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

ask the Chief

disability compensation questions

Becoming an expert in any specialty in the military takes time.  The nature of military assignments is such that individuals transfer and often take that expertise with them!   This is particularly aggravating in the specialties that relate to service members career and health administration.  Because the military is a large bureaucracy, with volumes of policies, regulations and procedures for virtually everything,  obtaining answers to specific situations is very difficult. 

military service and service-connected disabilities

 If you are on Active Duty getting close to your EAOS, a veteran with health issues possibly connected to your military service, or transitioning or enlisting in the Reserve as a veteran of Active Duty, you may find the following example from actual experience helpful.  This example is from a family member, a former soldier, who in the last year and a half of his Active Duty enlistment was plagued with shin splints, and an injury that incurred during training in a military culture that treats infirmity as a lack of physical and mental toughness. In most respects an excellent soldier, medical complications and the command climate influenced him to not consider re-enlisting.

From the author’s experience, the process of post-enlistment transition is much improved since the 1990s. The Army referred the soldier for transitional job training, and recommended him for a re-enlistment eligible discharge at his End of Active Obligated Service (EAOS). But there is some ambiguity in that transition. Whether assumptions made or questions went unasked, the service member knew that an initial enlistment contract in the military was a commitment to eight years of total service. Three, four or six years of an Active Duty service and the balance served in the Active or Inactive component of the Reserve. But it is apparent that the soldier was not aware that inactive or IRR service was the default to serve out the balance of the contract. In an inactive status, the service member does not drill nor receive compensation, but annually is only required to inform the military of any changes in status or address.

evaluation by the VA for disabilities

However, as part of the soldier’s transitional assistance he was recommended to go to the Veterans Administration off-post to be evaluated for the medical conditions resulting from, or aggravated by, military service. Once processed out of the Army and possessing a DD214, the official record of military service for veterans, the Veterans Administration determines he has a service-connected disability.    Further,  the severity of the disability finding is such that the veteran receives a 100 percent rating and compensation for injuries and illness sustained while in the military service.   

Can a disabled veteran still serve?

There are different categories of service-connected disability, and either the service branch or the Veterans Administration may determine a disability exists. Unless the member or his command requests a Medical Review Board prior to the service member’s discharge, and the service branch makes a determination, the veteran can go to the Veterans Administration for a medical evaluation. Either may result in a finding of service-connected disability which may be eligible for compensation.

the DD214 is key to benefits and reenlistment

There is no prohibition on its face, for a veteran receiving compensation from the VA for a disability to reenlist in the Reserve component. For the military branch, the re-enlistment code on the DD214  is the clearest indicator of eligibility. Getting a clear answer from the military service representative is difficult. As any veteran can attest, expertise is a rare commodity. Rumor, half-answers and lack of knowledge dominates. The individual affected or a specialist, like a service-organization (VFW, DAV, or AL) representative, may find the answers more readily.

Unless a veteran is in receipt of a classification of 100 percent disability / unemployable, a veteran receiving compensation for 100 percent disability, may serve in the Active Reserve, unless the Reserve determines that the member needs to be medically evaluated and screened for enlistment. This apparently can become, unintentionally,  bureaucratically cumbersome, where the member cannot receive military pay and a VA compensation. Suspending ones compensation, or a finding by the military branch that the members disability rating is less than what the VA has determined, can be confusing at best.   

U.S. military veterans of past conflicts have the same opportunity to receive care and compensation for disabilities incurred or aggravated by military service. While some medical and service records have been damaged or lost from a several decades-old fire (1973) at the national archive when records were stored on paper, most veterans have access to records that assist them when requesting benefits. Current policies evaluate a list of symptoms, dates and locations stationed with compensation – or medical-treatment- eligible illnesses.

Even a finding by the Veterans’ Administration of a Service-Connected Disability, rated at 0 (Zero) Percent, allows the veteran to obtain benefits for herself or her family. It can be reviewed and re-evaluated based on additional evidence, including civilian medical records documenting conditions a physician attests to military service. Many times, a veteran has received benefits that retroactively are granted back to the period of the veteran’s discharge.

If there is one piece of advice that any service member or veteran should heed, it is to get evaluated. Physical and emotional ailments can be treated before they cause further disabilities. Suicide among veterans, homelessness, PTSD, and drug addiction are among the most severe problems affecting men and women who

no substitute for becoming informed

Visiting or becoming a member of a veterans’ service organization is the best source for information to support a veteran of the armed forces. (Spouses can also become auxiliary members of these organizations.) The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) are the most well-known. Vietnam veterans and Iraq-Afghanistan veterans have service organizations as well. They have expertise, first-hand experience and the resources to assist veterans with claims to the VA and benefits the veteran may be unaware of. And personally becoming educated is no less important. The following links are reference material to support obtaining a medical discharge,  supporting a veteran’s request to change military status and official records (DD214), and understanding the policies and options for a veteran. The veteran in this example is still working through the bureaucracy, though VA compensation has continued uninterrupted.

Guide to Obtaining a Medical Discharge (unofficial)

Medical Evaluation Board (PowerPoint)

Requesting a change to your military discharge (DD214)

“simple process” is not in the DOD Manual


No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. …..Calvin Coolidge

http://blog.acton.org/archives/70151-calvin-coolidges-warning-entrenched-bureaucracy.html

According to information I gleaned from a thorough scrub of several websites,  a Reservist who has retired from military service under the normal circumstances (not a disability retirement)  has to request payment of retirement pay beginning at age 60.   

Now I am the old Salt

For someone who has a current DOD identification card, this may be less of an exercise than I have encountered to date.   But for  a “gray-area Reservist”,  a member who received retirement orders pending receipt of pay after age sixty,  this posed questions I thought best to get answered before I made some errors and had to resubmit.

You may never have dealt with a bureaucracy the size of the Department of Defense or the Veterans Administration.  But if you have ever dealt with a local planning board or other agency, you may have some idea.  Prior experience online directed me to look at the official Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS).   When I found the proper sub-department for Reserve retirees it directed me to another website.  And a third. I used the telephone at last and actually reached a live person quickly.  While the representative was able to locate my record,  she could not tell me other than what I already knew.  When I did find a couple forms online,  editions more than sixteen years old, it seemed this information was what they already had on file.

Re-enlist, get a check. Retire:  who are you?

 The BUPERS website directed me to solicit assistance with retirement questions from the local military support office; I drove over to the military office that had served me while in the Navy Reserve nine years earlier.  After a lovely chat with a senior enlisted personnel clerk,  I spoke with a career counselor for a “package” that would include material needed for retirement pay requests.   After waiting in a line, I found that all “retired” reservists like myself had to go through, yes,  BUPERS, for these retirement pay questions.  

I did catch one tidbit of information.   The Department of the Navy is about a month late in a reported ten-month window prior to the member’s sixtieth birthday, sending a package of everything the bureaucracy needs before making payment.  I will make another call to BUPERS this week to find out whether this “package” has been mailed.  I probably will go back to the VA for a disability re-assessment.  When dealing with a Government bureaucracy,  blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, and muscle fatigue are common.   That’s gotta be worth something?

What has “comfort zone” to do with “success”?

In the United States Navy,  and by extension, the other military services,  an individual has fairly equal opportunity to rise up the advancement ladder, and to qualify for challenging assignments.    Leadership, as practiced by some I have had the great fortune to be mentored by, has been recognized by their being awarded positions among the highest authority and responsibility in that service.   By mentorship I mean, demonstrating integrity,  fortitude (in spite of personal hardships), a commitment to excellence and encouraging others to reach beyond “comfort” in doing.

“Every Sailor has the potential to lead. I don’t care if it’s a seaman recruit or someone higher ranking than myself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. ” (All Hands Call, Norfolk, VA 01 May 2007)

 

“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other in dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself; while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
LTG John M. Schofield, 1879

Ask people whether they have a dream visceral enough they want accomplished.  Material possessions,  security, education, or a deeply-committed and loving marital relationship.   Then ask those same people if they were willing to do whatever it took, in terms of work,  being sleep-deprived, learning difficult lessons, memorizing, practicing, enduring criticism and overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams.   Fewer might push on.  Of that reduced number,  how many would endure whatever life handed them in the pursuit of that dream, as days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years?   Fewer perhaps.  In an article in Forbes,  a contributor has published eight traits to predict future success.  These include delaying gratification, being seriously motivated and organized, believing that they make the choices which affect their outcomes, and having fortitude during adversity.   Predictably, past success leads to future success.

To achieve “success”,  whatever that may be in terms of the dreams one has,  requires steadfast devotion.   Integrity.  Mental and physical toughness.   And determination that there is no “giving up or giving in”.   It may be an enlisted member’s goal to become an Officer or senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO).  For others, it might be to earn membership into the ranks of the SEALs.   The few Navy warriors who complete the BUDS training to become SEALs achieve their first qualifier.  Training continues from there.  Other services have their special forces as well.

But it can also be the single mother who is raising three young children,  in school for a professional certification, who then cares for her children,  studies all night, and maintains the family chores all at the same time.  And excels.    Or it can be the aging sailor with a dream to become a Chief Petty Officer who  commits to every training session,  early morning fitness challenge, seeks, finds and puts into practice the guidance from others with decades of leadership expertise.

“Success” can be the married young engineer, father of two, one a newborn, who spends time with his children and wife at those critical “family-building” times.  Yet he is working early or into late hours, and finding innovative and productive solutions to technical challenges simultaneously.

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19: 28 -29 (NIV)

And then there are the spiritually-rewarding opportunities that define “success”.  The young graduate of a university with a business degree, sought by several businesses, who voluntarily goes to aid the victims of a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian earthquake), as an unpaid volunteer for a charitable organization,  finds a mission and a calling that becomes a career.

“A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.”  –Richard Branson

Many of the most-recognized entrepreneurs today did not find instant reward and acceptance when they began.  Whether it was Ray Kroc and McDonalds,  or  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple,  or my company’s CEO, Mark Dankberg and his team,  it took determination, confidence,  a pursuit of excellence, and vision for the people they attracted, and the customers they served.  But each built multi-billion dollar, world-changing enterprise.

Do you have the integrity, the guts, and the desire to improve others with a dream you want to achieve.  Are you willing to get out of your “comfort zone” to achieve them?

Falling star

It is a stressful time to be a General Officer in the United States Armed Forces.  An Army Major General,  Ryan Gonsalves, was on the short list to get his third star,  or promotion to Brigadier General, when he abruptly inserted combat boot in mouth.  An article asserts he made some colorfully blunt and condescending assessment of a Congressional delegation and particularly offended a female staffer.   He should not have been so colorful.  Perhaps he could have watched “A Few Good Men” for insight in how not to be condescending.

One gentlemen I know summed it up well.  For millennia, men have used power to obtain sex; however, in the same time, women have used sex to obtain power.  At the extremes we have seen abuses. Effective warriors in history, such as Alexander, Charlemagne, Ulysses S. Grant and Omar Bradley were effective leading people and changing the course of history.   However, I would think that a general in the second decade of the Second Millennium would have some acumen.  For the last two hundred years, the United States military has had civilians making policy, authorizing budgets, and setting priorities for national defense.   Many times this has been contrary to the advise of the seasoned warriors who know that adversaries and potential adversaries respect the threat or the actual implementation of force.

Yet a parent’s advice to a child aggrieved about many things should still be a fundamental truth. Apparently, the wisdom of picking one’s battles carefully was not heeded by this general.  Perhaps he reflects the current Commander-In-Chief in that regard.  And unfortunately it seems, this general officer has learned that indeed, the “pen (to strike his name from consideration) IS mightier than the sword”.

 

Takes one to know one

The last time I boarded a vessel the size of the Allure of the Seas, it was gray and I was an enlisted volunteer(ed) carrying equipment. While an aircraft carrier does not deploy lounge chairs nor launch aircraft, on this voyage, my wife and I saw divers launch into a pool several decks above the waterline. This was all part of an entertaining acrobatic and sychronized diving show.

However, the most entertaining part of this trip has been having brief conversations with passengers who are fellow veterans. You see, I wore my “Retired Navy” ballcap boarding in Florida and disembarking on our first port of call. From the first greeting in the line with a retired Bo’sun while getting registered at the embarkation terminal, to the Air Force vet my wife and I sat with at a dinner, to the Navy Vietnam Nam-era airdale, there have been a lot of quick greetings and instant recognition.

” I can recognize veterans”, one Navy wife said.  I think she actually said, she could “smell ’em a mile away”, but I knew what she meant. I think people who served have an instant kinship. One of my fellow passengers, a man and his wife about half my age went snorkeling with my buddy, me and four others at our stop in Haiti. He smiled knowingly, when I remarked how cool it was to be zooming away toward our dive spot in a RHIB. Most Navy people recognize this acronym as Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. Yet I think he or possibly his wife, was Dutch or German.

Yeah. The folks who are frequent cruise vacationing people also seem to have that camraderie. Many start around our age. I think cruise veterans and particularly Navy veterans get the best new sea stories to swap with one another from trips like this. It does “take one to know one”.

(Image) The last time I was off the coast of Haiti (USS PETERSON)