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?

Navy Reserve Retirement

For me, if I have done my duty, the continued approbation of Congress and the Marine Committee will make me rich indeed, and far more than reward me for a life of service devoted from principles of philanthropy, to support the dignity of human nature. John Paul Jones

 when you tire of the b#@@s&!t

In recent months I have been thinking of retiring – again.  A few of my civilian friends do not want to retire because they associate it with an early demise.  A few of my industry peers cannot retire because they have expenses that they cannot afford without working.  But other friends, military retirees, private sector employees, businessmen and other with thirty years or more years in the state or federal system,  decided they were financially, and mentally, ready to retire and did so.   Of course, an important consideration for retiring, besides financial security, is having interests that keep a retiree involved.   While a boat sounds tempting to while away time in my old age, I think I will prefer buying a ticket to go cruising rather than paying for maintenance and dock fees.

making good choices 

I am rather fortunate in that I have a portion of my retirement plan based on a twenty-six year career in the Navy.  While a little more than half was spent on Active Duty,  the remainder – and in fact, on the date I retired, I  was a Selected Reservist.   For the twenty years that have preceded my turning sixty and eligibility for retirement pay,  I have been working in the private sector, accumulating  401K investments and paying down a home in California.  Much of this has been supported and augmented by my spouse having a well-paying career.  And putting off  “keeping up with the Joneses” that so many others have fallen into.  From studying and application from numerous financial educators, advisers, and both good and poor examples in your ‘circle’, almost everyone who plans carefully from their earliest working years – or with arduous self-denial and fiscal obsessiveness in later, higher-salaried years can retire with some degree of security.   

war, sea duty and broken service

I applied to go back on Active Duty, in the same rating I had originally entered the service in the late 1970s.  For the next thirteen years,  I had traveled the world, but the bureaucracy and politics regarding advancement opportunities and changing personal goals inspired a change.  I left the service at the end of my enlistment in 2000.   But a few months later,  I enlisted (again) in the Navy Reserve!   To sum it up,   I retired with almost 26 years of service as a Senior Chief Cryptologic Maintenance Technician,.  But as a Reservist, the retirement system is calculated not to pay the retiree until he or she turns 60 years of age. 

Second, the retiree must file for her retirement stipend on or after age sixty.  The unique feature of Reserve retirement, is that the service member who is eligible for and requests retirement after 20 good years – the Navy sends a statement to each member when they have qualified – can transfer to the Retired Reserve without pay until age 60.  Retirement is calculated as though the member continues to remain on the service rolls.  The retirement calculator uses the Active Duty member’s base pay – in effect for their final paygrade – at the time one starts drawing payment.   One other caveat determining the pay calculation is whether the service member entered military service initially prior to September 1, 1980.   Those retired Reserve members like me, will receive their pay calculation based on the paygrade held at the time of retirement.  All  enlistees after September, 1980 retire have their pay calculated from the last three years of service regardless of their final pay grade, divided by 36 months.  

veterans’ benefits

Additionally,  when a service member retires, it is worth all the bureaucratic tape, to file for review by the Veterans’ Administration for any potential Service-Connected Disability rating.  Even a finding of a connection, but a rating of zero – the condition is not posing debilitation in health at the present time – is able to help those members through other benefits.  In California,  children of a service-connected disability -veteran or retiree, are eligible to attend a UC or CSU university-system school tuition-free.

For more information

  •  DOD Military Reserve retirement compensation information 
  • Navy Department website for Reserve Retirement. (Each service branch has similar sites.)
  • Application for retirement pay upon reaching age 60,  DD  Form 108
  • Data  DD Form 2656 
  • BUPERS INSTRUCTION 1001.39, ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES FOR NAVY RESERVISTS ON INACTIVE DUTY, Chapt 20

super Sunday bowl

There’s kind of a Zen aspect to bowling. The pins are either staying up or down before you even throw your arm back. It’s kind of a mind-set. You want to be in this perfect mind-set before you released the ball.  – Jeff Bridges

 

 

My church has started an outreach and special support ministry for Active and former military veterans and their families.  Supporting the deployed Sailors and Marines,  serving their families in the area,  and sharing the Word of God with others is a privilege.  Cutting up at the bowling alley on the Naval Base  is just pure family fun.

There are things I thought about when we first talked about going bowling as a first “activity” for our growing group. An odd cult movie I watched twenty years ago, “the Big Lebowski”,  which starred Jeff Bridges and among many inappropriate themes in that film was a lot of bowling.  Just thinking about it,  I have to repent again!

But bowling or pool or darts were a few of the activities that I could join and never get overly concerned about my lack of skill and just enjoy the friendship.   Probably a couple dozen times over forty years I’ve been to bowling alleys, half of the time while in the Navy and the other half,  as a teen,  or as a post-forty year old adult family man with other families in our church fellowship.   However, this was the first time we gathered to bowl as part of a “military ministry”.

Most, well all,  of us absolutely stunk as bowlers.  But  we know from scripture, where two or more followers of Jesus are gathered,  He is with us.  So I have some hope that Jesus will help us with our game.  Whether knocking down pins or gaining new friends and saving a few souls in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold War service certificate

A veteran friend of mine reminded me that veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who served during the period of the “Cold War”,   September 2, 1945  – December 26, 1991,  can apply to receive a certificate of recognition.   The Department of the Army Human Resources Command is managing the issue of these certificates (there is NO DOD medal nor ribbon associated with this.)   I thought it would make a nice addition to my “I Love Me” wall.

Following normal online searching methods,  I went to the Department of the Navy public website, and entered a query.  Information returned on “Cold War Certificate” – among many other search returns- indicates that the Department of the Army manages the issue of these certificates for all military branches.  However,  the link provided leads nowhere.  Even when entered with an “https://”  it still is a broken path.

Going to the main official Army website, does not provide a link – though every search term does return a series of possible websites that are not “cold war”  but “cold” weather, or “war” or personnel certificates for various education achievement.   Fortunately,  I had a clue where to look.  The Human Resources Command of the US Army.

And in that specific website, when I entered the same search terms I had used all along, I found the application for Cold War service recognition.

And you, my fellow veterans, continue to hope that the Federal Government  – or any bureaucracy for that matter – has the tools and wherewithal to manage our earned benefits?

You have to know where to look.

Rise and shine

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those (A)who are the called according to His purpose.  –Romans 8:28  (NKJV)

army authority drill instructor group
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

No Company Commander, nor Drill Sergeant ever whispered a gentle wake-up to new recruits in basic training or boot camp during my time in the service.   The whole point of basic training for recruits is to completely change mindsets and hearts to hear and obey, instantly, the calling.   It isn’t the Lord’s voice that one responds to the best of their ability,  but to His representative on Earth during that time: the Drill Sergeant or Company Commander.    The “encouragement” that a recruit, fresh off the farm, the beach, or the street  receives during the first several weeks of military service, instills instinctive responses, physical prowess, self-discipline, and a basic knowledge of the traditions, responsibilities and expectations of each member of a team.  At a certain point,  each military member makes the decision to embrace that way of  life,  engage fully, remain devoted, and give one’s best efforts to the team.   Or they part company, either expeditiously before the end of recruit training, or after three, four or more years.

 11 Light shines[a] on the righteous
    and joy on the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
    and praise his holy name.   –Psalm 97: 11 -12

For those who have been through the maturation process of military training,  and thrived,  the recognition of authority, wielding it,  and being instilled with a single-focused purpose of a spiritual life, is more natural.   I think that is why a lot of the imagery in the Bible, Old Testament and New, involves soldiers.  As a disciple of Jesus,  in my own life experience I understand rigorous training, discipline, and obedience to authority.  We have the tools, the teamwork, and the mission to execute.  But I am grateful that my christian missteps do not result in “marching parties”,  “demerits”,  or being found in the receiving end of some  “fan-room counseling”.

Thank God that Jesus speaks Truth in Love.  If we all respond to that,  the hurled trash can “attention-getter” in the barracks hall might not be a wake-up tool anymore.