percent scheduler, only allows the veteran making less than $4,000 per month an amount of less than $15,000 per year due to the VA’s restricted income guidelines. Tell that to my landlord who raised my rent $75 per month this lease. Or better yet, my insurance company who raised my rates $50 per month or Sun Prairie Utilities who just announced their rates are increasing.
You see, this is our fight. We cannot fight unless we educate ourselves and learn alternative ways to stay sustainable. As a lifetime member of DAV, I cannot imagine what life would look like without Fuenger by my side.
I want to close with this: Writing and researching, getting active reporting about the Senate Bills that have been brought forward and watching our current State Adjutant Matt Kempainen work for the UW MIA Recovery and Identification Project has been the beacon that takes me out of the element of the scraping by as a disabled veteran.
When Senate Bill 446 was introduced, the State of Wisconsin called upon DAV National Interim Legislative Committee Representative Al Labelle to discuss supporting the repatriation of the POW MIA through the UW MIA repatriation project. Labelle said, “It’s our duty to bring these families closure.”
For that reason, the obvious choice to continue covering the topic led to launching a registered trademark after being enrolled in a program that supports bringing veterans into entrepreneurship at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs at Fox Valley Technical College. The opportunity allowed a disabled veteran to attend three college institutions simultaneously and provide hope, which happened Spring of 2021 attending Madison College, UW Whitewater and Fox Valley Tech at the same time.
Disabled veterans are strong-willed, strong-minded and determined individuals. As a team, through DAV, we drive the wheels of advocacy. As supporters of the UW MIA Recovery and Identification Project, we support one of our own, who pursues his passion as a volunteer.
Our competitive advantage is the reality we use National Service Officers who fight with every ounce of courage to stand up to VA raters that deny our claims. Without Fuenger, I would be another Veterans Crisis Line statistic.
Our efforts supporting the UW MIA repatriation project bring hope to the Volk family who believe in the project’s return of their loved one, 1st Lt. Jerome A. Volk, who is Volk Airfield’s namesake. As veterans, we are all united through the POW MIA, but as members, we are all united under DAV as a collective bargain and family. Keep advocating for each other and continue using Kempainen’s volunteering as an icebreaker for recruitment.
As for the college classroom, we must publish the POW MIA issue to keep hope alive in the hearts of our POW MIA families and stress the point with college professors the POW MIA issue will never go away. We are on the frontline, and we are the advocates. May we never turn away a comrade and fight on the frontline of advocacy for those who may not know they have a service-connected injury by pointing them to the right people like Fuenger did for me in 2017.
My response to Kempainen
Thank you. The invite was extended by the woman I spoke to. I wasn’t seeking a speaking position and asked her to run it by you first. I look forward to collaborating with the senior vice commander about recruitment heading to UW Milwaukee.
Your awarded claim for PTSD is only a phone call away. DAV National, aside from DAV Wisconsin provides opportunities for disabled veterans to succeed and thrive while waiting for the VA to make a rating decision.
“Reporting about the issues the veterans organizations won’t”