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Ohio Veterans Newsletter, Fall 2020

Ohio Veterans Update

Fall 2020 Edition

20 Veteran Standouts for 2020

Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies

Since its inception in 1992, the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame has come to be known as the ultimate honor for Ohioans who have made major contributions to society following their military service. The list of the hundreds who have been inducted into the Hall over the past 28 years reads like a Who’s Who of famous sons and daughters of the Buckeye State: John Glenn, Woody Hayes, Paul Newman, Sharon Lane, Neil Armstrong, Bob Evans, Dr. Henry Heimlich, Bob Feller, etc.

The somewhat intricate plan to honor these amazing men and women of service safely and individually was carried out over a three-week period (Sept. 18-Oct. 9) across Ohio and also remotely with the help of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services on Oct. 22. Soon after all of those recognitions were conducted and recorded, ODVS put together a comprehensive hourlong Induction Ceremony video that debuted on OhioVets.gov and YouTube.com on Nov. 5, which was the original date for the traditional Induction Ceremony that could not occur because of the state’s mass gathering ordinance.

Because of the safety protocols in place, Governor Mike DeWine did not attend the private ceremonies, but a recording of him delivering words of gratitude to the class members was displayed at all 20 events. ODVS Director Deborah Ashenhurst served as emcee of every ceremony held in Ohio while a member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame Executive Committee also attended to represent that group and to read the honoree’s official bio. The video touches on those key moments and also features remarks by the Hall of Famers.

In addition, ODVS conducted a sit-down interview with all 19 living members of the class – one was inducted posthumously – and also produced a separate video to shine a spotlight on the accomplishments of the honorees. Just before Thanksgiving, the department sent out a press release of a featurette schedule so followers could look forward to the unveil of those pieces. The featurettes continue to debut every Tuesday and Thursday through the end of January.

William Graybill interviewThe 20 members of the 2020 class add to that illustrious list and bring an impressive array of talents and accomplishments to the fore. However, with the current pandemic raging and threatening to halt all attempts to celebrate them, our department was supremely challenged to give them their proper due amid tough restrictions.

While we weren’t able to welcome the 2020 class with the normal pomp and circumstance of an Induction Ceremony attended by hundreds, the intimate recognitions proved to be both memorable and moving.

To learn more about the 2020 class and the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, be sure to go to the HOF news page at OhioVets.gov. If you wish to nominate a worthy veteran for the Hall of Fame, please go to our HOF nomination page.

Virtual Recognitions Highlight a Special Veterans Day

ODVS Director Ashenhurst

The Ohio veteran community usually goes above and beyond to honor those who served, especially when it comes to Veterans Day. This year, the many veteran organizations were nimble in their approach, heeding the caution of avoiding mass gatherings, and finding ways to either conduct programs virtually or with 10 or fewer people properly spaced to meet social distancing requirements.

Director Ashenhurst offered remarks for several such ceremonies and events leading up to Veterans Day, including a Veterans Advocate Forum and Hiring Fair sponsored by Cardinal Health and held on Oct. 27. The Director and Ohio Veterans Home Superintendent Terry Prince also displayed words of gratitude to the residents of the Homes in Georgetown and Sandusky in a special video that was aired at both locales on Veterans Day. Chaplain William C. Graybill, a 2020 class member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, delivered a closing prayer.

A Hand for our Veterans Sign

Veterans Day also included several special messages that were made available to all Ohioans via social media on Nov. 11. Lt. Governor Jon Husted extended warm wishes and thanks to all Ohio veterans and military families in a video address on Facebook. Director Ashenhurst did the same in a video produced by ODVS. Click on the Director’s Veterans Day message to see that address.

ODVS thanks all military members past and present – and their loved ones – for their service, and we trust everyone had a memorable and meaningful Veterans Day.

Hiring Veterans Remains Top Priority in Ohio

ODVS Workforce Visits an EmployerEven during a pandemic and at a time when the job market has been negatively affected, Ohioans remain committed to tapping into the unique talents of veterans and finding a rightful place for them in the workforce.

Gov. DeWine’s Hire a Veteran Month speech reminded that Ohio remains steadfast in its efforts to bring aboard vets and allow them to prosper in a wide variety of occupations. National veteran unemployment stood at 6.8 percent as recently as September 2020 compared to a non-veteran unemployment figure of 7.8 percent. However, veteran unemployment has trended downward in recent months and was at 5.9 percent at last check.

One of ODVS’s most important endeavors is to educate businesses across the state on military culture, the value of hiring veterans, and ways to identify them, incentivize, and retain them through the guidance of the ODVS Workforce Team. This highly important aspect of our department was created four years ago. Since then, they have contacted more than 15,000 employers and conducted more than 250 separate training sessions with more than 2,000 employers in attendance.

Hire a Veteran MonthA recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study found that 68 percent of employers report that veterans perform “better than” or “much better than” their civilian peers.

Another key aspect the Workforce Team tackles is veteran underemployment – the issue of not putting former service members in the best jobs that match their skillset and leadership abilities. Currently, national veteran underemployment is estimated at higher than 30 percent. Many employers may not realize that approximately 65 percent of veterans already have some college education, or higher, making them more educated than their civilian peers.

In the coming weeks, the Workforce Team will conduct several free webinars that touch on these topics and several others:

  • Military Culture - January 15, 2021 from 10:00am - 11:00am
  • Managing Veterans - January 29, 2021 from 10:00am - 11:00am
  • Veteran Hiring Overview - February 19, 2021 from 10:00am - 11:00am

Ohio now has more than 6,000 companies and businesses that are registered as military friendly, and the number continues to swell. Click here to find a complete listing of veteran friendly businesses at OhioMeansVeteranJobs.

Addressing Veteran Mental Health Through Time of Crisis

Ohio is rife with veterans – more than 750,000 of them – and their experiences both in the military and in their time after can vary greatly. However, it’s also important to realize veterans live in our communities and with their families just like the rest of the population, and they are affected by many of the same challenges: social dislocation, economic uncertainty, inability to access services – stressors related to jobs, money, healthcare, legal issues, etc.

In this especially trying time, ODVS is deeply attuned to the mental health needs of veterans and military families as members of our department work with other state agencies such as the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to find the best paths to health and services.

ODVS Policy Administrator Danny Eakins stands at the forefront of collaborative efforts of state government to address these problems, including a SAMHSA program known as the Governor’s and Mayor’s Challenges to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. He also is involved with Recovery Ohio, a program you can learn about at RecoveryOhio.gov.

Ohio veterans in particular have unique opportunities for support if they are in economic distress. In fact, the VA continues to offer healthcare, pension, and service-connected disability compensation. They are also eligible to apply for emergency financial assistance through their local County Veterans Services Offices. Veterans and military families facing evictions or even homelessness may turn to programs such as HUD-VASH supported housing, Support Services for Veterans Families, and Healthcare for Homeless Veterans.

The mental health page at OhioVets.gov includes even more programs and resources that can be helpful. For example, Ohio is listed in the Star Behavioral Health Registry, which connects veterans to community behavioral health providers around the state who have received training on veteran and military culture.

Mental Health webpage

Other listings you can find at OhioVets.gov include …

  • Programs that address PTS
  • Vet Centers across the state that help veterans and family members make successful post-mobilization adjustments in or near their community
  • All 88 County Veterans Service Offices
  • Veterans Workforce Services and links to Ohio Means Jobs Centers
  • Legal help for veterans
  • Homelessness relief
  • Connections to VA benefits and healthcare
  • the Ohio Home Energy Assistance Program
  • the Ohio Cares program for Ohio National Guard personnel members
  • Military One Source and Relink.org health and wellness resources

Two more state-run programs also could be of use and are sometimes overlooked: the Ohio Veterans Bonus and the Military Injury Relief Fund.

Our state also is blessed with lots of outstanding veteran organizations, nonprofits and other outlets that are available to veterans and can provide information, a means to help others, and even social opportunities. And we have a robust federal healthcare system with five VA hospitals and dozens of Community Based Outreach Clinics in Ohio.

And, of course, there is the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.

Finally, the VA recently put out updated information regarding veteran mental health and suicide prevention, so veterans realize there are avenues to recovery.

ODVS Personnel Changes

In late October, the department filled a very important need as it was announced Melissa Wilfong had been hired as the new Nursing Home Administrator at the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky. A Licensed Nursing Home Administrator with 18 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Wilfong takes over after Michael Freeman left the post to pursue another opportunity and while the Homes continues to deal with the major challenges of the pandemic.

Melissa Wilfong

“Melissa prides herself in being a hands-on leader never asking her staff to perform tasks that she is not willing to do herself,” said Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Miller. “We look forward to her leadership in this role.”

The Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky is one of the longest-running and largest nursing care facilities in the country with 427 beds. It offers two levels of care: standard care for those in need of any intermediate level of care, and special care for those with Memory Care needs. The Home opened in 1888 to care for veterans of the Civil War and has been in continuous operation since.

As a key member of OVH-Sandusky senior staff, Wilfong works directly with Domiciliary Administrator Andrea Klausing and reports to Superintendent Prince. For more about the Home, go to the OVH-Sandusky section of OhioVets.gov.

In another employee development of note, Dan Semsel has left the ODVS Workforce Team but doing so in order to join the team at the Montgomery County Veterans Service Office, allowing him to continue to serve veterans in the Greater Miami Valley.

A retired Air Force colonel, Semsel was a Regional Workforce Consultant for four full years beginning in October 2016 and helped build one of the most successful facets of the department. At the Montgomery County VSO, he will work for Executive Director Kimberly Frisco, a recent inductee into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

Dan Semsel

We wish Dan all the best in his new endeavor!


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