Tag Archives: Veterans

Custom Diesel Drivers Training, Inc.

December 1, 2017 by

This sponsored content was printed in the November/December issue of Omaha Magazine. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/80623_omag_city/78

James Walker bleeds red, white, and blue. As a young man, Walker served under the military occupation code 63F, Army Recovery Specialist, from 1979-1982. In the years just post-Vietnam, this position was especially important to the military. Walker performed operator maintenance on all types of wreckers, recovery vehicles, and associated equipment.

“We used an M-88 tank and got other tanks and brought them back,” Walker says. “We had a 28-wheel tractor-trailer, that was my specialty.”

Walker and his unit spent three years recovering vehicles and sending them back to his base at Fort Riley, Kansas. It was three proud years for Walker—three that helped guide the course of his life.

“I probably would have made a career out of the military, if I hadn’t not gotten married,” Walker says.

Walker came back to the Midwest and began a life with his now-wife of 37 years, Bonnie. Transitioning from military service to civilian life was not easy.

“It was awfully hard for me to come out of the military and have someone stand over my shoulder and tell me what to do,” Walker says.

Instead, he turned to a profession with a natural fit for his skill set, and his mind set. One in which he could be his own boss. As a truck driver, Walter served his country by moving supplies from place to place. He had learned to drive a truck years before from “the guy across the street.” The guy was Denzil Edwards, Bonnie’s father.

In 2003, he dropped off a resume at Custom Diesel Drivers’ Training. At that point, he was tired of driving and wanted to try a new profession. Five years later, then-director Walt Craft called Walker and wanted to speak with him.

Walker accepted a position as an instructor for one year before then-president Roger Alger asked Walker if he was interested in buying the business. Walker was not, but Alger told Craft that Walker should look into all the company files and learn as much as he could about the business. One year later Walker bought the company, with some financial help from Alger.

Under Walker’s ownership, the business has grown from 41 students in his first year to more than 300 students annually. Many of those students are veterans. Walker and his employees work hand-in-hand with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to obtain funding for veterans interested in studying to get a commercial driver’s license. They also maintain relationships with other trucking companies and serve as an unofficial unemployment office for their students, since they have knowledge of who is hiring in the industry. Walker says most trucking companies are veteran- friendly, and trucking is a good way for someone coming out of the military to earn a decent income and be their own boss.

They also created a commemorative truck, featuring an image of a soldier on the cab and an image of an American flag on the trailer. The company displays this truck as a symbol of gratitude at veteran-friendly events, such as those with the First Responders Foundation, whenever requested.

“I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if people hadn’t helped me out,” Walker says. “So I try to help out as many people as I can.”

Custom Diesel Drivers Training, Inc.

14615 Cornhusker Rd., Omaha, NE 68138 402.894.1400


Wading Through the Floodwaters

July 2, 2015 by

Article originally appears in July/August 2015 60-Plus.

Commie Schaben’s 82-year-old father, Ed, is a Korean War veteran who served at Virginia Beach. He survived horrors untold, but last year, he almost died after his small intestine ruptured.

Commie was determined to have him live at home with her after that, but she says making that happen without some kind of assistance would have been difficult.

“I’d be really hurting,” she says. “I’d be skimping and scraping really bad. I probably would have had to put him in a home. I’d rather have him here with me.”

So she went to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website to see if she could obtain any assistance for her dad along the lines of a wheelchair or bathroom handlebars. She sent them her phone number, asking for some guidance.

Dave Olney, a local care advocate, got in touch with her. It turned out the V.A. could do a lot more for her and her dad than she realized.

“It’s just wonderful,” she says.

It may not be the most widely known aid program, but the V.A. offers benefits to former members of the armed forces, and their spouses, to help pay for the cost of care. The veterans’ benefits program helps eligible members pay for care costs like assisted living, treatment after major medical conditions, etc.

Olney often works with clients seeking to obtain veterans benefits and says a veteran and his/her spouse are eligible to receive $25,000 a year for care. A veteran by him or herself may receive a little over $21,000 annually, and the surviving spouse of a veteran may be eligible for over $13,000 annually.

Only about 5 percent of eligible veterans are taking advantage of these benefits.

“In today’s society, as you grow older, quite often, the more care you need, and some of our elderly people [are in] need of care and protecting their assets,” Olney says.

So, why are so few veterans collecting this money?

Olney thinks there are two reasons. The first is that not many people know about the benefits.

The second is that the process can be complicated. Even though no one can charge for filling out the requisite paperwork, oftentimes that paperwork can be confusing, and incorrectly entered or missing information may lead to the V.A. denying an applicant without an explanation.

Olney says one of his recent clients was denied because of a piece of paper missing from the application.

“He would’ve quit right then and there, but that’s the way it is when you deal with government. They don’t always give you all the facts.”

Allan Jackson, director of the Douglas County Veterans Services, says the V.A. requires certain forms and documents to establish a given veteran’s service time and discharge status. The V.A. also requests verification of income and assets as well as medical information if the requested benefits are for care; however, he says there are limits to what a Veterans Service officer is allowed to ask of someone inquiring about benefits.

“We can’t get into an individual’s history,” he says. “We can’t get into an individual’s income and assets. Confidentiality comes into play.”

Even if you fill out all the paperwork, Olney says, how you answer a given question may alter your chances of receiving benefits. For example, the paperwork asks about your assets. What is considered an asset? If you own a given asset, do you own 100 percent of it? (The correct answer is no.) Questions like those aren’t explained in the rules, Olney says, and a care advocate can help applicants determine their finances and incomes, and how care costs affect their incomes. If you tell the V.A. you make a certain amount of money, the V.A. might deny you benefits because your income is too high. Jackson stresses the importance of itemizing the ways in which your income is spent on care. And if you factor in the cost of your care, Olney says, that might help your case.

Olney says he’s found the average veteran who successfully applies and submits the paperwork will start receiving benefits within 90 days. And if more eligible members take advantage of the benefits, there might be other advantages as well. Not only would the veterans and their families be better off, but there would be less strain on other federal programs like Medicaid and Social Security.

As for Ed, Commie says, the V.A. sends visiting nurses to their home. Her dad is also at the top of the list of eligible candidates to stay at the new V.A. home if it comes to that, and if her mom were still alive, the V.A. would have helped her get into assisted living.

“They are entitled to this,” Olney says. “It’s a thing they’ve sacrificed for…it’s something they have truly earned, so why shouldn’t they have this benefit if they’ve truly earned it?


Battling for Veterans

December 3, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As members of the Greatest Generation, today’s military veterans were drilled about the value of discipline. While discipline is often synonymous with a do-it-yourself attitude, when it comes to receiving their military benefits, those who have served also need to have the discipline to make sure they are receiving all of the benefits entitled to them from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Care advocate David Olney is one of the people fighting on the front lines to make sure veterans are doing just that.

“A majority of seniors have worked very hard in their lifetime, especially veterans,” says Olney. “And their legacy is the hard work they’ve done and are passing on to their heirs. A part of that legacy is taking advantage of the things that they have accomplished during their lifetime and are eligible for, and I think that’s very important.”

Under the VA, there are two types of disability income benefits available for veterans who served on active duty—pension and compensation. The pension program benefits are tied to disabilities that are not service-related, while compensation benefits are tied to disabilities that are service-related.

No matter what kind of benefits veterans or their family members are looking to apply for, Olney says to start early. Benefits-seekers can either go to an accredited agent, such as Olney, or to their local VA county service officer. In the case of Douglas County residents, that would be Bernie Brosnihan.

Both Olney and Brosnihan say their consultations last about 60-90 minutes. From there, Olney will send clients to their local VA office to fill out the necessary paperwork. Brosnihan says that once the initial claim is filed, it usually takes about six months to hear back from the state VA office. With a multitude of different pension income benefits available, and different qualifications for each, it’s important that veterans turn to someone who is VA accredited to maximize their potential pension or compensation benefits.

“Let’s take a veteran whose 70% disabled, Says Olney. “He turns 70, so he could now be considered unemployable, and that automatically makes him 100% disabled. There are many examples like that where we automatically see an increase in benefits. Unless you stop by and visit your veteran’s service officer every year, you aren’t going to see this.”

Additionally, it’s not just veterans who should be checking in. Widows and widowers of veterans can be eligible to receive death pension or dependents indemnity compensation (DIC). Sons and daughters who act as caretakers for their veteran parent can also receive payment through an aid and attendance allowance for disabled veterans.

Both Brosnihan and Olney agree that, no matter what information veterans might have heard or been told about, it is their responsibility to take advantage of them, and not ignore them.

“World War II veterans in particular had this attitude of bucking up,” says Brosnihan. “So many of these people missed out on benefits they could have gotten.”

For questions about their benefits eligibility, veterans can contact the Douglas County Veterans’ Service Office at 402-444-7180.


Finding Purpose

October 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the outside, Dennis Circo’s Enterprise Center at 96th and L streets looks like a lot of other buildings under construction. But once you walk through the temporary entrance, you’re immediately struck by the intricate beauty of what is becoming one of the city’s most upscale office buildings.

The Enterprise Center once housed Circo’s company, Precision Industries Inc., a longtime Omaha company that was a giant on the international scene of integrated supply-chain management and industrial distribution. It served dozens of the country’s top Fortune 500 corporations. Circo sold the company in 2007 but retained numerous properties throughout Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee. The sale was surprising, he says now, since the company was never actually for sale.

Circo said he was hesitant to sell the company—it defined who he was. But when the eventual buyer, DXP Enterprises, came to him with an offer and met every demand Circo could raise, he decided the time might be right to sell.

“I was one of those people who I thought would die at my desk,” he says. “I was traveling four days a week, putting in a lot of hours, and my health wasn’t great.”

The sale, though fortuitous since it happened just months before the country’s headfirst dive into recession, was hard on Circo. Harder than he ever imagined it would be.

“I was like those football players who retire and then get lost in the foggy wilderness,” he says. “They don’t know what to do with themselves. The game defines who they were.”

The company was founded in 1945 by his father, Sebastian “Seb” Circo, who died in 2005. The company had survived tough times, particularly in the early 2000s. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, one of Precision’s clients, Delta Air Lines, went bankrupt. Several large steel mills that Precision worked with closed.

Precision Industries defined Circo for most of his life. He started driving the delivery truck during the summer as a 16-year-old and joined the company full-time after graduating from Creighton University when sales were at $2.9 million. He saw it grow to $300 million annually when it sold.

The company’s 700 employees were family to Circo. He says he was close to selling Precision in 2005 after his father’s death, but couldn’t do it. But in 2007, Circo’s thinking began to change.

“I looked in the mirror and thought maybe this is what I’m supposed to do,” he says.

The years following the sale affected Circo in ways he didn’t expect. For several years, he says, he suffered from an identity crisis. The Enterprise Center project, buildings in other states, and the new challenges they bring has helped to re-energize Circo.

Space in the Center, which already has tenants working in the building’s first of three planned phases, already is in high demand. Circo marveled how Mark Simonson, vice president of marketing and management, leased all 30 available spaces in the first phase in less than 45 days. During a tour of the building the two joked that a lot of those customers didn’t need much prodding to sign on—simply walking into the building and seeing the interior often was enough.

“This is a different concept in Omaha, a total concierge environment, where all services are provided,” Simonson says. “We’ve taken it to a different level, a level of elegance that isn’t offered elsewhere in Omaha.”

Circo and Simonson agreed that it helped that Omaha’s business community knows Precision Industries and the Circo family had over 60 years of service and success in the industrial community, and that this new venture would be a first-class operation.

The interior features lots of wood, crown molding, high ceilings, granite, marble floors, and an event room that will handle up to 100 guests.

Tenants also have access to a full-time, live receptionist, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, high-definition video teleconferencing capabilities, and full-time IT support. There are board rooms, conference rooms, and event rooms. A variety of floor plans is available, and tenants can choose between furnished and unfurnished offices.

Tenants can choose from long and short-term leases. In addition, the building is located on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares and is only minutes from the interstate. Among the early tenants are AFLAC, a mediator, and a number of insurance agents and attorneys. The second and third phases are about 90 days away from completion. The building will house about 160 offices and cost about $4.5 million to renovate.

“It’s been a fun project,” Circo says. “It has genuinely rejuvenated me.”

The Enterprise Center isn’t all that has kept Circo on the move lately. Over the last few years, he has become more open about his philanthropic ventures. In May, the Dennis P. Circo ‘65 Memorial Plaza at Creighton Prep was dedicated. Circo, a graduate of Prep, noticed the name of Circo’s mother’s first husband, John Cantoni, was missing from a wall memorial honoring Prep grads who had died in battle along with 333 Jesuit Priests, Brothers, teachers and mentors. From there grew into a larger outdoor memorial that he funded. Circo’s mother, Olive, passed away in July.

Circo also sponsors 55 scholarships that allow minority students to attend private schools across the metro. The scholarships cover all their costs. Photos of many of those students are displayed prominently in his office area inside the Enterprise Center.

Circo also has started numerous scholarships at Creighton University, his alma mater, in the name of some of the priests there. And in the Enterprise Center, Circo has donated space to one of his favorite nonprofits, Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and Delivery, which collects food donations with a truck and delivers it to Omaha’s needy.

Circo also gave Saving Grace the money to purchase the refrigerated truck that is used in gathering and delivering food donations.

He says that, for years, he helped charitable organizations behind the scenes, choosing to remain anonymous and shun attention for his giving. But, he says, that changed a few years ago after meeting with a priest at a school located in one of Omaha’s most impoverished areas.

“The priest told me a story about a well-known, very wealthy local Omaha businessman who he approached for a donation. The priest told this businessman that when he came to this particular school and neighborhood it was a very dark place with little or no hope for the students and he was trying to bring some hope there. He asked this kind and generous businessman if he would consider sponsoring one child all the way through high school up into college. The businessman told the priest, ‘No. I won’t do it for one student; I’ll do it for all students that meet certain minimum criteria.’”

Circo says that act of kindness was the inspiration for the Circo Scholarship Program.

“So you see, there is an upside to not remaining anonymous,” Circo says. “Generosity is contagious.”