Winter 2021 Edition
Ensuring Safety for Those Inside our Ohio Veterans Homes
Winter doldrums? Not at the Ohio Veterans Homes.
The onset of the coldest season actually brought the warmth of new hope to those inside the Homes as residents and staff members were included in Governor Mike DeWine’s first phase of implementing the COVID-19 vaccine to Ohioans. On Dec. 18, just one week before Christmas, the Governor visited but stayed outside the doors at OVH-Sandusky and Lt. Governor Jon Husted did the same at OVH-Georgetown as those inside received Pfizer/BioNTech inoculations.
“This is a very happy day, and it’s certainly good to see our veterans vaccinated today,” the Governor said with visible breath in the December chill, First Lady Fran DeWine by his side. He watched and interacted with a handful of residents and employees of the Home receiving their shots while using an iPad near the Secrest entrance.
At OVH-Georgetown, Lt. Governor Husted also observed from just outside the main entrance and celebrated the moment.
“This is the foundation for the rest of the campaign to get Ohioans vaccinated – and the sooner we get everyone vaccinated, the sooner we can begin to resume the lives that we cherish,” Husted said.
CVS Health team members administered the shots to all who chose to receive it at OVH-Sandusky on Dec. 18, 21, and 22. More opportunities arose just after the New Year. Two of the first former service members to receive the vaccine were former Marine Michael Jackson and 97-year-old William Highland. Mr. Highland, who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, received his shot with Governor DeWine observing and congratulating him.
Among the first staff members vaccinated was Air Force vet Rich Weidman, an LPN at OVH-Sandusky. ODVS Director Deborah Ashenhurst strongly encouraged all inside the Homes to participate and even voiced her enthusiasm for the program in an internal video. As of the end of January and following three separate vaccination clinics, 93 percent of eligible residents (429 of 459) had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
By mid-February, there were no cases of COVID-19 within the Homes and community spread was showing steady decline. That opened the door for administrators to finally begin their long-planned “Responsible Restart” program to begin re-admitting new residents to both Homes. ODVS halted admissions back in late March 2020 for safety reasons and since large sectors of the Homes and dozens of beds were set aside for Enhanced Care Units that provided isolated care from those beset with the virus.
On Feb. 25, Governor DeWine announced that OVH-Sandusky was welcoming its first new resident in 11 months – a Korean War veteran who served in the U.S. Army in the 1950s. OVH-Georgetown also plans to welcome in a Vietnam veteran on March 2.
Both Homes will continue to admit residents from waiting lists in a responsible way with strict adherence to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, Ohio Department of Health, and our local health departments. This will be a deliberate process involving several safety checks including immediate isolated care for 14 days.
Visit the official page for Ohio's statewide vaccination program to learn more.
ODVS Administrator Shares His Very Personal Mental Health Story
Ohio is proven as one of the best states in the Union when it comes to providing opportunities, healthcare, quality of life and the ability to prosper following military service. Still, some meet with steep challenges with regard to community integration and adjusting to a sometimes difficult new environment, especially in the midst of a health crisis that has crippled the economy and in addition has greatly limited human interaction.
ODVS Policy Administrator Danny Eakins knows this well. He not only is a key figure in state government with regard to addressing current mental health initiatives for veterans, he also is a former service member who experienced pronounced highs and lows during and after his 10-year stint in the military. A post-9/11 officer in the Army who attained the rank of Major, Eakins opened up about his post-service experiences recently in a courageous and affecting interview with reporter Hattie Hawks of NBC4 in Columbus. Also participating in the virtual conversation was Jason Hughes of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, which has struck up a partnership with the local television affiliate to make viewers aware of the avenues of help that are available.
The longest tenured member of the ODVS staff at its Central Office, Eakins has drawn on his unique background and passion to help Ohio veterans while standing at the forefront of the department’s efforts to address mental health. One such advancement has been strengthening alliances with several key partners to build “veteran-informed” systems of care across the state to better support veteran and military families.
In January 2020, Governor DeWine accepted an invitation from VA and another federal organization – SAMHSA – to join the national Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. This collaborative effort provides Ohio’s state, federal, and community partners the opportunity to access specialized training, technical assistance, and share best practices in pursuit of our ultimate goal of empowering Ohioans to be agents for hope, help, and healing for loved ones. In fact, the Governor designated ODVS as the lead agency on this initiative, and we built a multi-organizational team representing a swath of community organizations.
ODVS also continues to address many important aspects of suicide prevention such as routine buddy checks, sharing key resources and examining proper storage of firearms. And the department has been a key participant in Governor DeWine’s RecoveryOhio initiative to address the challenges of behavioral health, drug addiction and suicide in the State of Ohio.
CVSOs Remain a Top Option for Ohio Veterans
As we navigate through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio continues to offer a surprising number of services to support veterans and their families. And these services are offered through what remains an oft-overlooked channel: our County Veterans Service Offices (CVSOs).
Local CVSOs – there’s one in each of the state’s 88 counties – are the best resource for veterans to take advantage of in order to apply for the benefits they’ve earned through their service in the United States Armed Forces. Each CVSO employs friendly, knowledgeable staff members who will assist with securing these benefits – anything from injury compensation to military records to home and small business loans, to name a few.
CVSOs also provide help in times of financial emergencies. Specifically, they offer assistance with rent, mortgage, food, utilities, and auto or insurance payments. (Levels of assistance vary by county.) In some counties, transportation to VA medical centers is also available.
Spotlighting Outstanding Veterans
Even during the challenging times surrounding COVID-19, ODVS’s mission to educate and honor Ohio’s veterans continues, and thanks to social media, more veterans than ever are getting and sharing that message. Our Facebook shares are up 785% compared to two years ago! If you follow our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube pages you will see more content than ever showcasing Ohioan's role in the history of our military.
One such example that went viral was our post about Super Bowl flyover flight leader Captain Sarah Kociuba. Captain Kociuba grew up near Cleveland, was an ROTC cadet? at the University of Dayton, and was the first female to fly the lead stealth bomber over February’s Super Bowl in Tampa. Read more about her Ohio roots on our Facebook page.
Over the past few months, the ODVS comms team was proud to unveil 20 separate videos featuring personal anecdotes, quotes and photos of the members of the 2020 Hall of Fame class. You can watch those 20 videos as well as the entire induction ceremony on our YouTube page.
Each day in February, for the second straight year, we featured a story about African American contributions to the military. This year we debuted a new video about “7 Sites to Explore Ohio’s African American Military History.” (let's link this, too) In March, we will do the same for Women’s History Month including a new video about “7 Ohio Military Women You Should Know.” And in April, ODVS plans to unveil a new daily social media series: “Medal of Honor Month,” where we will tell the stories of 30 Ohioans who received the Medal of Honor following conflicts ranging from the Civil War to Operation Enduring Freedom.
ODVS Continues Work with Legislature to Advocate for Vets
Along with being in lock-step with the administration and collaborating with other state agencies, ODVS also works closely with members of the legislature to ensure that state government is doing all it can to best serve #OhioVets and military families. This is an important time of year for the legislative branch, and one that will prove key for the well-being and legacy of the veteran community.
The 134th General Assembly of the Ohio Legislature convened at the start of the year and will spend the next months debating, deliberating and finalizing the biannual state budget. The process actually is a six-month ordeal that begins with Governor DeWine introducing his introductory budget with the executive's plan for state spending for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
After the Governor introduces the budget, the bill heads to the House of Representatives, where it currently is being analyzed, debated and amended. After a few months, the bill will be passed to the Senate, where the same deliberations will be taken by Ohio's 33 state senators. A few months after that, the two chambers will meet to iron out their differences before a nearly final version is sent to Governor for his approval.
Of course, the Ohio Department of Veteran Services and the budget for the Ohio Veterans Homes is included in the state budget bill. On Feb. 17, Director Ashenhurst testified before an Ohio House of Representatives subcommittee regarding the ODVS budget request. The Director made the case for why it is so critical to fund the department's budget request to continue the great work being done by ODVS staff at the Ohio Veterans Homes in Sandusky and Georgetown.