News Stories

  • Two Veterans Open Up About The Realities of Service

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    By Neil A. Carousso, Special to ConnectingVets.com and WCBS Newsradio 880

    NORTHPORT, N.Y. — As the sun set on a beautiful Thursday evening at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs campus on the North Fork of Long Island, a group of veterans finished their first yoga session and enjoyed dinner together before sitting down in their recreational room to watch the New York Yankees host the Kansas City Royals on television.

    It was a light-hearted evening discussing the latest sports news as a distraction for the veterans’ personal struggles since returning home.

    “Boot camp was great. I went in at 17. [It] toughened me up to be a man,” said Andrew Brand, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served from 1981-83.

    Just moments before he offered to speak on camera about his service in the Marines, Brand was passionately discussing New York sports, including his love for the Yankees, Rangers hockey, Knicks and Giants football, and lighting up the room with his larger-than-life personality and friendly jocularity. Then, he turned serious.

    “[I] came home on leave prior to going to Beirut and I got in a car accident and I was in a coma for 32 days and I was read my last rights by a priest,” Brand said, continuing, “And, October 23, 1983, they car bombed two barracks, 220 Marines were dead and I would have been there.”

    A group called the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Beirut barracks bombings – a terrorist attack on United States and French service members on a peacekeeping mission during the Lebanese Civil War. It was the deadliest attack against the U.S. Marines since the battle over Iwo Jima in February 1945.

    “They’re brothers,” Brand said as he acknowledged he thinks of them often.

    Brand is recovering at the Northport VA Hospital from alcoholism. One day, his 14 year old daughter confronted him after returning from a bar and asked him to seek help. He checked himself in at the VA about 8 months ago and he will be returning home to his family in Sayville on Long Island where his daughter and 8 year old son, Andrew, Jr., live.

    Brand has kept himself in good shape physically and mentally, exercising daily and eating a healthy and consistent diet as if he was still standing a post – six eggs every morning for breakfast and tuna for lunch and dinner. He is adamant about successfully finishing his recovery and avoiding relapse. As Brand says, “Family first.” Brand has been sober since he checked himself in.

    As a Marine, Brand is trained to look out for his cohorts. He shared experiences with Army veteran Donail Sykes who is recovering from a substance abuse issue compounded with PTSD.

     

    Army Veteran Donail Sykes (left) and Marine Corps Vet Andrew Brand play a game of chess at the Northport VA Medical Center. (Neil A. Carousso/Entercom)

    “I’m working on it and I’m fighting back and I’m doing well and I’m about to complete this program, but as far as completing the problem I had, it’s a never-ending problem, it’s forever, so I’m working on staying clean every day,” Sykes said.

    He is returning home to New Jersey in a few days where he has two supportive brothers and two loving sisters waiting for him, hoping he takes the lessons on stress and coping with PTSD that resonated with him to daily practice when he leaves the VA hospital.

    “You know, it’s an every day struggle, but I get through it. I’m getting better now. They give me a lot of training,” said Sykes.

    Both veterans said positivity and sharing their experiences with their fellow vets who can relate and understand their tribulations are therapeutic.

    “Prayer has helped me a lot,” said Brand who makes it a weekly practice to attend Sunday mass with The Greatest Generation on the other side of the VA campus. He then walks the World War II veterans, many with missing limbs, back to their rooms and spends time talking to them. “It gives me a great feeling inside and they’re very happy that they have someone to talk to and it’s a great experience.”

    Each veteran has a story that begins with tremendous sacrifice, and often times, all they need is a welcoming ear to listen.

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  • What Veterans Need to Know about Buying a Home

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    By Neil A. Carousso, Special to ConnectingVets.com and WCBS Newsradio 880

    HAUPPAGE, N.Y. — Corporal DaMel Williamson (Ret.) made a common mistake about 8 years ago after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps and pursuing home ownership.

    “I had a son in 2010. That was the next thing on my brain: I needed a house,” said Cpl. Williamson, who served active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom where he was the senior corporal in charge of the 203 Motor-T Marines with three non-commission officers.

     

    Cpl. DaMel Williamson (Ret.) poses for a picture at the Veterans Memorial in Suffolk County, New York. (Neil A. Carousso/Entercom)

    His initial mistake was getting a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan through a bank rather than a Veterans Affairs (VA) home loan – a benefit of which active duty veterans who serve 90 consecutive days during wartime, like Cpl. Williamson, are eligible. Other eligible veterans include those who have served 181 days of active service during peacetime, vets who served more than 6 years in the National Guard or Reserves and spouses of service members who died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-related disability.

    “When you’re in the Marines, it’s just Marines,” said Cpl. Williamson who added that the was informed of his benefits, but when he sought out information, he wasn’t guided or educated on the benefits of using the VA loan rather than the FHA loan.

    “He could have easily went VA, he could have easily had a lower rate, he could have easily saved the money per month by not paying the PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance),” said Michael Aharoni, who founded VetsEDU after his grandfather, an Army veteran, passed away in November 2015.

    “He had the whole military funeral and something just clicked inside my head and I wanted to do something to give back to him to give back to the brave men and women that protect us every single day,” said Aharoni of honoring his grandfather’s legacy. “You fought for us, you fought for our country, you deserve the benefits that you receive.

    Aharoni works from Hauppauge on Long Island, but he travels around the country teaching veterans. VetsEDU now operates in 16 states, partnering with veteran and military groups. It is the largest non-profit military real estate educational organization in the nation.

    Aharoni’s goal is to pass legislation to make home buying education a requirement for veterans to protect them from realtors and banks who may not be motivated to have veterans in their best interest. He was in Washington, D.C. meeting with several members of Congress two weeks ago.

    When Cpl. Williamson achieved his American Dream of home ownership, Aharoni brought him on the board of VetsEDU to educate his peers on what he mastered.

     

    Cpl. DaMel Williamson (Ret.) and VetsEDU Founder Michael Aharoni (Neil A. Carousso/Entercom)

    “I just get them to understand that they are eligible and won’t be lost like I was trying to get a FHA [loan] when you have this great thing in your pocket,” said Cpl. Williamson.

    Other board members include Major Gen. Marta Carcana (Ret.) who was the first Puerto Rican woman adjunct general let alone major general to serve in the U.S. Military. Major Gen. Carcana’s service spans 31 years in the Army Reserve and National Guard, with active duty in Kosovo.

    “Through a mutual friend, Mr. Aharoni and I met. He told me the story, he came to Puerto Rico to visit me, to meet me, to see that I was real and that I was not a make-believe story,” said Major Gen. Carcana via Skype from her home in Puerto Rico who joined VetsEDU out of inspiration and a passion to continue serving the nation while her son is in the Puerto Rican National Guard.

    “Michael gave me the opportunity to serve, to serve those that served, and what better [way] than that – not to lose contact with the people you were in contact with for 31 years, not to lose contact with what you are,” added Carcana.

    “My family is my veterans and I hate to see a vet not having or don’t know,” Cpl. Williamson said of his role with VetsEDU. “When I help my vets, I know I’m doing them a good thing.”

     

    5 Things Veterans Should Know about Buying a Home:

    1. Not every bank is equal

    VetsEDU Founder Michael Aharoni says banks charge fees of which veterans should not pay. He explains banks have a VA approval process and some are better than others in honoring those who served and scaling back unnecessary fees.

    In addition, banks will work with vets when they are ready to purchase a home; whereas, VetsEDU begins working with veterans even a year before they are ready, educating veterans on the approval process and helping them and their families develop their budget and improve their credit scores.

    2. Not every realtor is equal

    Aharoni is a licensed real estate broker with the designation of MRP that stands for Military Relocation Professional. Veterans should work with realtors with that certification and experience who understand the ins and outs of the VA Loan.

    3. Not every house is equal

    “You cannot use a VA Loan on a co-op,” Aharoni said, adding that not every condo is VA approved. Your MRP-certified real estate broker will be able to guide you in the right direction as you begin this process.

    There are minimum requirements of homes to be approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Aharoni says a basic rule of thumb is that homes with little renovations needed are likely to be approved.

    4. You can secure a VA loan with low credit and income.

    While credit and income are important in securing a loan approval, the VA Loan is “much less strict than your conventional loan,” said Aharoni who guides veterans with low credit and income meet the basic requirements and stay on top of payments with an action plan.

    5a. VA Loan is the easiest to close and be accepted.

    “The VA Loan is probably the fastest loan to close,” Aharoni said, adding it may only be 30-60 days before the loan closes. Veterans put no money down on the VA Loan, but some sellers ask for one to put down a good-faith deposit that will go towards the closing cost if the seller wants to see proof the veteran has the financial wherewithal to hold up his or her end of the deal.

    5b. Have the right team in place!

    You can learn more about VetsEDU and contact Michael Aharoni for more information through their website, VetsEDU.org.

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  • The New Wave: Women in Politics and the Power of Social Media

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    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — It’s not that the rules are changing, but new technology is making it easier for political upstarts to run their campaigns. That’s one element helping a record number of female candidates seeking public office this year.

    Getting out your political message is always about money. But a new dynamic is helping fuel first time and often unknown candidates.

    “What we learn is that social media can be an incredibly powerful, leveling force. And it can level the playing field for people who heretofore haven’t had a voice in politics and may not have the resources to get their voices heard,” said Brigid Harrison, who teaches political science at Montclair State University.

    Debbie Walsh sees this benefiting all newcomers, but especially the new wave of women candidates. There are Facebook groups, Twitter trends and other rapid fire connections.

    “I think social media is playing a role in this. I feel there is a connection among women that they just didn’t have in the early 90s. A way of a kind of a constant level of communication that I think will help keep this momentum going,” said Walsh, who heads the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

    Former New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno thinks this is especially important in reaching younger voters.

    “Tweeting it, instagramming it and whatever else the newest fad is, it’s all good for millennials. And if they’re brought up in that generation — you saw some of it I think with the shooting quite frankly. They’ve been empowered, the kids understand that they have the power to change outcomes,” Guadagno said.

    The Parkland high school students in Florida have shown themselves to be a political force.

    “The Parkland incident was a catalyst moment where we saw this surge of youth activism which then inspired more adult activism,” said Mark Barden, who co-founded the gun violence prevention group Sandy Hook Promise after his 7-year old son Daniel was killed in the 2012 Newtown school shooting. “They’re interacting with elected officials and folks at the grassroots level alike. It’s kind of a level playing field, and they are doing some great work and raising awareness like we’ve never seen before.”

    The lessons from those students are transferable to politics.

    “What happened in Parkland is kind of showing itself as a roadmap for public activism and that it’s not difficult and it’s not as polraizing or divisive as some folks would like you to think it is,” Barden said.

    Following the shooting, Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez, who became an activist and advocate for gun control, received more Twitter followers than the NRA. Harrison said social media is a powerful tool that can level the playing and create an equal voice among participants.

    “At the end of the day for some Congressional candidates they’re going to be able to use social media incredibly adeptly whether they’re male or female and use that as a potential source of power,” Harrison said. “I think it’s disingenous to say that this is how every woman candidate who is running is going to succeed because we have some very traditional women running, we have people running in districts where social media usage is not on par as it is with other places and so it is one tool in the toolbox and I think it’s a really important one particularly young candidates and for young social activists who are mobilizing other people like them but if you’re trying to get the 65-plus vote out in your district maybe Instagram isn’t the best way of doing that.”

    Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) thinks this energetic, youth-fueled movement will make a difference.

    “We follow their lead or get out of their way. They are moving,” DeLauro said.

     

    Neil A. Carousso produced WCBS Newsradio 880 reporter Peter Haskell’s multi-platform series titled “The New Wave: Women in Politics.” See the video piece of this installment here.

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  • Proud Air Force Vet of 4 Decades Pays Lifelong Homage to the American Flag

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    By Neil A. Carousso, Special to ConnectingVets.com and WCBS Newsradio 880

    VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — Whenever James Cunningham sees the American flag, he salutes.

    Cunningham is a retired senior master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force. His 41 years of service to our nation spans active duty and Air National Guard service.

    “I know the history of our country, I know what went into the first flag when it came up, and it’s always been a symbol of our country and the way that we live and I’m proud to be part of that,” Cunningham said.

    Congress authorized the United States Flag on June 14, 1777, which is now observed as Flag Day.

    The flag was first flown during the American Revolution at Fort Stanwix, on the site of the present city of Rome, New York, on August 3, 1777. It was first under fire for three days later in the Battle of Oriskany.

    “I’ve seen a lot of flags and a lot of people who are as proud as I am and I see by the way they display it,” Cunningham said.

    When the American Flag is not displayed “properly,” Cunningham politely speaks up because presentation of the flag is essential to the veteran as a representation of our republic.

    Recently, Cunningham was going into a restaurant when he noticed the flag on a home next door was “disreputable” because it was in “tatters.”

    “When I left the restaurant, I stopped and I rang the doorbell and the homeowner came to the door and I said, ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve noticed that flag flying there, but it really isn’t a good idea to keep it up the way it is because it’s torn,’” Cunningham said.

    Cunningham told the woman that she was “embarrassing” herself by displaying the American flag in such a poor condition. “You’re not giving it the proper respect,” Mr. Cunningham recalled telling her.

    She told him that she had a new flag, but she was unable to replace it herself, so Mr. Cunningham put it up for her, replacing the old flag and giving the ripped flag a proper retirement.

    “I told her, ‘You can be proud of that flag now and I’m proud that I was able to help you with that,’” Cunningham recalled, with a smile on his face.

    When Mr. Cunningham walks in parades with the Knights of Columbus, he marvels at the American flag and salutes the 13 red and white stripes – representing the 13 British colonies that declared independence from Great Britain – and the 50 white stars on the sea of blue that symbolizes the 50 states.

    Cunningham lights up when he spots the flag like the solar-powered landscape spotlight that shines on his flag at nighttime from the edge of the bushes on his manicured lawn.

    “I salute when I come home,” said Cunningham, whose children used to tease him when they were younger, but now, they understand why he pays his respects to the flag.

    As he gazed at Old Glory delicately waving in the breeze in front of his Valley Stream, Long Island home, as the sun set on a beautiful spring Friday evening, Mr. Cunningham turned his head slightly, so he could still see the flag, flashed a smile, and exclaimed, “I’m proud it’s my flag.”

    Ret. Sr. Master Sgt. James Cunningham proudly wears his uniform that still fits nearly 23 years after he was discharged.

    A Life of Service

    Cunningham was discharged in July 1995 when he turned 60 years old. His tailor-made Air Force dress uniform still fits today at age 83; he proudly wore it in his Nassau County home, where he started a life with his late wife Mary, eight miles from where he was raised in Queens.

    “I wish my wife were here to share this moment with me,” Cunningham said while visibly holding back tears. “We were married for 47 years, we didn’t quite make 50, but she was my inspiration, and as far as the service went, she was with me 100 percent.”

    Mr. Cunningham has kept the last rose that was by Mary’s bedside when she passed 10 years ago. He keeps it in a tea cup with “Mary” inscribed in script. A blessing to Mr. Cunningham, the rose has not disintegrated. The rose and tea cup sit atop his living room fireplace adjacent to pictures of his loving family, including his eldest daughter who fell ill from a 9/11-related cancer as she worked on Wall Street and inhaled the smoke that engulfed Lower Manhattan.

    Far from despondent, Cunningham is proud, especially of his country that has afforded him a sense of purpose, joy and gratitude. He keeps himself busy with the American Legion and Knights of Columbus organizations, while also serving as an extraordinary minister at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, which is down the street from Cunningham’s home in Valley Stream.

    “My service life endeared me for the rest of my life. It taught me things that came very handy in civilian life,” said Mr. Cunningham.

    See more stories at ConnectingVets.com

     

     

     

     

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  • WCBS Small Business Breakfast Showcases WeWork, AI Company & More

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (WCBS 880) — Small business owners from the Tri-State area gathered at the Meadowlands Hilton in East Rutherford, New Jersey for a morning full of networking and business tips Thursday at the WCBS Delta Dental Of New Jersey Small Business Breakfast, hosted by WCBS 880’s business reporter Joe Connolly.

    “I just love these days because we get so much energy and ideas from the people here, exchanging what’s working for them and whose business is up and why,” Connolly, host of WCBS 880’s Small Business Spotlight mini-series, said.

    Joe Connolly is live from the WCBS Delta Dental of New Jersey and Connecticut Small Business Breakfast with WCBS Newsradio 880 Meteorologist Todd Glickman and Ramon Ray of Smart Hustle Magazine at the Meadowlands Hilton! Ramon was a guest on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight. #WCBSBizBreakfast WCBS880.com/Spotlight.

    Posted by WCBS Newsradio 880 on Thursday, June 14, 2018

    The theme of the breakfast was “How To Think About Your Business in New Ways.”

    Special guests at the event included Rui Barros, Senior Vice President and Head of Operations US/Canada East/Tri-State of WeWork, as well as Tyler Mathisen, CNBC Business News Anchor. Before the breakfast kicked off, Mathisen spoke to WCBS 880’s Steve Scott on air with Wayne Cabot and Paul Murnane about the positive economic atmosphere the country has been experiencing recently.

    “I am hearing optimism. I think when you hear the chairman of the Federal Reserve yesterday say that the American economy is great that is not usually what you hear from the very circumspect heads of the U.S. central banks. So when he says something like that that sets the tone and you can see it reflected here. More businesses are hiring than not hiring,” Mathisen said. “More businesses are expanding than not expanding. And so you see a lot of sort of optimism in the crowd today the turnout is good, the turnout is great.”

    Among the many successful small businesses showcased at the event was Satisfi Labs, an artificial intelligence company that “made physical location a live search engine.” Founder and CEO Don White explained how he found his unique idea and turned it into a reality.

    “We saw an opening, and we looked at physical locations like a Jet game, a Broadway show, musical concert, retail store. A comment was mentioned about personalization of trying to find a person. Well when you walk into a place like that how easy is it to try and find a person? So you use artificial intelligence to enable a mobile device to locate and find things, services or purchase decisions you want to make in large physical areas. So we leverage artificial intelligence to essentially make a physical location a live search engine,” White said.

    Satisfi Labs CEO and Founder Don White says his artificial intelligence company “made physical location a live search engine.” His high-end clients include the New York Mets. #WCBSBizBreakfast ‬

    Posted by WCBS Newsradio 880 on Thursday, June 14, 2018

    Satisfi Labs, which has high-end clients including the New York Mets, has created software that allows users to find what they want when they want it directly from the source. Whether you’re a fan in a sporting arena looking for the closest peanut concession or a shopper looking for a certain shirt at the mall, users can log onto Satisfi Labs and search for their products. White explained this as training the “perfect employee,” then placing it into consumers’ phones, allowing them to find what they need immediately and without any issues.

    “So it’s like training your perfect employee, putting it in your phone and then that property or asset owner is telling you what they want you to know, not a third-party search engine that scrapes websites,” White said.

    To showcase his business model, White presented the “fan in a stadium” example, explaining that with Satisfi Labs spectators do not have to search all over the arena for a specific concession. Rather, they can search on Satisfi Labs’ venue information to find the exact location.

    “Provide a way for you to get what you want on demand from your seat or when you’re going to the stadium so you don’t have to find a person, and you can get it all on your phone,” White said.

    In addition, Gary Stout spoke about his company Buzzworthy Studio, which helps consumers expand and establish their digital brands.

    This year marks the 23rd year that the WCBS 880’s Small Business Breakfast has been connecting entrepreneurs in a professional setting. It now stands as the longest running small business event series in the New York area.

    For more pictures and information from the event, visit #WCBSBizBreakfast on Twitter.

    Neil A. Carousso produced WCBS Newsradio 880’s multi-media coverage of the Small Business Breakfast and assisted in organizing the event in East Rutherford, NJ on June 14, 2018. All WCBS 880 videos and social media posts were written, edited and published by Neil A. Carousso.

     

     

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