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
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 [email protected]/ 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 [email protected]!
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
(This is one of a series of posts relating to the job search. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment assistance topics.)
Career fairs, hiring events, job fairs, career expos…whatever you might call them, if you’ve looked for a job anytime recently, you’ve probably been to one. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, many of us consider them a necessary evil, one of those aspects of the search for employment that would be hard to replace.
Job fairs come in all shapes and sizes, from the “one employer at the local career center” variety to the 150-employer extravaganza that was advertised at the regional or national level. Since many of you will find yourself at that registration table sooner or later, we’ve put together a list of things to be sure and do and things to avoid at YOUR next hiring event.
Do your homework. Pre-register for the event and try to get a listing of those companies attending in advance. If you have the opportunity, do a little detective work…research them & get a feel for their open positions. You’ll be able to talk intelligently about the company with the recruiter and you’ll give a great first impression. And don’t rule out companies just because they’re recruiting for positions outside your career field. Remember, this is a networking event. And while you’re at it, network with fellow job seekers & other professionals in the vicinity. Remember, many times it’s who you know…
Dress professionally. For more information on that topic, see last Friday’s post on Dressing for Success. I’ll place an emphasis on comfortable shoes, and call them a necessity for a day like this.
Accessorize with a portfolio. Have a clean pad of paper with a list of questions. Take good notes for follow-up after the fair…but remove the page from the top of the tablet when you’ve completed the interview with each recruiter. Yes, the interview. Think of a job fair as a series of mini-interviews…lots of chances to make great first impressions.
Bring business cards. A professionally designed card, tailored to introduce you as a job seeker, is a must! Resumes are your second choice…ask the recruiter which they prefer. Bring different versions of your resumes if you’re searching for different types of jobs, and have them tucked in a separate folder inside your portfolio.
Minimize your chances of bad breath. Watch what you eat. This is especially true for those fairs in the afternoons, where it’s just too easy to have onions or garlic on what you eat for lunch. Be careful not to drink coffee or smoke right before the event, and you may want to use a strong mint right before entering the fair.
When you first arrive…smiling is required. A recent study indicated that smiling faces were easier to remember. Start with the gatekeepers and others in the queue waiting to enter the event. Obtain a floor plan of the event and locate your targeted employers. Walk the room first, if needed, to relax and get the feel of how the recruiters are working their stations.
Put the phone away. Unless you’re bumping phones to trade contact information with the recruiter, or showing an employer how well you create mobile-friendly apps, just put it away. Enough said.
Listen. Process what questions are being asked of the recruiter by other candidates while you stand in line, waiting. Try not to ask the same question others have asked…especially if the recruiter knows that you were within earshot and should have been paying attention. Listen to what the recruiters are asking the other candidates, for these same questions may be asked of you.
Meeting the recruiter. Don’t just walk up to a table and interrupt the current conversation; wait your turn and be polite. Some employers will have long lines, which will deter (and discourage) some jobseekers. The amount of time you will have with the recruiter can vary from mere seconds to minutes. Take notes if possible and offer your business card or resume.
Sell yourself. Prepare (and rehearse) your one-minute elevator pitch, highlighting your unique value proposition…what you can offer the employer. Be prepared to talk about your military history and work experiences, as well as your skills and abilities. Questions not to ask: Are you hiring? What kind of jobs do you have? What does it pay? All those indicate you haven’t done a lick of research about the company’s opportunities for employment.
Before you leave each table/recruiter/mini-interview, take the initiative and ask, “What’s the next step?” Don’t be offended if the recruiter tells you that they don’t need your resume and you’ll have to apply online for their open positions. If you have time, ask if there are any suggested tips for completing their online job application. Request the recruiter’s business card for future correspondence, shake hands, and thank them for their time. Move away and finalize your notes.
Follow up. Email each recruiter (with whom you had a meaningful conversation) a note about 2-3 days after the event, thanking them for their time and recapping your conversation (this is why your notes are so important). Attach a PDF version of your resume, so they’ll have it digitally.
Finally, here are some recruiters’ pet peeves: Too much cologne or perfume. Weak or sloppy handshake. Too many filler words (“like’, “you know”). Walking from booth to booth, picking up swag. Even worse – walking up to a recruiter with a bag full of stuff and then fumbling for your resume/business card, which happens to be stuck to the free pen you picked up from another recruiter.
One last note about career fairs…keep in mind that these events aren’t all about YOU and open jobs…these events are about networking with companies that you’d like to work for. If you get a referral for a job, consider it your lucky day. It means that you did everything right to warrant that recommendation…
Do you have any tidbits or success stories from your experiences at career fairs? Anything that might benefit others in the military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!
Small Business Ownership and the Military Veteran: It Depends…
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
What does it mean to be a small business owner? Well, the short answer is that, it depends. ‘Small business ownership’ means different things to different people. The owner’s title or status alone is one that leaves folks scratching their heads…am I self-employed, or an entrepreneur? Am I a sole proprietor, or perhaps an independent contractor? Often, the answer to that question depends on who’s asking, and why…but to many small business owners themselves, their title is just a formality.
Building a business, often starting from scratch, is ‘where it’s at’ for so many small business owners – Veterans and non-Veterans alike. You’re solving problems and alleviating pains…creating market share…making a difference, with customers and end-users. Many of you reading this already have experience as small business owners. Many of you are getting ready to make that leap. And if you’ve spent time in our military community, you already know what the research suggests: that Veterans are entrepreneurial.
Plenty of agencies have studies that back up that last statement. Some of the most profound data indicates that while Veterans make up roughly 6% of the general population in the United States, we account for over 13.5% of successful small businesses. Of course, what that really means depends on how you define ‘successful’, but for now let’s just assume it means that the business is paying taxes, or making payroll, or closing profitable deals or impacting GDP in a positive way. Now that we’ve learned that we Veterans account for more than our fair share of businesses “in business”, it might be interesting to take a stab at why that might be.
It might be because many of us possess more than a few of the traits and attributes that help foster success. Yesterday we published a post in this blog that listed over ten reasons why employers should hire Veterans. Actually, it was twenty-five reasons…and those reasons, those things that make us great candidates for an employer’s workforce, also make us more likely to succeed at small business ownership. Things like attention to detail, a strong work ethic, leadership training, and plenty more…can all be things to keep in your hip pocket, whether you’re working for the owner of the business or that owner is you.
Success factors. That’s what I like to call the items on my list of “Over Ten Reasons”. Each of them is a sort of combat multiplier, if you will…things that can help you succeed in many endeavors, to include small business. Some of those items can help you mitigate and minimize risk. But make no mistake, small business is still risky…and certain industries in small business are really risky. With small business ownership, it helps to have a certain comfort level with risk. And, as it turns out, many military Veterans do have that comfort level, because of the homework they’ve done, the preparations and the calculations that they’ve made that becomes the calculated risk.
I’ve spoken with a lot of small business owners over the last couple decades, and have been one myself a time or two. I’ve spent what seems like countless hours engaging with my fellow entrepreneurs…engaged as counselor, friend, comrade, brother-in-arms, you name it. I’ve watched separating service members get the ‘small business bug’, talking about their business plan at the height of motivation, passion, and drive. I’ve seen companies start up and companies close down…and both events can be enjoyable and painful at the same time. And each time I see or hear about one being started by someone from the military community, I ask myself, “How successful will this one be?”
To be sure, the answer to that question is, “It depends.” And it depends mostly on how that small business owner has defined success. There have been many successful companies shuttered over the years, and for a variety of reasons. Many times, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. Or, perhaps it’s just not profitable enough. Or, maybe the business owner is a member of the National Guard or Reserve, and his or her independent contractor gig just got interrupted by a mobilization and subsequent deployment. There are a lot of variables that observers take into account as to whether a company is a success, and those variables are as independent as the Veteran Small Business Owners themselves. Sometimes it just depends…
The Red Cross Message
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
The first time I heard the words “Red Cross Message”, I was in the middle of Army Boot Camp. Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri…summer of 1986. In that time before cell phones, that time before social media, it seems like it was easier to focus on our military jobs because we had fewer distractions. Without the technology that, these days, keeps us all up-to-date on the status of friends and family, it was easy to get caught off-guard with a bit of unexpected bad news. And bad news came on a regular basis, like the time when a drill sergeant broke it to one of my battle buddies that there was a death in his family and he needed to call home.
I know many of you are familiar with that message, from personal experience. The Red Cross message is basically the end product of one of the services that the American Red Cross provides to the United States military. When one of our service members has an emergency that may require leaving his or her duty station, whether stateside or deployed downrange, the Red Cross can be requested to independently verify the emergency. While the Red Cross does not authorize emergency leave, that independent verification enables the service member’s commander to make an educated decision regarding emergency leave and if transportation and/or financial assistance is needed.
One of the country’s oldest Congressionally-chartered Veterans Service Organizations, today’s American Red Cross serves as a critical line of communication between the U.S Armed Forces and their families. The iconic symbol of the organization, founded by Clara Barton in 1881, makes many of us recall the classic images of Red Cross nurses helping American soldiers and civilian war victims during World War I…but it does so much more. Still tasked by the federal government with providing services to members of the American Armed Forces and their families and disaster relief in the United States and around the world, Red Cross workers proudly carry on the tradition of serving those in the military community with the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program. That program helps members of the military, veterans, and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service.
The Red Cross manages its ‘force structure’ by Chapters & Regions, and each Service to the Armed Forces program offers up different events to its constituents. Here in the St. Louis area, the Service to the Armed Forces committee on which I volunteer prides itself on its outreach & how we hope to make a difference to those we serve. We provide Reconnection workshops, which are free and confidential events that help with reintegration; an annual Women Warriors Baby Shower, for expectant mothers from our military community; and a Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign every holiday season, an effort that provides our community with the opportunity to send messages of thanks and holiday cheer to military members, veterans, and their families.
When I was a young Field Artilleryman in the 1st Infantry Division, I was busy preparing for deployment, for combat. In those times when I was headed to the field or downrange – not really sure how long it would be until I spoke with one of my loved ones again – I remember making sure that my family knew how to contact the Red Cross for assistance, should something tragic happen.
In those days, it was a landline phone call to the nearest Red Cross chapter. These days, the American Red Cross Hero Care Center is available 7/24/365 days a year, and you can request assistance online or by phone. To initiate a request by phone for Red Cross emergency assistance for members of the military currently serving on active duty, call 1-877-272-7337 to speak to an Emergency Communications Specialist.
You can also start a request for services with a computer, smartphone, or tablet and track its progress from anywhere in the world using the Red Cross’ online self-service tool. To request assistance online, visit: http://www.redcross.org/get-help/military-families/emergency-communication, download the free Hero Care App, or text “GETHEROCARE” to 90999.
Every day, more than 300 military families request assistance through the Hero Care Network by either using the online self-service tool via computer, tablet, or cell phone, or by calling a Communication Specialist.
Whichever way you initiate that request for emergency assistance, please be prepared to provide information about the service member and the emergency (the Red Cross says to use the phone option if you don’t have all of the required information below):
Service member information
Information about the emergency
There are certain eligibility requirements to consider. Service members eligible to receive emergency communications regarding an immediate family member include: those on active duty in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard; activated members of the Guard and Reserve of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces; civilians employed by or under contract to the Department of Defense and stationed outside the Continental United States; cadets or midshipmen at a service academy; ROTC cadets on orders for training; or Merchant Marines aboard a U.S. Naval Ship.
It bears repeating that the American Red Cross does not authorize emergency leave for members of the United States military. Again, the role of the Red Cross is to independently verify the emergency, enabling the service member’s commander to make an educated decision regarding the granting of emergency leave. If transportation and/or financial assistance is needed, the Red Cross can help expedite access to emergency financial assistance via Military Aid Societies. These Aid Societies determine the financial assistance package that will be offered, and whether it will be in the form of a grant or a loan.
These days, I look in the mirror and realize that I’ve become the old man in the room. It’s been over 30 years since I first learned about the Red Cross & its “message” as a young Private in Boot Camp. It’s been over 20 years since I was a young(ish) Battery Commander on a long field exercise, a commander tasked with the authority to grant that emergency leave that my troops needed so. It’s been just over 10 years since I last received my own Red Cross message, one that I knew was coming due to the advent of technology and the constant contact I had with my wife during that deployment.
I’ve seen the tremendous positive impact that the American Red Cross has on our military community and now, as a retired Soldier, I get to ‘give back’ a little by volunteering with the local chapter’s Service to the Armed Forces committee. And, if you’re able, I encourage you to see how you can give back in your neck of the woods.
TRICARE Open Season
Important information for all military: TRICARE Open Season, their annual open enrollment period, start today, November 12th. Between now and December 10th, there are a few things about your TRICARE coverage that you need to know.
Qualifying Life Events are major events that fall into two categories: Military changes or Family changes. Military changes include activation, deactivation, injured while active duty, moving, separating from active duty and retirement. Family changes includes marriage, divorce, birth of a child, adoption of a child, college aged children attending school, children becoming adults, becoming Medicare eligible, moving, experiencing a death in the family, loss or gain of alternate health insurance.
Freedom Isn’t Free
By guest contributor Bethany DeHart
As I began to shut the door, the chill from the refrigerated room blew against my skin and created goosebumps that I would be able to feel for the rest of my life. The room was small and the only contents were of which I had just pushed in: a black bag that contained a vessel that once was made up of dreams, laughter, memories, love, sadness, a life. What it contained now was the very essence of that which this country is made: a soldier that had given the ultimate sacrifice. His life.
In my mind, I kissed a forehead that would never again be kissed by a mother, a child or a lover and I said my goodbyes. I gave one last look into the small room full of a chill, a room that would the resting place until this Soldier took his final flight home to his family – so that they could say their final goodbyes. I tried to swallow, but the lump that had formed in my throat barely let a breath escape. I would never have to wonder what it mean to be lonely. As the door to the refrigerated room closed shut, I felt every essence of the word throughout my whole body. I turned and began my walk into the evening – unlike my fallen comrade, I was still able to experience this simple act.
I had decided to volunteer my time at the mortuary while in Afghanistan because I wanted to give a little to those who had given all. Yes, the possibility of death goes hand-in-hand with being a Soldier, especially when at war. It becomes a possible job hazard as soon as you sign on the dotted line. You do not let it consume your mind during your day-to-day, mission-to-mission tasks. You just accept it and do what you have to do. It had been my first case, and while I went out on daily missions, into harm’s way – into the possibility that I, myself, might not come back – this was the first time I had seen firsthand what war can do to the human body and what war takes from the human soul.
During my walk back to my tent, I couldn’t stop thinking about this Soldier -tying his boots that morning and having no idea that he would not be untying them this night. I wondered what he laughed at today as he and his battle buddy walked to breakfast – or what conversations had gone on in his vehicle right before the ambush. I imagined it was much like the goofy nonsense that we talked about in our truck. Anything to make the time go a little faster and to add a touch of enjoyment to the situation at hand.
I thought about his mother and the grief that was about to fill her heart. The fear as she watched Soldiers in polished uniforms walk to her door. The moment she realizes the reason for the shiny black shoes beyond her door. I thought of his comrades, who will have to load up again and continue on their mission despite the events they survived today.
The image of him sitting on is cot, lacing his boots, just like I did every morning, kept coming to my mind. It was a task that was done everyday, something you never really had to think about doing. I knew at that moment that I would never take tying my shoes for granted again. I knew that I would focus on actually feel the of the material of the lace and the pull it created as I looped the laces to form bows that would hold my shoes on my feet. I knew that from this time forward, I would enjoy tying my shoes. I had a new appreciation for untying my shoes at the end of the day – and a new awareness that the opportunity to untie them at the end of the day was not guaranteed.
I had a new awareness of the world around me. I could feel every little pebble that crunched under my feet. I could hear the whisper of the warm evening breeze as though I had become fluent in its language. Even the smell of the human waste dump left a refreshing singe in my nose. I had a new love for being alive. For the first time, I could understand and appreciate how lucky I was to be taking this walk. The walk was a second chance to appreciate my legs; what they could do for me and the places they would take me. I appreciated the feeling of my arms swinging beside me, the feeling of my pants rubbing against my skin and the tightness of the laces of the boots that held my feet so firmly inside.
As I sat down on my cot, I looked at my boots and the laces I was about to feel in my hands. As I untied them to let my feet escape from the day’s journey. I thought of the Soldier to whom I had just said goodbye and I promised that I would not take for granted this life that I had been given. From this day forward, I would give my utmost best in everything I did – from lying my laces to loving my family.
I untied my laces of my boots, and I untied them for him. My head fell to my pillow with a new awareness of my skin against the cool material and my eyes closed with an awareness of my lashes on my cheek. Sleep surrounded me and brought with it some peace – and I let it take me. The morning would come soon and it would once again be time for me to lace up my boots.