Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 13
“You know, you play football, you fight for a long time. But then when you’re done, just like the military, that transition is, is rough.”
Merging Vets and Players (MVP)’s Program Director and former MMA fighter, Oscar Kush, shares how combat veterans and past professional athletes can grow together through physical fitness and peer-to-peer support.
Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director at The Road Home Program at Rush: Good Day to everybody and thank you again for joining us for the Road Home Program, the podcast. I’m Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director of the Road Home Program and today with the Road Home podcast, we’re talking with a great friend, partner, peer, Oscar Kush, Program Manager for Merging Vets And Players, also known as MVP, here in Chicago. And again, we’re honored to have Oscar with us to learn more about what he and his team does for veterans at Merging Vets and Players. Again, I’ll refer to it going forwards as MVP. Before I kick things off, and get Oscar rolling here, I just want to take a moment to share with the audience if this is the first time you’re joining, this is the Road Home, we call it the podcast. This is our opportunity to kind of highlight partners, peers, friendships, you know, other things that are going on for, you know, that work with the Road Home Program here at Rush University Medical Center. And if you don’t know what Road Home Program is, basically we’re a veteran and Family Center. And we help those men and women who might be struggling with what we call the invisible wounds of war and life, those being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, you’ll hear it referred to as PTSD, military sexual trauma, MST, traumatic brain injury, TBI, and other challenges that service members or veterans may be facing. You know, we’ve been serving veterans, you know, again, we say veterans, we also serve active duty, reserve Guard, and reserve, I said, reserve, National Guard as well as active-duty components. And we’ve been doing this for over eight years and we’ve served almost 3,000 people to date. And so again, if you want to learn more about the Road Home Program, you can go to roadhomeprogram.org, and you can look and see. We got outpatient services. We also have what’s called an Intensive Outpatient Program, an IOP. And if you want to learn more about that, please go and visit our website. Or you can also call us at 312-942-8387. Again, 312 942 VETS. So, let’s talk with our guest today, Oscar Kush. So, Oscar, tell us about yourself and what you do at MVP.
Oscar Kush, Program Manager at Merging Vets and Players Chicago: Thank you, Will. Thank you for having me. My name is Oscar Kush. I’m the Program Manager of Merging Vets and Players here in Chicago. Basically, what we do is we’re behavior health. So every week, every Wednesday, we meet from 7 to 9 P.M. And we do a workout for an hour. And then we do a huddle for an hour. And the workout is normally consisting of a high-intensity style. Our core value is kind of the mixed martial arts realm. So we kind of stick to that but sometimes we do switch it up. And then after we get the workout, we get that sweat in, we get into the huddle. So we take just a short break, bring it back in. And then we just have that peer-to-peer forum for both former combat veterans and former pro athletes to come together and, kind of, talk. You know, through that similar experience, kind of, just bring them together. I was a Marine for five years. I served from 2009 to 2014. I was on the 13th MEU and then I went to Afghanistan, as well. After that, I got out of the military. I fought as a professional MMA fighter. I did that for about four years. And then things kind of didn’t work out the way I hoped. So I, you know, decided to do different things. It brought me here. I was a member of MVP when I was struggling and through this program, I was able to grow and become a better person. And now I have the chance to lead and help other veterans that were in a position that I was in at one point.
Will Beiersdorf: Great. Great. I love it. Can you tell the audience, again, so MVP, Merging Vets and Players, how did it start? You know, what’s the history behind it? And again, is it just here in Chicago, or again, there’s folks that are probably going to be listening from all across the country. But, is it also in other places throughout the country or you know, other states or cities?
Oscar Kush: So, MVP started about five years ago. It started in Los Angeles originally and that’s where I first found it. That’s where it originally started. Then it opened up in Las Vegas. Now it’s grown to seven chapters, went from L.A. to Las Vegas. Chicago was the third chapter. Now, we’re in Seattle, New York, Atlanta and Dallas, as well. And the goal is to get to every city that has an NFL team. Um, we’re trying to make that happen. It’s a process, but we’re working on that. How it started? Basically, Jay and Nate, I’d met Jay Glazer from FOX. He had met Nate, they own a gym make Nate Boyer is a Green Beret. And he also played in the NFL and as he was training for the NFL, he met Jay and they started working out together, coming together and they’re kind of talking about things, you know, they created that bond. And you know, there’s a lot of homelessness veterans in Los Angeles. And one day they just decided to link up and they went down to a homeless shelter then met Denver Morris, who’s now that Outreach Director for us. They met him and they brought him into the gym. Next thing, you know, they start hosting these workouts in L.A. at Unbreakable and inviting vets in. Jay would bring players in. And because one of the correlations Jay saw from his athlete’s side was his friends are struggling once the helmet come off. You know, with athletes, football, you know, or all these different sports, MMA. You know, you play football, you fight for a long time, but then when you’re done, just like the military, that transition is, is rough. You can’t just go and get a job. It’s you know, you have coaching, but that can’t necessarily pay for your family or forever. So, they decided to start building the program there. It started as a small group. One of my friends, Shane Maple, a guy served with and I was in Afghanistan, was with Denver in that, in that homeless shelter at that time. And we were talking and we, you know, communicate, and he would come stay with me from time to time and told me about the program. He’s like, “Oh, man, they brought us down to this gym. We’re working out.” That’s how I met Denver. I never got the chance to go immediately because I just, like, had other things going on. But Denver kept, kept hitting me up and was like, “Why don’t you come? Why don’t you come?” And at first I was like, “Oh, why does he want me to even show up?” And then I did show up and I went to Unbreakable. I got to do the workout. We had that huddle. And this was back when it was real small, only the one chapter, probably 20 people in the room. Now, L.A. has 50 people in the room. Vegas and these chapters are growing all over the country. And it’s pretty incredible.
Will Beiersdorf: That’s great. That’s great. So, who, so you say veterans, but again, can it be if folks are serving on active duty or reserve and guard or can veteran families participate? I mean, what’s the, you know, who can participate, Oscar?
Oscar Kush: So, our participation is combat veterans. We have a similar qualification as the VFW. So, it’s, you know, it, you know, if you meet those guidelines, you meet our guidelines for the for the veteran piece, and that’s who we serve. That’s our mission is to combat veterans.
Will Beiersdorf: Good. No, that’s perfect. That, stay focused, right? Stay focused on that one thing that you do well. So, tell the folks about the team, again, the leadership and some of the other folks that make up MVP, not just here in Chicago, but you know, throughout the community. I mean, you had mentioned Jay and Nate. You know, who else is involved? And, and, you know, the other thing I was going to ask is, like, what, you know, those I know, there’s other folks that are doing similar things, but what sets, what, what sets MVP apart, you know, from some of our other peers, right? We’re all in it together, right? We’re all trying to help to serve this community, but what sets that leadership team and, you know, the work you guys do, apart from some of the other organizations?
Oscar Kush: I think the MVP here in Chicago, we got a lot of great leaders. Dwayne’s our trainer, Dwayne Allen. He’s incredibly motivating. He does his best to talk to the veterans both inside and outside the huddle. Then, we have our owners of the gym, POW! Gym. Dave and Kat Ogren. Great, great supporters of the veteran community. The husband Dave is a first responder. The wife was in Mortal Kombat as Kitana. They’re fantastic people. They’ve been really supportive of our program, always willing to work with us, help us do events, all everything. As far as Chicago, I mean, and then our members. We got some great members. Chris Buscher came from the Rush Road Home Program. He’s, he’s incredible. He’s biked. He’s got a goal of, he started out with a goal of 1,000 miles this season biking, and he’s almost at 2,000! He’s lost over 50 pounds and I’m very proud of him. And no, you you’d love that, as well. So, yeah, Chris is a great guy. We got Daniel Kessler and also came from the Rush Road Home Program. He just graduated from the Windy City, his program that he’s been doing, he’s been working a lot and just going to school and doing everything and it’s been great. I think the thing that MVP does, that sets us apart, is that we have our weekly meeting. You know, we have our workout. We have our huddle, but I like to say it’s much more than just the that. The group that we have, we’re doing things outside of that. And we, you know, sometimes in the veteran community, you know, it can be like a nightlife kind of mentality. The thing that we do is, you know, it’s that physical fitness and that mental fitness, and, you know, really focusing on that, and just, you know, helping those vets out, you know, that want to workout and get together workout, both their physical and their mental. And by doing that, it’s really helped me and you know, our team. And without our team, we’re nothing. You know, I mean, you got to have the team, and we have a solid one. And we’re always looking people, if they want to, you know, want to come be a part of it, you know, we’re here and just willing to help however we can.
Will Beiersdorf: Good, I love it, I love it. Hey, I just want to stop for a moment. And again, if you’re just joining us on this podcast, I’m Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director of the Road Home Program here at Rush University Medical Center. And I’m with Oscar Kush. He’s the Program Manager of Merging Vets And Players MVP here in Chicago. We’re talking about some of the work that he and his team does, you know, with veterans, you know, here in Chicagoland. And, you know, you touched upon, again, the fact that there are folks that, you know, again, come from our program, you know, and you know, gone through, you know, the work we do, you know, helping folks manage and those challenges of PTSD or other invisible wounds. And can you talk a little bit about the collaboration? I mean, again, I love the fact that we’re collaborating and helping each other out, you know, referring going back and forth. But, you know, again, I guess the question for you is, you know, when you’re talking with someone, and you kind of sense that, hey, something’s there’s some challenges, you know, how do you how do you kind of pierce that conversation? Or start that conversation about not just the physical work, but you know, hey, how do you, how are you taking care of your mental side, right? You know, the things in your heart or your soul or your mind?
Oscar Kush: You know, it’s really just finding that common ground. You know, more often than not, through those shared experiences, there’s something you can find, a similarity that you can kind of, kind of how do I put this – being vulnerable, right? Being vulnerable. And having to do that, you know, when someone opens up to you having, being vulnerable to them as well. I think that’s important, you know, during that and our huddle, that’s kind of how I attack it. But sometimes, you know, it just depends on how it’s going, you know. It’s case by case. Every person’s different.
Will Beiersdorf: Right. Got it. No. And again, I like that. I mean, you kind of hit on something that some of those common core values or common experiences, things of that nature. And that’s kind of the way the Road Home Program works, too. I mean, you know, when folks, when folks connect with us, or we’re working with somebody, we’re not just make, we’re not assuming anything, right? Until we take time to listen, and learn and see where folks are at, right? And sometimes, they don’t need our services, or, you know, “hey, this isn’t the right place,” but hey, we can help them with some other things. Or we can help with some resource navigation or things. I mean, you know, sometimes I think we jump to conclusions, right? You know, if someone says, “Hey, I was a Marine,” and, or “I was in the army, or Air Force, or navy, I was in the Gulf, I was in Iraq or Afghanistan,” all of a sudden people say, “Okay, do you need help?” It’s like, not, you know, you don’t, you don’t need to jump to that assumption. But, you know, but you need to listen to the folks and, and just again, you know, find that common, that bridge, right? Where you can meet and connect, right? And you do a great job at MVP, just as we do here at Road Home, because we want to make sure, like you do you want to get people to the right, to the place they feel most comfortable, are happy and get back to that, what I call that purpose-driven life, right? Find that purpose again, and get rocking and rolling.
Oscar Kush: Exactly. Empowerment. However, we can empower people, like walk through our doors. Be the best version of ourselves. That’s what we want to be. You know, I, we’ve had some guys that, that just do some incredible things, and it’s just inspiring and it inspires others, and that culture is, it’s just important.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, culture is really important. We really work hard here, you know, because we’re a part of Rush University Medical Center, you know, but we’re somewhat autonomous in the fact that they allow us to truly, you know, focus, you know, on serving in the best interests in the best ways, you know, veterans and family members, right? Or other folks that are maybe currently serving, with some of the challenges they may face and so, you know, culture matters and having the right team in place, right? People that are good listeners, you know, have the same values, right? And believe in the same mission. So, that sounds great. Well, hey, what else should folks know? As we kind of get close to wrapping up here in a few minutes, what else you folks know about MVP and the work that you do? And also, Oscar, how can people learn more? How can they find out about MVP?
Oscar Kush: As we approach the end of the year, obviously, we’re continuing our sessions every Wednesday from 7 to 9pm. We also are trying to plan a couple of big events. Nothing’s for sure just yet, but I’m hoping to get something off the ground in December, a Mixed Martial Arts pop-up event. I’ll keep you guys posted on that. You can find us at 310 South Racine, POW! Gym. There’s street parking, there’s free parking lot in the back. We’re right off the Blue Line bus stop and the train station right there by UIC. And if you want more information, just go to vetsandplayers.org. Or you go to that website, you can also contact me email me at OKush@vetsandplayers.org. I’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. And I just really appreciate you having me on. And thank you so much.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, we’ll be sure, Oscar, to push it out. But again, you’re so again, spell out your website and your email one more time. So again, and again, for folks listening. We’re in Chicago, right? So this is the chapter in Chicago. But if you do go to the website, which we’ll share right now, you can also learn about other chapters, but give them the website and your and your email. And if there’s a phone number, too. Spell that out if you can, so people make sure because it’s o-k-u-s-h, right?
Oscar Kush: Yes, sir.
Will Beiersdorf: And go ahead. I’ll let you go. Go ahead.
Oscar Kush: So, the website is vetsandplayers.org v-e-t-s-a-n-d-p-l-a-y-e-r-s dot org. Period. o-r-g.
Will Beiersdorf: Got it.
Oscar Kush: And then my email is o-k-u-s-h at sign vetsandplayers dot org v-e-t-s-a-n-d-p-l-a-y-e-r-s period o-r-g
Will Beiersdorf: Fantastic. Great. You know, I gotta be careful because when, you know, you know, I’m asking a Marine to spell this stuff out and you’re going, “Wait a minute, are you another Marine or is? Because, you know, I’m a Navy and Army guy, right? You know, so, and sometimes the Army doesn’t always, aren’t good spellers sometimes. (laughs) I work on my spelling.
Oscar Kush: I surprised, I surprised myself there for a minute, I’ll be honest with you.
Will Beiersdorf: I’m razzing you a little bit, man. Hey, hey, so any other last thoughts as we wrap up here on the podcast here at Road Home?
Oscar Kush: I just want to say thanks to the Rush Road Home Program. You guys have always been a great partner of ours. I respect and appreciate everything that you do. And I just thank you for your support in the veteran community, we’re on the same team, we’re on the same fight, you know, just to take care of our vets. And, and I’m grateful for that. And I’m grateful for the community we have here in Chicago. And I just look forward to growing it as we continue to move into 2022 and whatever the future hold after that.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, great. Thank you Oscar. And again, Oscar Kush, you know from MVP, you know, Merging Vets And Players here in Chicago. And again, you’ve, you’ve heard the information, if you want to learn more about MVP, or again, if you want to learn more about Road Home Program, you can go to Road Home Program, it’s all one word, roadhomeprogram.org or you can call us at 312 942 VETS or 312 942 8387 So again, I’m Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director of the Road Home Program here on the, the podcast for Road Home. And again, Oscar Kush. Thank you again. Thanks for your service. And I’m grateful for all that you’re doing at MVP and grateful for the relationship we have and helping each other out, you know, in this community. It definitely does take a team, right, to get things done.
Oscar Kush: Thanks, Will. I really appreciate it. It’s so great to be here.
Will Beiersdorf: Same here, man. Have a good one. Take care.
Oscar Kush: Thank you, sir.
About Road Home Program: The Podcast
Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.
The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.