Elizabeth Dole to Chair New VA Veterans’ Family, Caregivers & Survivor Advisory Committee

Liz dole

By Debbie Gregory.

VA Secretary David Shulkin continues to demonstrate his commitment to supporting our nation’s veterans and their caregivers through the formation of the Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee. The committee will be chaired by former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole.

Dole is the founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Hidden Heroes Campaign, both of which focus on military caregiving.

“Senator Dole is an accomplished and experienced advocate for Veterans’ caregivers,” said Secretary Shulkin. “I am honored that she will Chair this landmark Committee.”

The committee will advise the secretary on matters related to:

Veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors across all generations, relationships, and Veteran status; the use of VA care and benefits services by veteran’s families, caregivers, and survivors, and possible adjustments to such care and benefits services; veterans’ family, caregiver, and survivor experiences, and VA policies, regulations, and administrative requirements related to the transition of Service members from the Department of Defense to enrollment in VA that impact veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors; and actors that influence access to, quality of, and accountability for services and benefits for veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors.

Senator Dole has walked the walk, as she was a caregiver to her husband, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, a World War II veteran injured in combat.

Committee members were chosen from a diverse group, including family members, caregivers, survivors, veteran-focused organizations, military history and academic communities, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Executive Branch, research experts and service providers; and leaders of key stakeholder associations and organizations.

Former Marine Sherman Gillums, the executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, will serve as vice chair.

Committee members, in alphabetical order are: Ms. Mary Buckler, Ms. Bonnie Carroll, Ms. Melissa Comeau, Ms. Harriet Dominique, Ms. Jennifer Dorn, Ms. Ellyn Dunford, Dr. Robert Koffman,  Lt. Gen. (U.S. Army, Ret.) Mike Linnington, Mr. Joe Robinson, Ms. Elaine Rogers, Brig. Gen. (U.S. Army, Ret) Dr. Loree Sutton, Mr. Francisco Urena, Ms. Shirley White, Ms. Lee Woodruff, and Ms. Lolita Zinke.

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.

Advice on Obtaining VA Benefits


By Debbie Gregory.

Most veterans know that if they experience a disabling event while they are serving, they are entitled to VA disability compensation. But the process may be a little more involved than they might first anticipate. Here are some tips to help navigate the process.

The VA will require you to prove you have the condition you are claiming, and that this occurred or was first experienced during service. This can usually be accomplished through a physician’s diagnosis and service records. If the problem wasn’t reported, a buddy or witness statement may suffice.

Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Gather as much evidence as you can to support the claim. While the VA will assist you, it’s in your best interest to do the legwork on your own, since no one your case better than you do. Make sure you have a copy of your Official Military Personnel File, and if you don’t, request it from the National Personnel Records Center.

Double check what forms you need to fill out. This is a great time to ask the VA or your Veteran Service Officer for assistance. Their expertise will prevent you from wasting time filling out the wrong forms, and making sure you fill out the ones you need. Stay on top of deadlines and requests for additional information.

If the VA schedules a Compensation and Pension exam for you to meet with a VA examiner, you must show up for the appointment. Failure to do so may cost you your claim.

Don’t underestimate the value of your Veteran Service Officer. Their services are free, and they can help you navigate the system. They can also help you file appeals for denied claims. In addition to State Veteran Affairs Offices, the following organizations also have Veteran Service Officers nationwide:

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.

Veterans’ Preference Hiring Program


By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans’ Preference gives those who are disabled, served on active duty in the Armed Forces during certain specified time periods or in military campaigns preference over others in hiring for virtually all federal government jobs for veterans. While veterans’ preference does not guarantee jobs for military veterans, it does show our nation’s gratitude by giving them a leg up.

Veterans’ Preference was enacted at the end of the Civil War to aid disabled veterans. It was greatly expanded after World War I, allowing able-bodied, honorably discharged veterans, widows of deceased veterans and wives of severely disabled ones to take advantage of the assistance. Under the Obama administration, federal agencies established hiring goals that has resulted in one-third of new federal hires being veterans.

The program works on a point system, with 100 being the highest score. Typically, applicants receive points by either taking a test or through an evaluation of their education and experience. Disabled veterans got extra 10 points added to that score, while other former soldiers received 5 points. In the case of a tie, veterans are placed ahead of non-veterans. In addition, veterans with more serious service-related disabilities are placed at the top of the list, as long as they achieved a passing grade of 70 points.

Hiring officials cannot pass over veterans in the top category to hire more qualified non-veterans.

Younger veterans born since 1980 are about 15 times more likely than non-veterans of the same age to hold federal jobs.

Veterans’ Preference is a powerful hiring tool that can help veterans reach the veteran employers of the federal workforce.

Although it only directly benefited about one-tenth of veterans in the past, nearly one-third of recent veterans have federal jobs, many more than would have them in the absence of preferential hiring.

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.

Calling All Corporate Sponsors for Nationally Broadcast Benefit Concert

american salutes you logo

The second annual America Salutes You benefit concert is gearing up for the November live show in New York City, with the national broadcast scheduled for December. A number of corporations have already secured their sponsorships, but there are still a few limited opportunities available.

The theme of this year’s event will be “Guitar Legends for Heroes” and music fans are urged to stay tuned for the big announcement, which could very well include the talent lineup. America Salutes You, ‘17 is partnered with Wall Street Rocks, and both are 501 (c) 3 organizations assisting military families.

Money raised by the concert nationally will be granted to several top non-profits, with an emphasis on mental health organizations that serve military, veterans and their families.

Bob Okun, concert creator, said “Over 200,000 service members re-enter civilian life each year, joining over 22 million existing veterans. Many continue to need assistance to reintegrate into their communities with proper healthcare, including mental health resources, as well as with employment training, education, and housing opportunities. This concert provides much needed assistance.”

MilitaryConnection.com is once again honored to be joining forces with America Salutes You and Wall Street Rocks.”

“We ask a lot of those who serve,” said Debbie Gregory, CEO of MilitaryConnection.com. “Our servicemembers, past and present, have put the protection of our freedoms above all else. The least we can do to show our appreciation for their sacrifices, and the sacrifices made by their families, is to support the non-profits that provide support for them. ”

Corporations interested in corporate sponsorship opportunities should contact debbieg(at)militaryconnection.com.

We invite you to look forward to more news about America Salutes You,’17: Guitar Legends for Heroes.

Service-related PTSD Disability Claims have Tripled in the Last Decade



By Debbie Gregory.

More than 20 percent of veterans receiving federal disability are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a figure that has tripled in the last decade, from approximately 345,000 cases in fiscal 2008 to more than 940,000 cases today.

This includes all age groups, not just veterans from the recent wars.

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not occur until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause great distress, or interfere with work or home life, the individual probably has PTSD.

Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • persistent memories of the event, nightmares, re-living the event over and over
  • not talking to anyone about the event, avoiding any situation that may trigger your bad memories
  • feeling numb and detached, depressed, disinterested in normal life activities, and
  • feeling on high alert all the time, always watching for danger.

PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. Both the VA and Defense Department have worked in recent years to combat the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

PTSD is treatable. Many places within VA provide PTSD treatment. General programs that provide mental health services include VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs), and Vet Centers.

Vet Centers also offer services to families of Veterans for military-related issues. There are no fees or charges for Vet Center services, and services are confidential.

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 DoD Guidance Gives Veterans With Bad Paper Good News


By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon is helping some veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, also known as “bad paper” discharges, increased direction on obtaining a record review and upgrade.

Last month, the Department of Defense announced that it will direct the review boards for each service branch to consider a more liberal criteria to give veterans the opportunity to plead their cases and explain the extenuating circumstances of their discharge. This is especially beneficial for bad paper discharges received while suffering from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of military operations, sexual assault, or sexual harassment.

Veterans with bad paper discharges have long complained that they were drummed out of the service with no consideration of their invisible wounds.

According to Air Force Lt. Col. Reggie Yager, the acting director of legal policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, “Liberal consideration, in our view, is the right balance to ensure we are making fact-based decisions while also giving appropriate leeway to the challenges posed by these invisible wounds.”

A General Accountability Office report released earlier this year found that of nearly 92,000 service members discharged for misconduct between 2011 and 2015, nearly two-thirds were suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury or mental health issues such as PTSD, anxiety, bipolar or substance abuse disorders.

Vietnam-era veterans also had a large number of bad paper discharges for misconduct

Veterans seeking a discharge upgrade will need to provide evidence to support their claim.

Under the new DoD guidance, the reviewing authorities will need to ask:

  1. Whether the veteran had a condition or experience that may excuse or mitigate the discharge;
  2. If the condition existed or experience occurred during military service;
  3. If the condition or experience excuses or mitigates the discharge; and
  4. If the condition or experience outweighs the discharge.

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.

Innovative Potter’s Lane Apartment Complex Utilizes Shipping Containers to House Veterans

potters lane

By Debbie Gregory.

In March of 2017, just 6 months after breaking ground, 15 homeless veterans moved in to their brand new, unique 480-square-foot living spaces in Orange County, CA.

Potter’s Lane is a $6.7 million project paid for with federal, state and local dollars, donations, and money from American Family Housing, the nonprofit behind the project. It is the first-of-its-kind to use recycled shipping containers to create permanent supportive housing for veterans.

Each of the furnished units are made of three shipping containers pieced together, and each one overlooks a courtyard that includes an oversized American flag, a garden, and picnic tables.

Donna Gallup, the president of American Family Housing, wanted to make sure the complex’s design honored the service of its U.S. military residents.

“All of the units look over the courtyard so that they can watch each other’s backs and develop that community and that sense of belonging,” Gallup said.

“Normally a traditional project would take up to two years to build, and the fact that our homeless veterans are sleeping on the streets right now, I think timing is very important,” she added.

At Potter’s Lane, case managers from the VA and the Illumination Foundation, another Orange County nonprofit that works with the homeless, are around to help residents with whatever assistance they might need.

“This is a model that can be replicated,” said Gallup. “It’s an innovative approach to development because the structures were manufactured off-site while site work was being done here. Then, the units were delivered and assembled on-site to create housing – shortening the time it would normally take to build a project. The units are designed to be very strong, sustainable and energy efficient.”

Proponents of using containers to build affordable housing expect costs to come down as more companies compete in that market.

If you would like to volunteer with any of American Family Housing’s projects or events, email [email protected] or call (714) 897-3221×115.

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.

How will Telemedicine Impact Healthcare?


By Debbie Gregory.

These days, more and more people are working from home, shopping from home, and even seeing the doctor from home. Telemedicine, the use of telecommunication and information technology to deliver clinical healthcare from a distance, is changing healthcare as we know it.

Telemedicine allows health care professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients at a distance using technology. The approach has seen tremendous growth in the last decade, and it is becoming an increasingly important part of the healthcare infrastructure.

Doctors are linking up with patients by phone, email and computer webcams. Physicians and allied healthcare professionals are also consulting with each other electronically.

Telemedicine is a key component of medical care on the International Space Station. Today’s long-duration and exploration missions require space medicine to fulfill a much wider-ranging mandate and extend beyond minor illness and urgent care.

Additionally, patients are using new devices to relay their vital signs to their doctors so they can manage chronic conditions at home. This is especially valuable to patients in isolated communities and remote regions; telemedicine can offer care from doctors or specialists far away, without requiring the patient to travel for medical services.

Additional benefits include: less time away from work; no travel expenses or time; less interference with child or elder care responsibilities; privacy; and an avoidance of exposure to other potentially contagious patients.

Hospitals, enabled by telemedicine, will increasingly serve as command posts for care. Through continued advancements, the telemedicine industry will grow exponentially, revolutionizing healthcare as we know it today.

The fastest-growing services in telemedicine connect patients with clinicians they’ve never met for one-time phone, video or email visits—on-demand, 24/7. Typically, these are for nonemergency issues such as colds and the flu, earaches, skin rashes, etc.

But critics are concerned that such services may be sacrificing quality for convenience. Minor issues such as upper respiratory infections can’t really be evaluated by a doctor who can’t listen to your heart, culture your throat or feel your swollen glands.

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.


Ecstasy Designated as “Breakthrough Therapy” for PTSD by FDA

mdma approved

By Debbie Gregory.

Following years of lobbying and research on the medical uses of methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to move forward with the drug.

MDMA, better known as ecstasy, is showing promise as a tool for treating PTSD. But the prospect of a government-sanctioned psychedelic drug has generated both excitement and concern.

The non-profit organization that has been conducting trials, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been championing and fundraising for MDMA research for roughly 30 years. This has opened the door to scientists studying new uses for other illegal psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin (commonly known as magic mushrooms).

Researchers believe that MDMA reduces the fear response and triggers the release of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that induce a feeling of well-being.

The drug’s ability to help those with PTSD cope with the lingering effects of trauma is due, in large part, to the drug’s ability to produce feelings of euphoria, empathy, and heightened emotional and physical sensations.

But due to the stigma attached to Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) many military and government leaders are hesitate to embrace them. Currently, the only two drugs approved for treating PTSD are Zoloft and Paxil, but both drugs have proven to be largely ineffective in treating the estimated 11-20 percent of soldiers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan that suffer from PTSD.

In clinical trials with 107 patients closely monitored by the FDA, 61 percent reported major reductions in symptoms — to the point where they no longer fit the criteria for PTSD. Follow-up studies a year later found 67 percent no longer had PTSD.

MDMA researchers point out the key difference between MDMA and street ecstasy (along with another variant called “molly”) is the street versions often contain other harmful drugs, experts say. Sometimes the pills don’t even contain MDMA.

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.

Hanging Out with Another Veteran Can be the Best Therapy

veteran buddies

By Debbie Gregory.

It’s long been referred to as a band of brothers, and more recently, a band of brothers and sisters. While not related by blood, the same concept remains: watch out for each other. It’s a kinship that’s often forged under the worst of circumstances.

For that reason, veteran organizations are encouraging veterans to build trusting relationships and support each other. That’s why the VA offers employment to veterans as peer specialists.

A Peer Specialist is a person with a mental health and/or co-occurring condition, who has been trained and certified to help others with these conditions, identify and achieve specific life and recovery goals.

A Peer Specialist is a person who is actively engaged in his/her own recovery, and who volunteers or is hired to provide peer support services to others engaged in mental health treatment.

Veterans are a natural resource when it comes to supporting fellow veterans in need. That’s not to say that civilian care for veterans isn’t valuable as well. But there’s something to be said for walking in another’s shoes. Understanding the unique culture shared by military members and their families can be a daunting task for Americans who have not experienced the military lifestyle.

Post-traumatic stress disease (PTSD) is a major concern, as it can lead to a host of other issues, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse, homelessness, unemployment, violence, and even suicide.

Veteran peer support shows promise in addressing mental health issues.

Given the large numbers of veterans returning from multiple deployments, the value of incorporating veteran peers into health care teams makes perfect sense, especially when you consider other factors such as  a shortage of trained behavioral health providers, long wait times for treatment,  and stigma felt by veterans regarding seeking help.

Although civilians can never truly understand what war is like, we can honor all veterans by ensuring that we as a society do what we can to help them achieve the American Dream.

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.