Arizona Veterans

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In our continuing look at veterans’ issues, we focus on ways to honor and acknowledge the service of veterans. Joanna Sweatt, the veterans’ initiatives program manager for Learnkey, and the chief operating officer of the Veterans’ Directory, a comprehensive directory of services for veterans, and Phil Yin, who served in Vietnam as a marine in the ’60s and is a board member of the veterans’ heritage project yearbook, will discuss ways to honor veterans.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" -- we'll hear about the variety of ways to honor veterans for their service. We'll meet a renowned violinist who helped researchers understand the impact of music on the brain. That's next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Democrats plan to file a lawsuit over the troubled presidential preference election. The democratic national committee and the party's senatorial campaign committee plan to file the suit tomorrow in federal court. Lawsuit alleges that long lines at polling places violated the rights of minority voters and asks the U.S. District Court in Phoenix to look into plans that could disenfranchise voters again in November. The Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns are both expected to join the lawsuit once it's filed tomorrow. A possible site for an ASU campus in downtown Mesa was revealed today covering one square block between main, center, 1st streets and Centennial way. Parts of the Mesa arts center campus would be included. Initial plans call for a mixed use campus of three multi-story buildings to go with renovated structures on city owned land. Voters would have to approve tens of millions of dollars in construction costs. That vote could be as early as November. Our continuing look at veterans' issues through our Arizona veterans coming home series focuses on ways to honor and acknowledge the service of veterans. Joining us now is Joanna Sweatt, the veterans' initiatives program manager for Learnky, and the chief operating officer of the veterans' directory, a comprehensive directory of services for veterans, and Phil Yin, who served in Viet Nam as a marine in the '60s and is a board member of the veterans' heritage project yearbook.

Joanna Sweatt: Thanks for having us.

Ted Simons: The veterans' heritage project sounds interesting. Tell us what this is.

Joanna Sweatt: We capture oral histories from our veterans so that we can record those histories, share them with other people so that they are more aware of what service means.

Ted Simons: As far as actually doing this, give us the process of this.

Phil Yin: It's well just to go back real quick the project is in its 12th year, founded by Barbara hatch, 501C3 nonprofit organization. It connects not only students from schools but also their families, the community, partnering, the schools. What it does is the students sit with a veteran with a one-on-one interview for about three hours. That interview is recorded and videotaped and the student be responsible for publishing it, editing it, then it goes to the Washington D.C. veterans history project into a book, called Since You Asked. We're on to our 12th edition. We have interviewed over 1200 veterans. That book goes into the library of Congress.

Ted Simons: wow. Very interesting title. I would imagine just asking is a way to honor and acknowledge veterans.

Joanna Sweatt: absolutely.

Ted Simons: talk to us more about this. A variety of ways to let veterans know that you're interested.

Joanna Sweatt: Everybody's story is different. We have a common thread when we serve and there's a lot of camaraderie built up. Everybody has a different experience that they take from their time in the military. It's important to capture all those different histories so people can understand how even people operate in different branches, how women have served, have transcended over time now that we're moving into combat element roles. Very important to document all this so that we have that historical content. Then it brings it back to the community. So it kind of helps reintegrate them and I can say I shared my story not thinking that it was very relevant, just for a student project, not for this big project just yet, and it was very empowering. It let me kind of validate my service, which I had never done. That then empowered me to raise my hand and say I am a veteran and very proud to be that.

Ted Simons: I was going to say it's interesting for the students, it's interesting for the record keeping and such. When someone asks you about you, it's interesting to you, isn't it?

Phil Yin: Absolutely. I was also -- I was in volume 11, and when I first got into it asked to be interviewed I reluctantly accepted because I knew there was going to be some difficult times. In fact, a lot of the things that were said my wife didn't even know about.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Phil Yin: So it was cathartic. It relieved a lot of tension and pain but I think it was very therapeutic for me.

Joanna Sweatt: did you find the same thing?

Joanna Sweatt: absolutely. I served in L.A. in 2003. I still suffered from a lot of anxiety and trauma. So just talking about it and talking about my service it does, it just helps you release it. We spend so much time hoarding it away, hiding it, not engaging in that dialogue. It affects you negatively.

Ted Simons: obviously the project is fantastic. It works in a variety of ways. I want to find out other ways as a veteran ways to acknowledge, to honor your service. What works?

Phil Yin: You know, when I look at it, I think you'll agree in the last ten years there's probably been a lot of awareness in our veterans. I look at it in four ways, from a learning standpoint, remembering, honoring and thanking the veterans. Learning, what better way for our next future generation leaders to learn about veterans with a one-on-one interview? We have for instance the veterans of foreign wars. We have a program that's called voice of democracy and patriot's pen. We work with schools every year there's a different topic and the student writes an essay. That essay is a content test. It's all about what do you feel about veterans? How do you feel about the flag? What does patriotism mean to you? So that they compete state-wide and the winner goes to national. If they win they get a $30,000 scholarship.

Ted Simons: Which is fantastic.

Phil Yin: absolutely.

Ted Simons: Fantastic for them but good for the veterans as well.

Phil Yin: yes. Right.

Ted Simons: I wanted to focus more on that. The impact of again acknowledging and honoring veterans, not just to you but to those around you. What do you see?

Joanna Sweatt: A lot of change. The landscape being a veteran that comes home is quite celebratory now. We see all the feel good videos, the welcome homes, but what happens after that? So to me it's not enough to say thank you although it's very appreciative but I as a veteran, as an advocate for veterans want to see more action. If you want to think of that, thank them with an opportunity. Thank them with a process to help them transition. So if they have a route that they are trying to achieve and you can help them along that route, then take them on that journey. What I would like to see more happening in the community is people making pathways for veterans. That is a way that we can honor them and help them reintegrate into our society faster.

Ted Simons: It was interesting how she said it's changed the attitude toward returning veterans. When did you return?

Phil Yin: '67.

Ted Simons: Little different.

Phil Yin: Pretty bad.

Ted Simons: When you look back on those years now, what do you think?

Phil Yin: When I got back when I was telling her I joined the VFW in '67 outside of Camp Butler. There was a post there. Everybody joined, right? When we came back I went to the post, walked in there, and they said, oh, you are Vietnam vet? Is that a war? I never went back to that post until 19 -- actually 2009 when I became active in the VFW. Took all those years.

Ted Simons: my goodness.

Phil Yin: Is that a war? You know, I think remembering honoring them, currently with we have Vietnam memorial, Wesley Bolin Plaza. We're showing there's a change now.

Ted Simons: You say you want more than a thank you but if someone does walk up to you, shakes your hand, says thank you, that still means a lot.

Phil Yin: that is the greatest gratitude and feeling I know that I can get. Someone -- what, ten years ago nobody did that. No one. Nobody did that. Nowadays it's very common. We go out to dinner or a shopping center, someone walks up to you, if I'm wearing a marine corps shirt they shake your hand, say thank you for your service. It really touches you.

Ted Simons: last question, it does make a difference finding a home bound veteran and helping there or helping with chores with someone who can't quite -- those sorts of things. It does make a difference.

Joanna Sweatt: It makes a huge difference. So many teams they have come home and they are isolating themselves. They are trying to find that quiet escape. That's not going to help them be more successful on their lives and be integrated. It's important that our community welcomes them in that way and helps them along that journey.

Ted Simons: thank you both for your service. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Phil Yin: Thank you.

Phil Yin: Vietnam Veteran; Joanna Sweatt: veterans' initiatives program manager

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