Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Local Iraq War vets to launch program for veterans on WIMS

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Jason Lewis considers himself a pretty savvy veteran. He’s plugged into the system, knows how to tap the benefits, is familiar with the red tape.

But it wasn’t until Lewis ran into a couple of fellow vets on the campus at Purdue North Central—Chesterton residents Mark Strudas and Vince Emanuele—that he learned of a fuel-voucher program to reimburse veterans the cost of traveling to the VA. “Those vouchers can be significant,” Lewis said. “A lot people just can’t afford the gas to drive to the VA. And if I didn’t know about the voucher program, then there’s got to be a lot of other veterans who aren’t aware of it either.”

Actually, Lewis notes, that’s the way it tends to work for vets, as they begin the long hard slog of transitioning into civilian life. “It’s really up to the veterans themselves to hunt down the information they need.”

So Lewis—an ad man for WIMS Radio in Michigan City, AM 1420, “The Talk of the South Shore”—gets this idea: a weekly program by and for vets, “to uncover truths and provide information about veteran-related issues.” He pitches the show to management, they’re all for it, then he recruits Strudas and Emanuele to co-host with him.

The result: “Veterans Unplugged,” debuting with a special Memorial Day edition from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 28.

Then, beginning on June 7, “Veterans Unplugged” will air from 6 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday. Listen to it stream live at www.wimsradio.com or—if you’re busy Tuesday evenings—download the podcast later.

Lewis, Strudas, and Emanuele have these things in common: all three are veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps, served in Iraq, are students at PNC. All three have the chops for the show (they’re lifetime members of the VFW and actively involved in the PNC Veterans Club, while Strudas and Emanuele belong to Disabled American Veterans and volunteer at the PNC Veterans’ Office). And all three are passionate advocates of veterans’ affairs with frankly political views.

“The show is bound to get somewhat emotionally charged,” Strudas says. “We feel strongly about the various issues and it’s going to get political.”

What are the issues? Ask any veteran who’s been home and adrift long enough to wonder what he or she was serving for in the first place: post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, the suicide epidemic, unemployment, homelessness, education, disability benefits.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, we discuss these things every day now,” Emanuele says. “I just talked to a homeless veteran who wants to kill himself. He doesn’t have the connections to get help. I’ve been home since ‘06. I’ve got those connections.”

At a minimum the three expect “Veterans Unplugged”—with a call-in format—to establish an on-air community for veterans, to become a clearinghouse of resources, to encourage vets who may think they’re alone out there to find their place in the network.

But Lewis, Strudas, and Emanuele are taking a larger and longer view as well: if it affects veterans, it affects their community; if it affects the community, it affects veterans. “Veterans come here to work,” Strudas says. “They go to school here. They spend their benefit money here. They get their rent money into the economy.”

“Veterans Unplugged,” in short, won’t be a “niche show,” Emanuele says. “Yes, we’ll have information for veterans. But we’ll also have a wide range of guests. We’ll talk about local and national issues. We’ll be discussing plays, art, music. We’ll do remote broadcasts or pre-recorded segments from live shows or events. We envision this as a way to connect a lot of local issues, a great platform to tie organizations together.”

“Obviously we want to reach out to the veterans community but also to the community at large,” Lewis says. “The more we can get the community involved, the more cohesive our efforts will be. We intend to go out and get involved.”

One community in particular to which “Veterans Unplugged” will reach out—with 2.5 million veterans nationwide belonging to it and earning living-wage jobs and decent benefits—is organized labor. At one time or another all three worked union jobs: Lewis as a conductor on the South Shore (UTU), Strudas as a steelworker (Local 6787), and Emanuele as an ironworker in Chicago. Programs like Helmets to Hardhats—which transitions veterans into jobs, or careers, in the construction industry—do a great job helping vets get their feet on the ground after coming home, Emanuele says.

The three will host their first show—a Memorial Day commemoration—at a special time and day, 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. “We’ll be telling the listeners who we are, giving our background, establishing our credibility,” Emanuele says. “But we’ll also be talking about the significance of Memorial Day and honoring our fallen brothers and sisters.”

“Veterans Unplugged” will then hit the WIMS line-up—AM 1420—on a regular basis on June 7 and will air from 6 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday.

 

 

Posted 5/26/2011

 

 

 

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