Returning Veterans Need a Helping Hand from Employers

Published November 30, 2012, Pawtucket Times

When the time came to end his seven month tour of duty in Afghanistan, Michael Cremin envisioned a future with the military.  With his tour of duty now behind him, this Staff Sergeant in the United State Marine Corps Reserves had well-laid out plans to re-enlist and become a full-time Marine.  The ambitious Quincy, Massachusetts resident did the calculations – he would first reenlist, then attend Officer Candidate School and ultimately become a Marine Corps Officer.   However, in a New York second, at the age of 32, this reservist was dealt a harsh blow that left dreams shattered forever.

Last April, Cremin entered a medical facility to treat a nagging back problem that  doctors diagnosed as being caused by the strenuous work endured over those months of  active combat – jumping in and out of military convoy vehicles carrying either heavy gear or injured Marines away to safety from blown up vehicles.    He welcomed the responsibility and at a relatively young age, was charged with overseeing convoys of over 90 vehicles carrying over 100 military personnel, whose mission was to bring needed food, parts, and fuel from Camp Leather Neck, Afghanistan to the various forward operating bases. However, heavy pain caused by three bad disks resulting in nerve disorders would medically-drum Cremin out of military service.  “This medical problem will affect me for the rest of my life,” he said.

Being medically retired was bittersweet for Cremin.  He loved being a Marine but his back injuries would be exacerbated if he stayed in the military.   His doctor’s would later say,  that he might have difficulty moving as he aged and the effects would be life-altering. On the other hand, being officially retired has many benefits, specifically for his 27 year old wife, Carol, an administrator for a staffing agency, who would now be eligible to receive health benefits for life.

Military in His Blood

In 1986 at the age 6, Cremin immigrated to America from Cork City, Ireland with his mother and younger brother to join their father, who had left Ireland earlier to come to the United States to escape an economic recession at home.  For the father, America offered promise and hope with a better way to support a family. With the family together, both parents would ultimately work 90 hours a week to keep their family together.

As a young child, Cremin had always wanted to join the Marines.  He recalls as a youngster, the first poster on his bedroom wall was a Marine recruiting poster, instead rather than the typical sports teams poster you might expect to see.

“Why not be a Marine?,”  he asked.  Military service spanned generations in Cremin’s family tree, stretching to his grandfather’s enlistment in the Irish army early in the century.  Uncles would serve under the United Nation’s flag in Lebanon, Cyprus, the Congo and even Yugoslavia.

In 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Cremin would enlist in his beloved Marine Corps.  For all active duty recruits who lived east of the Mississippi, the young Marine’s basic training took place at Parris Island, South Carolina.  This would be followed by combat training in at Camp Lejuene, North Carolina where he was then sent to Amphibious Assault School, Camp Pendleton in California.

Until 2007 Cremin would be stationed in 29 Palms, California in the hot Mojave Desert.  From the West coast military base, he would be deployed for a 9 month tour in Iraq, serve on the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit on amphibious LSD for ten months and take a 10 month tour of South East Asia.  Leaving active duty in 2007 he returned to Quincy, Massachusetts, where he would take care of family business.  Missing the ‘esprit de corps’ of belonging to the Marine Corps, he would reenlist in the reserves in less than 1 year, which would bring him back to war in Afghanistan in 2011.

The New Year Brings Retirement

Over his decade long military career, Cremin has also found time to volunteer in the community.   When he was stationed in California, he began to do volunteer work in the Marine Corps’ “Toys for Tots” initiative.  In 2010 he decided to step forward to volunteer running the state’s Toys for Toys initiative. When he came back to the east coast after his Afghanistan tour, he would again volunteer to take the reins and oversee Rhode Island’s efforts to collect toys for the needy OceanState children.

Two weeks ago, Cremin officially found out that he would was being retired from the Marine Corps, and his retirement would come at the beginning of 2013. Before this last combat tour, his Associate Degree in Criminal Justice that he earned at QuincyCollege might just have been a stepping stone to a law enforcement career if he was not to stay in the military.   However, his current medical disability would reduce the probability that he could enter that career. Not knowing where he will ultimately live, or work, makes it difficult for Cremin to choose a University to complete his bachelor’s degree.

“Things are up in the air now,” Cremin says, noting that with the economic downturn in Rhode Island, the young war veteran is not sure where he will ultimately end up. Five of his fellow Marines volunteering their time to work on this toy collection project, all who were injured in Afghanistan, will also be looking for work, too.  .

But for now, before he joins the rank and file of unemployed veterans with his five fellow Marines, he will concentrate on overseeing the completion of this year’s Toy’s for Tot’s Campaign. It keeps his mind off the uncertainly of not knowing where his next pay check will come from. “I really don’t want to think about the future.”

Reaching Out to Unemployed Veteran

           According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for all Veterans nationwide fell to 6.3 percent last month —well below the national employment average of 7.9 percent.  However, for post-9/11 veterans, America’s newest veterans, the rate reached 10 percent.

However, “the picture is even worse in the Ocean State”, notes Consultant Dan Cahill.  “In our work we found the unemployment rate among veterans was higher than the general population,” says Cahill, who coauthored a report released in November 2011, entitled Initial Needs Assessment and AmeriCorps State Service Plan.  Funded by Serve Rhode Island, Cahill noted that issues of unemployment are predominant in the veteran population between 35 to 54 years of age. “Approximately 13 percent of veterans in this group are unemployed, compared with a 9 percent unemployment rate among non-veterans in this cohort,” he says.

Cremin and the growing number of unemployed Rhode Island veterans now can turn to a Department of Defense (DOD) program that will assist these individual’s find work.

According to Rebecca Sanderson, Rhode Island’s  H2H Hero to Hire                  Employment Transition Coordinator, this program unveiled in 2011, offers valuable resources for military veterans members by way of hiring fairs, job training, career assessment and military skills translation.  With more than 400 Hiring Our Heroes job fair events, Sanderson noted that one was recently held in the Ocean State to assist current service members, retirees and veterans find civilian jobs.

Sanderson stated that 64 employers came to CCRI in Warwick, on November 9, 2012, to meet the 176 job seekers who attend this event. During the day, company’s received 526 resumes with 103 interviews being conducted.  Seventeen job offers were made that day, she noted.

“We expect more job offers to be made by companies who attended the job fair as they sort through the resumes they collected and finish their interview process of the participants,” says Sanderson. Rhode Island usually hosts two Hirer Our Heroes (HoH) job fairs per year, one in the fall and one in the spring. (Information on these job fairs, including dates and locations can be found by following the links for live hiring fairs on,  the organization’s website).  “At this internet site employers can post jobs, and service members, post resumes and make a job connection,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges that veterans face in finding jobs after returning from active military service involves the translating of their military skills into terms that civilian employers will understand, says Sanderson.  “Service members return with many “soft” skills such as leadership, problem solving, and team work, but may not have the training in the “hard” skills the employers are looking for,” she says.

Sanderson continues to work hard toward creating better networking opportunities that will allow military veterans from active duty and reservists to better interact with employers to break down barriers to communication which will allow businesses to better recognize the value of those who have served in the nation’s military.

Hopefully, Rhode Island companies will see the value of hiring Cremin, a war veteran who could bring his military leadership skills, problem-solving and expertise in organizing large scale events, to their operation.

Veterans fought  for our nation’s freedom.  May be its time for employers to give them a break, by easing them into civilian life and giving them decent employment.  If this happens, everyone becomes a winner.

For more info about the H2H Program, contact Rebecca Sanderson, Employment Transition Coordinator at 401 275-4359;

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  He can be reached at


When Death Cometh to Man’s Best Friend

Published November 23, 2012, Pawtucket Times

Like many of my fellow aging baby boomers who are childless or even empty nesters, I am a pet owner.  Over the years my pets have evolved into my pampered little “children” and have become my ‘faithful companions.’ However, when death comes to our little furry, four-legged friends, coping with their death can make even the most Spock-like “intellectual” person shed rivers of tears and become emotionally unraveled.

The End is Near

The early Sunday morning call from our Seekonk-based veterinary clinic delivered a message we were not prepared to hear.  We were told that “Murray’s temperature had soared to 105 degrees and his system was beginning to shut down,”    It was no longer regulating the insulin for our 13 year old, diabetic Chocolate Lab  – or trying to find a cure for the sudden onset of arthritis that reduced his movement to a very painful crawl.  The doctor recommended we come down to the office as soon as possible – to end Murray’s suffering.

Just two days earlier, concern with Murray’s declining health led us to take him to our long-time veterinarian for a Blood Glucose check.  Maybe our diabetic dog’s blood sugar was not under control.  We expected that his sugar was off, and adjusting the amount of insulin he received twice a day would be an easy fix to these sudden medical problems.  Or perhaps the new medicine prescribed to reduce his arthritic pain would finally kick in making it easier for him to walk again.  Our faithful frail pet, blind from cataracts, was well into his 90s, if you calculate his age in terms of human years.

Saying goodbye to those things in life that you love does not come easy.

Traveling to the vet’s office we drove in silence.  Tears flowed as we drove past each memorable landmark, while flashbacks of fond memories brought me back to the happier days over the last decade.  In my minds eye I watched a younger Murray chase a bouncing yellow tennis ball in my backyard or seeing him taken a belly-dive in the Slater Park pond when no one was looking –  chasing the resident swans or Canadian geese.  These always put a smile on my face.

For 13 years, Murray, our “little boy” gave us comfort – always by our side, and now the time had come to put him down.  On Sunday, June 5, 2011, in the sparse examining room we approached Murray, laying uncomfortably on top of a floor scale cushioned by an old blanket.  He was panting and his eyes fixed straight forward.  I noticed the portal injected in his back leg – ready to accept the lethal dose.    In a matter of seconds, when I gave the doctor the ‘ok’ – she would begin the medical procedure to put my pet out of his pain.  Patty and her son Ben, tearfully bent over, saying their goodbyes – stroking him, making sure he knew he was not alone.  Stroking his face I whispered one last “good boy.” With tears rolling down my cheeks it was time to end his suffering.  Calling for the lethal pink drug led to a quick injection of that deadly substance.  Within seconds our 13 year old Chocolate Lab lay motionless on the blanket.

Murray’s collar, plastic bowl, worn black leash, chewy toys and a few old photographs are the few tangible items reminding us of his existence as a member of our family, but the memories are plentiful.  While grieving his loss, those special times swiftly came back to me from over the years…his backseat rides in our car with his head hanging out the window; or saying the name “Sheba”, our neighbor’s female yellow Labrador, which brought him to the window to look across the street at her house; and how he warmly accepted the adoption of a rescue dog, Abby, into our household. We adopted the younger Chocolate lab from the Paul J. Wildenhain Memorial Animal Shelter.

A pet’s death, like my wife, Patty and I experienced recently, did have the same emotional impact as experiencing the loss of a parent, sibling or even a closest friend.  However, we seemed to cope with this loss quickly, but for many it often times takes months or even years to heal.  Some have even told me that they would never adopt or purchase another dog or cat because of the intense and emotional pain and trauma they experienced.

Murray was cremated and his ashes have been placed in a wooden box, which sit on the mantle of our fireplace in the living room.  Someday we plan to bury his ashes in his favorite stomping ground, our back yard.  When this occurs, sitting outside in the cool nights of summer, Patty and I will surely remember our beloved Chocolate Lab, Murray.

Grieving Over Your Loss

My family and pet owners world-wide know it’s painful to lose your pet, considered to be one of the family. It even took months for our grieving dog, Abby, to begin to eat her food.  Sometimes she still walks the house wondering where her companion is, sniffing out areas around the house that still has his scent.

Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed., author of Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet, in her website states that intense grief over the loss of your pet is both “normal and natural.”  While some people may not understand your strong emotional bond to your pet and pain after the pet dies, “all that matters is how you feel,” Allen says.

According to Allen, grieving pet owners can also express their feelings and memories of their deceased pet in poems, stories and letters to the pet, Allen says. While feeling the loss, the person may feel guilt for not doing enough, denial of the death and anger at the veterinarian who failed to save the pet.  Grieving can also cause depression, too.  .

Allen recommends, “Don’t deny your pain and grief and acknowledge your feelings.”  She recommends that a grieving pet owner work through feeling with family and friends, their veterinarian or ask a local human association to recommend a pet loss counselor or support group. (For more information about pet loss, go to, Allen’s website, Pet Loss Support Page, at

As we grieve, life gets busy with the day to day activities of living, strangely healing our pain.   But we will always remember Murray, the best dog and companion we have had in our over five plus decades of living.

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer.  He can be reached at

Tips on Finding an Age-Friendly Fitness Center

    Published on November 16, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           With the cold frigid weather approaching, that 30 minute daily walk around the block may well fall by the wayside in the winter months. While this activity is just what the doctor ordered to help keep you physically fit and feeling good, many aging baby boomers and seniors ‘look inward’ by turning to a local gym, by bringing their regular exercise indoors.

Seeking that Perfect Age-Friendly Fitness Center

            According to the Vancouver, British Columbia-based International Council on Active Aging (ICAA),aging baby boomers and seniors are joining health and wellness facilities faster than any other age group today, however many of these facilities are ill-prepared or not equipped to serve those in their later years.

While older “adult-focused” small gyms like ‘Nifty After Fifty’ are available, “even the large 24 Hour Fitness chains seek to attract older adults”, says Patricia Ryan, ICAA’s Vice-President of Education, noting that “over 70 percent of YMCAs had older adult programs according to a stat cited in ICAA Active Aging in America, Industry Outlook 2010.

Ryan recommends that when shopping around for a fitness center that caters to older baby boomers and seniors, always compare and contrast information gathered, using the following checklists, created by ICAA, to identify age-friendly fitness center.

            Become a savvy shopper when touring your local fitness center, by making sure it gears its amenities and organizational philosophies towards your needs – those age fifty-something and beyond.  ICAA, the world’s largest senior fitness association, has created a check list to help older persons to rate and compare local fitness facilities so they can choose one that meets their age-specific needs.

Some specific questions to consider can ultimately ensure that the center you choose meets your specific physical needs:

  1. Are the locker rooms clean, accessible and monitored by staff?
  2. Do you feel comfortable in the atmosphere of the facility?
  3. Are the membership contracts and marketing materials available in large print?
  4. Are signs visible and easy to understand?
  5. Does the facility’s cardiovascular equipment have the following age-friendly features – a display panel that is easy to read, easy to change and easy to understand?
  6. Is the music acceptable and set at a reasonable level?
  7. Do the facility’s treadmills start slowly, at 0.5 mph?
  8. Do the recumbent bikes or steppers have a wide and comfortable seat with armrests?
  9. Does the facility’s strength-building equipment have instructional placards that have simple diagrams, easy-to read text and font, and correct usage information.
  10. Does the facility’s strength-building equipment have a low starting resistance, less than five pounds?
  11. Does the facility offer programs designed to meet the needs of those with a variety of chronic conditions (specifically osteoporosis, cardiovascular, disease, diabetes, balance abnormalities, muscular weakness)?
  12.  Do the group exercise classes have different levels of intensity, duration and size?
  13.  Is there an extensive screening and assessment process (for balance, functional   abilities, osteoporosis)?’
  14.  Is the staff certified by a nationally recognized organization to work with people who have various health issues that may arise with age (specifically osteoporosis, hypertension, arthritis)?
  15. Is the staff knowledgeable about the impact that medication can have on exercise?

To download the complete checklist, visit the ICAA website,

Getting Healthy, Building Closer Relationships   

It’s no secret to Maureen Wilcox, 45, of the need to cater to an aging population.  Wilcox,  a certified Personal Trainer at the Attleboro YMCA located across from the City’s Public Library on South Main Street in Attleboro, MA estimates that 30 percent of the nonprofit group’s membership is age 50 and over.  Many of these members are seeking advice on how to better manage or prevent age-related health concerns, the most common being: arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiac health and obesity.

Wilcox notes that this large constituency finds value in the Attleboro YMCA’s wide variety of programs that are geared towards baby-boomers and seniors.  These programs include resistance and strength training, aqua classes, Zumba classes, chair exercises, yoga and Tai Chi. “These classes will help you to manage a healthy body weight, stimulate your immune system, increase strength, improve posture, increase your flexibility and balance and help prevent chronic illnesses”, she adds. 

             According to Wilcox, a fitness center can also be a place to build friendships among older persons.  “A supportive community can enhance camaraderie among the participants, keeping them motivated and committed to meeting their exercise goals,” she says, adding that commitment to an exercise regime may well be more important than pushing weights around..

Over the years working, Wilcox has seen many new members in their later years forge new friendships at the Attleboro YMCA.  “Seeing people regularly allows them to develop meaningful relationships where they ultimately become an extended family,” she says.

“Relationships developed by participating in exercise classes also builds a small community among the senior age group members,” Wilcox notes, adding that they often participate in social trips and group outings outside of the Attleboro YMCA.  She notes, some seniors while exercising on their stationary bikes, read a big print book, To Kill Mocking Bird, adding health and wellness to an already established community literacy initiative.

Finally, in addition to personal training, various group exercise classes, including a running club,  LIVESTRONG is also offered at the Attleboro YMCA, says Wilcox.  It’s a free 12-week personal training program that provides a place where cancer survivors can come together.   Along with specially-trained staff to safely work in small groups,  participating members receive one-to-one attention while working toward maintaining or regaining their independence, everyday fitness, and overall health & wellness.  These participants share a bond that only cancer survivors can relate to.  “This is an inspirational program and one which we are all proud to be a part of,” prides Wilcox.

Getting to the Bottom Line

             Outdoor walking or the gym? That depends on personal preference and time availability.  “Brisk walking is beneficial, emphasizing ‘brisk,’ “says ICAA’s Ryan. “Faster walking to increase intensity has been reported in several studies in ICAA Research Review, to enhance your health, rather than the frequency,” she noted.

In addition, Ryan adds that scheduled classes in a fitness center help a person plan physical activity into their days and there should be equipment and classes for variety. There is expertise available in many (but not all) cases, especially in gyms targeting older adults and medically integrated fitness centers, a.k.a hospital wellness programs. There is recognition among most fitness clubs that older adults are not only a huge population to attract, but also a very good customer because of expendable income, she says.

“Exercise plays a vital role in healthy aging,” says Michael Fine, MD, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.  “Regular exercise is an important weapon in the battle against chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.  Exercise also helps us maintain flexibility, balance and mobility.  It isn’t necessary to join a gym or buy expensive equipment; a brisk walk around the block is a great place to start if you’ve been sedentary. The key is to find an activity you enjoy and to make time for it each day.”

Ryan strongly agrees with Dr. Fine. “The most important message for those late in life is to MOVE, and to add physical activity into each day.  Physical activity is the magic pill. Whether walking, raking and hauling leaves, playing soccer or even going to a fitness club, it’s the right thing to do for healthy aging.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12,  is a Pawtucket-free lance writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  He can be reached at