An update in my VA Claims Status

As a reader of this blog you know that I have recently transitioned from Active Duty and am now enjoying life on the civilian side of the fence.  One of the big parts of transition is the eligibility for a disability rating from the Veterans Administration, and recently my status in that regard changed.

Let me back up a bit.  I began my transition well over a year ago (in the summer of 2011), and as I went through the required and optional transition seminars I was educated on the benefits that all honorably discharged veterans are eligible to receive.  As a retiring Marine, I learned that I was eligible for more benefits than those who served one or two enlistments (such as pension and access to VA medical care for myself and an entitlement to TRICARE for my family).  Such benefits are great!  They were earned through over a quarter century of service in uniform and no small amount of time getting shot at in combat zones.

In addition to VA medical care I, and all veterans, are evaluated to determine whether or not we are eligible for a disability rating as a result of the maladies, wear, and tear that we experienced while serving in uniform.  It is perfectly reasonable to be evaluated for any such problems, but unfortunately the time it takes for the claims evaluation process to reach completion is far from speedy.

This month I received a couple of notifications from the VA.  The first was a letter that is identical to the letters that preceded it telling me that my claims process was still under review.  Not surprising, really, because the average time to review and approve a case is well over a year, and mine has only been in the hopper for about ten months now.

When I logged into the VA ebenefits website, however, I saw that there was some progress.  Hooray!  My status had changed from “Preparation for Decision” to “Regulatory or Procedural Review”.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I am optimistic that it is an indicator of progress.

I drilled into the website to see what the new status reflected.  Here is what the website said:

Claim Received: 08/17/2012
Claim Type: Regulatory or Procedural Review
Estimated Claim Completion Date: unavailableWe are currently unable to provide you with a projected completion date for this type of claim. Please await further claim status notification for this Regional Office.

Hmmm.  That tells me pretty much nothing at all.  I read on…

Next Steps:

We will review all available evidence and make a decision on your claim upon receipt of all requested information as outlined in the headings, “What Do We Still Need from You?” and “What Have We Done?”. 

Several factors will determine the duration of the “Development” phase, including:

  • type of claim filed
  • number of disabilities you claim
  • complexity of your disability(ies), and
  • availability of evidence needed to decide your claim.

Now that sounds promising!  My case is in the “development” phase!  I still don’t know what that means, but I am hoping it indicates progress.

At any rate, my claim is wending its way through the claims process, and it looks like movement forward is occurring.  I hope that those of you out there in the same boat are receiving similar updates, too.  A word to the wise, however: Don’t wait for the VA to tell you about your updated status via the postal service, because they likely won’t.  My letter from them this month didn’t tell me anything new.  You should be checking the VA website (www.va.gov, specifically the ebenefits tab) frequently to see if your status is moving forward.  Otherwise things may be going on with your claim that you are unaware of.

Just a word to the wise….keep up on your claim!  After all, if you don’t, who will?

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An interesting read…

Long before I retired from the Marine Corps I had another career of sorts.  Like millions of other young men and women I needed a job while I was in high school to earn a little money for the important things in life like a car, parachute pants, and new wave music albums.

So, like those millions of other people I looked for a job.  Oddly enough, I found that my qualifications as a sixteen year old high junior in high school precluded me from a lucrative career in wealth management or professional sports, so I ended up filling out a job application at McDonald’s.

It was a popular place to work –  lots of my friends wore paper hats and polyester uniforms there and I figured I could too.  To make a long story short, I was hired and spent quite a few years there as I worked my way through college in pursuit of my Marine Officer’s commission.

Fast forward a few decades and it turns out that a lot of the lessons that I learned at the Golden Arches proved to be invaluable in my successful career as a Marine.  So much so, in fact, that I was extremely fortunate and honored to be included in a new book that portrays the success stories of over 40 people who started out at McDonald’s.

The book is called Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers that Began at McDonald’s.  Here is the description of the book from Amazon.com

“What do 20 million Americans have in common with Tonight Show host Jay Leno, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, actress Andie MacDowell, and former White House chief of staff Andrew Card?

They all started their working careers at a McDonald’s restaurant, learning some of the most important lessons of their lives. Golden Opportunity is a myth-busting collection of 44 profiles of people who went from flipping burgers to building remarkable careers in business, the arts, politics, science, the military, and sports. 

Over the past six decades, millions of teens have earned their first paychecks under the Golden Arches. Whether they stayed for a year or a career, they learned work habits, basic skills, and the business principles that have made McDonald’s one of the best-run companies in the world. 

Their journeys remind us that at the beginning of every success story there is the first paycheck from the first “real” job. That first job is not a dead end, it is a young person’s rite of passage into adult responsibility. The author’s compelling personal story—growing up in modest circumstances with a strong work ethic—gives a unique voice to the experiences of leading entrepreneurs, entertainment figures, and others who represent a cross section of American enterprise. They recall what they learned in their first jobs at McDonald’s and how those lessons helped them build their remarkable careers. 

Including a foreword by Willard Scott—the original Ronald McDonald—and the 10 Golden Opportunity Keys to Success, this collection of stories will leave you wondering what today’s burger flippers will achieve tomorrow. “

It is a great honor to be included in such an impressive and incredible list of talented and successful people!  The book is newly released this month, and my part in it has been picked up by the media in press releases and stories about the book in Forbes, at Fast Company, and at CNBC:

Forbes Article

Fast Company Article

CNBC Post

It is really an honor and I am thrilled to be a part of such a great project.  If you are interested in obtaining a copy, you can follow this link to the book on Amazon.com:

Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers that Began at McDonald’s

It is a great book with some very interesting stories as well as a host of valuable lessons about leadership, management, and life in the business world.  I can’t recommend it highly enough!

A perspective on heroes: my latest column in the North County Times

Here is last Friday’s column in the North County Times:

Hero. It is difficult these days to see anything in print or on screen that doesn’t ascribe the moniker of hero to our men and women in uniform. While that is a wonderful sentiment, it seems to have been used quite a bit in recent years. Is every Marine a hero?

I guess the concept of hero is really like that of beauty —- it is in the eye of the beholder. I believe the sincerity shown by my fellow countrymen when they show their respect by bestowing that honorable title on warriors and veterans. It is a testament to the good will that our nation feels for the men and women who have carried the flag to foreign shores and shed their blood in its defense.

It was not always that way, however. Not long ago the warriors and veterans of the war in Vietnam were not widely welcomed home as heroes. Instead, they were often at best simply ignored and at worst treated as pariahs. It is a stark juxtaposition in comparison to here and now, and made even more so when you consider who it is that those in uniform today consider their heroes.

Marines who fought in Iraq and still fight in Afghanistan have heroes, too. Heroes in the classical sense of antiquity, which defined a hero as a person who faced great danger and adversity, yet displayed courage and a willingness to undergo tremendous sacrifice. For Marines, our heroes are those who preceded us in places like Trenton during the Revolution and the Argonne during the War to End All Wars. Those are our heroes of antiquity.

Our heroes in modernity are those who fought in less popular wars and yet still walk among us. Our heroes fought their way from one end of Korea to the other and endured the savagery of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

One particular battle is known to each and every serving Marine because it typifies the soldierly virtues of Marines in the absolutely worst circumstances. In early 1968, a string of hilltops close to the demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam became a cauldron that swallowed the lives of countless combatants. Khe Sanh, as those hilltops were known, found a beleaguered force of Marines facing many times their number of hardened Vietnamese who were determined to wipe them from the face of the earth.

The savagery of the battle has been recorded in books and articles and documentaries, but those are incapable of recording the horrific conditions that existed during the battles in the hills. Hundreds of Marines died, as did thousands of Vietnamese. They fought each other with knives and rifles and often their bare hands. It was war at its most visceral and most savage, and despite the relentless fighting that went on for months, the Marines held their ground until their enemy gave up and faded back into the jungle.

I know this because recently I was honored to be in the company of men who were there. To call them heroes would only embarrass them, because like all true warriors, they view themselves as Marines who answered their nation’s call and fought as Marines always have. They fought because they were Marines and that is what Marines do, but their sacrifice and tenacity and dedication to each other is the stuff of legend.

Although they would never call themselves heroes, I consider them to be so nonetheless. They have etched their legacy into the Marine Corps just as the Spartans did at Thermopylae thousands of years ago. Today, Marines revere those who fought at Khe Sanh, and speak of them in hushed and respectful tones.

Our heroes are among us. To them, the veterans of Khe Sanh and countless other fights in Vietnam I say thank you for your service, for they gave me and all Marines a living example of the stuff that true heroes are made of. We can only hope to be able to follow in their footsteps and carry the mantle that they have passed to us.

http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/military/columnists/grice/grice-even-heroes-have-their-own-heroes/article_012943bd-6e7b-5591-9af7-156b444beb3a.html

 

Writing your resume, part 2: The Functional Format

As promised, here is the long awaited and thrilling post about resumes!  Today we’re looking at the Functional Format style, which is the best one to use for people who are changing careers (like transitioning military folks), those with gaps in their employment history, or people who want to emphasize their skills for a particular job or specialized company.

For men and women who are hanging up their uniforms the functional format is a very useful way of showing the talents and skills that they have developed and used during their time in the military.  Even though many of the functions that servicemen and women perform during their careers are not directly transferable to the corporate sector (think rifleman, tank gunner, weapons repair specialist – you get the idea), the underlying skills and capabilities are relevant and desirable to employers.  Things like leadership (that rifleman was probably a small unit leader too), teamwork (that tank gunner worked closely as a member of the team that formed the tank crew), and detail oriented task management (the weapons repair specialist worked on intricate equipment, ordered parts, and managed supplies on a daily basis).

The functional format is best to show those skills and to articulate how they can be useful for a corporate employer.  Remember, when you write it you need to direct it towards the Human Resources person at the company.  As with all resumes you really need to work hard to “de-militarize” it as much as possible; they don’t know what a rifleman or squad leader is and certainly have no clue about the operations of the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank’s gun system.  Don’t make it easy for the hiring manager to throw your resume in the shredder by making it too difficult to read with military jargon and whatnot.  That said, more jargon is acceptable in the functional format because the target company is probably more familiar with the skill set you are presenting and will likely know some mil-speak.  Just don’t over do it.

There are some great advantages to the functional format, and to take advantage of them it is best to target the resume on the job or company you are interested in.  That takes a little research on your part (hello, internet!) and the patience to make adjustments to tailor your resume for each company as you go.  Focusing on the target in job hunting is just as important as focusing on the target on the rifle range- if you don’t have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish you won’t hit the target or find a job.

If you do your homework you will find the functional format easier to write because you can direct the reader (in this case, the hiring manager) to what you want them to notice about your abilities.  By researching the requirements for a particular job or needs of the company, you can show how you fit the bill with the exact skills that the employer is looking for.  You can also highlight all of those intangible things that you have been doing while in uniform, such as helping the community, training others, and developing leadership in those junior to you.  It also allows you to cut out anything that you don’t want in your resume, such as gaps in your job history or a lousy grade point average from high school or college.

Another advantage is that you can be much more succinct and direct with the functional format.  In resume writing less is more.  The HR person who receives your resume has a stack of them to go through, and generally speaking you have only a few seconds to grab their attention before they move on to the next one.  If they have no second page to turn to then you have a bit of an advantage because they all look at the first page, and if you can get yours down to one then they will see the whole thing an not have to decide whether to go flip to the next page.

The elements that I used in my functional resume (click here to take a look: Functional Resume)  are pretty standard.  After the standard header information (name, email address, phone number) there are four sections: A summary statement, Functional Experience, Professional Experience, and a bit about Honors, Education, and Publications.

It is the resume that I used when I was leaving active duty and had an opportunity to pursue a job with an organization that was doing fire support and aviation integration operations.  After researching the opportunity and talking to people who were familiar with the company and what they were looking for I highlighted those things that I had done in the past that were relevant and left out those things that weren’t.

Based on my research, I wrote the summary statement to show how my experience was exactly in line with what the company was looking for.  The intent is to keep the hiring manager’s eyes on the page, and by grabbing his or her attention by showing that I had the skills that they were looking for up front it piques their interest.

The functional experience section is the meat of this format.  I chose the six areas that I felt best met the needs of the company and showed my expertise and experience in each.  Notice that there is no timeline associated with the areas,  but instead a series of concrete examples of relevant and specific experience in each.

The next section covers professional experience.  Again, there is no strict timeline associated with the bullets but I did include the years that I was deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan.  I chose to include those dates specifically because it showed that I had recent combat experience in fire support (remember, this resume went out in 2011).  Only the jobs and deployments that are directly associated with fire support are included, though.  My tours and assignments in other areas are irrelevant for this format and would have just resulted in a lot of wasted space and an unneeded second page.

Lastly comes the Education, Honors, and Publications section.  This bit is where you can cherry-pick those things that you have done to highlight your skills and achievements during your career.  In my case I was fortunate to receive some awards that are unusual and have been published quite a bit.  You should look through your awards, professional military education graduation certificates, and other certifications or qualifications and include those that will help break you out of the pack and highlight why you are the best candidate for the job.

__________

Lessons Learned:

1)  The functional resume format is best for people changing careers, with gaps in their employment history, or want to emphasize specific skill sets for a particular job or specialized company.

2)  Less is more- shoot for one page.  This format is the easiest of the three to get down to one page.

3)  Look hard at your career and pick out those things that are directly related to the job you are seeking or the company where you want to work.  Ruthlessly cut out things that are not relevant!

4)  Be selective in the military jargon that you include.  For companies that you know will understand it – for example, if you are applying for a job at Bell Helicopter it is OK to talk about your zillions of hours flying the AH-1W/AH-1Z attack helicopter – but don’t go overboard.  For those less familiar you would want to describe your extensive experience as a pilot who flew attack helicopters in the Marines.

Latest column in the North County Times

Ever since hanging up my uniform I have been actively working to help veterans make the transition back to civilian life, and for many vets it is an even more difficult process because they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress.  This column is about a nonprofit organization that is doing tremendous work to help both those still in uniform and those who have left the service overcome the challenges of PTSD.

I have written quite a bit about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in previous columns.

For those who have gone to war and fought for their country, it is a fact of life that the battles will stay with them for years to come —- and for many, for the remainder of their days.

It is a testament to both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs that the psychological effects of war have been met head-on in both the serving and veteran communities, but I am not optimistic that the high level of commitment that exists today will survive the austere fiscal reality that faces our government in the future.

That is where the nonprofit community comes into play. There are many organizations out there that are helping veterans both in and out of uniform deal with the trauma that they experienced in war. It is these organizations that I will be writing about in the next few columns.

Not all organizations that claim to help veterans are in it for the right reasons. As I mentioned earlier, the federal government has been providing more resources to veterans’ issues for the current wars than it has in recent memory —- and there are some outfits whose aim is to make money more than to help vets. Those are not the groups I will be writing about.

Those that I will be addressing are the ones that are making a real impact in veterans today or have a plan and the drive to make a significant difference in the lives of those who have served.

The first organization that I would like to introduce you to is the American Combat Veterans of War. ACVOW is a nonprofit group headquartered in Oceanside that aims to help veterans who have survived the physical ordeal of combat cope with the psychological aftermath. They offer a variety of programs to help vets, but one in particular is making a tremendous difference for those who are fortunate to be involved.

The Safe Warrior Outreach Program brings healing to combat veterans who still serve as well as those who have left active duty. This program is particularly important because it brings veterans together in a completely anonymous environment in which they can share their experiences and bond with others who are going through the same turmoil they feel. Rank, position and prejudice are left at the door as warriors join together to share, help and heal as equals.

This is particularly important because many of the participants are still in uniform. The stigma against PTSD is still strong in the military, and the Marine Corps is certainly no exception. Many of the warriors who come to ACVOW do so because of the anonymity that the group provides; without having the assurance of secrecy, many of the attendees would not seek help at all.

ACVOW exists because its president and co-founder, William Rider, knows first-hand what combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are going through. Rider is a combat veteran himself, which in and of itself is not unusual. What is unusual, however, is that Rider experienced some of the most savage combat during the Vietnam War as a member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in a place called Khe Sanh. His battalion had the gruesome honor of suffering the greatest casualty rate in Marine Corps history, and as a result became known as “The Walking Dead.”

Rider received the Purple Heart medal for wounds suffered at the hands of the North Vietnamese, and after the war he recognized that it followed him home. In 2001 he co-founded ACVOW and has dedicated himself to helping combat veterans make it back from the dark side. Thanks to Rider and his dedicated peers, many vets have found the healing, and comradeship, that has made a tremendous difference in their lives.

 

http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/military/columnists/grice/grice-nonprofits-offer-help-to-veterans/article_909288ca-0239-55a7-82f4-93d1875186d1.html