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Each year, about 200,000 members leave the service or retire, often without a clear plan for the future.

Some of the biggest challenges veterans face include health care and benefits, finding and keeping a job, adapting to civilian culture, and the many financial issues that can arise.

The difficulty in navigating the issue is compounded by the fact that there are now more than 45,000 nonprofit organizations in the United States that provide services to veterans, ranging from housing to mental health to food security, according to a 2015 report by the nonprofit organization GuideStar.

Veterans Dan Brillman and Taylor Justice have experienced this system first hand.

Brillman, an Air Force reserve pilot who served in the Middle East in 2010 and 2012, met Justice, who was medically discharged in 2007 after serving as an infantryman in the Army, at Columbia Business School in 2012.

Within five minutes of meeting, we both realized we shared the same passion and vision about what was needed, Justice says.

For veterans trying to find their way in the world of health and social services, administrative delays and nightmares can be enough to keep them from seeking help. Brillman and Justice found that some agencies even used outdated methods to communicate with other agencies – sticky notes and word of mouth.

If you’re working with someone with PTSD or other mental health issues, a highly irritating environment can cause depression, Justice says.

In 2013, for example, Brillman and Justice founded the technology company Unite Us with the intent of closing gaps in care coordination and creating a point of access to community, health and other services for veterans. Today, Unite Us operates in 42 states across the country and offers software that is accessible to any military member, veteran or family member of a military member, regardless of discharge status.

Brillman and Justice recently spoke to HistoryNet about how technology can help veterans access health care.

MT: Can you tell us about your background and how the idea for Unite Us came about?

Dan Brillman: I went to Yale, then joined the Air Force as a pilot. I spent 14 years in the army as a reservist. In my first five or six years, I did a lot of business travel. When I returned from my first shift, I went to Columbia Business School. The veterans I served with abroad started calling me with all the health and social problems, as if I could solve them. I guess they thought I was smart, but I had no experience in the field. This represented a large number of searches on Google.

I tried calling agencies across the country to help reservists who were returning to their hometowns with problems ranging from housing to PTSD to health insurance because they didn’t qualify for veterans benefits. Everything was very tight. When I called the agency, they usually said: Sorry I can’t help you, but call my friend Jane across the street. They gave me offline referrals to four or five partners they knew in the community who could help this person.

This really frustrated me and, like any good MBA, I wrote a paper on fragmentation and how technology can solve this problem.

Taylor Justice: I graduated from West Point in 2006, was commissioned as an infantry officer, and unfortunately was medically discharged. Much of what Dan just told me, I tried to figure out on my own: talking to a veteran, finding a new job, finding an apartment. I was fortunate enough to have the West Point network, and that’s how I ended up in Philadelphia, where I got my first job.

I volunteered with a non-profit veterans organization called Team Red, White and Blue and founded the Philadelphia chapter of this national non-profit. The organization does physical training and community service, but as our department has grown from five people to over 600, more and more people have come with needs beyond our capabilities.

If a veteran needed help with housing, work and food, three different organizations offered these services – they coordinated the help through sticky notes, emails and phone calls. It was an administrative nightmare.

When I applied to Columbia Business School, I was paired with Dan to talk about applying to the program. After about five minutes, we both had a common vision of what we needed. In early 2013, we launched Unite Us to provide communities with software to better coordinate care for veterans and service members. However, it has since been extended to all populations and is used in 42 states.

In the past two years, Unite Us has transitioned to Medicare and now serves citizens. How do you manage to stick to your original mission when working with veteran communities?

Brillman: The way this has developed in the military community is twofold. The networks we have built have taught the big agnostic networks how to do this work, because we have been doing it the longest. What does success look like? How can we use data to fill gaps in service delivery? Something like that.

In North Carolina, for example, we gathered all the veteran leaders who led these networks and said: That’s how it’s supposed to work.

At the same time, we have found that most of the organizations using our platform are not just veterans’ organizations. They have a specific program for veterans, but they serve all populations. This has facilitated the expansion of our products and services.

Honesty: The word expansion is very important to us. When you work in the tech industry, everyone uses scary terms: Oh, you escaped the vets. That’s not the case. Veterans and military personnel are the perfect petri dish of American society when considering age, race, and socioeconomic status. The same problems we have, they have.

But in some cases, you may not have access to these services. So what are you going to do? We have found that the veteran community is an ideal testing ground for finding a solution for all citizens, regardless of background. If you have multiple organizations that need to coordinate care for one person, we have a solution for you.

The two founders of Unite Us at a team event. (Courtesy of Unite Us)

To use one of those buzzwords and get back to the veterans: Some of the major issues facing the veteran community include access to mental health care and homelessness. How has Unite Us helped to fill these gaps?

Brillman: When you think about the needs of veterans, as we know and have studied, it’s not so much about mental health as it is about navigating all these silos of health care, government and social services.

For the customer in need, this is the most annoying thing. Removing these barriers is the key to success. It is not a question of these services not being there at all, but of having the right infrastructure in place to access them effectively.

The most important part before we could do that was to create a supply chain to make sure they were connected and communicating. It’s not just about mental health. There are housing or unemployment problems. To accomplish this, all of these organizations must work together and reduce the frustrations of navigating the health care system.

Justice: According to Dan, it can be very difficult to navigate through these resources. The search for solutions is not just about how to solve my housing problem or my mental health problem. What causes those other things?

I can pay the rent for a while, but if I don’t solve the employment problem or some other cause of the problem, the person will be back in the same cycle in no time.

We create an ecosystem so that when you connect to a network, it works for you.

Does the WA coordinate its activities with the WA?

Brillman: We have the VA that our system uses on the input side. One of the things the VA really wants to do is get more veterans into the program. In this way, we want to create a pathway to the VA that would otherwise not be available through community organizations. VA really only does one or two things, right? They provide primary care, medical services and some behavioral health services. Furthermore, they cannot teach, so they need contacts in the community.

We have also attracted and catalyzed the Ministry of Defense, the National Guard, and the targeting centers to the facility, as they are also access points. This should not be limited to being in transition or already a veteran. It was very important to activate these organizations and access points.

How has COVID-19 affected your mission?

Justice: I think one of the most important things we’ve realized is the lack of proper health care infrastructure. The first priority was to address the clinical response to the COVID 19 pandemic. But the second and third orders are exerting unprecedented pressure on human and social service systems.

You have people who are unemployed or community organizations that have had to close their doors. They have children who no longer have access to food because the school is closed. This pressure on local systems has made it difficult to manage services in the future with sticky notes, leaflets and phone calls. An appropriate supply chain was required.

We were fortunate to be able to meet the needs of the state and provide the infrastructure. Prior to 2020, we only had one national network (in North Carolina), which was a nationwide collaborative with health systems and neighborhood health plans. In 2020 we could repeat it 16 times, that’s how big the need was.

That’s why we continue to work on developing a comprehensive solution that will allow the community to identify people in need, enroll them in appropriate services, and track the use of those services, with the ultimate goal of moving the sector toward a path where social care is as important as health care.

Who is your software most intended for?

Justice: I think the real north of this job is: Can I prove whether or not someone received services? Technology must be responsible and effective. This supply chain is really important because people will think: Once I have the latest resources, all I have to do is pass them on to a veteran or their family. But you can’t just give someone resources, you have to build the infrastructure, prove that the veteran is actually coming in, and then continue to adapt and refine that network over time.

I think that’s the difference between the market and the pandemic we’re experiencing now. It’s no longer enough to say: Hey, here are the sources. They have to prove that they really work.

How do you engage veterans when the system is distrusted?

Brillman: I think it’s about getting the veterans where they are, rather than trying to set up a system that they don’t necessarily trust. Many of them are community based – VFW or local Rotary. We’re trying to find access points. It’s not just a medical problem, is it? It’s a matter of trust.

Honesty: Trust is so important, but trust evolves at the speed of innovation, doesn’t it? When I finally get a Vietnam veteran to come in and say: Hey, you know what, I need help and then it takes 30, 60, 90 days to track him down or take care of him, is that going to create an environment where he trusts that system?

We now live in a world where technology can do a lot for us and help us work more efficiently. We wanted to create a network, so that when someone comes in and needs help, you connect them to a network that works for them.

For the last, difficult question, Military Times recently published a sandwich ranking of military branches on social media. The army was a grilled cheese sandwich. The Air Force has been described as a French sauce. Do you agree with this ultra-serious classification? And if not, why not?

Honesty: We’ve always said that airbases are built on golf courses, so the fact that it’s a French sandwich is apt.

Brillman: I think it’s perfect. I’m telling you, it’s in fashion.

Honesty: I thought the Army’s was something like an MRE with macaroni and cheese. It’s reliable. But a grilled cheese sandwich? Yeah, I’m in.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I install sports addons on Kodi?

Sports addons are installed the same way as any other addon. Open Kodi and click on the gear icon in the top left corner. Select “System Settings” from the drop-down menu. Select “Add-ons” from the left column. Choose “Install from repository.” Select “Video Add-ons” from the left column. Choose “SportsDevil.” Select “Install.” Sports addons are installed the same way as any other addon. Open Kodi and click on the gear icon in the top left corner. Select “System Settings” from the drop-down menu. Select “Add-ons” from the left column. Choose “Install from repository.” Select “Video Add-ons” from the left column. Choose “SportsDevil.” Select “Install.”

How do I install 3rd party apps on Kodi?

You can install 3rd party apps on Kodi by using the Add-on Installer.

How do I install exodus addons on Kodi?

You can install exodus addons on Kodi by following these steps: Open Kodi. Click on the Gear icon at the top left of the screen. Select File Manager. Double click Add Source. Type in http://repo.mrblamo.xyz/ and click OK to add this source to your library of sources Click OK when you are done adding this source to your library of sources Go back to your home screen and select Add-ons from the left hand menu Click on the Add-on Browser icon at the top left of the screen Click on Install from zip file. Select repository.mrblamo-1.0.zip and wait for the notification message that says Add-on Installed to appear Click on Install from repository and select Mr Blamo Repository Click on Video addons Click on Exodus How do I install exodus addons manually? You can install exodus addons manually by following these steps: Open Kodi. Click on the Gear icon at the top left of the screen. Select File Manager. Double click Add Source. Type in http://repo.mrblamo.xyz/ and click OK to add this source to your library of sources Click OK when you are done adding this source to your library of sources Go back to your home screen and select Add-ons from the left hand menu Click on the Add-on Browser icon at the top left of the screen Click on Install from zip file. Select repository.mrblamo-1.0.zip and wait for the notification message that says Add-on Installed to appear Click on Install from repository and select Mr Blamo Repository Click on Video addons Click on Exodus How do I uninstall exodus addons? You can uninstall exodus addons by following these steps: Open Kodi. Click on the Gear icon at the top left of the screen. Select File Manager. Double click Add Source. Type in http://repo.mrblamo.xyz/ and click OK to add this source to your library of sources Click OK when you are done adding this source to your library of sources Go back to your home screen and select Add-ons from the left hand menu Click on the Add-on Browser icon at the top left of the screen Click on Install from zip file. Select repository.mrblamo-1.0.zip and wait for the notification message that says Add-on Installed to appear Click on Install from repository and select Mr Blamo Repository Click on Video addons Click on Exodus How do I uninstall exodus addons manually? You can uninstall exodus addons manually by following these steps:

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