The American Veteran – Episode #1103

[THEME MUSIC] HENRY HUNTLEY: Welcome to the American Veteran — a news magazine produced by the Department of Veteran Affairs. I’m Henry Huntley, an Army Veteran. MELISSA HEINTZ: And I’m Melissa Heintz, of the
Air National Guard. We’re at the Defense Media Activity studios in Fort Meade, to bring you the
latest news from VA, as well as inspiring stories of your fellow Veterans. All of
these stories and more can be found online at VA’s blog, VAntage Point. Check
us out at HUNTLEY: Last year while on a comedy tour,
comedian and Navy Veteran, Rodney Perry, suffered a severe stroke. Rodney received
life-saving care at the Denver VA Medical Center, and spent the next 40
days in their inpatient rehabilitation clinic. Here’s more on Rodney’s road to
recovery. [CROWD LAUGHTER]
RODNEY PERRY: Almost a year ago, today, I was here in Denver. September 30th, last year… I had a stroke. So the fact that I’m standing before you today ain’t nothing but God’s work, for real.
[APPLAUSE] PERRY: Now that I look back on it I was kind of not feeling well leading up
to Denver. And I was talking to one of my buddies on the phone, and he was telling
about a friend of ours that had a stroke. And as he was telling me her story, I was like, yo, I feel like that now. And so he
was like, dude, you need to go get your blood pressure checked, like right now. I
was 221 over 140, and I felt like I was in trouble. You know, I was like yo, I’m
not I’m not good. But here’s where the story gets really stupid… So, I still go
to the club and do two shows that night. [NATURAL SOUND] “Mr. Perry, please sir…
go to sleep!” RION EVANS: He was having a hard time holding
the microphone and that’s when I really got alarmed. And he was also alarmed
too; he knew he wasn’t functioning properly. PERRY: I did two shows and my
brother who lives in Denver, and he was featured act for me that night, he took me
to the VA. They brought me in and I thought they would lower my pressure and I would
go home to be honest. I basically had the stroke at the hospital. EVANS: He, he stayed
and didn’t walk again until he was able to be trained to – that was a… …it’s a
culmination of life. I say that because there is nothing I can question anymore. I saw him. PERRY: There are moments where I thought, I’ll never stand again. When
you can’t use your left hand, you don’t you don’t even think about the fact that
you can’t take care of yourself. EVANS: He’s an animated performer, Rodney
would dive across the stage and everything, in a full suit, and then I’ve watched him do
that, so to watch him walk in, and not be able
to walk. And moreover than that, not know you don’t know how to walk yet. HANK DENSON: And the
next thing I heard was like, ‘yeah he’s in hospital; he’s at the VA’ and I was like ‘good!’ And in my mind I was like, ‘I really hope that they keep him, and they get him
right’ because I know, he’ll be like, ‘I gotta go. I got these shows to do.’ [NATURAL SOUND] “Give yourself a hug.” “Cross your chest.” DR. COONS: When he came in he definitely had deficits in multiple areas as far as
after his stroke. So not only did it affect his physical, it also affect a
little bit of his ability to process information that he was receiving. So
their questions were, ‘is he gonna get back to work?’ And I’ll be honest, our
initial presentation, I was not sure that he was going to get back to work. [NATURAL SOUND] I’m in rehab. it’s
speech therapy, it’s physical therapy and it’s occupational therapy. PERRY: You’re in a hospital, you have a wheelchair,
you can’t walk, and you’re a stand-up comedian. You’re a stand-up comedian. You
need to stand — that’s kind of part of the job. [NATURAL SOUND] Keep using that left hand
as much as you can, okay? – This is the secret. -That’s the secret. You got it. -It actually works, you just gotta tell it
to do something. PERRY: And one thing that I communicated
them is, ‘I need to be able to stand, on stage.’ She’s like ‘well, why don’t we make
that a part of your therapy?’ [NATURAL SOUND] Take your time, think out
what you’re doing. -Yep, take your time. ERICA DiSCIPIO: His biggest goal of course was being able to get back on stage and, be
able to do it halfway decently. When we first started with him, it was
just working on standing, and then stepping in the parallel bars. We watched YouTube
videos of his prior performances to see how he used to do his performances on
the stage. That way we knew functionally what we had to get him ready for. [NATURAL SOUND] OK let’s do two more laps
before you take a rest. PHILIP HAMRICK: A lot of what he does is quick
,rapid action — on his feet. And being able to analyze an audience and determine whether he’s going down
the right road or not or if it needs to switch gears. [NATURAL SOUND] ‘Do you know how?’
– down-to-earth – ‘down-to-earth’ PERRY: There’s so many human beings that are
a part of this process. The lady that was so patient, and she said ‘just grab the
salt shaker and put it on top.’ And it was so hard… It was so hard… I didn’t think, I didn’t think I was gonna
be able to do it again. You know, it was
moments when I was like yo, I wanted to give up, but I couldn’t. LAURA CROW: With Rodney it was
pretty unique because stand-up comedy, there are no tools that we could give
him to work, other than standing in front of us and telling his jokes, and
performing, so, that was what we did. [NATURAL SOUND] I can’t wait to get on stage. I
got some stuff, some Hospital jokes. Got some new stroke material. I’m gonna
be the stroke comic. this was the big EVANS: This was the big test for me. Everyone’s like ‘oh, he’s
walking around’ and, you know, he’s able to communicate and everything. I know him, so,
this is a big test. To watch him get excited about it, you know… he put his hat
on and everything, and those are things that let me know, Rodney’s back. [NATURAL SOUND] ‘How
do you not tell a guy like Rodney Perry, ‘you are not gonna make a show on the 18th?’ PERRY: I
was not sure if I could conquer that… and so, to have that show, in the conference
room, kind of gave me a light. EVANS: once he got those laughs, ‘I’m back. And I’m
never gonna let anything take that away from me again’. That’s what I felt from
Rodney that day. PERRY: I was reasonably funny… On a scale of one to 10, I might have
been a, you know, a stroke 10, but a regular maybe, four or five. [NATURAL SOUND] Let me tell you something,
you do not respect medical people until you’re in the hospital. PERRY: To stand on stage and tell people about
my stroke, and about what I went through, is maybe the realest piece of comedy
that I’ve done in over a decade. [NATURAL SOUND] Until you’re in the hospital,
thirsty as hell, and need some ice chips… [NATURAL SOUND] ‘Yo, it’s your boy, Rodney
Perry. About to head home. Had a stroke one month ago PERRY: The people that were at the VA that, not only helped
me, but helped me in such a way where they allowed me to keep my dignity — that’s the
most powerful part for me. HUNTLEY: For information on VA health care
or to hear more stories from Veterans like Rodney, visit our blog
VAntage Point, at BLOGS . VA . GOV HEINTZ: Secretary David Shulkin is leading
VA through a transformation to better serve our nation’s Veterans. I had the chance
to sit down with him to learn more about his plans to modernize VA. HEINTZ: Secretary
Shulkin, we first spoke eight months ago when you were just days into your term
as Secretary of VA, but give us an update. What are some of the things you have
been focusing on during your time as Secretary? SECRETARY SHULKIN: Well, there’s been a lot
of activity, and we’re working on many things, but it’s all about modernizing the VA. Making the VA a place that Veterans are proud to get their care and services in. So we’ve been focusing on five priorities: improving the timeliness of
our services to make sure that Veterans aren’t waiting longer than they need to
for their care and for their benefits. We’ve been focusing on improving our
facilities and equipment, so we’ve announced a new electronic medical
record we’re going to be going to — that’s the same one that the Department of
Defense uses. We have announced that we’re going to be getting rid of vacant
and underutilized buildings and investing more into our facilities. We
also have announced that we’re going to be focusing, as a priority, on
foundational services — those things most important to Veterans. Where the VA needs
to be there for our Veterans. Things like polytrauma, traumatic brain injury,
PTSD, prosthetics, orthotics, rehabilitation services, mental health
services, and we’ve also been prioritizing — giving Veterans greater
choice. We’re going to be working to improve our Choice Program, so Veterans
are in control of their care. And finally, our fifth, and final clinical priority is
to reduce suicide among Veterans., HEINTZ: Speaking about Choice, there are
approximately 20 million Veterans living in the United States, and only about nine
million of them are choosing to come to VA. Why do you think Veterans should
choose to come to VA? And are there specific things that you’re looking at
to help Veterans make that choice? SECRETARY SHULKIN: As the representative of
the Department of Veteran Affairs we represent all 20 million Veterans, and we recognize and
honor their service, and want to make sure that they’re recognized for the
contributions that they’ve given to the country. The nine million Veterans that
you referenced are those that use the VA health care system,
and as you may or may not know, not everybody is eligible. But we certainly
want everyone who is eligible for healthcare benefits to know about the VA,
and to choose the VA as a place to get their care, because we believe that we
provide a really extraordinary service. HEINTZ: Are there any specific things that
you’re looking forward to in the future to help Veterans make that choice coming
to VA? SECRETARY SHULKIN: Well, we want to be more
veteran centric. We want to, essentially, improve
the quality of our service, and let Veterans know that we’re there to be
their advocates. All too often VA has been seen in the past as adversarial, and
while the vast majority of our employees go to work every day to honor our
Veterans. And they’re there because they believe, and they’re committed to that. We
have, at times, lost track of, that the Veterans are our customers, and so that’s
where we really want to focus. We do want Veterans to choose VA as a place that
provides them services and benefits. HEINTZ: Since becoming Secretary, you’ve been
meeting with Veterans all around the country and working on modernizing VA,
but yet you still find time to see patients — and that’s both in person and
through telehealth. Why is this important? SECRETARY SHULKIN: It helps keep me closer
to the reality of what I’m trying to do as an executive, or as a leader. And so, when I
take that time, and I put on my white coat, and I’m no longer the Secretary, but
I’m just the doctor taking care of a Veteran, it helps me understand how our
computer systems work, how easy it is to be able to access referrals, or to order
drugs, and I hear directly from Veterans about the challenges that they have, and
the struggles that they have, and it reminds me of why I’m doing what I’m
doing. And so, it’s also one way for me to be able to continue to give back to
Veterans, which I think is so important for all of us
to do. HEINTZ: What can Veterans
look forward to coming from the VA? SECRETARY SHULKIN: Well, I think that they’re
seeing a VA that’s looking forward, that is pushing to change. That we know that this has to be
a transformed, modernized system, if it’s going to continue to serve Veterans — not
only now, but for generations to come. And having a strong VA is essential to
national security. That when you make a decision
to send young men and women off in harm’s way, that that’s a commitment — not
only during the time that they’re in that conflict, but it’s a commitment for
life, when they come back home to be able to honor that commitment. And so, for us
to keep the VA to be the type of organization, that we need we need to be
able to fix and to transform this organization, and deal with some of the
problems that have been there for decades, that have spanned multiple
administration’s, it’s now time to get serious about fixing those problems. HEINTZ: Veterans Day is a time to reflect
upon and honor the service and sacrifices
that our men and women have made for our country. And it’s VA’s mission to do
this every day, but I hear you guys are doing something a little different this
year… could you tell us what kind of message would you like to send to our
Veterans? SECRETARY SHULKIN: November 11th is a very important day, not only for us at VA, but
for all Veterans and their families across the country. Because, it is that
one particular day that we make sure that we do sit down, and reflect upon
what so many have contributed, and so many who may not be with us today have
contributed. But there’s so much going on in the Department of Veteran Affairs
that we wanted to expand it to be Veterans Month. And each day of the month,
we are planning on doing something special, and making announcements or
inviting people into their local VAs, and open houses, so they can come and
revisit and get to talk to people about what’s happening in their communities
and in their VAs. We’re gonna be having other announcements like a National
Veterans ID card — something that Veterans have been asking about for many, many
years and now it’s going to become a reality. And we’re gonna roll that out. And there’s going to be other special announcements during the month, coming
from both the White House and us here at the Department of Veteran Affairs. HEINTZ: Do you
have a message that you want to give to Veterans on Veterans Day? SECRETARY SHULKIN: Well, that we’re
extremely proud, and we recognize that, without their commitments, that we
wouldn’t be here enjoying the freedoms that we all have as a country, and how
grateful and privileged we are here at the Department of Veteran Affairs to be
able to give back, just a little bit, to those Veterans, by our services, that we
provide. HEINTZ: As always, it’s great to have you here on our show. Thanks for coming by. SECRETARY SHULKIN:
Thank you. And I appreciate the time you’ve spent so that we could get some
of this information out to our Veterans. HEINTZ: For more of our interview with Secretary
Shulkin, or to learn more about VA’s modernization, visit VAntage Point, at
BLOGS . VA . GOV When we come back… THOMAS H. BEGAY: I was on battlefield six
times… HEINTZ:
Marine Corps Veteran Thomas Begay recalls his time in the top secret
Navajo Code Talker program. [THEME MUSIC] LOUIS: The VA does a very good job on the
medical side. I don’t know of anybody that has any complaints. My primary care
doctor’s probably the best doctor I’ve ever had in my life. VA EMPLOYEE: Louis is my friend. Good patient of mine. He only comes once a week but I do, I enjoy him. LOUIS: She comes in
special — early in the morning. Just for me. That’s exactly why I choose
VA. [THEME MUSIC] HEINTZ: Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial
training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, to support
transitioning servicemembers and Veterans. Here’s a look at one of their success stories. CHANDLER LYLES: my name’s Chandler Lyles and
I’m one of the owners of Lyle’s BBQ company located in Lexington, Kentucky. Lyles BBQ is different than every other barbecue joint out there because not
only do we have excellent service in a friendly environment but we really focus
on the food here. So that’s everything from making the meats in an authentic
slow-smoked, southern way, to all of our sides are
made from scratch daily. GREG LYLES: Chandler kind of caught the bug from me and his mom doing
barbecue on the weekends, and he learned a lot by our trial and error. CHANDLER LYLES: And then
when I separated and my dad and mom retired from the Air Force, we all moved
back to Lexington, and we had always wanted to be business owners — we were
looking for our own thing, so we decided to open up a little roadside barbecue
stand. GREG LYLES: Transitioning out of the Air Force Boots to Business gave us the
foundational knowledge that we needed to understand how to manage budgets and
cash flow and marketing inventory management — all those things, you know,
allowed us to not make as many mistakes as we probably would have without the
course. The great thing about the SBA is that they’re a strategic partner in
helping small businesses grow their business. CHANDLER LYLES: In business you’ve got to
get into the trenches and really do the day-to-day stuff to see if you can make
it, but you have a lot better chance of survival if you have a really strong
foundation — and that’s what a program like Boots to Business with the SBA
did for us. GREG LYLES: Some of the best advice I could share with individuals getting
ready to separate from service, and they’re thinking about starting a
business: start trying to prove your concept now. See if someone will actually
buy your product, or service. CHANDLER LYLES: Start as small and as narrow
as you can in the beginning. It’s going to do two things for you: one, it’s going to prove to
yourself if you even want to do that business with this little risk as
possible. And the second thing is the market is going to tell you if your
products worth it or not. We started in a tent three years ago. In just this short amount of time we’ve built business from nothing to over a
million dollars in sales. With almost no debt on it at all. GREG LYLES: If
you’re thinking about starting a family owned and operated business then the key
is defining everyone’s roles, and understanding that, you know, there’s
somebody in charge or somebody that’s gonna be the ultimate decision-maker. JENNIFER LYLES: I am the ultimate decider. [LAUGHING] Not hardly. Unfortunately, not ever. I have
to definitely listen to Chandler, which is kind of an odd… dynamic, but, at
the same time, you know, that’s kind of our personalities. And the beautiful
thing about our family is that everybody really brought something different to
the table. CHANDLER LYLES: My mom is the heart of the
business. She does all the operations stuff, day-to-day. All of our managers report to her, and
she’s really cultivating that environment of when you eating here
you’re eating at her house. My dad is a jack-of-all-trades guy without him our
company wouldn’t be to this point because he saved us a ton of money doing
maintenance. He has helped us do deliveries and without that support, and
being able to bounce ideas off of him, from my position of, ‘hey what do you
think about doing this? what do you thing about doing that?’ that’s
invaluable — having that sort of experience come to the table. And then my
role is the storyteller of the brand my job is to give you a reason, as a
first-time customer, to connect with us, and then get into the door. We’ve done
almost zero advertising outside of social media. We’ve got a full-time video
guy that has a ton of work for us; we take a ton of photos on our phones,
making our product look good; we show our staff. You know, we’re all about every day
telling little stories, so that it adds up, over the course of time, to a big
story that your customers connect with. I wouldn’t trade the hours spent cooking
barbecue with my family on the weekends, back in high school, for anything. And
then, to be able to take that feeling, and bring it to a larger audience, every day,
at our actual restaurants, is really what’s made us successful. Running a
business is like being on a roller coaster. You know it’s gonna be
fun, and you know it’s gonna be awesome, 0:19:28.610,0:19:31.730
and then once you’re on it, it’s up and down, and it’s scary, and then it’s the best, and then it’s the worst, and it’s
really all over the place, but by the time 60 years from now, the ride ends, I’m
going to look back and go ‘I’m really glad I got on.’ BARBARA CARSON: SBA provides all kinds of
services to Veterans, military family members and
members of the Guard and Reserve who want to start and grow a business. Those
include the training program: Boots to Business, but it also includes other
training programs specifically for service disabled Veterans, women Veterans
and military spouses. And, business acumen doesn’t come with just training —
you also need some opportunities. Opportunities that can be introduced
through federal contracting, where the government is going to spend 3% of an
entire spend with service disabled Veterans. We can get you ready for those
opportunities as well. And finally money. Everyone wants to know about what money
is available for business. SBA.GOV will tell you more about it, and Veterans and
service members and military spouses are eligible for fee relief on the loans
that SBA guarantees. HEINTZ: To learn more about Boots to Business
and other SBA resources for Veterans, visit SBA . GOV / VETS HUNTLEY: Recently, we had a chance to sit
down with Navajo Code Talker, Thomas Begay, at
his childhood home in New Mexico. The Battle of Iwo Jima Veteran spoke of his
experiences joining the classified code talker program. and the consequences of
war. THOMAS H. BEGAY: 1943, I was unemployed, I
couldn’t get a job… I told my mom, ‘I’m old enough. I’m 17.’ She used her thumbprint, authorized me to
join the Marines. When I got there, I thought I was going to gunnery school. But I walk in and see a whole bunch of Navajo. I didn’t know none of them. I
reported to Sergeant Benally… ‘Sir,’ I said. ‘I think I’m in the wrong place. I signed up to be aerial gunner school. I didn’t sign up…’ He said, “code talker school. It’s a secret project.” He said. Couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘I didn’t sign up to be code talker,
sir. ‘I want to be aerial gunner — that’s what
I want to be…’ “That’s too bad,” he said. “You’re refusing an order to be a code talker. “If you run off: desertion, during the war. They’re gonna shoot you.” Oh my gosh. What did I get into?I thought I was joining
the Marines, you know? “I tell you what.” he says. “Tomorrow, I’m gonna give you a 20-word code…” It was so easy — the language that I
knew, very well. So this is how it was. So I became a
code talker. I was on battle field, six times. World War Two, Battle of Iwo Jima,
o-nine-hundred, February 19th, 1945. Combat; front-line; forward observer; radio
operator. So, I spent 38 days, with radio section H&S
company, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division. Then I came back, in 1946. Discharged, and came back here. [SOUND OF WIND] I’m back from war. so that’s how it was… HUNTLEY: Begay is one of 13 living Navajo
code talkers. He
celebrated his 93rd birthday this year and continues to serve his community. For
more on Begay, and Veterans like him, visit BLOGS . VA .GOV. When we come back,
Veterans test their mettle against one another, and themselves. [THEME MUSIC] [NATURAL SOUND] NARRATOR ONE: We grew up together. We believed in
something bigger than ourselves. The military took me to one side of the
world, and her to the other. And even though she was always the strong one,
when we caught up years later, I found out she had fallen on some hard times. It was her call to make, but doing it together
made all the difference. NARRATOR TWO: When I see homeless Vets on
my route, I always think to myself, we both swore an oath to
protect our way of life, to protect our community… with VA hotlines for homeless
Vets, I can get them connected with help. Help to get them back on their feet
again. VA’s round-the-clock hotline can put Veterans who are homeless, in touch
with the resources and support they earned through their military service. You have the power to help a Veteran facing homelessness. go to VA. GOV / HOMELESS to print your wild cards. For Veterans who are homeless, or on the
brink of homelessness, Call 877- 424-3838 [THEME MUSIC] HEINTZ: Welcome back to The American Veteran. Every summer, nearly 600 Veterans from across
the country, gather to compete in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. co-presented by VA and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Let’s have a look. VETERAN COMPETITOR: This is a life…
without limits… This is: the National Veterans Wheelchair
Games. [MUSIC] ANNOUNCER: It is time to take it to the next
level. It’s not about just competing here… you have got to go back to your own
hamlets now, and get engaged… You are now the inspirations. [MUSIC] ANNOUNCER: In the name of all competitors, I promise that we will participate in
these games respecting and adhering to the rules of the games…. …in the true spirit of sportsmanship and
friendship… …among our fellow service Veterans… …for the glory of the spirit
and the honor of self, team, and country… [MUSIC] ANNOUNCER: Go forth and inspire. [MUSIC] HEINTZ: The 38th annual National Veterans
Wheelchair Games will take place in Orlando in 2018. Registration opens
January 1st. For more information on VA’s adaptive sports program, visit VA.GOV/ADAPTIVESPORTS. HEINTZ: That’s it for this edition of The
American Veteran. We are honored to bring these stories to you. HUNTLEY: You can see everything we’ve shared
with you today, as well as detailed information about Veteran resources
online — please follow our social media channels and subscribe to our podcast, available
in your app store. HEINTZ: Thank you for watching our program. See you next time. [THEME MUSIC] visit BLOGS . VA . GOV

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