Category Archives: Veterans Benefits

Stop With the Veterans’ Push-Up Campaign Already!

If you are at all active on Facebook, no doubt you have seen the campaign of people doing push ups to raise awareness for the need for mental health resources for veterans.

If you haven’t, people are posting photos of themselves doing push-ups for 22 days and tagging a different person to challenge them to the same campaign and so on…

This campaign does nothing for veterans except to prove that the person posting the photo can do a push-up.

Studies vary about the actual rate of veterans suicide, and it depends a lot on which population you examine. It’s a statistics issue and an extrapolation discussion. However, there are some common themes that we should take a look at:

  1. The number of younger veterans seeking mental health services is higher than it has ever been in history. The veterans we see today in therapy do not have greater issues than veterans of other conflicts. As a culture, there has been a growing public awareness about the importance of seeking therapy. Additionally, we screen our veterans at every turn (pre-deployment, post-deployment health screenings, for example). If you are on or have been on Active Duty for the past five years, you can’t turn around without receiving some screening questionnaire every six months. Our younger veterans, in many cases, have been taught about the value of mental health services and expect to use them.
  2. In spite of the Department of Defense’s constant efforts, some Service Members and veterans still perceive accessing mental health services as a weakness. Many people are taught from the beginning to “tote their own ruck” and asking someone to share in their burdens is a sign of weakness.
  3. We are a military force that is overly reliant on medications. Please don’t take this as a rally against the use of antidepressants, anxiolytics, antipsychotics or any other psychiatric medication. My psychiatrist friends will always talk about the need for therapy IN ADDITION to drugs. However, most soldiers started on medications during their tours on Active Duty have learned that medications are partially the answer to reducing physical or emotional pain. As with the civilian population, prescriptions don’t mix well with recreational drug, and alcohol use. While we may try to institute one prescriber programs while the service member is on Active Duty, life sometimes requires multiple prescribers in the civilian world and overdoses, and medication interactions occur, sometimes with catastrophic outcomes.
  4. There are just not enough skilled civilian and military resources to meet the current demand for mental health treatment. Skilled is the operative word. Over the years, I’ve heard Service Members recount some hair-raising stories on the range of behavioral health providers they’ve encountered in their quest for treatment. Good providers are frequently booked for months out and for many if they get care, it is the luck of the draw on what they can access and most importantly, afford. Many therapists do not take third party insurance, and so it becomes an access issue waiting for an appointment at either a military treatment facility that accepts retirees (many do not) and waiting for a VA provider.

Doing push-ups does nothing to provide services for veterans. All it does is makes the poster feel better about themselves.

Here are ways you can really help.

  • If you are a licensed behavioral health provider, consider donating one session per day to a veteran in need. Service matching programs such as Give an Hour match providers with patients who are in need of services. If you are not a mental health provider, you can still volunteer your services to help or pay for a session as a charitable donation..
  • Support services such as the Veterans Crisis Line. Consider sharing their services as a Facebook meme, a banner on your blog or in your twitter feed.
  • You can save your arms. Donate twenty-two dollars to services mentioned above, the USO, the VA or to any other vetted program that serves veterans. With more funding comes more access to providers which translates to access to care.
  • Reach out to the veterans in your social circles. People may not always tell you they are struggling in conversation but if you notice their social media posts seem sad, angry or detached, message them and check in.
  • Take time to listen and be present. Do not constantly look at your phone, watch or any other distraction. Listen. Ask reflective questions. Check in. It’s okay to ask if they know how to access care. I can’t tell you how many clients over the years were turned around by one real conversation with someone who they felt cared.

Be brave, reach out, support our veterans.

Service Members need more than words, selfies and push ups to get through this crisis, they need action.


How to Change Your VA Disability Percentage

gab and Jenn

This photo was taken a lifetime ago during my second deployment to Iraq.

This was in the hallway in our Battalion Aid Station on FOB (Forward Operating Base) War Horse in Baquabah, Iraq. It was at the end of this deployment that I had the misfortune of falling out of a helicopter as we were loading it and blew out the L5, S1 disk in my back (rest assured, I only fell about 8 feet and it was a result of bad organization and my own clumsiness, rather than being shot at by the enemy). That happened, too, just not in this part of the story.

Several surgeries, several years, and one retained scalpel later, I ended my Army career. I now receive a retirement check and VA disability. In about 2010, we began to give military veterans the ability to begin to set up their VA disability claims while they were still on Active Duty.  Now most veterans who are receiving medical retirements know their VA percentage prior to leaving Active Duty. Regular retirees find out their percentages within about 6-8 months of leaving Active Duty. That’s terrific progress. It beats waiting years and claims getting lost in the system.This article assumes that VA disability is currently in place.

This post will cover how to modify your assigned percentage if your medical condition changes.Why would your medical condition change? Well, let’s look at a hypothetical example:

  • Mr. Smith completed two Iraq deployments. As part of his military service, he routinely burned trash as a rotating duty on his FOB. He estimated that he burned trash about 6 days out of every month. 5 years after leaving the military he developed emphysema (he never smoked). It leaves him chronically short of breath and he has difficulty doing the physical tasks at his job.

Now Mr. Smith needs to go back to the VA and have the emphysema added to the list of his service connected disabilities. Let’s walk through how to do it.

  1. Find your local VA representative by using your favorite search engine. These are usually found assigned to each county. Make an appointment to sit down with the representative (don’t walk in unless they have designated walk in times). Bring your DD214, your VA ID card and your disability percentage letter from the VA to the appointment. Ask if there is anything else they want you to have on hand.
  2. You can do this online using the ebenefits program. Don’t do it. It is MUCH easier and efficient to have the representative complete the form for you. It will only take about 20 minutes and your form will be directly uploaded into the VA’s claims system.
  3. In a few weeks, the local VA office will call you with appointment times to have the conditions you are adding to your disabilities evaluated. Even if you get all your care at the VA, it is extremely important to go to these appointments! If your primary form of health care is at the VA (which I recommend for claim percentage changes), you will not need to bring anything to the appointments. If you typically receive your care through a  Tricare program or another form of insurance, bring copies (not originals) of any pertinent records with you to the appointment. Be prepared to authorize a release of medical information with those providers.
  4. Make sure your contact information is correct and up to date for both your physical, phone and email address when you go to your appointment. You can do this by using the self serve kiosk where you check into your appointment. You can (if you don’t already know this), complete your travel voucher at the kiosk and electronically sign it. Did you know that you should complete a travel voucher EACH time you step foot into a VA for health care even if you live blocks from the VA?
  5. That’s all there is to it. The VA will make their determination within 90-180 days (this is the guideline they aspire to meet according to my VA representative). It goes much faster if your care is primarily through the VA. It is possible to check on the status of your application on ebenefits. You will also receive written notification in the mail. The pointers above can help your forms get processed quickly and result in an expedited decision. We’ve all heard horror stories about wait lengths, hopefully this can be avoided .
  6. If you don’t like the percentage assigned to you, your letter from the VA will include an appeals form. If you are appealing, follow the instructions carefully and let your VA representative know, he/she might have some handy tips and tricks to facilitate the resolution of your appeal.

I hope that you find these tips helpful. I was not able to find a lot of information on the internet when it came time to modify my percentage, so I can hope that veterans and family members can learn from my relatively recent experiences.

My experience at my local Veteran Affairs hospital has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I’m thrilled with my health care and I love my provider. However, I know every VA is different. I would love to hear about your experiences with this process, please feel free to comment below or use the contact form.

Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.  ~Michel de Montaigne