Archive for September, 2013

How Not to Ask for a Recommendation

Posted by Christine A. Shelly career employer recommendationA colleague of mine shared this story, and I thought I would share it with you. It’s about an intern – a capable, smart, likeable intern – who might have received a thoughtful, positive recommendation. But he blew it.

We all know the benefits of having a great network. It’s our relationships with people, our connections, that help us find meaningful work – not job postings. Great references and recommendations are a byproduct of great relationships, and we all need these to help us move forward.

But even the best relationships can be strained – possibly even broken – if you lean on them too hard. To get a good recommendation, you have to ask for it the right way. Sadly, the intern in this story – let’s call him Phil – learned this the hard way.

Phil started his request with, “I hate to ask you this, but…” My colleague, let’s call her Katy, was immediately put off. Why?

Keep reading…



Do you have any recommendation horror stories you can share? Tell us what you can in the comments below.





Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.

Six Rules of Professional Networking

Posted by Kelli McKinney networking for a post military jobMention networking to most people and you’ll be met with reactions that range from an audible groan and an eyeroll to a blank stare. But landing a new job today is tough, and relationships matter. After all, that’s precisely why sites like LinkedIn and their ilk exist.

In a completely-unscientific survey of people I know, four out of six got their current job through a personal referral. The referrals were not necessarily from a “friend,” but from a contact, people they met at a conference, a professional organization, and even a former employer. The other two were contacted by corporate recruiters who had viewed their resumes on a service like Monster or Indeed.

When you’ve been in the military, you have not only the network of people with whom you served, but connections through your spouse, your family, and the instant recognition that comes from having the US Armed Forces on your resume. But that doesn’t mean you won’t need to continue developing and expanding your network once you’ve left the service.

Most people don’t get excited by the prospect of networking. But if you can think of it less in terms of “do they have a job opening for me” and more along the lines of “how can I help someone,” you can find it becomes a satisfying part of your professional life.

There are tons of resources out there offering networking tips and relationship-building guidance. At the risk of bogging readers down with loads of advice, here are six simple rules of professional networking that can help you get off to a great start (or pick up where you may have left off).


Rule #1: Be a giver, not a taker.


People can spot a taker right away. He or she is a familiar face at group gatherings, with a fist full of business cards and a permanently plastered over-wide smile. This person collects (and drops) names like others might collect baseball cards: they’re neat to look at, but he only spends time on them when he  want something out of them.

When you’re building a network, you are really building a group of people you trust – and who trust you. You want to be someone your group can rely on to listen and deliver results. Focus your effort not on trying to sell yourself, but on getting to know what other people seek. When you listen, follow up and add value to their goals, they will remember and respond in kind. You have to cultivate trust – that’s not something you gain with a “what’s in it for me” attitude.


Rule #2: Be thoughtful.


Shakespeare said, “There are no small parts, only small players” about the theater, but the same can be said about building your professional relationships. No one is irrelevant, except for those who would treat people poorly. Be deliberate and thoughtful about the associations you join and events you attend. Consider people you already know as well as people you’d like to know. Both are important. You might think twice before dismissing a small group of local business owners  – it’s the quality of people in your group that matters, not quantity. It’s better to have 5 people you know well and who are willing to help each other than to have 305 contacts who don’t know much about each other or you. First think about what your contacts need and how you might be able to help them achieve their goals. Then think about your own plans.


Rule #3: Use your ears more than your mouth. But use them both wisely.


We’ve all been trapped at parties with someone who insists on telling you their life story, interrupts anything you have to say with a “one-up,” and offers unsolicited advice on problems you didn’t know you had. Don’t be that person. And if you encounter them, don’t put up with them too long, either.

Before you go anywhere there might be an opportunity to network, prepare two or three questions as conversation starters, and prepare graceful exit lines for those situations where it’s clear the other person is a “taker” (see Rule #1).

There’s a reason villains always monologue. Heroes are too busy helping other people to talk. If your conversation partner seems like more of a Joker than a Batman, make a graceful exit. Networking is about building a mutually-beneficial, trusting relationship. You have to demonstrate you’re there for the good of others as well as yourself.


Rule #4: Keep it professional.


It’s true that networking can happen on the sidelines of your child’s soccer game as easily as it can happen at a professional meeting. But if you’re reaching out to people with the sole purpose of giving or getting professional advice or advancement, keep to a professional setting. Don’t hound contacts on the playground or grocery store. Some day a friendship could develop, sure, but until everyone involved is comfortable with that, keep professional boundaries at all times.

Professional boundaries include taking steps to prevent unnecessary gossip and inappropriate assumptions on other peoples’ part. Don’t meet outside the office with people of the opposite gender. It might seem old fashioned and a bit absurd, but people tend toward speculation and gossip, and your professional reputation is too important to risk. Lunch with the boss or co-worker in a well-lit, busy restaurant could be acceptable, but no dinner/drinks/dessert in any quiet, dark place that might suggest you’re trying to hide something.

Having said that: If someone’s behavior makes you uncomfortable – if they’re calling or emailing too much, perhaps acting like they’re a bit too familiar with you, set them straight clearly but gently. And let a friend or family member know what’s going on so they can help if needed.


Rule #5: Spread wealth and expect nothing.


Just because you’ve had a great conversation with someone doesn’t mean they are obligated to do anything for you. In fact, now that you’ve had a great conversation, the ball is in your court to follow up – not theirs. Once you’ve made a connection, it’s time to start learning more about them. Your new contacts’ interests, challenges, and needs all offer you an opportunity to demonstrate your value. Follow up with a brief, specific email or phone call that shares something worthwhile and shows sincere interest. Here’s some ideas for following up after a connection at an association function:

Email: John, I enjoyed our conversation Thursday about your widget project. The attached article on widgets 3.0 caught my attention and I thought I’d share. Would like to hear your thoughts on it when you have a chance. Best regards, Jamie

Phone call: Hi John, this is Jamie – we met at Thursday’s AWA meeting and talked about your widget project. I’d love to send you a copy of an article I just read on widgets 3.0 – would that be okay?

Delivery: Pick up a copy of the publication or copy the relevant article and either drop it off personally or send it in the mail to your new contact with an attached note similar to email above.

The very best thing you can do to grow your network is share information. Whether it’s something you’ve read, a tool you’ve acquired, or music you’ve heard, share something with your connections that’s relevant and useful to them. Your contact may or may not respond to your attempts. They may even say “no, thanks” when you offer something. Don’t take it personally. Simply chalk it up as a learning experience and move on. Either way, you gain information and practice. There’s nothing wrong with that.


Rule #6: Networking is a lot like brushing your teeth: You must do it daily for best results.


Networking is a habit. When you do it a little bit each day, it doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming and the results consistently pile up. Make no mistake, though: Networking is often disguised as work. Volunteer opportunities, group projects, committee activities – all are great opportunities to meet some fascinating people and learn about them. You can also make a habit of introducing two people with the same backgrounds, interests, or goals. What happens next is up to them, but do this a few times and you become the go-to resource for people in your network who seek to meet new talent.

Now what?

Getting started is a lot simpler than you might think. Consider who your network is and think about who you want it to include. Pick up the phone, use email, or go to an event or activity. Be sincere. Listen. Be useful. That’s pretty much it, and it’s not so scary when you think about it that way.

Do you have any networking strategies or stories to share? We’d love to hear them. Dish them out in the comments below.

SHOCKER: Lengthy Deployments Increase Risk of Divorce in Military Families

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk deployments lead to military divorcesApparently, it took a dozen years of war and a study to figure this one out, but yes, lengthy deployments are, in fact, correlated with an increase risk of divorce, according to a new RAND corporation study.

Among couples married before the 9/11 attacks, those that experienced deployment of 12 months to war zones were 28 percent more likely to become divorced within three years of marriage as compared to peers who experienced similar deployment before the wars began.

The study, published in the Journal of Population Economics, found that the divorce risk was lower for couples married after the 9/11 terrorist attacks than for couples married before 9/11. Researchers theorize that couples who married after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were better prepared for the challenges posed by being married in the military than those who married before the conflicts began. This is consistent with the hypothesis that only the couples willing to accept the risks associated with military life went ahead to marry in the post 9/11 era.

According to the RAND corporation study, deployments were particularly hard on the marriages of female service members.

The relationship between the number of months the servicemember spent deployed and the percentage chance of that servicemember going through a subsequent divorce was clear: The longer the period of time spent deployed, the greater the likelihood of divorce.

Couples with children were less likely to divorce than childless couples.

The latest study, conducted by researchers Sebastian Negrusa, Brighita Negrusa and James Hosek, actually contradicts the counterintuitive findings of earlier studies, some of which found that deployment had no significant effect on divorce rates, or even made divorce less likely.

The full study is available for purchase here.


Can I Sue the VA For Malpractice?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk can i sue the vaIf you believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice in a Veterans Affairs hospital or clinic, you may have recourse in the courts. That said, suing the government over anything is a notoriously tricky process.

Dispelling a myth

From time to time, you may hear someone say ‘you can’t sue the government.’ Well, that’s not quite true, except for most members of the armed services, it is true that there is an overarching legal principle called ‘sovereign immunity’ that says that government need not subject itself to the same rules that government need not subject itself to the same rules that apply to the rest of us.

It goes back to English common law, from whence we inherited our own legal traditions and precedents – and perhaps even before that. The theory is that since it was the sovereign that created the courts to begin with, the sovereign, crown, king, lord or czar cannot be held subject to a court order.

For a long time, that was the case in the United States, as well. Sovereign immunity was the law of the land – until someone crashed a B-25 bomber into the Empire State Building in New York City.

And sovereign immunity is still the law of the land – except the United States has waived its immunity in certain limited ways, via a federal law called the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The FTCA provides a legal window for veterans who believe they may be victims of medical malpractice on the part of VA personnel to file suit and recover compensatory damages. The law forbids punitive damages, however, and also does not apply to willful torts committed by government employees. However, you may have recourse under other areas of law to sue these individuals, personally.

The FTCA basically carves out a limited exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. As it applies in the context of claims against the Veterans Administration, the law only allows veterans to sue to recover damages incurred due to negligence of an employee or agent acting “within the scope of their employment.” Furthermore, the law only allows for damages if the plaintiff would ordinarily be entitled to damages even if the negligence or omission was due to the actions of an employee of a private company, under the laws in effect where the incident happened.

This last condition, in turn, means that state laws must be taken into account when formulating a lawsuit against the VA, and not just federal laws.

What you must do

Under the FTCA, you can’t just go directly to the courts to file a lawsuit. You must first go to the VA or other federal agency that harmed you and notify them of your complaint. You must give the agency the opportunity to settle the claim. Only when the agency refuses, takes no action, or comes back with an unacceptable settlement offer can you file a suit for damages. 

What kinds of damages are you entitled to?

Provided you can show you were harmed, and that it was due to the negligence, failure or omission of a federal employee or agent, you are entitled to three different kinds of damages, as a jury may direct:

  • Economic damages. These are awards designed to compensate you for quantifiable losses such as the lost wages, the costs of medical care, and the like.
  • Non-economic damages.  These include damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, and the like. These are all things that are difficult to translate into monetary terms, but juries have to try to find a way through it, nevertheless.
  • Future damages. These are damages you have not yet incurred, at the time of the verdict, but which are reasonably predictable and which you believe will occur, or continue to occur, in the future.

Limitations. If the act that harmed you was committed by a contractor, the Federal Tort Claims Act generally does not kick in, unless the contractor was being closely supervised at the time by the VA itself, in a relationship more common in employer-employee settings. You cannot go after the government for damages, unless the government was in close supervision of the day-to-day activities, say, of a physician in private practice contracted with the VA.

You may be able to sue the contractor, however. In the case of physicians, they will normally have medical malpractice insurance in place that will provide funds for a settlement or to satisfy a judgment, if appropriate.

Active duty members, Guardsmen on military orders, ROTC cadets, members of the Temporary Disability Retired List, and Public Health Service officers cannot sue the VA, however, under the Feres Doctrine. The Feres Doctrine does not normally apply to spouses and dependents, however.

Foreign claims excluded. If the tort occurred outside of the United States, you can’t sue under the FTCA. You may be able to find another area of law to pursue the claim, but the lawsuit will not work if you rely on the FTCA.

Timelines. You can’t dilly-dally on the claim forever: You must notify the agency in a timely manner – in the case of the VA by filing an administrative claim at the regional VA office. You must then give the agency six months to resolve it.

Once that six months has elapsed, or you have sooner gotten a denial from the agency, you then have six months to file a lawsuit under FTCA.

In addition, you must file the lawsuit within two years of the day the claim first accrues. Note that this might be a different date than the date on which the tort occurred; It could be the date you first became aware there was a problem resulting from a medical procedure that occurred – or failed to occur – well prior to that.

To file, you submit a Standard Form 95 to the court. The form requires you to specify the damages you are seeking. Since there is no provision for punitive damages under the FTCA, the amount you specify is the most you are going to receive, unless new facts come to light that were not foreseeable at the time of filing.

This is why it’s important to work with an experienced attorney: A good lawyer will be able to walk you through not just the economic damages, but also help you estimate what you may be able to get in non-economic damages, based on familiarity with other precedents. He or she should also be able to help you determine reasonable estimates for future damages as well, depending on your condition.

For a more thorough discussion of the issues surrounding the Federal Tort Claims Act, specifically as it applies to the VA, see this white paper published by the Tully Rinkey law firm, with offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia.

Poll: Military More Opposed to Syrian Intervention Than General Population

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk poll says military opposed to Syrian interventionMembers of the U.S. Armed Forces are strongly opposed to the prospect of a military intervention in Syria, by 75 percent to 21 percent, according to an unscientific online poll conducted by the editors of Military Times. Four percent of respondents indicated they had no opinion. 77 percent of respondents said Congress should not pass an authorization to use military force against Syria, while just 19 percent said Congress should, indeed, pass a use of force authorization.

If accurate, this poll of military servicemembers indicates that those wearing the uniform are significantly more likely to oppose intervention than the general population. According to a CNN survey published Monday, 55 percent of respondents opposed intervention in Syria – even airstrikes, while 43 percent were in favor if Congress authorized the attacks.

When asked about their support if Congress did not grant the President the authority to use military force, opposition grew significantly, to 71 percent, while 27 percent were in favor of intervening in Syria.

Interestingly, according to the CNN poll, 72 percent of respondents indicated that air strikes would not achieve any significant goals for the United States – a figure much greater than the number of people supporting military action against Syria. Moreover, nearly 7 in 10 people – 69 percent, surveyed think that it is  not in U.S. interests to intervene in Syria. Which indicates that as much as 14 percent of Americans don’t think a Syrian intervention will accomplish anything and that getting involved in Syria militarily is not in U.S. interests, but want to attack anyway.

With military members, the polling seems much more in line with general assessments about American interests in the region, policy goals and how best to achieve them. However, military members were even more likely than members of the general public to believe that the U.S. does not have an interest in intervening in Syria: 80 percent of Military Time’s respondents indicated so. 

31 percent of CNN’s respondents self-identified as Democrats, 21 percent as Republicans, and 49 percent reported they were independents or members of some other political party. The margin of error was +/- 3 percent.

The polling results from Military Times tend to corroborate the assessment of retired, Major General Robert H. Scales, who penned an op-ed  for the Washington Post on September 5th entitled A War the Pentagon Doesn’t Want.

By no means do I profess to speak on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform. But I can justifiably share the sentiments of those inside the Pentagon and elsewhere who write the plans and develop strategies for fighting our wars. After personal exchanges with dozens of active and retired soldiers in recent days, I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.

They also corroborate my own observation: Rightly or wrongly, the Pentagon and other senior sources around the Department of Defense are leaking like a faucet, undermining the President’s case for war. The ‘off-the-record,’ ‘deep background’ and ‘not-for-attribution,’ whispers to defense correspondents are happening on a scale I have never before seen.

They are, however, countered by an equally vigorous public relations effort on behalf of a media-savvy Syrian opposition movement, who are themselves working tirelessly to plant stories, photographs and other media products to goad the United States into striking the Assad Regime. In one case, for example, Syrian operatives leaked a fake photo ostensibly depicting a boy leaping over hundreds of wrapped corpses lying in rows on a warehouse floor. The BBC ran with the photo. However, only when the original photographer recognized his own work did the media realize they had been had: The photo was actually taken years earlier, and the corpses were victims of Saddam Hussein’s massacres and had been dug up from a mass grave. 

At, we are alert and sensitive to the PR sleight-of-hand employed by advocates both for and against war and all kinds of public issues. We will continue to present them. 

So tell us what you think. Should we take action in Syria or not? Do you think the proposed air strikes would accomplish anything or make matters worse? Tell us in the comments.


Photo credit:

America’s Top 10 Military Musicians, #3 and #4

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

After a big week with the 9/11 anniversary and ongoing debate about military action against Syria, it’s time to enjoy Fun Friday. Our list of the Top Military Musicians is starting to wind down. Do you agree with the people we’ve listed so far? And do you have any guesses about who could be in the #1 spot? Let’s get to two more artists today and hear more great music.

(If you missed the previous installments, read about and listen to works by #10 and #9, #8 and #7, #6 and #5 before scrolling down.)


4. John Coltrane

Talk to any saxophonist about who the greatest sax player who ever lived was and chances are overwhelming that they will mention John Coltrane. More than that, talk to any jazz musician anywhere about who was the greatest jazz player of any instrument there ever was and chances are they’ll still mention Coltrane, right up near the top of the pantheon.

Indeed, Coltrane is the only musician on this list to have played so transcendently that he actually has a religious following: The St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church regards Coltrane as a prophet, and uses Coltrane’s music and lyrics in its liturgy.

Coltrane was born on September 23rd, 1926, and entered the Navy at the tail end of World War Two, on August 6th, 1945, at the age of eighteen. The war was over by the time Coltrane finished training at the Sampson Naval Training Center in upstate New York. Coltrane was then assigned to active duty in Hawaii. While stationed on Oahu, near Pearl Harbor, Coltrane played with a black Navy band called the Melody Masters, where he made his first recordings in 1946.

As the Navy rapidly demobilized following the war, though, they didn’t need bands much anymore, and so Coltrane was discharged just a year after he joined.

After the war, Coltrane continued to develop his skills in ensembles led by bebop great Dizzy Gillespie, and by Johnny Hodges and Earl Bostic. He lived in Philadelphia – not far from New York City, and studied jazz theory and harmony with a guitarist named Denis Sandole (1913-2000), who also mentored James Moody, Michael Brecker, Jim Hall, Joe Diorio and Pat Martino. Coltrane, however, was undoubtedly his greatest student, picking up where Sandole left off and developing his own revolutionary approach to jazz harmony and progression.

“John never coasted. Every time I heard him, it was if he was playing the last solo of his life and wanted to get all of his life into it.”  –Nat Hentoff

Coltrane soon hooked up with jazz trumpet great Miles Davis, and in separate projects, with Thelonious Monk, with whom Coltrane recorded Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall in 1957.

Coltrane was developing a trademark virtuosic approach to jazz improvisation that came to be called “sheets of sound,” a term coined by jazz critic Ira Girtler, referring to Coltrane’s shimmering, rapid scalar runs and the arpeggiation of up to three chords at the same time. “His continuous flow of ideas without stopping really hit me,” Gitler said. “It was almost superhuman. The amount of energy he was using could have powered a spaceship.”

Coltrane had become a sideman par excellence for Davis, Hodges, Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and made his recording debut as a bandleader in 1960, soon settling on the legendary lineup of McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. He also recorded the groundbreaking Giant Steps, the title track of which is still considered among the most innovative and challenging tunes for jazz musicians in the repertoire.

Eric Dolphy soon joined the band as a 2nd horn, and is heard to great effect playing bass clarinet, of all things, evoking a trumpeting elephant on the John Coltrane tune India.

Coltrane’s most well known and commercially successful recording, however, was undoubtedly his groundbreaking rendition of the jazz waltz, My Favorite Things.

Toward the end of his life, Coltrane became drawn more and more toward experimental, avant garde sounds, influenced by Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. His playing took on greater levels of abstraction and angularity. He was playing regularly at this point with his 2nd wife, Alice Coltrane, on piano.

Coltrane passed away from liver cancer in July 1967, still at the very pinnacle of his creativity. He was 40 years old. His son, Ravi Coltrane, is an accomplished saxophone player in his own right.


3. Jascha Heifetz

Jascha Heifetz is widely considered to be the single greatest violinist of the 20th century, and possibly the greatest who ever lived. His status at or near the top of the food chain of the great classical violinists of all time is undisputed. As a young man, he was referred to, without apparent irony or hyperbole, as “God’s fiddler.” In his 1987 New York Times obituary, the editors wrote that his name “was for more than half a century was synonymous with perfection of technique and musicianship.”

Nobody played like him – the strength and the force,” said Itzhak Perlman after Heifetz’s death. “His playing had the quality that sizzled and he had such color, He revolutionized violin playing to where it wishes to go today. None of us mortals are going to be able to reach his standard.”

His status at the very top of the classical music performance world is well-known. What is less well known is that Heifetz, already a legendary musician and the most highly paid violinist the world had ever seen, spent much of World War Two sharing his prodigious musical gifts with an audience he grew to love, and which loved him right back: American soldiers.

During World War Two, Heifetz was granted the honorary rank of captain, and wore the uniform and rank throughout the war. All told, he played scores of USO shows stateside, and participated in three separate extensive USO tours of Europe during the war, some perilously close to enemy lines. He survived a German air strike, and got lost in German territory at one point. Had he been captured, he would most likely have been murdered as a Jew. Despite the hardships and dangers he endured, however, Heifetz refused pay for his services the whole time. 

John and Anthony Maltese chronicle Heifetz’s contributions to the military community here.

In a U.S. Army hos­pi­tal in Italy, a violinist dressed in military uni­form entered a ward to play for GI’s wounded in the ongo­ing battles of World War II. The ward was for young men who had recently lost arms and legs under fire.  As the violinist entered, a boy who had lost his right arm tried to applaud in the air with his left hand. The violinist was momentarily shocked. He had played in many hospitals before, but none quite like this. He gazed at the smiling boy clapping the air, and then – his face illuminated with compassion and sensitivity – raised his violin and played. The violinist’s name: Jascha Heifetz.

Seated next to Heifetz at the “GI Steinway” was pianist Milton Kaye. Kaye never forgot that concert. “Here was this man,” he recalled fifty years later, “the great vio­lin­ist of the ages, and he was killing himself to play even better for these men! And I thought to myself, ‘You see, sonny boy? That’s why he is what he is.”

Kaye had never, ever, heard Heifetz play so beau­ti­fully. The fol­low­ing year, the pianist Seymour Lipkin wit­nessed that same high stan­dard of violin play­ing when he accompanied Heifetz on another tour for the GI’s. Not even the most adverse conditions affected Heifetz’s play­ing. “I remember that after awhile I began to under­stand that he was going to play his best no matter what,” Lipkin told us. “And I kind of perked up, and I thought, ‘Boy, this is something!’ He played at his best no matter what. So, I tell my pupils now: ‘Don’t forget that. That’s a lesson!”

Heifetz had been so moved by his concert for the paraplegics that he asked to play at more hospitals. He wanted to use his days off as the opportunity for the additional concerts. Heifetz asked Kaye if he minded adding more con­certs to their already grueling schedule. “Of course not,” he shot back. Kaye, too, had been moved. He had fought back tears as they played in the hospital. Besides, he considered every opportunity to play with Heifetz a unique privilege. “And it was,” Kaye told us as he leaned forward in his chair. “It was the greatest privilege I had in my musical life.”

Heifetz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1901, and came the U.S. at the age of 16. In 1925, he became a citizen of the United States, and remained deeply patriotic for his entire life. “On national holidays he was among the few in Mal­ibu who always raised the flag in the morning,” recalled a former student of his later in his life, “and he took it down himself at sunset. He rigorously required all guests to be present at the ceremony and to display the proper respect toward the flag while it was lowered.”

“Perhaps it takes a naturalized American, like myself, to fully realize what a very great country this is.” –Jascha Heifetz 

While Heifetz was aware that American troops were not necessarily classical music fans, his shows were routinely met with overwhelming and raucous approval. Heifetz would typically begin with Bach. “Think of it as musical spinach,” he would joke to the troops. You may not like it, but it’s good for you.” He would frequently end with Horo Staccato, a musical showpiece and popular encore often requested.

After the war, Heifetz went back to his grueling routine of performance and touring, logging millions of miles. Heifetz toured Israel for the third time in 1953, and planned to include a violin sonata by Richard Strauss. Strauss’s music, however, along with Richard Wagner’s, was closely associated with Nazism. There was an unwritten ban in Israel on the music of both composers, but despite pleas from the Minister of Education and other Israeli musical benefactors, Heifetz refused to budge. “There are only two kinds of music: Good music and bad music,” Heifetz said. The music is above these factors. I will not change my program.”

Heifetz continued to play the Strauss Violin Sonata throughout his Israeli tour. Each time, there was not a hint of applause.

After playing a concert in Jerusalem, Heifetz was attacked by a man wielding a crowbar, injuring Heifetz’s right hand that he was using to protect his violin. The attack was later associated with a terrorist group called Kingdom of Israel.

Throughout the 50s and well into the 80s, Heifetz continued to teach and play extensively, commissioning pieces from composers and developing young talent. His repertoire was astonishing – a read through his impressive discography reveals a repertoire many, many times more extensive than other leading classical violinists.

Heifetz’s talents were not restricted to violin performance: Heifetz also enjoyed playing and improvising jazz piano, and even wrote a hit pop song When You Make Love to Me Don’t Pretend. 

In the 1960s, Heifetz also played in a trio with concert pianist Leonard Pennario, a World War Two veteran of the Army Air Corps who served in Burma, along with cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

Heifetz was also an excellent arranger and transcriptionist, and his violin arrangements of other composers’ works are still frequently played today. 

Heifetz died in 1987 – still the undisputed champion of classical violin in the world at that time, and likely is, still. 

Should We Award the Purple Heart for PTSD?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk purple heart for ptsdShould the DoD recognize servicemembers with post-traumatic stress syndrome with a Purple Heart? Most combat veterans would say ‘no.’ One says yes – and recently published an essay on the political news and commentary website, The Daily Beast.

The author, Benjamin Tupper, isn’t some silver-ponytailed hippie on the faculty at Columbia University or Olympia College. He’s actually a Guardsman, an infantry officer, an Afghanistan War veteran and the author of two books about his experiences in Afghanistan, Greetings From Afghanistan: Send More Ammo and Dudes of War.

Tupper doesn’t attempt to make an affirmative argument for the inclusion of PTSD as a qualifying criteria for the Purple Heart. He cites the anecdotal case of a soldier in his platoon having received a Purple Heart for a minor wound, but not receiving one for injuries incurred when he spent months in a hospital after getting drunk and speeding – his preferred method of self-medication for dealing with PTSD after returning home from Afghanistan – and driving his car off the road.

Ultimately, Tupper advocates that so long as the DoD is trying to remove the stigma of seeking help for PTSD, then not awarding the Purple Heart for PTSD sends a mixed and inconsistent message. Tupper is looking to use the Purple Heart as a means to help legitimize PTSD, and remove any stigma from the diagnosis for those who struggle with it.

From his column:

Granting the Purple Heart is just the first step in fully legitimizing and addressing PTSD. We also need systemic reform of the VA and a better system for providing the long-term clinical treatment that its casualties deserve. But awarding the medal in cases of PTSD will accomplish one essential goal: giving the respect and acknowledgement to those who are suffering from invisible wounds that we already bestow on those with scars we can see. By doing this, we would acknowledge that the anxiety, rage, depression and disrupted emotional and social lives that veterans with PTSD experience are a result of war, and not some personal defect. By honoring them like we honor those scarred by bullets and IEDs we may be able to alleviate some of the shame and fear that have led so many to suicide.

But if the irresponsible and reckless actions of Tupper’s friend represent the positive case for awarding one of our most prestigious decorations, Tupper’s argument doesn’t get off the ground.

He does somewhat better countering some of the obvious arguments against awarding the Purple Heart for PTSD: 

Argument 1: It’s not a real wound. Tupper argues that “more combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan die from suicide related to wartime service and mental health issues, than from enemy bullets and bombs. That should offer grave and definitive proof that PTSD is very real and that its consequences can be as deadly as an IED.” However, recent research into veteran’s suicides indicates that there’s not much of a link between direct combat experience and suicides.

Argument 2: The mental disorder does not cause physical damage. Tupper responds that there is nothing in the regulations that limits the Purple Heart to physical wounds. He then argues that traumatic brain injury, or TBI, also causes no physical disfigurement but qualifies for the Purple Heart. However, the TBI is a brain injury that frequently causes identifiable physical symptoms and has effects that show up in MRIs and other tests that are certainly physical, as opposed to psychological.

Argument 3: There’s no clear chain of causation from a specific event to a PTSD diagnosis. Tupper’s argument is that this is also true of TBI, where there may have been a pre-existing injury from playing high school sports that got aggravated by an IED, for example. However, Tupper fails to address that you still have the TBI, and you still have an IED or other explosion caused by enemy action. Awarding the Purple Heart for PTSD will require much less of a chain of causation than that.

Argument 4: People will fake symptoms to earn the award. Tupper argues that this can be the case with any award, which is why we have sworn statements documenting combat experience. However, there are many more ways to get PTSD in the military than combat. Military sexual trauma is an obvious example. If we’re going to award the Purple Heart to people who suffer from combat-related PTSD – or claim to – what is the message we are sending to those who contract PTSD through rape or sexual assault or some other act of violence? Yes, the regulations state that the Purple Heart must be awarded for causes attributable to enemy action. But if the goal here is to destigmatize PTSD and encourage those who suffer from it to get help, then awarding it to combat-related PTSD cases and withholding it from MST-related PTSD sufferers will create two classes of PTSD patients – the combat ones with Purple Hearts and the others. 

Tupper also fails to consider the effect on the award itself. The minute we take this award long established for recognition of actual combat wounds received in the service of this country and award it for a nebulous complex of psychological ailments, we will essentially put an asterisk on all subsequent Purple Hearts. It will also cause a flood of claims, as all of a sudden every single fobbit who never left the wire now has a basis for a claim from a single mortar shell – and can push to receive the award. 

Let’s not turn the Purple Heart into the CAB. The value and prestige of the award will be cheapened, not enhanced, by Tupper’s proposed measures. Expanding the award criteria to include a PTSD diagnosis is an insult to generations of warriors who earned it the old-fashioned way: shedding blood on the battlefield.


What are your thoughts on this? Hacce you experienced PTSD and do you think it merits an award such as the Purple Heart? Tell us in the comments.

Marines Drop Court Martial Charges in Taliban Urination Case Amidst Allegations of Unlawful Command Influence

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk marines court martial taliban urination caseIn the latest development in the strange prosecution of several marines accused of urinating on Taliban corpses in Afghanistan, the Marine Corps has abruptly dropped charges against a Marine captain they had accused of failing to adequately supervise his troops. They are still moving forward with an administrative inquiry, however, which could lead to the captain’s involuntary removal from service under ‘other than honorable’ conditions.

A videographer had filmed several marines from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, urinating on the corpses of what were Taliban fighters. The Marines themselves were members of the battalion Scout/Sniper Platoon, then operating in Helmand Province.

Two marine NCOs received non-judicial punishment for desecrating the bodies of combatants – a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UCMJ, while a third NCO pled guilty to failing to report misconduct and making false statements about his knowledge of the incident.

Only one officer, Capt. James V. Clement, was charged in the incident. He was acting as the Kilo Company, 3/2 Marines executive officer at the time. The Marine Corps had charged Clement with failing to supervise, failing to correct misconduct and with making false statements. Clement denied wrongdoing, and determined to fight the charges. 

The Marine Corps decision to drop the court martial charge came as another marine officer, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, came forward accusing the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. James Amos, of exercising unlawful command influence. This is a violation of Article 37 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  

Military Authority has dealt with the unlawful command influence question here and here.

According to Waldhauser’s sworn statement, Amos had asked Walthauser to be the convening authority in the Clement’s court martial. Amos also provide command guidance to Waldhauser that he wanted the marines in the video “crushed,” and that he wanted them out of the service at the end of the day.

Amos later changed his mind and relieved Waldhauser of the assignment, and had another officer  take over the case. But the damage to the prosecution was done: Clement’s defense team demanded access to all Amos’s personal an official emails in order to gather further evidence of unlawful command influence. When it became clear the Marine Corps would have to comply, the Commandant dropped the charges.

That means the criminal case is off the table. But Amos is still trying to have Clement separated from the service, and has ordered a board of inquiry to convene to determine whether Clement was guilty of misconduct, and whether he should be retained or involuntarily separated from the service.

However, if  a court martial, with all its internal checks and balances built into the system, was so tainted by unlawful command influence that it could not be trusted to prosecute an officer in a high profile case, it is difficult to imagine why an administrative board of inquiry, formed outside of the UCMJ, would not be compromised in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reason.

The Marine Corps should drop the charges against Clement at the very least, and consider dropping all but the desecration charges against the other marines who were punished in the case.

Further reading: Chapter 12 from the Judge Advocate General Advanced Course text, dealing with unlawful command influence. 

Government Rolls Back Military Pay While Union VA Employees Get Big Bonuses

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk VA gives bonues while military pay is cutThe Pentagon is broke, say Administration officials, citing spiraling personnel costs that threaten to crowd out needed operational, infrastructure and modernization spending. So the Obama Administration, under former Secretary Leon Panetta and the current Secretary Chuck Hagel, has already tried to slash TRICARE benefits, and increase premiums. The have already tried to eliminate the Tuition Assistance program at three of the four uniformed defense services. They held military pay increases to 1 percent for 2014 – well below the 1.8 percent level normally called for by existing pay formulas. Now they are looking to slash military pensions for retired servicemembers and cut BAH rates, forcing military members to pay more out of their own pockets for housing – even as current on-base military housing – already inadequate even at post-cold-war levels, is allowed to decay.

But the Veterans Administration, apparently, is flush with cash. So flush, in fact, that the VA was able to grant lavish bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars to its government employees union work force. Bonus recipients include Michael Moreland, the administrator of the Pittsburgh, PA VAMC, under whose watch at least  five veterans died of legionnaire’s disease – a preventable illness brought about by unsanitary conditions. As many as fifteen other veterans were possibly or definitely infected at the hospital.

The problem wasn’t just in Pittsburgh, however: A GAO report found that a failure to implement precautions against the deadly disease was endemic at VA hospitals nationwide.

In all, more than two thirds of all the VA’s claims processing staff received bonuses totaling 5.5 million dollars in 2012, according to a Stars & Stripes report. Among others, bonuses as high as $50,000 and $60,000 went to construction managers who had significant delays and cost overruns on their projects, to physicians who left interns unsupervised during surgery and who were caught practicing without a license.

Per a report from USAToday,

According to a Government Accountability Office report recently issued, investigators found that during the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years:

  • A $7,663 performance-pay bonus went to a VA doctor who was reprimanded for practicing medicine with an expired license for three months.
  • A $11,189 bonus was given to a surgeon who was suspended without pay for 14 days after leaving an operating room before surgery was completed, allowing residents to continue unsupervised.
  • A $7,500 pay bonus went to a doctor who was reprimanded for refusing to see assigned patients in an emergency room, actions that forced 15 patients to wait six hours to be treated and led nine other patients to leave without treatment. 
  • An $8,216 bonus was paid to a radiologist whose privileges had been reduced for failing to read mammograms and other complex images competently. 

All told, bonuses to VA medical staff totaled $150 million in 2011 alone.

Meanwhile, backlogs of unresolved claims  – now finally starting to decline as an automated system comes online (though some observers believe that the decline happened as workers looking to maximize their bonuses front-loaded “easy cases” to boost case rate, while hard cases continued to decline, and while error rates skyrocketed.)

“You stated the VA ‘can and will do more to prevent future incidences,’” Wrote Representative Tim Murphy (R – PA), wrote in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “While preventing the spread of infectious diseases should be a top priority for VA leadership, the department must also hold responsible those in a position of authority who did not adhere to the VA’s own directives and standards of care. And at the very least, the taxpayers should not be giving them bonuses.”

Uniformed military services personnel, of course, are not eligible for performance bonuses. They also have a less finely graduated pay scale that requires many service members to wait many years before receiving a pay increase based on a promotion, while federal employees even within a GS level can receive as many as 10 interim pay increases without being promoted just by getting bumped up the “step” system. 

Military members, also, are not unionized. The VA, on the other hand, has a largely union labor force – members of the American Federation for Government Employees, or AFGE. 

The net result, of course, is that the Administration would like to fund bonuses for union workers and bureaucrats at the expense of fighters and their families who already endure more hardship and receive lower compensation. 

The Best Education Advice I’ve Never Received

Posted by Christine A. Shelly education advice ive never receivedA new school year has begun in most parts of the country. And since September 11, 2001, the start of the school year also provides a poignant reminder of freedom, democracy, and all that we hold dear. While it is true that the educational system in our country is in need of improvement in many areas, we can’t ignore the fact that few places on Earth provide the freedom to pursue the number and variety of educational and professional opportunities we have here in the United States.

Whether this marks the start of your first or final semester, the beginning of a new academic year can bring on a case of the butterflies (or worse). Many students experience anxiety and stress about their educational path and future job prospects. After more than a decade’s worth of experience in higher ed – and my own learning adventures – I have two pieces of advice that you aren’t likely to get from your education officers or even from your family.

Don’t be a follower.

You’ve probably been told by many well-wishing people “follow your passion.” Or, “follow your heart and the rest will fall into place.” Although it sounds wonderful, this kind of advice is better suited for relationships than for your education and future work.

In today’s economy, simply doing what feels good isn’t a sustainable practice – it can lead to frustration, accumulating debt, and a string of broken dreams. Plus, if you’re a working adult with a family to support while you go to school, you have responsibilities that you can’t simply shirk to follow your own interests.

Instead – bring your passion with you. Whatever you do, give it 110%. Find something to love about whatever you’re doing and give it all you’ve got. Look for the opportunity to share your passion with others and leave your own unique mark.

Strive for harmony, not balance.

“Work/Life balance,” as blissfully ideal as it sounds, is something that everyone seeks but few accomplish. It’s an incredibly popular topic that has everyone from CEOs to bloggers weighing in with their opinions and ‘how-to’s.’

Be careful about setting yourself up to achieve someone else’s idea of a balanced life. What works for them may not work for anyone else. Struggling to achieve an unrealistic ideal adds unnecessary (unhealthy) pressure.

What I would propose instead, is to strive for harmony as opposed to balance. Think about those televised singing competitions – sometimes a group is asked to sing in harmony together. It works well for some groups; others, not so much. In some groups, each of the singers wants to extend their 15 seconds of fame so badly, they sing over each other and refuse to yield the spotlight. The result is a musical mess that hurts to the ears.

Accept that there will be times when one aspect of your life takes priority over another. One area of your life will “sing lead” for a while and the others will support it and make it shine. You are the only person who can decide your priorities – your “lead singers,” if you will. Too many lead singers and you get a train wreck of a song. Too many backup singers and the music doesn’t really shine. The challenge is in making sure the right voices are singing lead at the right time.

The decision to earn your degree is one of the most important you can make, and if you’re reading this, you very likely already understand that. No matter where you are in life – whether you’re a working adult, a veteran, a military spouse or recent high school graduate, as you move forward in your educational pursuits and your professional career, you will be on the receiving end of all kinds of well-meaning advice. I hope the two pieces of advice I offered will help guide you toward achieving your goals. Best of luck to you as you begin the fall semester.

I’d love to hear from you. What kind of education or career advice has helped you? What do you wish you’d known when you started out?






Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.