5 Vietnam Vets File to Change Their OTH Discharge Statuses Due to PTSD

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By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. military Veterans don’t like it when anyone tarnishes the reputation of their country, their branch of service and their traditions. Some Veterans take considerable offense when one of their own steps out of line. For decades, many Veterans, even decorated combat Veterans, have been considered outsiders if their discharges were dis-honorable in nature. These Veteranswere often banned from private Veterans clubs and even denied VA benefits. Some would argue that these “initiated” Veterans should have known better and acted appropriately.

But what if these Veterans’ actions were not the result of dis-honorable intentions? What if these Veterans couldn’t control their own behavior due to symptoms of an affliction that was not yet recognized when they were separated? What if these Veterans damning actionswere actually symptoms of PTSD?

In March, five Vietnam Veterans (3 former Marines and 2 former Army Soldiers), along with the Vietnam Veterans of America, filed a suit that seeks to have their Other Than Honorable discharges reviewed and potentially reconsidered by the Boards for Corrections of Military Records from the Army and Marine Corps.

The suit claims that the military has unfairly denied applications for discharge upgrades from those with less-than-honorable discharges who likely had PTSD when they were kicked out of service, in an era when the disorder was much less understood than it is today. The plaintiffs hope that the suit will be granted class-action status, which could pave the way for thousands of other Veterans to have their discharges reexamined.

According to the suit, less than 20 of the 375 requests for discharge upgrades involving PTSD have been granted to Vietnam veterans since 1993. The five plaintiffs in this suit all have applied for discharge reviews and were denied or never heard back from their branch’s boards.

The five Veterans in the suit claim to have suffered considerably due to their OTH discharge status. They were denied VA benefits for service-connected injuries and were unable to find sustainable income due to employers seeing their OTH status.

The DOD has until May 2, 2014 to respond to the suit.

Stronger than the dislike that Veterans have for someone tarnishing their reputation is the compulsion to take care of their own. It is seen as a great injustice if any Veterans were denied anything, especially because of injuries sustained in service to their country. If this is the case, let us hope that these wrongs are corrected and these Veterans are given the overdue support that they earned.

MyPillow Inventor Donates 500 MyPillows to Veteran Home

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By Debbie Gregory.

Have you ever had a life changing moment? For Michael Lindell and over a dozen Iraq Veterans, it was several years ago at the Omaha Home Show held at what was then called the Qwest Center Omaha. Lindell was peddling his invention, the MyPillow, when 18 Veterans visited his booth, curious about his product. At the time, Lindell believed his patented MyPillow design to be simply the most comfortable pillow on the market. The Veterans that Lindell spoke to, complained of insomnia due to stress and anxiety from their time spent at war. In an act of patriotic charity, Lindell gave the Vets free MyPillows to try. The next day, all of the Veterans returned to the show and paid admission just to tell Lindell how well his product worked.

This interaction caused Lindell, the CEO/Inventor of the MyPillow, to run more tests on his product’s design. Lindell’s studies found that the MyPillow allows for optimal restful sleep by keeping the user’s neck straight, no matter what position they sleep in. Lindell says that when our necks curve and bend as we lay on our flat pillows, our nerve flow is affected similarly to a garden hose with a kink in it. But when our neck is able to stay straight and in-line, the nerve flow is open, making for more restful sleep.

Since that interaction at the Omaha Home Show, Lindell has felt a connection between his Made in the U.S.A. products and the Military/Veteran community. Lindell is proud that his MyPillow products are available in exchanges on military bases across the country. He is also proud to have shipped scores of his MyPillows to service members in Afghanistan as private orders from family members as well as donations to provide comfort and boost morale. Lindell has also donated countless of MyPillows to stateside service members, firemen, and victims of Hurricane Sandy.

“It has been a blessing to be able to help so many people with my product,” Lindell said to MilitaryConnection.com.

Lindell is the Veterans Home of California’s featured donor for April’s “Because We Care Day.”

On Monday, April 14, 2014, Lindell donated 500 MyPillows to the residents of the Veterans home of California in West Los Angeles. The home provides local Veterans with: assisted living, skilled nursing, memory/dementia care and a new transitional housing program for homeless Veterans. Lindell was there personally to distribute the pillows accompanied by representatives from the California Department of Veterans Affaris (CalVet).

Lindell believes that his MyPillows are the perfect solution for ending restless nights and obtaining replenishing sleep. He feels that his products can especially benefit combat Veterans and service members who notoriously struggle to reach restful R.E.M. sleep. These beliefs have prompted Lindell’s numerous donations of MyPillow products to service members and Veterans.

“I feel that I live in a country where I am free to be an entrepreneur and that is all because of their service,” Lindell said of his donations to service members and Veterans.

Michael Lindell is now offering a special promotion through MilitaryConnection.com to Military and Veterans who visit their website at www.mypillow.com and enter the promotion code: VET to receive 25% off any online order.

Why do American Veterans Shy from Military Pride?

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By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.

Recently, I was researching U.S. military pride, and the attitudes towards military pride of those who have served.  I have scanned through numerous online forums and asked dozens of Veterans to weigh in. I found an overwhelming number of U.S. military Veterans’ responses  arguing that wearing earned ribbons and medals, even when worn in a manner that shows no disrespect to their branch of service or the award, is still popularly considered “inappropriate.”

Many Veterans have likened discharged Veterans wearing their medals to the old-world aristocrats who attempted to exert self-importance through fashion. But when a generation of Americans has spent more than twelve years fighting, supporting the efforts of two wars, there are many decorated Veterans face this dilemma.  Should they leave their military pride packed away in closets, shadow boxes and underwear drawers,  just because wearing their awards is considered… wrong?

First and foremost, it is legal to wear medals and ribbons. In fact, the DOD and the VA have specifically asked Veterans to show their military pride by wearing medals and ribbons on patriotic holidays,  including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the Fourth of July. The VA even specifies that they shouldn’t be just for parades and functions, but worn everywhere.

Furthermore, according to DOD Instruction 1334.01, section 3.2 from October 26, 2005, honorably discharged Veterans can wear their entire uniform for national holidays, events that are military in nature, and weddings.

There are regulations for military members who wish to wear their ribbons and medals with civilian attire. Each branch has specific rules. But in general, mini medals are permissible for formal occasions, and replica ribbons worn as lapel pins can be worn on sport coats.

Wanting to follow the rules, while not knowing what they are, is a major reason why Veterans don’t wear their awards. But Veterans should be made aware that military uniform regulations no longer apply to people who have completed their enlistment. So basically, the awards and medals that they have earned are theirs to do with as they choose. That is why many older Vets can be seen wearing ribbon racks and medals on their ball caps. The purpose of wearing medals is to celebrate and respect your country, your branch of service and your award. But apparently, this is still an unpopular notion.

I would like to see a trend start where Veterans proudly display their decorations on national holidays and civilian formal events. Veterans displaying their awards shouldn’t be seen as selfish attention seekers, but rather, as drawing attention to military service and their branch of service. If someone congratulates or thanks that Veteran for their service, GOOD… they earned it.

I found another reason why American military Veterans don’t wear their awards is that they don’t feel that their awards are worth much, or that someone else with more decorations will make them look insignificant.

While I only served five years of active duty, I deployed three times. I was never in active combat. But I am proud of my service and consider it among my greatest achievements. I choose to wear my medals, knowing the inevitability that someone has more medals of higher stature than mine. When that happens, I will shake my comrade’s hand and thank that person for their service. But no one can convince me that displaying military pride is inappropriate. I chose to serve my country, and my country issued me my medals. I will wear my medals with pride, and I challenge my fellow Veterans to do the same.

MilitaryConnection.com Sponsors Sylmar Habitat for Heroes

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By Debbie Gregory.

In Southern California on April 12, 2014, Habitat for Humanity San Fernando/ Santa Clarita Valleys (Habitat SF/SCV) presented the keys of twelve new homes to local Veteran families. The homes were built as part of the Habitat for Humanity’s Sylmar Veteran Enriched Neighborhood, and made possible through the support of many local and corporate sponsors, in collaboration with the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet).

Sylmar Habitat for Heroes, as it has been named, is the first community that provides home ownership in a neighborhood environment to low-income Veteran families, while also providing free social services to the families. Their Enriched Neighborhood™ model provides social services through partnerships with local businesses and non-profit organizations. These valuable services include financial planning and support, self-sufficiency education, health screenings, and health education. Sylmar Habitat for Heroes will also provide for other unique needs these Veteran families may have, including FOCUS training, stress counseling, art workshops for trauma victims, and ensuring that all Veteran families in residence have access to all of the military benefits they are entitled to.

Los Angeles County has the highest number of Veteran residents in California, and Sylmar is home to one of the nation’s highest populations of combat Veterans. But Sylmar’s Veterans have been returning home from war only to battle unemployment. And many of the combat Veterans have suffered a service related disability. Many of those who manage to find work aren’t earning enough money to provide their families with much more than sub-standard housing, and they often go into credit card debt. Many of the area’s Veterans are living paycheck to paycheck.

Habitat SF/SCV built Sylmar Habitat for Heroes in order to provide affordable homes for struggling local Veterans. The housing, training and support will help these families get out of poverty and move up to the middle class. The project assists these low-income Veteran families qualify for the four bedroom homes, which the Veterans purchase using a CalVet Home Loan, a Habitat SF/SCV second loan, and a deferred silent third loan from California Department of Housing and Community (HCD).

Of the over 200 people currently enrolled in Habitat SF/SCV, 99.9% are high school graduates, with 91% of children from these assisted Veteran families going on to college or trade school, and 46% of those at a four-year university. There is a 0% teen pregnancy rate after moving into the Habitat homes, and 13.9% of the parents have returned to school to advance employment. There has not been one single foreclosure.

Habitat SF/SCV was founded in 1990 as an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International.  However, the organization functions as an independent, 501c3 non-profit organization that is manned and managed locally. Habitat for Humanity SF/SCV serves North Los Angeles County, building homes for Veteran families and low-income working families. With the completion of the Sylmar Habitat for Heroes project, the organization has provided over 235 homes, and is among the top Habitat affiliates in the nation.

Military Connection CEO Debbie Gregory was presented with a leaf on the community’s Giving Tree at the key ceremony for the Sylmar Enriched Neighborhood™. MilitaryConnection.com is a proud sponsor of Habitat SF/SCV and the Sylmar Habitat for Heroes.

“It is such an important way to give back to Veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much, and have earned the American Dream. Providing homes and resources was my end goal in introducing Habitat to CalVet, and I commend both for all that they are doing for Veterans,” said MilitaryConnection.com’s CEO Debbie Gregory.

MilitaryConnection.com Supports the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool

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By Debbie Gregory.

Every Veteran and service member planning to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill needs to know about the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool. This interactive information resource could be considered the single greatest improvement to the VA’s Veteran education benefit in the last two years.

When making the important decision to go back to school, Veterans are left with many more choices that can affect the rest of their lives. Much like deciding on enlisting in the military, which branch, which rate, which MOS to sign up for, going back to school is not a singular, nor easy, decision.

Veterans should first consider their course of academic study. This can include what career field they would like to ultimately end up in. Veterans should have a good idea about what majors and minors they would like to study. Next, they should research the schools they might want to attend, and then what programs in their chosen areas of study those schools offer. Once a Veteran sees the schools that offer their academic programs, they are ready to evaluate those schools using the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

By simply inputting the answers to a few questions, Veterans gain access to a wealth of information about their prospective schools and futures using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. All that users of the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool need to input are:

  • Their cumulative time of Post-9/11 service
  • Their military status
  • The school they want to research
  • Whether or not they will be taking courses entirely online

In seconds, users of the GI Bill Comparison Tool have access to vital information, including the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) they can expect from a particular school, how much tuition that school charges (the Post-9/11 GI Bill caps at $19,198.31 per academic year), what the graduation rates at the school are, how many Veteran students are currently enrolled in that school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and if the school participates in the Yellow Ribbon program and/or the Principles of Excellence program. The Yellow Ribbon program participants agree to cover or excuse portions of tuition if it exceeds the VA’s yearly cap. The Principles of Excellence program guarantees a personalized education plan and schedule accommodations, among other items.

Giving Veterans access to compare data for potential schools, within seconds, makes the decision of where to use their education benefits much more convenient.

MilitaryConnection.com urges every Veteran considering the use of their VA education benefits to weigh their options before enrolling. The quickest, easiest and most informative resource for this is the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

Would You Test a PTSD App for Stanford University?

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By Debbie Gregory.

One of the biggest concerns for combat Veterans is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Service members who survived the horrific events of war and witnessed the aftermath when the dust cleared often struggle with the brain’s inability to cope with the memories of those experiences. Many people don’t understand PTSD. Our service members volunteer to be put in the position where serious bodily harm and death can occur.  They also face the risk of a lifetime of unmanageable memories from events that occur while in the military.

A number of government agencies, including the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA), continue to fund programs that treat service members and Veterans with PTSD and also fund programs that research PTSD in order to better treat symptoms and provide the best care for service members. One of the programs that the VA has funded has developed a mobile application (app) that Veterans and service members can download onto their personal smartphones. The VA sponsored app was designed to offer rapid care for users who suffer from PTSD. The app provides users with general information of PTSD, a self-assessment tool, helpful methods to cope with their ailment, and also informs them where they can locate support services. In one study, users reported having fewer PTSD symptoms after using the app for as little as one month.

Currently, a research team from Stanford University is conducting a more in-depth study of the VA’s PTSD app. The team is asking for PTSD sufferers to volunteer for the study.

For three months, participants will be randomly split into two groups. One group will have access to the app, and the other group will not. After the study period, both groups will be allowed to use the app, and all the participants will fill out surveys from their experiences. All participants must be PTSD sufferers 18 years or older, who are not currently being treated for their PTSD symptoms. The study does not require in-person visits as part of the study. All volunteers must also have their own smart phone (iPhone or Android) and be able to download the free app.

Veterans are no strangers to duty and responsibility. This research project provides a great opportunity for Veterans and service members who suffer from PTSD to participate in an effort to improve treatments for themselves, their current brothers and sisters in arms, and future PTSD sufferers.

If you are interested in participating, please contact research coordinator Nitya Kanuri at [email protected] or call (650) 485-3465.

Military Death Benefits Bill Introduced into House

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By Debbie Gregory.

Last October, when Congress’ stalemate led to a sixteen day government shutdown, the families of five recent KIA service members were further tormented when they were faced with a delay in receiving their $100,000 payment. “Death gratuity” payments are used by families to help cover the costs of meeting and receiving their fallen loved one’s remains, and then laying them to rest. When these payments were in jeopardy, the Fischer House Foundation graciously offered to immediately forward the money to the families, until the shutdown ended. The foundation also offered to pay for travel and lodging for the families to meet their fallen warrior’s remains. In 2013, the Fisher House Foundation also paid for 22,000 other families to see their wounded service members in military hospitals and recovery centers.

Last October, Congress unanimously agreed to adjust legislation to award the five families their entitled benefits. The Honoring the Families of the Fallen Act made it mandatory that death benefits be paid to families, even during a government shutdown. However, the changes made then were only temporary and expire at the end of fiscal year 2014.

Recently, Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) introduced legislation that would permanently allow the Defense Department to continue making death benefits payments to the families of fallen soldiers, even during a government shutdown.

Barber’s bill, H.R. 4274 proposes to adjust the Honoring the Families of the Fallen Act to say the DOD is authorized in any fiscal year to make death gratuity payments, even if there is a lapse of government funding.

MilitaryConnection.com believes that Veterans and their families deserve the best that the country can give them for their service. But the men and women who die while in service to their country should be honored above all else. Their sacrifice, their honor, their entitlements and their families should be considered sacred, especially by the government they died supporting. There is no question that H.R. 4274 needs to be approved or improved upon and then approved.

Families of fallen service members deserve all of the help and support that we as a nation can give them. If you or someone you know has lost a loved one in the service to their country, please refer the survivors to the Tragedy Assistance programs for Survivors (TAPS). MilitaryConnection.com is a proud supported of TAPS and all that they do for grieving military families and families of wounded Veterans.

One Veteran’s View of the VA Honesty Project

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By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.

It is no secret that most Veterans have had a complaint or two about the VA. The plain and simple truth is that any organization that takes care of more than 2 million patrons in a broad range of services such as healthcare (medical, dental, vision and mental), disability compensation, education benefits, employment assistance, home loans, and even death and funeral benefits, is going to accrue some complaints.

Recently, U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller,(FL) launched the VA Honesty Project. The Project is a website designed to track the Veterans Administration’s transparency with both the press and the public.

In a prepared statement, Miller said, “With 54 full-time public affairs employees, VA’s media avoidance strategy can’t be anything other than intentional.” He added, “What’s worse, the tactic leaves the impression that department leaders think the same taxpayers who fund the department don’t deserve an explanation of VA’s conduct.”

To be fair, the same complaint that Miller made about the VA can be said about law makers on Capitol Hill, who employ more than 54 full-time public affairs employees. But finger pointing won’t improve benefits for anyone. I do applaud Mr. Miller’s efforts to improve benefits that Veterans receive and agree that the VA should be held accountable for their actions and shortcomings. But I don’t know what the congressman is expecting. Does he want press conferences explaining individual cases where the VA dropped the ball? Does he want reporters hounding VA representatives like they were athletes after losing a big game? I don’t know who would want to hear excuses being made about their agency’s performance.

However, unlike the congressman, I do see the VA responding to critics and complaints. As a writer and Veteran who daily researches VA programs, I have seen rapid improvements in the VA over the last few years. I have seen the VA application move to a faster, paperless system. I have seen needs addressed in employment opportunities for Veterans. I have seen the VA address and nearly eliminate Veteran homelessness. I have seen the VA expand its healthcare and mental health benefits. And I have seen the VA taking measures to reduce their backlog. I think that I prefer the VA’s responses over hearing excuses made in front of a camera.

Rep. Miller is absolutely correct to point out that the VA is not perfect, and has room for improvement. Veterans deserve the very best, because they gave the very best. But I don’t see that adding another set of bureaucratic handcuffs is the solution to bettering the care for me and my brother and sister Veterans. I will continue to voice my concerns to the VA on where deficiencies lay in their department. And I will continue to see what actions they take in response to expressed concerns.

Service Members Peer to Peer Support

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By Debbie Gregory.

Every branch of the U.S. military takes pride in honoring the generations of warriors that came before them. From revering historic events and battles, to obeying instructions from their senior leaders, to following the guy in front of them in ranks, service members take a lot of their cues from their predecessors. This is as it should be, because who know more about the position that a service member is currently standing in than a person whose boots were previously in that same exact spot? This is the wisdom that the Vets4Warriors program was founded on in 2010.

The stated mission for Vets4Warriors, sponsored by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office,  is “For any issue, at any time, a Veteran is here to help. We all need a helping hand sometimes and Vets4Warriors provides 24/7 confidential peer support, information, and referrals for all service members.”

Originally, the program was intended only for members of the National Guard and Reserves, but since September 2013, Vets4Warriors has been open to any current member of the active duty military, National Guard and Reserves. Since their inception, the Vets4Warriors programs has fielded over 45,000 calls to their call center and 2,000 internet chats. The program provides current service members and their families with guidance and support.

The support that the Vets4Warriors program offers comes in multiple forms, such as call centers, email and instant messaging chat boxes. Veterans from all branches of service who have had similar experiences, as well as military family members who are empathetic to the pressures of military life, provide around the clock peer support.

The Veterans in the call center provide reassurance that the struggles faced by the person on the other end of the line, while unique to military lives, are not unique to them alone. Veterans manning the toll-free number are trained to provide service members with information about resources and programs that are available to benefit them and their current needs, and in some cases, can offer referrals to programs and benefits.

The family members who staff the call centers are trained to offer military families, caregivers and survivors assistance and support in times of crisis and need.

All Veterans and family members who man the Vets4Warriors call center assist callers in managing stress, staying healthy, overcoming adversity and building resilience. Along with fielding calls, the program provides follow-up support for as long as the service member or family member is struggling with that issue, even if it takes months.

All communications to the Vets4Warriors program is confidential, and is not disclosed to the military or anyone else. Callers can remain anonymous, if they choose to do so.

The Vets4Warriors contact information would be good to keep in your cell phone, your email address book, or on your refrigerator. Their toll-free number is (855) 838-8255. You can email them at [email protected] and visit the program’s website at www.vets4warriors.com

As in all emergency situations, you are advised to dial 9-11 or your local emergency number. You can also call the Military Crisis Line at (800) 273- 8255 (1).

Bill H.R. 3508 Benefits Veterans with Hearing Loss

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By Debbie Gregory.

Even with the improvements that the VA is making in their claims processing and healthcare programs, some VA needs are not being met. While these needs have been deemed “not critical to the immediate survival” of Veterans, they are still necessary for the Veteran’s quality of life.

At the top of the list of non-critical, but absolutely necessary needs are hearing aids. Many Veterans, especially Veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, wait six months or longer for appointments with VA audiologists. Some Veterans choose to pay out of pocket and go to private audiologists to get hearing aids in a matter of days. But most Veterans can’t afford to go that route; and no, a Veteran shouldn’t have to.

If these same Veterans complained of chest pain or breathing issues, they would be treated at the VA hospital within a matter of minutes. If a specialist was not available in a timely manner, other trained healthcare professionals would be allowed to tend to the Veteran in need. If such measures can be taken in more critical matters, why aren’t exceptions made in other necessary areas? Legislation is currently underway in the U.S. House of Representatives that could do just that.

House bill H.R. 3508 was introduced in November, 2013 by Rep. Sean Duffy from Wisconsin. The bill proposes an adjustment in the requirements for those who prescribe  hearing aids to Veterans. Currently, only licensed audiologists can issue a hearing aid to VA patients. If passed, H.R. 3508 will require that hearing aid issuers have associates degrees from VA approved institutions, and complete apprenticeships from VA approved programs. The bill also calls for the VA to submit yearly reports to Congress on the timely distribution of hearing aids to Veterans. Recently, the bill moved to the House Veterans sub-committee.

Bill H.R. 3508 has the support of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the International Hearing Society, VetsFirst, Blinded Veterans Association, and American Veterans (AMVETS).

Along with doing everything in our power to connect Veterans to the resources, information and the benefits they deserve and are entitled to, MilitaryConnection.com also supports legislation that benefits Veterans in need. Contact your local congressional representative and tell them that you support H.R. 3508 and urge them to vote YES on your behalf. Click here to find out who your representative is.