VA Benefits: Some Common Barriers for Veterans

Obtaining your VA Benefits can sometimes be a slow and arduous process. There are more than 12 million Veterans over the age of 65. These Veterans, who have served in WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and to Iraq and Afghanistan, are often battling for the benefits they deserve and many times have to fight to get. While we can all agree that Veterans shouldn’t have to fight for the benefits they rightfully deserve, understanding their struggles can better help to solve this ongoing issue.
One of the biggest barriers to receiving benefits is the lack of necessary proof for the Veteran. A Veteran must provide proof of their current disability and demonstrate the medical link between their disability and their service time. For some, this link is easier to prove than others. Combat injuries that are well documented within a soldier’s service record are easy to prove. However, for servicemembers who face a disability years after they have served, the causal link is much more difficult to prove.
In addition to proving the link between the current disability and the decades-old injury that caused it, Veterans need detailed statements as to how the disability has negatively impacted their lives. Private medical records, VA medical records, and statements from family, friends and any other medical and social work providers can help. Proving the severity of the disability can be a long process with many necessary and frustrating steps along the way.
For many veterans, the struggle begins with actually obtaining service records. In 1973, a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) destroyed most of the records collected prior to that point. The VA is required to assist Veterans in finding and obtaining their service records, but Veterans might be able to speed up the process if they are able to ensure that all locations have been notified of the need.
In addition to the NPRC, Veterans can also contact The United States Army and Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRC), the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA), and the Naval Historical Center. JSRRC specializes in supporting Veterans who need to prove PTSD and Agent Orange claims. NARA stores the official records to all those who were discharged from the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The Naval Historical Center houses deck logs and ship histories, which might prove critical when attempting to substantiate an Agent Orange claim.
When all else fails, buddy statements can serve as evidence of service time and injury. However, even this is not without difficulty. Elderly servicemembers might not be able to connect with their service buddies for a variety of reasons.
Once a Veteran has obtained the necessary proof, there is still an incredible backlog to actually obtain benefits. In many cases, the backlog is more than two years. Additionally, the Board of Veterans Appeals has a three-year backlog.
In many of these cases, time is not a luxury. These veterans are sick and aging. It is estimated that around 3,000 Veterans die each year while waiting for their disability benefits.

Highlights of an Entrepreneurial Education: Boots to Business

Highlights of an Entrepreneurial Education: Boots to Business
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
 
(This is one of a series of posts relating to entrepreneurship. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment and self-employment topics.)
For many of us, transitioning from the military to the next phase of our lives – going “back on the block”, if you will – consisted of nothing more than getting our hands on a set of clearing papers and looking for signatures, so we could get our final orders for Fort Living Room. In 1993, the first time I left active duty, I was offered some help on putting together a resume and shown how to sort through some arcane database of open jobs…but that was about all, and that was about all I wanted.
The next time I found myself clearing an active duty installation was about 15 years later, and to be sure, there were more opportunities available to help me successfully transition. There was more hardware, more software, and more subject-matter experts to help me navigate my options, but it was still optional and mostly centered around getting help finding a job.
One of the best things the Department of Defense has done for transitioning service members recently, though, was to make the core transition workshop mandatory and add some additional tracks to augment the experience. One of those tracks is a course on entrepreneurship called Boots to Business (B2B).
Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The two-day course, titled “Introduction to Entrepreneurship”, is held at over 180 military installations worldwide and provides an overview of the subject. Active Duty service members (including National Guard and Reserve), veterans, and spouses are eligible to participate. Boots to Business Reboot is a version of the original workshop that takes the event off the military installation and extends access to veterans of all eras. There is no cost to participate, and those that have successfully completed either course are eligible for follow-on Boots to Business courses that cover a variety of topics.
“Introduction to Entrepreneurship” is a TAP training track for those interested in learning more about the opportunities and challenges of business ownership and it’s the foundational piece of the larger Boots to Business (B2B) program. Participants are introduced to the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to launch a business, including steps for developing business concepts and a business plan, and information on SBA resources available to help. Participants learn business fundamentals and techniques for evaluating the feasibility of their business concepts and are introduced to a broad spectrum of entrepreneurial concepts and the resources available to access start-up capital, technical assistance, contracting opportunities, and more. Subject matter experts from the SBA and its network of partners and skilled business advisors teach the course.
Those partners and business advisors are what makes this event so valuable. While there is some variance from installation to installation, there are a few key organizations that help facilitate the workshop across the country. Those groups include the Veterans Business Outreach Centers, America’s SBDC, SCORE, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, and resource partner referrals to transitioning service members, veterans, members of the National Guard & Reserve, and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business. There are 22 organizations participating in this cooperative agreement with the SBA that have the VBOC mission.
Small Business Development Centers (America’s SBDCs) are hosted by leading universities, colleges, state economic development agencies, and private sector partners. There are nearly 1,000 local centers available to provide no-cost business consulting and low-cost training to new and existing businesses. on topics that include business planning, accessing capital, marketing, regulatory compliance, technology development, international trade and much more.
SCORE. A nonprofit association of thousands of volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S. and its territories, SCORE members are trained to serve as counselors, advisors, and mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners.  SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, with more than 10,000 volunteers in 300 chapters.
Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). WBCs work to secure entrepreneurial opportunities for women by supporting and sustaining a national network of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers. WBCs help women succeed in business by providing training, mentoring, business development, and financing opportunities to over 145,000 women entrepreneurs each year.
Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Located at Syracuse University, IVMF is higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the lives of the nation’s military veterans and their families.
Personally, I think it’s a great benefit that the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration, and those resource partners have put together for those of us in the military community. I may be a bit biased, however, because over the last 5 years I helped facilitate over 150 Boots to Business workshops across 7 different military installations in 5 states. I’ve spoken with hundreds of folks considering their entrepreneurial options and witnessed plenty of “a-ha” moments. I’ve also seen more than a few come to the realization that ‘small business ownership’ wasn’t for them.
In my opinion, as both a Soldier that has recently transitioned and as a professional facilitator, the Boots to Business workshop is a great course that offers a birds-eye view of some of the key elements of small business ownership. In pretty short order, most participants will figure out if entrepreneurship is something that could be right for them and they’ll know where to turn for more information.
Perhaps you find yourself pining for the day when you can open your own business. Or you and your spouse are already knee-deep in running a successful enterprise, but you’re ready to connect to resources that might help you take it to the next level. Or maybe you just might officially rule out the option of being self-employed, but want it to be an educated decision. For whichever reason, Boots to Business is a good starting point and will likely be a good use of your time.
If you’re still actively serving, contact the transition office at your closest military installation for more information. If you don’t have access to an installation or aren’t close to one, you can visit the program’s website at https://sbavets.force.com/s/. For technical support and registration questions, contact the Boots to Business Help Desk by emailing Boots-to-Business@sba.gov/ or by calling (202) 205-VET1 or (844) 610-VET1. Good luck with your journey!
 
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email Kris@militaryconnection.com!

Aging Gracefully in the VA: Collecting Disability Benefits in Your Golden Years

Aging Gracefully in the VA: Collecting Disability Benefits in Your Golden Years
Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso
There are over 76 million baby boomers in the United States. Over 10 million of those baby boomers are Veterans. When you include the Silent and Greatest Generations, you are looking at nearly 15 million Veterans who have reached retirement age and may be in need of senior services beyond just a customary discount.
Senior Veterans have an increased likelihood to not utilize their VA benefits to their full extent. In many cases, seniors might not actually even be aware of the benefits for which they are eligible. The underutilized benefits begin with compensation. Most elderly veterans are entitled to receive compensation above and beyond the service-related compensation. In fact, there are a variety of health care programs that are actually common benefits for those who might need them.
Did you know that Elderly Veterans are entitled to Aid and Attendance? This is a program available for veterans who need help with basic daily functions. Bed-ridden, blind, nursing home Veterans can all enlist the help of an attendant to assist with their daily needs. Housebound Veterans who are unable to leave their home as a result of their disability are also eligible for similar services. Adult Day Health Care can also be life changing to elderly Veterans in need. As we age, our needs change, and Adult Day Health Care helps address and fulfill many of those needs. From companionship to recreational activity and care from therapists to nurses, the care provided might literally be life changing.
When health care needs go beyond the scope of companionship, Home Based Primary Care might be the route a family would want to take. This program brings a VA doctor into the home of the Veteran. That VA doctor will supervise an entire team that will meet and perform services within the home. This option is for veterans with health issues that are beyond the scope of care that can be provided by a clinic. Homemaker and Home Health Aides are available as well to help with daily care. This service would be customized for a Veteran who requires daily living assistance.
As age and illnesses progress, more intense services may be required to fully assist in the patient’s care. Palliative Care tends to those needs with the goal of managing pain, suffering, and symptoms. Palliative Care comes into work with the veteran and their families to evaluate the needs of the patient and put a plan into place that will best control a patient’s symptoms. When a patient is given less than six months to live, Veterans are eligible to receive Hospice Care.
Veterans that are confined to their home or live too great of a distance from their local VA are eligible for Skilled Home Health Care. The VA contracts with a local provider to ensure the needs of the Veteran are appropriately met. The care doesn’t end with the Veteran. The VA understands that the family of a Veteran can get worn out as well. Respite Care comes in to give the family of the elderly or infirmed Veteran a break from their day-to-day responsibilities and work.
The VA is aware that different cases require different solutions. Telehealth gives nurses and doctors access to monitoring equipment so that a veteran can stay in their own home while still receiving care. Veteran Directed Care provides case management and allows a Veteran and family to completely customize a health care plan to ensure their needs are being met. This might include skilled in-home services, daily assistance or medical needs.
Our Veterans are aging with every passing day. As their need for care increases, it is likely that the types of care provided will increase as well. For now, however, the list of care options is fairly comprehensive and many of the options will help address those needs.