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My Turn: How one parade helped heal Phoenix VA’s wounds

My Turn: How one parade helped heal Phoenix VA’s wounds by Paula Pedene, Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Coordinator

Getting the community involved in the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade is the best thing that could have happened for those affected by the VA wait-time scandal.

“After being a grand marshal in the parade, the demons I faced every night in my dreams were gone,” U.S. Army and Korean War Veteran Peter Haas said.

“Words cannot describe what the parade and being a grand marshal did for me. It’s beyond anything else in helping me heal,” U.S Navy and Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran April Wise noted.

The Phoenix Veterans Day Parade has meaning beyond pomp and circumstance.

VA washed its hands of the parade

We’ve been hit hard as veterans here in Phoenix with the VA wait-time scandal. The events of the last few years have dampened the morale of the well-intentioned VA staff who strive to do the best for our veterans each day. It’s wounded our veterans’ trust in their system, and it remains an ongoing concern in our community as we look for ways to help our veterans get the help they need.

Although I never sought the title of “whistleblower,” when I was “banished to the basement” in 2012 as one of the original Phoenix VA whistleblowers, I too had to figure out a way to make sense of it all.

In 2013, my opportunity came when the Veterans Day Parade was cast aside by VA leadership in Phoenix. It was a tough transition for all of us.

What an all-volunteer effort can do

It meant the non-profit Honoring Arizona’s Veterans would have to step up in a big way. It meant the event, which used to be part of my full-time VA job, would now be an all-volunteer effort. Staging areas, storage, even the huge balloons featured in the parade — gone.

Our team would need to coordinate this event outside of work hours, and this time I would lead it as a veteran and a member of our community. It meant we’d need to look to the greater Phoenix community to rally. And rally we did.

The transition was rough, but here’s the silver lining: The honoring of Arizona’s veterans, now free from governmental red tape, was also free to garner a broader support base, increase corporate sponsors, engage with veteran’s groups and build deep, lasting partnerships with our Phoenix community.

Through the transition, the parade became a beacon of hope. It gave the community ways to display our patriotic support and it gave our veterans who participate, and myself, a chance to heal.

How you can get involved

You can be a part of this healing too. The Phoenix Veterans Day Parade is looking for veteran grand marshals. Nominations are open to Maricopa County veterans through the end of May.

Nominees of military service range from World War II to present day, and the guidelines are available online. Both the selectee and the nominator become a part of the parade events and activities that surround Veterans Day on Nov. 11 beginning at 11 a.m.

You also can volunteer to be a part of our parade team, or you can come on board as a donor for this cause. These offerings are at www.honoringarizonasveterans.org.

As a VA whistleblower, I’m grateful that part of my healing comes from giving back to veterans in our community. We’d be grateful to have you join in this time-honored tradition as we honor Arizona’s veterans and help them heal through our Phoenix Veterans Day Parade.

Paula Pedene, a Navy veteran, worked with Dr. Sam Foote to expose the long wait times at the VA hospital. She founded Honoring Arizona’s Veterans, a non-profit that presents the annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade. Email her at Paula@Pedene.com.

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