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



Life with a Moaning Myrtle


Do you live with a Moaning Myrtle* or a child with a high agitation level?

My youngest daughter is such a child, and let me tell you life with her (at 3.5) is loud and can be very frustrating for both of us. Most days, she wakes up wailing. This is followed by wailing for a variety of reasons throughout the day.

Have you seen the Reasons My Son is Crying  Blog? It’s hysterical. Our life, not so much.

It can be very tough. It is also very isolating.

It is especially frustrating when people say in a pseudo-sympathetic tone, “I don’t know how you do it.” (Please, just don’t).  Some children (like adults) are just wired differently. If you have a calm, easy going child, you are a very lucky individual. Then there are those of us who have a child who is easily agitated and we need to adjust our strategy a bit.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Children whine and cry because it is the only tool they have.
  • The most important thing you can do is to remain calm. This can be.really.hard. I try to remember to use breathing techniques to center myself like the 4, 7, 8 breathing technique.
  • Get down to the child’s level and ask what he/she needs. My husband swears by this-eye contact. He feels it is validating for the child to have your attention for that moment. For our daughter, sometimes that validation is all that is needed to break the moaning/crying/whining cycle.
  • Children don’t understand why the house needs to be cleaned or why we have to be somewhere. All they know is that they aren’t the center of their parents’ world. For young children, this can trigger anxiety which is manifesed in moaning/whining.  A hug can go a long way to managing moods. The brief physical contact reminds them that they are loved and important.
  • Distraction can work like magic. When my daughter starts up, especially if it is something extremely trivial, we distract her with pointing out/discussing something that may be of interest, (“did you see that deer, rabbit, squirrel on the side of the road?”). Ignoring the behavior, for our child, doesn’t work when she starts to ramp up.Distraction that she can engage in does help redirect her.
  • When your child is NOT engaging in the negative behavior, now it is time for attention and praise. This should be reasonable (children aren’t fools, they can smell empty platitudes from a mile away, even at 3 years old). There was an interesting article  I read recently that focuses on restating the child’s independent actions as a means of praise

Here’s an example. My daughter, A, gets agitated when asked to wait when she wants help and I’m doing something else. When she is able to wait for me to complete a task and get to her I can say, “A, you waited without crying. Let’s get you what you want.” In this sentence, I have restated the desired behavior (waiting without crying) and she gets positive attention plus the desired goal (what she wants).

  •  A regular routine with sleep is important to maintaining equilibrium. I can tell when my children are tired by their behavior. My daughters both (even the easy-going twin) become more agitated and less resilient when they are tired. It becomes harder to redirect and distract. When that happens, if at all possible, we try to retreat for a nap.
  • Nutrition is also important. Is your child hungry and/or thirsty? I am guilty of forgetting these simple things sometimes when A starts to escalate. I keep healthy snacks in a small Tupperware bin in my car so we have something healthy if we need it.

I do a lot of reframing for my own mental health. I choose to focus on the good things that go well for A on a given day (and we are usually more good than bad). This helps tremendously. She truly is a, “sunny with a chance of scattered thunder showers” type of child as opposed to a “monsoon for the next week.” and I need to keep that in perspective.

I hope that this adds some insight and strategies for dealing with your own moaning myrtles. I wish you a weather forecast of nothing but sunny days with calm seas in your life with your child.

Do you have such a child? What has worked for your family? I’d love to hear it.

*(Moaning Myrtle was a ghost in the Hogwarts bathroom in the Harry Potter series)


Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour

There are still a percentage of Pennsylvanians that heat their homes with anthracite coal.

I come from a steel town just south of the slate belt. I was raised hearing the reverberation of ethnic cadences of the steelworker’s speech, hearing the poetry of foreign dishes and understanding that when your family ate dinner was a clue to what your parents did for work.

Words like halushki, Windish, slag,  pastie and culm have meaning here.

I am the great granddaughter of a mine carpenter. I want my children to know that their family history has deep roots in this land (although we are from Ashland, not Scranton).

So off we went. It was 93 degrees and so under the earth was very comfortable 53 degrees.

We spent an hour waiting for our tour to start and exploring the rail line replicas outside.

cal panarama

steam shovel

franklin shilouette


Then we loaded into the protected car and we went deep into the mine shaft.

train 1

mine shaft

It took a minute for our eyes to adjust to the light. Remember, our tour was artificially illuminated so we could see. Imagine it with the glow of a mine lamp.

Our guide, Scott, is a former coal miner. He explained how the miners dug in grids making pockets that allowed the mine to form a series of boxes for structural support. coal basin

Scott demonstrated how miners used light to look for the presence of methane gasses.

scott tour leader

The wood beams you think are for support are actually an early warning system. Cracking or bowing would indicate to the miners that there were problems with the structure of the mine.

mine supports

Here is what it looks like to work in a high space on a mine

miner tnt

and a low spaceminer belly

When the workers arrive in the morning, they check in with the foreman who has already been hard at work for several hours inspecting the mine for unsafe conditions. Their names are marked on a pegboard and their locations, so to find them in the event of an emergency.

mine boss

The miners fill cars with coal (10 tons of coal per car)

coal cart

coal slab

As there were many children on the tour, Scott spent a lot of time on the role of children in the mines. From the children who open and closed the doors inside mines ( nippers),

mine shaft boy2

to the breaker boys who sorted coal chunks by size,  to the mule boys

mule boy

A fascinating read about the role of children in the mining industry is, Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s,“Growing Up in Coal Country.” It was good for my children to understand that for many children, going to school was a privilege. I don’t think they have ever realized that some children have to go to work. It was a very interesting tour. I would recommend it for children 5 and up.

Now I’m off to research pierogie recipes.

Cantaloupe & Tomato Salad

It was a hot and humid day.

I didn’t feel like turning on the stove. I love summer eating because a salad can be a main dish. I had most of ingredients for this one on hand. Although, it is too early in the summer in Pennsylvania to have garden grown tomatoes or cantaloupes.

This recipe is from the wonderfully poetic cookbook , “Cooking with the Muse” By Myra Cornfield and Steven Massimilla.

Cantaloupe & Tomato Salad with Olives and Ricotta

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1 TBSP minced shallots 
  • 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard 
  • 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP golden balsamic vinegar 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tomato about 5 oz
  • 1 lb cantaloupe (1/2 large), seeded, cut into wedges 
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese ( I used ricotta salatta)
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives

To make vinaigrette…mince shallots and whisk in all other ingredients. Then add the basil.

Gather your main salad ingredients 

Chop them up and add to the bowl.

Step back and enjoy your no cook meal!

Nutritional Information per serving ( serves 4): 288 calories, 23 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 10 g sugar, 8 g protein, 288 mg sodium 2 g fiber

Kutztown Folk Festival

I try to make an annual pilgrimage to the Kutztown Folk Festival where our region’s Pennsylvania Dutch history is celebrated. The festival began in 1950 and it is pretty extensive. It is known for its amazing quilt barn ( this year’s winner posted above), food, crafts, and exhibits on PA Dutch life.

This year, I took my older set of twins with me. They really enjoyed the one room school house which you can still see in use throughout the Pennsylvania countryside, although they are primarily used by the many variations of plain communities (Amish, Mennonite, River Brethren, etc…).

I also enjoyed the historical farmstead exhibits. The boys helped make apple butter, watched men bale hay, saw period tractors in action, watched glass blowing and listened to music.

There was explanation on the symbology behind hex signs, which were originally found on the side of barns. These designs were rich in meaning and often were used for protection ( of the barn, livestock and crops), fertility ( the land, not the farmers), etc…Here is a detailed link all about hex signs:

There was also an extensive exhibit on Pow Wow, the practice of Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Magic. You can learn more about Pow Wow here:

We attended a period church service (Protestant)

We also visited the breathtakingly beautiful quilt barn. All of the quilts are available for sale and most are handmade. There are volunteers there to take any quilt you would like to further inspect. There is also a quilt along that visitors are welcome to join.

There are many animals 

And games without electricity 

The Kutztown Folk Festival is famous for food…a concentration of Pennsylvania Dutch dishes are offered by local groups such as churches or social groups (Granges). There are so many things to try…schnitz und knepp ( ham with dried apples and dumplings),  corn soup, birch beer, potato dumplings, roasted corn. Lebanon Bologna sandwiches, stuffed pretzels, chicken bot boi (chicken with noodles), homemade lemonade, mint tea and of course,funnel cakes.

 A fascinating read about PA Dutch cuisine is William Woys Weaver’s, “As American as Shoofly Pie.”

We really had a wonderful time!

How Do I Get My Child to Sleep?

I spent two decades as a Active Duty Army Social Work Officer (I’m an LCSW). At least 60 percent of my clinical practice involved sleep issues and disorders.

I am also the mother of two sets of twins ( 3 and almost 6) one of whom was not a good sleeper.

I am frequently asked how I get my 4 children to sleep at the same time every night. (3 out of 4 stay asleep through the night). The following tips are helpful for weaned toddlers through elementary aged children.

  • Bedtime should be the same time every night.
  • No screen time ( TV, computer, game etc…) within an hour of bedtime.
  • No television, radio or electronics in or within hearing distance of the sleep area if at all possible.
  • Invest in black out curtains.
  • A  warm bath with lavender scented soap helps relax children before bed
  • Establish a bedtime routine that involves a glass of milk with a tablespoon of honey for children older than a year. It doesn’t have to be cow’s milk (it could be soy, nut or goat’s milk as an example) but honey is a natural sedative.
  • Do the same things at the sleep time, e.g book, sing songs, etc…Do these every night in the same order. With younger children who have concrete thinking, create a plan and don’t deviate from it. My daughters get one book and one song each at bedtime, every night.
  • Have a consequence ready in your head if the child gets out of bed for no reason. (This does not include going to the bathroom, unless you feel that the repeated trips to the bathroom are a manipulation). I keep a potty in my daughters’ room for convenience sake.  If my children are out of bed to play, etc.. they stand on the wall for minutes approximating their age. So if the three year old gets out of bed to play, she stands on the wall for 3 minutes. You can use any consequence that works for your child.
  • If your pediatrician recommends it, the lowest dose of melatonin ( 1 mg) can be given 30 minutes before sleep. My children love the melatonin gummies. You can find them at most pharmacies.

In a future post, we will tackle bedtime defiance, sleep disruptions, and keeping your cool at bedtime.


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