VA Appeals Reform Will Overhaul Appeals Process

backlog

By Debbie Gregory.

Bipartisan reforms to speed up the veteran disability appeals process have been signed by the president. The changes will likely take about 18 months from now.

The appeals reform measure was passed by the Senate before summer recess, and was recently finalized by the House.

The number of backlogged claims in the system has steadily increased over the years. The American Legion and other veterans groups have been working with VA officials for years, advocating for change.

The average wait time for an appeal on a veterans disability claim is more than five years.

The current system, which allows veterans to submit new medical information at any time, resets the clock on the appeals process again and again. The changes create multiple options on how veterans can now have their cases appealed. By waiving the opportunity to submit new evidence, they would receive fast resolution. For those who want to retain those rights, they would be held to a timeline.

Hopefully, the new changes will reduce both backlogs and wait times.

“Together with the VA, veterans service organizations, and other lawmakers, we were able to find a bipartisan compromise to ensure that veterans … receive the benefits they so bravely earned in a timely fashion,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

 

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Navy Football Is About To Get Its Own TV Series

midshipmen

By Debbie Gregory.

Are you ready for some football? More to the point, are you ready for some Navy football?

The U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen won’t just be playing on Saturdays, they’ll also be featured on third installment of A Season With — , the Showtime series that takes viewers behind the scenes with a sports team. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Florida State Seminoles were featured in seasons one and two.

A Season with Navy Football will premiere on Tuesday, September 5th at 10:00pm ET/PT, when the Midshipmen take on the Florida Atlantic Owls.

A Season With transports viewers beyond the field and into the lives of student athletes as they compete throughout the season. Viewers go from the classroom to the locker room to the kick-off each week.

Production is currently ongoing in Annapolis, Maryland.

“This is a tremendous opportunity through the extraordinary exposure of Showtime to share the character and impact of Navy football to the nation,” said Navy athletics director Chet Gladchuk.

The Navy-Army Game, played annually on the last weekend of the college football regular season in early December, pits the Navy Midshipmen against the Black Knights of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York (Army). It is one of the most traditional and enduring rivalries in college football, and is televised every year by CBS. This year’s game will be played on Saturday, December 9th at 3:00pm ET.

This is Navy’s 137th football season. The Naval Academy’s football program is one of the nation’s oldest, with its history dating back to 1879.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

WWII Vet Continues to Defend the Flag

banks

By Debbie Gregory.

A 92-year-old World War II veteran was injured by a vandal as he protecting the American flag outside his home.

But this story has a happy ending.

Following the incident in which Howard Banks was pushed to the ground, resulting in several bumps, bruises, and a twisted knee, he received a visit from fellow Marine veterans from Honor Flight Austin, who offered him a free trip to Washington, D.C. to see the National World War II Memorial.

The vandal who was either trying to steal or destroy the American flag and the Marine Corps flag on display ran off while neighbors rushed in to help the veteran, who was left legally blind by a flare on Iwo Jima.

Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization that honors America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. They transport these heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials.

Top priority is given to the senior veterans, World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

“This guy is living history,” said Honor Flight Austin Director Kory Ryan. “He’s a national treasure. People should be lined up on his porch to talk to him, not ripping his flags down.”

“I think we all had that same feeling, that the flag was our identity. We were Americans,” said Banks. “The fact that I’m getting older, and the less I can do… at least I can still do that.”

Banks’s daughter, friends and neighbors will be keeping an eye on him so that they can help him maintain his monument to the country he served and the Marine Corps, without putting himself in harm’s way.

MilitaryConnection.com is honored to work with Honor Flight Network, as well as numerous other wonderful non-profits that serve military, veterans and their families.

We salute veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Army National Guard Training Changes

guard class

By Debbie Gregory.

Army National Guard Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy is looking at flexibility and specialized training to create more career opportunities and shorter deployments for National Guard soldiers.

Guard members will continue to serve 39 days a year — one weekend each month and a 15-day training exercise.

Guard Soldiers respond when disaster strikes at home and also answer the call when the country needs them, all over the globe. Theirs is a unique dual mission–serving both community and country.

Beginning in 2018, brigade combat teams will have four rotations to the combat training centers at Fort Irwin and Fort Polk annually.

The 2018 budget request seeks to add 7,000 new Guardsmen to the force.  The focus will now shift to more specialized deployments, that is, sending units with mission-specific skills to carry out operations. As a result, he believes soldiers will benefit in the form of more flexibility.

With that said, the new system and increased training commitment could end up costing Guardsmen more time away from their day-to-day lives, as well as their families. But the hope is that increased flexibility will make up for it.

Kadavy is proud of the men and women under his command and what they have accomplished after more than a decade of war. And with this new plan, which Kadavy calls “Army National Guard 4.0,” he believes he will be shaping the National Guard for the 21st century, the one that will meet the future requirements and demands of the nation.

“We had to take some good hard looks at what we would have to do if we received a demand to mobilize units quickly to a contingency anywhere around the world, say in 15, 20, 30, or 60 days and what type of readiness would we use if we had to achieve that,” Kadavy said. “That’s different than what we were doing over the last 15 years of war.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Vet Filmmaker Who Wrote “Sand Castle” Salutes His Generation

sand castle

By Debbie Gregory.

Screenwriter Chris Roessner, an Army and Iraq war veteran, turned his war experiences into the controversial Netflix film, Sand Castle.

The Canton, Ohio native grew up in rural Texas and joined the Army when he was 18, a few months before 9/11. Less than two years later he was deployed to Iraq, where he spent the next 14 months serving with a civil affairs unit attached to the 4th Infantry Division.

Roessner describes his deployment to Iraq as “the best and worst thing” that ever happened to him.

Roessner received the Tillman Foundation’s “Make Your Mark” award, and used the opportunity to address the criticism and stereotypes about his generation, often referred to as millennials.

Stereotypical millennials are lazy and entitled. But Roessner believes you can’t support the troops if you’re trashing the generation that’s actually doing the fighting.

“I’m of the opinion that one cannot disrespect our generation and respect the military at the same time. Those two thoughts are in opposition.”

He continued, “We are a group that has been asked to shoulder two of the longest wars in our country’s history, to weather a great recession, to surmount crippling student loan debt.”

There are many combat veterans who have criticized his work as narrow at best and “anti-war” at worst. But Roessner maintains that he wrote his story from his experiences, and encouraged those with a different view to write their own story.

“If I approach this film thinking that my job or my goal to write the film that resonates with every Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran, I would’ve never started,” Roessner said. “But I hope you write your film; I hope you write your book; I hope you do whatever you possibly can to have your story told.”

Roessner had been home from Iraq for more than seven years before he began working on the screenplay.

“Initially, I just wanted it to be cathartic,” he said. “I had no dreams whatsoever of it being made. I just wanted it to exist, so I at least knew that I tried to make some sense of this thing.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

U.S. Troops Hone Cold War Skills

cold war

By Debbie Gregory.

In light of increasing threats from Eastern Europe, the United States Army is focused on relearning Cold War-era skills to confront potential Russian threats.

The adjustments include re-camouflaging vehicles to blend into the terrain, dispersing into smaller groups to avoid sophisticated surveillance drones and the use of netting to hide troop positions.

Senior Army commanders are rehearsing updated tactics and strategies that had been previously used to counter Soviet troops when the Berlin Wall was still standing, although the U.S. Army’s presence in Europe is a far cry from the height of the Cold War, when 300,000 soldiers were stationed there, versus 30,000 soldiers.

Russia’s hybrid warfare combines conventional military might with the ability to manipulate events using a mix of subterfuge, cyber-attacks and information warfare. The U.S. and NATO allies recently positioned some 4,500 soldiers in the three Baltic States and Poland as a deterrent to Russian aggression.

American intelligence is closely watching Russian operations in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria.

The colonels who will more than likely be the next generation of Army generals have spent the bulk of their careers battling Al Qaeda or ISIS.

Col. Clair A. Gill, a 1994 West Point graduate who commands the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Drum, N.Y. was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division when Russia was still considered a threat. An accomplished Black Hawk helicopter pilot, Col. Gill spent most of his career battling Islamic militants. He has acknowledged that it took a while to adjust to preparing to fight more conventional battles.

Col. Gills’ West Point classmate, Col. Patrick Ellis, studied Russian to learn the language of his potential adversary. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Colonel Ellis was deployed multiple times to Afghanistan with specialized Army Ranger units.

Now Colonel Ellis commands the Second Cavalry Regiment in Europe.

“We know when we wake up every morning who the threat is,” Colonel Ellis said. “We’re very focused on the Russian threat.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, and their families.

New Type of Soldier Needs a Renewed Veteran Support Program

KotickForCongress-MichaelKotick-web

By Michael Kotick

We are in the longest standing war in our nation’s history where post-9/11 service members engage in multiple deployments in short succession, making the modern tour of duty as unique as the attention these individuals need upon their return civilian life. For many, this is the toughest fight.

Orange County has the fourth largest veteran population in California, and our state leads the nation in job initiatives for returning soldiers. A daunting 75% of our own Orange County veterans have said that they are having trouble adjusting to civilian life. One in four of our veterans lives below the poverty line, making up 20-percent of Orange County’s homeless population. The findings are highlighted in the first, in-depth assessment on the state of Orange County veterans. Released in 2015 by the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, most of the 1,200 veterans interviewed expressed genuine surprise at how hard it was to find meaningful work, despite being told they would be highly sought by civilian employers.

On the flip side of this equation, I gained extraordinary insight from an employer’s perspective when I facilitated an innovative agreement between the US Army PaYS Program and Hyundai Motor America. We matched qualified military technicians to auto-technician jobs after honorable discharge “[becoming] the key player between the Corporate Automotive culture [at Hyundai] and the Army’s regulations,” wrote Cherrie Warzocha, Sergeant First Class, US Army Recruiting Command – Ret. The program has now celebrated over a decade of success.

Unfortunately, opportunities such Hyundai’s are frequently overlooked. Colonel Arnold V. Strong (U.S. Army – Ret), an endorser of my campaign has given me further insight to the challenge. Strong served in the US Army for over thirty years and retired this June at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, CA, as a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Referring to himself as one of the ‘fortunate ones’ he successfully transitioned to a high profile job as the Director of Communications for one of Southern California’s fastest growing Artificial Intelligence (AI) companies. What is missing, said Strong, is not only the guidance and support in finding employment but also ‘transition’ in its own right.
Keeping in mind that 70 percent of returning soldiers arrive in Orange County without a job, it can tend to be the only point of focus by those who see veteran support as a critical national issue. However, in-line with USC’s Orange County Veterans Study, we know that proposed solutions need to be more comprehensive and cover the entire transition back to civilian life. My veteran action plan is comprised of two main areas of support and development:
(1) a Pre-Retirement Transition Program with an actionable employment plan and;
(2) the creation of a structured network for support services.

The move from a structured military way of life to a relatively unstructured civilian lifestyle can be overwhelming, confusing and require a significant adjustment for veterans who have spent years serving our country in a very different way than many of us live our day-to-day lives.

A six-month Pre-Retirement Transition Program would dedicate time to engage in active planning around housing, budgeting, location of key services, and job preparedness in anticipation of future discharge. This structured roadmap will help the servicemember prepare for a new civilian way of life, and identify a clear path to a job or career.
Dedicated focus on the jobs component of the pre-retirement transition program would ensure veterans are supported when sourcing and securing their new civilian careers. Veterans describe the current employment system as overwhelming. Despite the best of intentions by countless initiatives, “they [still] don’t know where to turn” and feel frustrated as they are referred from one employment website to another, with hours spent filling out application forms to little result. Some feel betrayed. Others — directionless, completely give up.
The jobs component of the pre-retirement program needs to include:
(a) identifying the desired field and its necessary qualifications;
(b) enrolling in education and/or retraining prior discharge;
(c) actively cultivating prospective employers, including those who are “friends of veterans”;
(d) granting leave time so job interviews can be done face-to-face (video or in-person);
(e) coaching veterans on how to articulate their military experiences to employers. Veterans need
to be able to advocate for themselves in thoughtful and persuasive ways; and,
(e) identifying “transition mentors” for transitioning service members to have a structure of
accountability, feedback, and a rewarding emotional connection as they were accustomed to
while in active service; Leadership, technical skills, discipline, a strong work ethic and teamwork crafted by the finest fighting force in the world, are exceptional attributes and are of extraordinary value to civilian employers.

John Newman, founder and executive director of the nonprofit ArmedForce2Workforce wrote, “When you consider the combination of value that vets bring, recent positive trends in the economy overall and the current level of goodwill toward those who served, the rates of veteran unemployment should be close to zero.” But they are not.

While there are numerous services available to veterans, there is glaring lack of coordination and communication. I faced this same challenge in a Fortune 500, where the mass introduction and investment in programs tied to strategic priorities create fragmentation and sometimes confusion. By creating a unified, structured information network, veterans, agencies, and employers will be able to:
(a) collaborate efforts across the community in the areas of jobs and health services;
(b) create and initiate best practices for housing, budgeting, and general transition information;
and,
(c) share measurement and accountability, as more is learned from veterans studies across the country.

133,000 veterans now call Orange County home. If community organizations and leaders, service providers, nonprofits and policy makers create a comprehensive model — or as the USC study says, “a targeted intervention leading to collective impact” — then the 6-thousand veterans who relocate here by next year, and the thousands who will arrive in the years after that, will have more than a fighting chance — and the hero’s welcome they and their families deserve.

We need to thank our Veterans for the risks that they have taken for our country in defending our freedom by showing gratitude through actions – not just words. #StandUnited

About the Author

Michael Kotick developed his relationship with the veteran community well over a decade ago, pioneering an innovative collaboration between the automotive community and veteran mechanics, a program that is still in operation today. Now, a Democratic Congressional Candidate in Orange County (CA-48), home to the 4th largest veteran population in California, Michael is committed to making a positive impact. For more visit: https://www.KotickForCongress.com

New Mexico VA Rejected Majority of Gulf War Veteran Claims

gwi

By Debbie Gregory.

A federal report shows that a Veterans Affairs office in New Mexico has denied 592 out of 640 of benefit claims related to Gulf War Illness (GWI), also known as Gulf War Syndrome.

Data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that Albuquerque’s Department of Veterans Affairs denied about 90% of these claims in 2015.

According to the report, VA staff members noted the complexity of GWI claims, which was first identified in soldiers returning home from Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990s.

Lack of training on the part of the medical examiners may be to blame. There is a 90-minute training course on Gulf War illness, but currently taking the course is voluntary, and only 1 in 10 of the VA’s 4,000 medical examiners had completed it, according to the report.

Gulf War illness has two main clinical categories: medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness and undiagnosed illness. Symptoms include joint pain, chronic fatigue syndrome and neurological problems.

There were many factors present in the Gulf during the war that could have played a role in causing illness in those present at the time. It is likely that a combination of these factors together is what led to the illness. Exposure to infectious diseases, biological and chemical weapons, as well as toxic elements, such as smoke from burning oil wells, are believed to have caused Gulf War illnesses.

Sonja Brown, acting associate director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System said that the Gulf War Examination training is currently on their curriculum for their medical.

“While I don’t have a percentage of those completed, I can tell you that the training is being taken,” Brown said.

The VA said all its pension and compensation examiners will complete the mandatory 90-minute course on GWI by November, and it will make necessary changes in the notification process by August.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Navy Calls off Search for USS McCain Sailors, Identifies the Dead and Missing

mccain sailors

By Debbie Gregory.

As search and rescue efforts at sea were suspended for the nine missing John S. McCain sailors, the Navy identified the sailor whose remains were located inside the ship’s flooded compartments as Electronic Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, 22, of New Jersey. Smith was a third-generation sailor.

Divers will continue recovery efforts inside flooded compartments in the ship for the remaining missing sailors. The Navy identified the missing as:

  • Electronics Technician 2nd Class Kevin Sayer Bushell, 26, from Maryland joined the Navy soon after graduating high school.
  • Electronics Technician 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon, 26, from Connecticut was an avid skier and runner.
  • Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jacob Daniel Drake, 21, from Ohio recently received a Navy and Marine Corps achievement medal for going above and beyond the call of duty during an inspection.
  • Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr., 23, from Maryland enjoyed the outdoors, including hiking, kayaking and working out.
  • Electronics Technician 1st Class Charles Nathan Findley, 31, from Missouri. His love of computers made his choice of electronics technician a natural fit.
  • Electronics Technician 3rd Class John Henry Hoagland III, 20, from Texas was recent high school graduate.
  • Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Corey George Ingram, 28, from New York, was, according to friends, very outgoing and always willing to lend a hand.
  • Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Abraham Lopez, 39, from Texas. Lopez was responsible for keeping the ship’s communication lines open.
  • Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Logan Stephen Palmer, 23, from Illinois enjoyed bass fishing and whitewater rafting.

The McCain has been towed to Singapore’s Changi Naval Base. The other ship, the Alnic MC, a 600-foot, Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker, was towed to Singapore’s eastern anchorage for inspection.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of these brave men.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Mental Health Tricks Used by Special Forces Can Help You

stress less

By Debbie Gregory.

When it comes to overcoming our daily challenges, we civilians can learn a thing or two from our elite military forces.

Our Special Forces are masters of warfare, fitness, endurance, and preparation. Here are some of their mental preparation techniques that we can all use:

Concern yourself with just the immediate: don’t think past the next five minutes. Rather than worrying about the future, just do your best for the next five minutes.

Put your mind on autopilot- intently focus on the present and only the present. Similar to the five minute rule, don’t be concerned with what happened in the past or what the future could bring, just be present. Going on autopilot will help you succeed, regardless of the nature of the challenge in front of you.

Breathing techniques-breathe slow, breathe deep, and clear your mind. Pause, focus and slow your breathing, take several slow deep breathes, clear your mind, and focus 100% on the task at hand.

Practice makes perfect- mental rehearsals contribute to success. Mental rehearsal, also referred to as imagery perspective, is when you clearly imagine what the perfect completion of your task looks like.  This technique can set you up to actually complete the task successfully. This type of imagery is a proven technique to enhance the attainment of the behavior you imagine. These techniques improve learning, enhance performance and reduce the negative effects of stress. Relaxation and imagery provide the foundation for positive change and for relief from stress.

Act and look relaxed- even if you’re far from it! If you have to fake it until you make it, one of the best ways to manage your own stress is to make sure you project an image of personal calm, serenity, and relaxation

Utilizing some or all of these techniques can help you conquer any challenge.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.