Tagged: VA benefits

Women Veterans Services

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

female veteransFrom the WACs, WAVEs, SPARs, WASPs, BAMs of World War II to the modern citizen soldier serving next to service men in combat situations, women play an important part in America’s modern military. Consisting of approximately 15-percent of 2012’s active duty armed forces and 20-percent of reserve forces, these women come out of military service with distinctive and unique needs that may not be met with current Veterans Affairs (VA) services, particularly in the medical arena.

Historically, the military service has been part-and-parcel a male endeavor, and the services available to veterans have reflected this. However, with women entering the armed services in increasing percentages, there are currently about two million women veterans, the fastest growing group tract by the VA.

Issues regarding VA medical care and female veterans include inequalities in services between male and female patients; lack of consistency in services to those who have experienced a sexual assault;  lack of provider knowledge in gender-specific medical and psychological care; and  lack of awareness of services  and service advocacy for female veterans, just to name a few. Additionally, female veterans access other VA benefits such as employment training and education in far fewer numbers than male veterans.

The VA has been and continues to actively try to remedy this situation. In 2012, the Women’s Health Care Services Office became the “go to” point for female veterans, bringing together primary care, specialty care, and mental health under one umbrella for better collaboration, communication, and service delivery. (This reorganization builds on the blocks set in place by the 1988 Women’s Veterans Health Care Program.)

The 2012 Women Veterans Task Force Report outlined several areas the VA has improved on, including but not limited to:

  • More women accessing services;
  • A higher percentage of patients, compared to their civilian counterparts, that receiving regular breast and cervical cancer screenings;
  • The development of the Military Sexual Trauma Support Team; and
  • The creation of Women Veteran’s Coordinators to provide outreach and advocacy.

However, they report there are still multiple issues needing to be resolved.

  • Continuing gender-based gaps in service and care;
  • Significant lack of female veterans applying headstone or marker burial benefits;
  • Homeless outreach, programs, and resources are almost all male-oriented;
  • The need to develop access to child-care services; and
  • There is still a disparity between the percentages of male veterans that access overall services versus female veterans.

 

 

If you are a female veteran, first and foremost you must become your own best advocate. After enrolling for your veterans’ benefits, find your region’s Women’s Veterans Coordinator (WVC) to answer any questions and to help guide you through the medical system. (Find your region here; from that link you can discover where medical services are provided and from there which center and/or clinic have a WVC.) Don’t forget that the VA goes beyond medical care and administering G.I. Bill benefits; check here to discover more about life insurance, home loans, vocational rehabilitation, and other programs available to eligible veterans.

Improvements in the VA benefits system for female veterans, medical and otherwise, will improve the VA system for all veterans. The need for childcare access and resources, while stereotypically considered to be a woman’s issue, is needed by both parents, male and female. Improved public relations and communications, while targeting women, will also make more men to be aware of and use their benefits. A healthier, better trained, and better educated veteran demographic will help improve the economy.

Most of all, they’ve earned it. Men and women alike.

President Signs Executive Order Expanding Mental Health Services for Military

Posted by Debi Teter

Obama FtBliss msnbcPresident Barack Obama signed an executive order on August 31st directing a number of federal agencies to expand access to mental health care and services for servicemembers, their families and veterans. The measure comes amidst an epidemic of suicides among military members —  amounting to as much as one per day.

Specifically, the executive order contained the following provisions:

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs was directed to increase their veteran crisis hotline capacity by 50 percent.
  • The VA was also directed to ensure that all veterans reporting themselves to be in crisis “connect with” a trained mental health professional within 24 hours or less.
  • The VA was directed to work with the Defense Department to develop and implement a 12-month suicide prevention campaign (apparently they have to be told to do this).
  • In areas where the VA has trouble recruiting qualified professionals, the President has directed them to form “pilot sites,” which will contract with local professionals to provide needed services.
  • The VA is directed to hire 800 “peer-to-peer” support counselors, and as many as 1,600 new mental health care workers.

The President announced the executive order during a visit to Fort Bliss, Texas.

One former Army psychiatrist, however, says the order doesn’t go far enough. Writing for Time Magazine, COL Elspeth Cameron Ritchie argues that the Veterans Administration is already trying to hire 1,600 additional mental health care professionals, even without the executive order.

COL Ritchie has published extensively on mental health care issues concerning veterans and survivors of traumatic experiences. She collaborated with a number of colleagues to make additional recommendations for the President. Among them:

  • Educate civilian mental health workers on how to work with veterans.
  • Educate police and corrections officers on best practices in working with veterans.
  • Train more college counselors.
  • Bring more anti-PTSD medications to market, or expand their use.
  • Re-look at security clearance questionnaires that force servicemembers to reveal mental health treatment, potentially discouraging some servicemembers from seeking treatment.

COL Ritchie also wrote “we need to re-look at gun laws, and ensure that gun safety is emphasized. This is the ‘third rail’ of suicide prevention, and I fear that no Presidential candidate will discuss this.”

What do you think of COL Ritchie’s implication that military members and veterans either aren’t trained on the safe handling of firearms, or that their access to firearms must be restricted?

Do you think this and her other suggestions would make a difference? 

 

(Photo credit: MSNBC)

Active Duty Suicides Explode in July – Family Reintegration Issues in Spotlight

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Note: While we usually feature something lighthearted and entertaining on Fridays, the issue of suicide among servicemembers, and the news of an alarming increase in recent months, is of such importance that we didn’t want to wait until next week to post this story. We hope that we can return to more fun posts next Friday.

 

military funeralThe Department of Defense announced that the number of service member suicides reached a new record in July, despite an extensive outreach program to educate military service members about how to get help for depression, how to identify other service members at risk of suicide, and training down to the boot level on how to provide buddy aid to help troops at risk.

While investigations are still underway in some deaths, the Department of Defense’s preliminary numbers indicate the number of servicemembers who took their own lives was 38 in July. That’s over 1 and a quarter every day.

Through the end of July 2012, the military reports 116 potential suicides among active duty troops (66 confirmed, with 50 still under investigation.

Among Reserve component troops (Reserve and National Guard), the Pentagon reports 12 potential suicides (9 Guardsmen and three reservists).

If current trends continue, losses from suicide will significantly outstrip last year’s total in both the active and reserve components.

Although the number of suicides among reservists remained roughly constant between June and July, the number of suicides among active duty troops more than doubled during the same time period. The military leadership is still struggling to find a satisfactory explanation.

The suicide rate also seems to have spiked with the end of formal U.S. military involvement in Iraq – and a marked decrease in OPTEMPO for the Army and Marine Corps, which now bear the brunt of the mission in Afghanistan.

While it is dangerous to infer too much from a limited data set, problems in the economy would not explain the increase in active duty suicides even as reserve component suicides remain constant: Despite an unemployment rate among military spouses of over 25 percent, the active component remains much more insulated against the weak economy than the reserve component.

According to reporting by Time, an analyst on the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, Bruce Shahbaz, notes that there has been a recent demographic shift among servicemembers who choose to take their own lives: For the first time, suicides among NCOs are outpacing suicides among junior enlisted. According to Shabahz, the data suggests that the causes of the spike in suicides were more subtle than previously thought: Rather than related directly to the stress of deployments themselves and to economic pressures, suicidal behavior may be more related to difficulties in reintegrating post-deployment. While troops were going back and forth between home station and the GWOT in revolving-door fashion, families were able to mask some of the stresses – the warrior servicemember never fully reintegrated into the household.

From the Time article:

“If you’re on the constant 12-month treadmill of deploy, reset, get ready to redeploy, deploy, soldiers and families don’t work hard to try to reintegrate, because they know that their soldier is going to be gone again,” Shahbaz says. “Issues like minor depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances – those things that are kind of related to post-traumatic stress – begin to surface after a service member has been home for more than a year, and start to reintegrate with their family…I liken it to a pot that’s on simmer – having that person stay back home and reintegrate with their family sometimes allows that pot to boil over.”

Do you need help?

If you or your loved one are at risk of suicide, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in a military family, press 1.

Mental Health and TRICARE

Good news for those in need: TRICARE covers a wide variety of mental health services for military members and their families. Stay tuned to militaryauthority.com for a more in-depth look at mental health coverage under TRICARE.

Mental Health for GWOT Veterans and the VA

The Veterans Administration has offered expanded services and access to mental health care for veterans for up to five years after discharge from the military. So if you’re no longer eligible for TRICARE, this program may work for you. Unfortunately, the VA is struggling to keep up with demand for mental health care, leading to waiting lists that are weeks long in some areas. 

Veterans Administration Health Care – Creaking Under the Strain

Posted by Debi Teter

medical files xs“This is disgraceful!” thundered Representative Bob Filner, a Democrat representing California’s 51st district, immediately before a hearing on the tremendous delays American veterans face in receiving health care through the VA system. “This is an insult to our veterans. And you guys just recycle old programs and put new names on them!”

The VA health care system has never been a model of user-friendly efficiency. But the current backlog problems are getting insane, even by federal bureaucratic standards.

Consider:

Last month, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there were 870,000 disability cases pending. Of those, two out of three had been pending more than 125 days. The percentage of cases taking longer than 125 days to resolve had actually increased over the previous year. In some offices, such as Oakland, California, the average claims resolution time drags on for a year.

The VA’s stated goal is to resolve all disability cases within 125 days.

Jim Strickland, the manager of a website called VAWatch.org, isn’t very impressed.

“A delay to process a claim in 125 days or less is a system failure,” he wrote on his site. “No other business on the planet would be applauding itself to set a goal of only 60% of it’s [sic] work to be a failure.”

It’s not going to be easy.

As the military draws down in strength over the coming years, hundreds of thousands of servicemembers are going to transition from the military health care system to the VA. Meanwhile, the aging baby-boomers of the Viet Nam generation are now entering their retirement years, detaching from their employer plans and entering their peak years of health care consumption.

The result is a “perfect storm” that threatens to swamp the ability of Veterans Affairs officials to process claims.

Indeed, the storm is already upon us: Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, notified Congress that there had been a huge 48 percent surge in applications at the VA over the last three years. The VA has barely been able to tread water, despite bringing new computer systems online to speed claims.

What’s behind the increase? Three factors:

A decision made two years ago to expand benefits to Viet Nam veterans who may have been affected by exposure to Agent Orange. This had a particularly profound effect on the VA’s claims processing capacity, because documenting these 40 year old claims – some 230,000 of them — was so difficult. A substantial number of VA administrators had to be assigned to process these cases – at the expense of newer claims. The VA states that it is nearing the end of processing those claims.

Second, a weak economy is driving some people to file claims for benefits who might otherwise have just toughed it out. A mild hearing loss due to military service is not devastating if you have secure employment. If you’re unemployed, it becomes tempting to file that claim for 10 to 30 percent disability. And you have time on your hands to file a claim (you’re gonna need it!).

Third, increased awareness of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, combined with aggressive post-deployment screening, increased the number of referrals to the VA system from Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans. While U.S. direct involvement in the Iraq War has come to an end, these veterans are now getting discharged and coming to VA offices in the tens of thousands for treatment of physical and psychological problems.


What has your experience with the VA been like in the last few years? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Ways Veterans Can Support PTSD Treatment

Posted by Debi Teter

Veterans cope with PTSDVeterans recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) cannot expect to heal overnight. It takes time and strength through a gradual, day-to-day process. Aside from standard counseling and treatment, there are other steps veterans can take to help themselves return to shape.

1. Count on fellow veterans. It might seem obvious to some, but next-to-impossible to others, but reaching out to other men and women who have experienced PTSD from their time in service can help. Sometimes pride or embarrassment can stand in the way of asking for help, but your brothers and sisters in arms know exactly what you are feeling and can be the best resource you have. Having an extended community of PTSD survivors around you can give you a secure environment for getting through your toughest days.

2. Continue your education with your VA benefits. Enrolling in a degree or certificate program can keep your mind occupied on something other than your past experiences and make you feel productive. Veterans who have successfully coped with PTSD have found that working through an educational challenge was beneficial to their recovery. The VA provides several programs to veterans to help with their education, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP)

3. Volunteer or Return to Work. Volunteering your time with a local organization, serving other veterans, youth, or elderly people in your community can give you a sense of purpose. Focusing on tasks at work and feeling a sense of achievement can also keep your mind occupied with positive thoughts.

4. Exercise to help your body and mind. Exercising has been shown to benefit people mentally as well as physically. Aside from increasing strength and releasing physical tension, exercise can provide relaxation, improve self-esteem and generate feelings of control over one’s life. 

5. Talk, talk, talk. PTSD can be one of the loneliest experiences in your life. Know that you are not alone and open up to those in your social network. Isolating yourself will only make you feel worse. Spend time talking with friends, family, work colleagues and others around you. You don’t have to talk about your PTSD or painful memories. Talk about any topic, small or large, to stay connected with those around you.

Overcoming PTSD is a challenge to be sure. But you are a warrior, trained to be strong and face challenges head-on. This one is no different. Reach out to family, friends, and fellow veterans to get through each day, and find something bigger than yourself to focus on. It will get better.

Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012

Posted by Debi Teter

Thanks to the Budget Control Act of 2011, veterans healthcare may be affected by sequestration in January 2013. The cuts would result in up to a 2% cut to VA healthcare. It may not sound like much, but a 2% cut would potentially affect a veteran’s ability to receive healthcare in a timely manner, affect the VA’s ability to hire and retain medical staff including doctors and nurses, and affect the VA’s ability to acquire much needed medical equipment and supplies like prescription drugs.

House Vererans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller has stated, “Despite repeated requests made to the President and Secretary of Veterans Affairs over the past six months, I have not received any assurance — and more important, nor have our veterans — that these cuts will not take place.”

In response to the lack of an answer from the Administration to clarify the law and rule in favor of US veterans, Miller has introduced H.R. 3895, the Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012 which would ensure that funding for America’s veterans are not cut, today or in the future.

H.R. 3895 has received support from many military groups, including The American Legion, the Fleet Reserve Association, NAUS, AUSN, Blinded Veterans Association and the Association of the U.S. Army.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has several ways you can stay informed about their progress. Visit their website at Veterans.House.Gov/3895 or join the Facebook page at Facebook.com/HouseVetsAffairs. If you are on Twitter, you can follow them at Twitter.com/HouseVetAffairs and with the hashtags

  • #HR3895SaveVetsHealthcare
  • #SaveVetsHealthcare
  • #HR3895ProtectOurVets
  • #ProtectOurVets

VOW to Hire Heroes Act benefits unemployed veterans

Posted by Debi Teter

The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 amended the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to assist unemployed veterans and to extend the life of the WOTC to January 1st, 2013. It provides new benefits for certain unemployed veterans. Designed as an addendum to the WOTC, this act is made to not only lower unemployment rates of veterans but also to stimulate the economy by giving tax credits for businesses who specifically hire veterans.

Benefits for Veterans

  • Individualized counseling and support through Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor or an Employment Coordinator
  • Easy to apply through the eBenefits website (for both programs listed below)

Vocational Rehabilitation

  • up to an additional 12 months of benefits for disabled veterans whose disability is related to their military service

Veterans Retraining Assistance Program

  • up to 12 months of retraining assistance

 

Benefits for Businesses

Through the WOTC

  • Up to $9,600 in tax credits for businesses ($6400 for tax-exempt organizations) who hire eligible veterans between November 22nd, 2011 and January 1st, 2013
  • Only two forms to fill out!
  1. IRS Form 8850, Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit, and
  2. either U.S. Department of Labor form ETA Form 9061, Individual Characteristics Form or ETA Form 9062, Conditional Certification Form

Through the VOW to Hire Heroes Act-Special Employer Incentives (SEI)

  • Up to 50% reimbursement of employee’s salary for up to six months, including cost of training, supplies and equipment, and loss of production reimbursement during employee training
  • VA provides needed tools, equipment, uniforms, and other supplies necessary for the veteran to gain employment
  • VA supports related to training, accommodations, and initial placement of the veteran

 

Employer or employee, these programs are worth your while. The federal government has made an effort to help to both lower the unemployment rate for veterans and reward those to employee them. Each program has its own specific requirements regarding age, disability, and length of unemployment, as well as other conditions and provisions. Make sure you talk to your benefits counselor to ensure you have access to as much assistance as you qualify for; you’ve earned it.