VA accepting new exposure claims from OEF/OIF/OND vets

Recent VA news of concern to OEF/OIF/OND veterans:

Veterans may have health concerns related to potential environmental exposures while they were on active duty, which can include:

  • Animal contacts, including bites
  • Airborne pollutants from burn pits and other sources
  • Infectious diseases
  • Depleted uranium
  • Toxic embedded fragments
  • Chromium at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in the spring or summer of 2003
  • Cold and heat related illnesses and injuries
  • Noise, vibration, and other physical exposures

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a variety of benefits and services to eligible OEF/OIF/OND Veterans. Learn more: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp

Veterans’ benefits include technical training

The Veterans Administration introduced in October 2019, a five-year pilot program to permit veterans with Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bill Education benefits to attend technical training. The Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) is focused on training veterans to obtain highly-skilled and in-demand careers. Veterans need to apply to the program, and the annual acceptance is limited by its annually-renewed budget. For those whose eligibility time limit to use benefits has not elapsed, or for those with at minimum, one day of eligibility remaining, the tuition is not charged against their education benefit. Those accepted into VET TEC are eligible for a MHA housing stipend equal to BAH while attending the program.

Find additional information and the application process via the VA website link provided.

3 Truly Meaningful Ways You Can Help Veterans, Active Duty Personnel, and Their Families

Today’s Guest blogger: Kelli Brewer

Kelli is part of DeployCare (website: deploycare.org), which offers support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment.

Have you ever thanked a veteran or military member for his/her service and wondered if you could do more? Despite general support from the public, veterans and active-duty personnel of the armed forces — as well as their families — still face a multitude of daily challenges. One of the best ways to support these communities is to take an active role in solving those challenges, and these are just a few of the ways you can do so.

Consider Working Toward a Master’s in Social Work

Social work is a great field to get into if you want to help veterans, active duty service members and their dependents. Professionals in this field provide a multitude of services for these communities, ranging from re-integrating active duty personnel into civilian life to helping military families adjust to their unique lifestyles. Getting into social work is pretty flexible, too, as you can complete a Master’s of Social Work curriculum through various universities throughout the US. These programs generally require about 900 to 1,200 hours of qualified fieldwork, but some do allow the completion of academic work online. These online options make this a great field for current military spouses and dependents to pursue since coursework can be completed from just about any location. There may even be scholarships that can help offset tuition and expenses for dependents of veterans and active duty service members, for a Master of Social Work program or other educational pursuits. 

Look for Career Opportunities with Veterans Affairs Hospitals

One of the most critical elements in maintaining a veteran’s quality of life is the availability of quality healthcare. Lack of mental and physical health services can lead to devastating consequences for veteran populations, including increased incidences of suicide. If you are interested in becoming a mental health professional, you could take an active role in reducing this risk by pursuing a career within the VA hospital system.

In addition to a shortage of mental health services, VA hospitals are also plagued by a shortage of nurses. So, you could also assist veterans by taking up one of the various nursing roles that are available at VA facilities in just about every US state and territory. There are other roles to fill at the VA as well, including patient advocacy and various administrative roles. Committing yourself to service in a VA hospital isn’t easy, but it is one of the most important ways civilians can provide assistance to the men and women who committed their lives to military service.

Help Veterans and Active Duty Without Changing Your Career

Filling desperately needed roles within fields that directly benefit veterans, active duty service members, and dependents are some of the best ways for civilians to help. Still, these careers aren’t necessarily for everyone, and there are other ways to support these communities.

Hire a Military Spouse

If you are in a decision-making position within your organization, hiring more military spouses can make a world of difference to active-duty families. Nearly 28 percent of military spouses struggle with unemployment, often due to misconceptions about their lifestyle, but employers can help change this statistic. Entrepreneurs can make a difference as well by hiring veterans and providing training that will smooth the transition into a civilian occupation.

Assist With Home Needs

Maybe you aren’t in a position to hire someone, and you aren’t looking for a new career. Don’t underestimate the power of time and information. Senior and disabled veterans often struggle in their own home environment, for instance, but don’t know about the many programs available to help them with home modifications. Along those lines, they might be better off moving to a more manageable home, whether in terms of affordability or physical space, but may not feel like they can afford it. There are loan programs designed especially for veterans. Encourage your veteran friend to review the options available to learn about the perks of VA loans (including low interest rates and no downpayment). With a little guidance, you may be able to help them find a safer and more comfortable home environment.

Contribute to Nonprofits

Finally, one of the simplest ways to assist these communities is to donate or volunteer with organizations that are dedicated to veterans, active-duty service members, and the families that support them. Be careful when choosing an organization to support so that you know your time, money, and effort will actually make a difference for these individuals and families.

If you want to express your gratitude and support for veterans, military members, and their loved ones, actions will always speak louder than words. There are so many opportunities to show your appreciation and make a difference in the lives of the men and women who have served this country. So, find one that speaks to you or simply take the time to listen when a member of one of these communities chooses to speak. After all, even the simplest of gestures can be meaningful in the lives of others.

Photo Credit: Pexels

This post was first published on Truths, Half-Truths, and Sea Stories, March 27th, 2021. All rights reserved.

Ask the Chief: obtain credentials in the service

If I had the opportunity to mentor young Sailors just beginning their Navy career, I would counsel them to take advantage of every opportunity afforded them in the training the Navy provides. However, there are opportunities far beyond “A” school or specialization “C” schools, to develop natural talents and intellect. In fact, there are many opportunities to develop personally and professionally, only limited by the individual’s awareness of them. For decades the military has facilitated correspondence and on-base college classes offered for off-duty servicemembers. There is access to Tuition Assistance which many have used for off-duty education at local colleges. Recreational programs through MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) offices have included SCUBA certification, rock climbing, auto mechanics and woodworking, with skilled mentors available. One of the longest associations for obtaining professional tradesman certification, is through Journeyman Apprenticeship in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Credit by examination, correspondence courses, classroom work, and military training -equivalence credit have been accepted by many universities to obtain a college degree. This has facilitated motivated Sailors, Marines and other service members to advance in their military specialties. In the last twenty years, particularly since 2013, the rapid development of technology and the drive for a more qualified and educated service member, has brought about a watershed of opportunity for both enlisted military, commissioned officers and civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Through online resources access to education, credentialing, and licensure has meant that anyone can complete a military enlistment and return to the civilian workforce with qualifications that are immediately recognized by employers.

Through the United Service Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP), ratings and occupational specialties have translated to civilian trades, by crediting work experience toward Journeyman certification. While I was aware of, and enrolled in, this credential program in 1989 – 1990, I took advantage of other education opportunities in place of becoming a Journeyman. At the same time that civilian trades people were seeing a decline in young people engaging in those occupations, by the second decade of the millennium, the military had seen significant growth in participation in an apprenticeship program. This was documented in a DOL study published in late 2015. Beginning in 2002 with the Army, all the service branches have embraced Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) to coordinate military and civilian employees of the respective branches becoming a more professional workforce. COOL does not offer accreditation but instead facilitates access to resources for individuals looking to pursue licenses and certifications in their respective occupations.

A future post will examine some of the best available college courses, though not for credit, yet available completely free of charge. These are available through a consortium of American universities, often delivered by online lecture with complete syllabi, notes and assignments.

Long Term Care planning for active military, veterans, retirees and family

Turning sixty-two this year is not all that worrisome for me. Of course, in the middle of the second wave of the COVID pandemic, the potential long-term impact to ones health of contracting COVID at this stage of life is probable reason for concern. Though I had considered enrolling at a much younger age, with insurance premiums much lower the younger one enrolls, the invincibility of youth encouraged me to put it off. In the last quarter of 2020, I thought it prudent to begin the enrollment with a commercial insurer, accompanied by physical exam, several telephone interviews and waiting for term and premium calculations. The cost of commercial insurance seemed exorbitant, so my wife and I decided against it. Then I learned that LI (insurance) was available to retired military. Planning for a Veterans Administration facility as a fallback was my last consideration, should I subsequently require reevaluation of a presently non-compensable service-connected disability. After a military career, a professional career, and self-employed business owner today, we should plan for any potential health situations in our “golden years”.

Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP)

While most married service members have enrolled in federal benefits under TriCare, and include dental and vision program benefits when selected, Long Term Care insurance is not included in the annual Federal Benefits Open Season. However, FLTCIP is available to Federal workers, Postal Service employees, and military members. Eligibility for this program is linked to eligibility for Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). The link to the FEGLI handbook is here. The key point to note, is that eligibility for FEGLI does not require a person seeking FLTCIP to be enrolled in the FEGLI.

Open Season, physical exams, and Qualifying Life Events do not apply

For those who may be familiar with Tricare Open Season, which runs from November to early December of each year, FEGLI also has a banner regarding Open Season. The Office of Personnel Management, OPM, “Outside of an open season, eligible employees can enroll or increase their FEGLI coverage by taking a physical exam or with a Qualifying Life Event,” However, no such open season limitation exists to enroll in the Long Term Care insurance. Details as to eligibility are found here. To access more information, and to begin enrollment, the link is here.

Most of this information comes from a website, https://militarybenefits.info, opm.gov and the FLTCIP program webpage.

Is it time to head back to school?

This week’s Guest Post, is by blogger Kelli Brewer. Kelli is part of DeployCare, made up of veterans and their families which offers free support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment. Please visit their website for additional articles on various topics of importance to veterans -Ed

Are you thinking about going back to school now that your time in service is done? If so, keep reading. Popeye To Admiral wants veterans and their families to have access to the best educational resources available. With this in mind, here are a few quick tips for vets set on earning a degree after their time in service.

Choose Wisely

When it’s time to go back to school, your first obligation is to choose an academic or vocational program. Be cautious here, however, because not all schools are G.I. Bill-approved. Furthermore, many schools suffer from accreditation complications, tarnished reputations, and few working graduates.

Aside from school, you’ll also want to take your time when making a decision on your major. There are many fields that make sense for veterans, including management and law enforcement. Another highly sought-after degree is information technology. Any of these — and many more — can be earned all or partially online. This is more important than ever in the pandemic society in which we live.

Start Small

Even if you are eligible for veteran funds, it might make sense to consider a community college for your first two years. Crucially, if you plan to use your G.I. Bill benefits for your children, many states now pay for an associate degree — meaning the funds may be used toward a graduate degree. U.S. News & World Report asserts that money is just one reason to consider a community college over a university when just starting out.

If you are not yet sure what you would like to do, you can also start off earning a certification. Taking a career aptitude test geared toward veterans can help you decide what type of job you would like in the civilian world. There are many options ranging from entry-level medical to business management.

Trade School Is An Option

Finally, keep in mind that you do not have to go to college to complete your education. You may also consider trade school to earn your HVAC or electrical license or ASE mechanic certification. Blue-collar jobs often pay as well as white-collar jobs, and some of them are even more lucrative.

For more information about going back to school, contact your institute of choice’s admissions counselor. Good luck in your endeavors, and thank you for your service.

Popeye To Admiral offers quips and quick bites of wisdom for veterans and their families. Visit the blog often for your daily dose of delectable posts and veteran resources. Let us know more of what sort of resources you might want to see. You can also find us on Facebook here, .

When Your Doctor Joins a New Practice – Consumer Reports

For most people, including fellow military retirees, veterans and their families, healthcare is second only to our income, in importance. While this blog has offered insight into military retirement (pay) issues, there are questions a beneficiary or family member may have about healthcare. The Reserve or Guard member, and family may be covered by one plan, if still serving in the military, another once that member reaches “gray-area retiree” status, and a third option once the member reaches 60 years of age. And then, at full retirement (Social Security/ Medicare-eligible) age, yet another healthcare transition occurs. For many who are employed after military service, they likely have a private -or public (government) employer offering a subsidized healthcare option. Often the most straightforward approach is to visit a website, which may then require a call to the physician’s office, which may be directed to the health group switchboard, and then to a department versed in many questions a beneficiary might have. At times, that approach may not be satisfactorily answered, so second website visit (https://tricare.mil), which may then lead to a call to the Tricare manager, which for West Coast residents is https//www.tricare-west.com (Humana Federal services) .

With all the changes nationally to healthcare in the last dozen years, it is prudent to be aware of how your healthcare may change. What, if anything, may interrupt your health maintenance, prescriptions, treatments or attending physicians when your doctor joins a new practice? This is my first question of the year, as my “primary care manager” went from private practice, to a new group practice. Read here about questions you should have for your physician and insurer, and be prepared for any, or more likely inevitable, interruption in your care plan.

The information in the linked post, was published by Orly Avitzur, M.D., in the February 10, 2017 online Consumer Reports

A new year and re-commitment time

The First of January is a great time to assess my contributions to a blog devoted to things of interest to veterans and their families. I want to publish more sea-stories; however, to be a resource for military families and veterans I need, or rather, I must provide better content in 2020.

patience only goes so far when a veteran wants what was earned

For many veterans, myself counted among them, hold a cynical attitude of the amount of support that the State and Federal Government actively provides to veterans. Some of that is deserved due to standards of individual personnel hired to serve the veteran population, volume of work relying on undermanned office staff, and incompetence. However, the remedy for delays and ineffective support to veterans – customers and taxpayers – is an informed – and resolute veteran seeking redress. In my own situation, five months in determined pursuit of Navy retirement pay once eligible to receive it (a full year after initially applying) resulted in receiving up to date payment. This took letters to elected representatives, waiting hours on hold to speak to pay clerks, making visits to offices, and bringing in social media attention. The “squeaky wheel”, or irritable retired Senior Chief, gets the grease.

some benefits you may not know

Some of the benefits that veterans have now:

Perks offered by public companies

Some of this information comes via Military Times and Military OneSource, with links to the originating Government agency or other. -ed.

Ask the Chief: getting help with substance abuse

As a veteran, retired Navy Senior Chief, parent, and member of my church community, I have seen friends, shipmates, comrades-in-arms, and family members struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. While the social ignorance and stigma Post-Traumatic Stress sufferers once faced is fading, the number of veterans suffering PTSD, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and ailments from exposure to toxics in the combat theater is a huge problem. In addition, every other condition that veterans encounter from financial issues, divorce, job losses and health problems exacerbated by their service, can compound depression, feelings of isolation and a tendency to substance abuse. Even with a support network of friends, pastoral counseling, and veterans community organizations, professional help in the form of treatment centers and follow-up care, is available for those who are ready to be helped.

One potential source of professional help is found in south Florida. The Recovery Village (844-359-9732) offers a full range of behavioral health treatment and support, for veterans as well as the civilian community. From their website, the following are their core beliefs:

  1. Anyone can recover from addiction
  2. Each client deserves respect and compassion
  3. Addiction is a disease that deserves evidence-based care backed by research
  4. The physical and mental causes of addiction should be addressed simultaneously
  5. Recovery is a lifelong journey that requires daily commitment

Additional information on addiction, substance abuse, questions and help a veteran’s friends and family may wish to provide can be found here.

NOTE: This information is provided without regard to the suitability or efficacy of the programs offered through Advanced Recovery Systems, floridarehab.com or drugrehab.com. No compensation was offered nor sought in providing these resources to veterans or the public through this blog.

Ask the Chief

“veteran” is gender-neutral

Some of my closest shipmates, friends, and mentors are female Sailors, officer and enlisted. Many, like me, are no longer on Drilling Reserve nor on Active Duty. Some have retired after long and distinguished military careers. Some have continued to support fellow veterans with active engagement with organizations such as Honor Flight. Some I served with are successful attorneys, realtors, and teachers. Some are corporate executives, software engineers, and human resource managers. Relatives who formerly served in the Marine Corps and others beginning careers serving in submarines.

Many of my peers in the years since the Gulf War served in war zones. Thirty-seven thousand female military served in the Gulf War, where many served in roles that exposed them to Scud attack and IEDs. Five female soldiers were killed in enemy action and two were taken prisoner. Since then, nearly a thousand female military members have been injured (843) or killed by hostile action from the USS COLE bombing in Yemen, to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [At the time of this writing, a female Chief Cryptologist, a linguist, was killed along with two other military members and one DOD civilian in a terrorist bombing in a Syrian town.] Women actually have been in combat, have come under fire, been injured and have been killed serving in the US military since the Revolutionary War. History documents that women disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolution, in the Civil War, and until physical exams were instituted in the early 1900s. Nurses were recruited before the First World War.

Beginning in 1979, women graduated from the military academies. In 1994, female midshipmen augmented the male crew of a Spruance-class destroyer, the USS PETERSON, several summers while I was aboard. Since 9/11 I have known females serving year tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing intelligence, communications, logistics, and medical support. However, beginning in 1993, women began serving as combat pilots and flying sorties over Iraq. In 2013, Defense Secretary Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles. The impact of female veterans serving in increasing numbers and in more front-line occupations will increase the need for physical and mental health services, more VA female providers as well as gender-specific services. One statistic indicated that the number of female service members has quadrupled in the forty years since 1973. By the end of the first decade of the new Millennium, female veterans grew to 10 percent of the veteran population.

But the bureaucracy is slow to react. As recently as 2016, veterans seeking care at VA facilities reported being mistaken for caregivers, spouses, or questioned their veteran status. Additionally, in contrast with employer-provided health plans, the VFW survey reports respondents found the VA required co-pays for preventative-care prescriptions including contraceptives.

veterans helping veterans

In a recent program, “Returning the Favor”, Mike Rowe whom many may recognize from “Dirty Jobs” fame, featured a male Iraq War veteran who runs a gym in Austin Texas, and through Make a Vet Sweat helps fellow veterans overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through exercise. It was in the course of the show, one of the female veterans served discussed her career-ending injury resulting in her own PTSD. Since the Gulf War time, I have known that female servicemembers have been in combat, risking death and injury, from hostile fire, IEDs, and terrorist attacks just as their male servicemembers have. The availability of creative therapies for working through mental health issues helps each sufferer, whether it is animals, exercise, or outreach. And may help many veterans avoid prescription drug addictions.

veteran suicide has no gender

According to statistics compiled by the Veterans Administration, of veterans who attempt suicide, the numbers of female veterans were increasing from 14 per 100,000 in 2001 to 17 per 100,000 population by 2014. This may be due the increasing number of female service members since 2001. Studies report that suicide rate decreased between 2001 and 2014 for female veterans receiving mental health services. While in the overall population, male suicide is three times greater than female, men more often use firearms while females tend to poison or overdose. In a VA fact sheet published in August 2017, female veterans who reported military sexual trauma or harassment were more likely to commit suicide than other female veterans. And overall, female veterans are more likely to commit suicide than civilian women.

marriage and divorce

Compared to civilian women, female veterans were more likely to be married while in the service, and at younger ages than their counterparts. Thirty percent of female military members were likely to be married between ages of 17 and 24, while eight percent of civilian women were. And the same veteran age group was more likely to be divorced compared to civilian women. In 2015, a study found that female veterans of all ages were more likely to be divorced than civilians, but civilians were more likely to have been divorced more than once.

healthcare and homelessness

The VFW has considerable resources and political clout engaged in support of female veterans. They commissioned a survey, from December 2015 to January 2016, with 2000 validated Active Duty, Reservist, retiree and vet respondents, on issues and challenges for women veterans. The survey found that the Veterans Administration needs to hire female healthcare providers to treat female veterans unique concerns. Lacking the personnel, the majority of the female veterans reported they were not given an option to request the gender of their VA healthcare provider.

The survey also sought information on female veteran homelessness. Four percent (72) of the respondents reported being homeless, and of these, 46 percent reported living in another person’s home (‘couch surfing’). Seventy percent of the homeless veterans had children; a third of them reported having children impacted their ability to receive care at a VA facility.

education and employment

Since the end of the Second World War, female veterans, who made up less than 9 percent of all veterans, like their civilian counterparts, who had worked in the defense industries during the war, were less likely than male veterans to use the GI Bill, or did not pursue college education due to social pressure (women in the home instead of the workplace). Studies in 2015 on the educational level and employment of female veterans indicates that they obtain a Bachelors or higher degree later in life than civilian women, are more likely to work in management, professional and technical occupations (49 versus 41 percent), and more work for local, state or federal agencies than their civilian counterparts. Twenty-nine percent of veterans work in sales or office occupations compared to thirty percent of non-veteran women. [statistics from: report, National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics, February, 2017, see va.gov/vetdata]

veteran groups

To inform veterans of their benefits, aid them with specific needs affecting them, provide networking for employment and business opportunities, and lobby on their behalf with lawmakers, service-providers, and the public, there are several organizations. One of the largest organizations specifically focused on women veterans is the Women’s Veteran Alliance. This national organization holds regional employment workshops, networking ‘mix and mingles’, conferences, and opportunities for businesses looking to hire veterans. See their link for female veteran “allies” (referrals and local organizations) More information is available on their Facebook page.

Since 1970, the National Veterans Foundation, its founder “Shad” Meshad, a Vietnam veteran, has been meeting the needs of veterans with mental health counseling, with three hundred offices across the country. Staffed by veterans of all periods – Vietnam, Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan, they provide counseling and referral. All of these are located away from VA hospitals. (The reputation of VA hospitals in the last couple decades particularly among Vietnam veterans has suffered negative exposure, “new management” and political promises to fix internal problems). NVF’s counseling programs particularly with Post Traumatic Stress, according to their information webpage, were called upon after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York after September 11, 2001.

States each have their own Department of Veteran Affairs. In California, CALVET has a resource page for female veterans, from housing assistance, advocacy to employment and health. CALVET also provides resources for groups and agencies to provide support to the veteran.

The Veterans Administration has a directory of female-veteran service organizations here

FB make a vet sweat

Hollywood needs military vets

Transitioning from Active Duty? Like television and the movies, but wish the military-theme was more real-life? Have a skill and want to get into the high-tech industry?

When a friend, one-time co-worker, and fellow Navy Reservist told me of his experience acting, with minor parts in television and film, I was interested. He said Hollywood needs military veterans to consult and to help lend realism to the shows and movies. One of my favorite actors, R Lee Ermy did do that pretty well.

But what about off-camera? How do you find technical work with the studios, animators, and creative genius that create spectacular visual effects? I imagine that one way is through the active and popular employment search engines and services online. And there are apparently at least one organization that support and recruit veterans for many functions in Hollywood and the industry.

If anyone knows others, is member of, or would like to be featured, contact me. It would be fascinating to learn more about careers and opportunities for transitioning military and experienced veterans.