It’s here! Orders to Nowhere is now a book!

It’s finally here!  The first edition of Orders to Nowhere is available in print.  It will be six to eight weeks before it shows up in bookstores, and a week or so before it hits Amazon.com.  If you want to avoid the wait, you can order it straight from the printer by clicking the cover:

Orders to Nowhere

Since you are a loyal reader and follower of the blog that got it all started, you can use the discount code ZVGYFQ28 and save 10% off the cover price.

Thank each and every one of you for reading and following my journey through transition!

Why are transition assistance programs not as effective as they should be? The answers are out there, but nobody is asking the questions.

When Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines leave the military service they are generally young, fit, and eager to get to work in the civilian world.  Many go to school to obtain an education, but many more jump headlong into the job market.  Unfortunately, they are not as prepared as they could be to compete in the cutthroat employment marketplace.  It is not because the government is not trying to help transitioning military folks learn the skills they need to get a job, because there are a multitude of programs out there to help with transition.  Unfortunately, those programs are not nearly as effective as they could and should be.

The Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, and Department of Labor have spent many millions of dollars (over $50 Million in 2012 alone) on various programs designed to help veterans make the transition from military service to the civilian world.  These agencies are charged with conducting classes, seminars, and counseling that is designed to help those who are hanging up their uniforms with the challenging and often confusing process of becoming a civilian again.

Despite the efforts of these agencies, there is a serious problem with unemployment for recently discharged veterans.  The population of younger veterans who are recently discharged is having the toughest time, with those in the 20 – 24 year old age bracket hitting an unemployment rate of 35% in March of this year according to a Syracuse University study that was released last month (available here: March 2013 Employment Situation of Veterans) .  That stunning number is well over double the rate for the same population of non-veterans.

That means that a lot of our veterans are out of work, and as a result the DOD is paying a lot of money out in the form of unemployment benefits to those who can’t find a job.  It is a shocking amount of money.  I mean really shocking!

How shocking?  Try nearly $1 Billion dollars a year (the actual number was $928 million for 2012 and is on track to increase in 2013).  Almost one billion dollars.  For unemployment benefits.  For veterans who cannot find a job.  And it comes out of the DOD’s annual budget, and every dollar that is spent on unemployment benefits for a veteran is a dollar that is not spent on the people still serving or the equipment that they use to keep our nation safe.

Paying unemployment insurance for separated military personnel is not new for the Department of Defense.  In fact, the DOD has been paying millions of dollars in unemployment benefits for a long time, but the billion dollar pricetag is unprecedented. In 2003, the military paid about $300 million on such benefits, and a decade later that cost has over tripled.

There are a lot of reasons for the increase, with the most obvious being the increase in the number of people leaving the military and having a rough time finding a job in the tough economic conditions that exist today.

That is only part of the story, however.  The Obama administration, to their credit, has increased funding and awareness for the plight of jobless veterans.  Unfortunately, those efforts are not paying the dividends that they should be.  With such a high level of emphasis and funding for transition training and education, you would think that the unemployment rate for veterans would be at or below the non-veteran level.  Unfortunately, it is not.

That is where the data from the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey becomes very interesting.

As I continue to research the subject of military transition, I have been analyzing the data from the survey and a few data points really jump out.  The first data point is how little feedback about the transition process is actually gathered by the organizations that are actually doing the transition training.

Every branch of the military uses After Action Reviews (AARs) to gather feedback from events and learn from the lessons that the AAR provides.  Pilots debrief every mission in order to become better aviators and infantrymen get together and discuss the lessons that they learned from their combat or training engagements.  These debriefs and lessons learned sharing sessions are part of every service and every career field.  Capturing lessons and learning from experience is a crucial part of what makes our military unbeatable.

Unfortunately, the AAR process does not seem to apply to transitioning or recently transitioned veterans.  Despite the culture of learning from experience, the vast pool of potential data sources — recently transitioned veterans — is virtually untapped.

The data shows that, of respondents who left the service between 2003 and 2013, less than one in five had been contacted by the Department of Defense or their branch of service about transition.  Of those one in five who had been contacted, less than half (0r just under 10% of all respondents) were asked to participate in an AAR of the transition process.

In other words, fewer than one in ten recently discharged veterans have been asked to help make the transition process better by providing feedback on their experience.

That, to me, is an incredibly disappointing statistic.  It is not particularly surprising, however.  Nobody officially asked me anything about my transition, and in my many conversations with veterans I have found that nobody asked them either.

Millions and millions of dollars are being spent every year on the military transition process, yet unemployment rates for veterans continues to exceed their civilian counterparts.  Nearly a billion dollars is being spent by the DOD on unemployment benefits for those unemployed veterans.  You would think that somebody would connect the dots between the efficacy of the military transition programs and their effect on the unemployment rate, but sadly the most readily available resource of feedback is largely being ignored.  Nobody is asking the vast majority of people who have gone through those transition programs and entered the civilian workforce about their experiences and how the transition programs could be improved.

The answers are out there.  Too bad nobody is asking the right people the questions.

In yet another shameless plug- I can never get enough data in the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey.  So if you have transitioned from the US military (it doesn’t matter when), please take the survey!  If you have take it, I thank you.  Please ask others to take it too!

Some preliminary results

Thanks to all of you who have read my posts about the transition survey that I using to conduct some research into the military transition process.   A lot of you have helped me out, and I truly appreciate your time in taking the survey and for sharing it with others who can help.

That said, I can never get enough data.  If you are a veteran or a military person going through transition, please take my survey here: Military Transition Survey .  Thanks!

So far the data are showing some interesting trends.  The Marine Corps is the best represented so far, so for those of you in other branches here is your chance to catch up and beat the Marines….

About half of the respondents are combat veterans, and veterans from every conflict since the Korean War have taken the survey.  My first look at the data shows that there are many more programs available today than were out there for earlier generations of veterans, with many of our Vietnam, Korean, and Cold War veterans responding that they had no formal outprocessing resources.

More recent veterans report that there are a lot of different programs currently available, and that they produce a wide disparity in results.  Some are reported to be great, and others are reported to be useless.  I am looking forward to diving more deeply into the data to learn more.

The split between veterans who did and did not serve in active combat is about even, as is the ratio between enlisted and commissioned respondents.  Very few warrant officers have weighed in, though — so if you are a warrant officer, please jump in!

I will start analyzing the information in greater depth next week, and I’ll keep you posted.  Till then, keep sharing the link and get as many of your peers and friends as you can to take the survey.

Thanks!

 

Another plug for help!

Last week I wrote about a survey that I am conducting about the military transition process.  So far the response has been good (thanks to all of you who have already taken it!) but I am only about halfway there.  In order to have an unbiased survey it is important to get as many responses as possible in order to make sure that the sample of those of you who take the survey are representative of the entire population of transitioning or transitioned folks.  At the risk of being redundant, I ask again that if you have gone through or are going through the transition process and have not yet taken my survey, would you please help me out?  Also, please forward it to anyone, from any branch and any time period, who has made the jump?  I promise that this will be my last humble request!

The survey is 29 questions long and takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.  Here is the link:

Military Transition Survey

Also, I am very eager to hear from all of the branches of the armed forces.  The Marine response has been great (keep them coming!), and I want to make sure that you know that I would like to hear from any and all who have undergone the transition process.

Thanks!  In my next posts we’ll start looking at some of the emerging and interesting trends that the survey is revealing.

A chance to improve the military to civilian transition process

As those who follow my writings about military transition know, the process is often contrary, capricious, confusing, and supremely frustrating.  I have been writing about my experiences for nearly two years now, and over that time I have been disappointed to see that the process has not really improved.  Transition is still just as consternating as ever, despite millions of dollars spent on the process by both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.

I am currently writing a book about my transitional journey, and that is where you come into the picture.  I have created a survey in which I am humbly asking every veteran and every military person who is going through transition or has completed transition to participate.  I have my own observations and opinions, but as author Eric Herzel once said: “One’s opinion should only be as strong as one’s knowledge on the matter.”

Since I am planning to write much more about transition, I really need to incorporate the collective knowledge of as many of you who have experienced transition in order to make my opinions as fact-based as possible.  Will you help?

Without further ado, here is:

Military Transition  Survey

Thank you in advance — and I will be posting the insights and results soon!

Still waiting for the call that may never come…

My last post left all of us hanging in anticipation of a call from the VA in regards to my disability claim.  You see, I had called and called the VA’a customer service number during the day with no luck whatsoever.  After finally getting up waaaaay before the crack of dawn I called again and finally got ahold of a VA representative.  We reviewed my case, and he agreed that something was amiss.  He promised that a representative would call in the next ten working days to let me know what was up.

I cheerily hung up and waited by the phone like a thirteen year old waiting for a girl to call and invite him to the Sadie Hawkins dance.

Well, it is now working day number nine.  No call.  No dance.

I have been holding my breath so long that I have gone from blue to purple.  They are not late yet.  One day to go!

I wonder if they will call?

The anticipation is killing me!  If they do, I will write a post to tell you how it went.  If they don’t, I will write a post to tell you how it didn’t go.

I think I see a zero dark thirty phonecall to the VA in my future…again.

Back to the Veterans Administration

Several months ago I received a rather large package from the Veterans Administration.  Inside was the copy of my medical record that I had submitted with my claim some nine months earlier as well as a sheaf of rather official looking documents.

Hooray, thought I!  My claim was settled.

Well, kind of.  Actually about half of my claim was settled, and the other half was not.

You see, as I departed active duty I was thoroughly examined by both military and veterans administration physicians as a part of the final physical process.  The Navy doctors and corpsmen checked me out and documented everything that was relevant into my records, and the VA then followed up with an examination of their own to determine what conditions, if any, that I had developed during my service would be considered disabling.  Having the conditions rated as disabling is important because the VA treats those conditions free of charge.

In my case, about half of the conditions that had been identified during my physicals were rated as disability-related conditions and would be addressed by the VA in the future.  The other half were marked as “deferred” because they needed additional information.  The letter went on to say that they had requested a medical examination, and that I would be “notified of the date, time, and place to report.”  It sounded reasonable, so all I had to do was be patient and wait.

One month went by.

Then two.  Then three.  Four.  Finally at month five I decided that my phone wasn’t going to ring any time soon and I needed to do something about it.  But what?

Thinking back to my experience at the Transition Assistance Course I remembered that a representative from the Disabled American Veterans had talked me through the VA medical evaluation process as he evaluated my medical record.  I had signed a limited power of attorney that appointed the DAV as the Veterans Service Organization that would represent me in my VA proceedings, and now it was time to give them a ring and ask for some help.

After rummaging through the rather tall pile of transition related documents that occupies a significant portion of my desk I found his business card.  “Aha!”  thought I.  “A call and it will all be fixed!”

Wrong again.

I did call the number, only to find that I was calling the wrong number.  It turns out that the gentleman that I had worked with during the TAP seminar was not the same gentleman that I would be working with in my dealings with the VA.  The guy at TAPS was fully engaged in meeting new veterans and helping get their claims processes started.  Once the veterans were in the DAV system they (including me!) would be working with representatives at their regional office located in San Diego.

So I called that number.  Unfortunately their offices were closed for the holidays, so I called back once the holidays were over.  I finally linked up with a live person and after speaking to a very nice lady who took down some basic information were instructed to wait for a representative to call me back.

After a day or two of swapping voicemails because of missed calls the DAV representative and I finally linked up on the phone.  I explained my dilemma to him, and he patiently explained what needed to happen next.

“What you have,” he said,” is a partially completed claim.  At this point there really isn’t anything the DAV can do for you because our process begins when the initial VA claim is settled.”

Sensing my frustration, he continued.

“What you need to do is to contact the VA and set up an appointment to get the ball rolling yourself.  You need to do this quickly because if you don’t follow up on the listed conditions they may be disallowed because you are not showing that they are still a problem.”  He then gave me the appropriate phone number for the closest VA office and we said our goodbyes.

Hmm… So I need to get my sore knees and bad back looked at again?  I had signed up for TRICARE Prime, so I could go to the doctor, but my decades of “sucking it up” had precluded me from making an appointment for something that did not involve broken bones or arterial bleeding.

So I called the VA the next day.  After a similar game of telephone and voicemail tag I spoke with a very helpful gentleman who understood exactly what my dilemma was.  He checked his calendar and squeezed me into an appointment this coming Wednesday, where he promised to get my ship sailing in the right direction.

And I promise to tell you how it goes…

__________

Lessons Learned:

1.  Contact your VSO immediately after you receive your VA claim settlement letter.  I lost about five months as I waited for the VA to contact me before I finally got on the ball and started engaging the system.

2.  The VA is buried in claims and the best thing to do is to take charge of your case.  Waiting just means that others who are being proactive are jumping in line ahead of you.

3.  Your VSO can explain the intricacies of the settlement letter in a phone call, but you have to contact them to initiate the conversation.

4.  The next call you make after the VSO should be your local VA office in order to initiate the next steps in the evaluation process.  If your claim is settled, then you need to contact them to be registered in their computer system so that you can access healthcare providers.  If your claim is not fully settled, then you need to get registered and schedule appointments with the appropriate professionals in order to finish up your claim.

Writing your resume, part 3: The Combination Format

For those of you who have been holding your breaths in anticipation of the final installment in the resume postings –  here it is!

Today we are looking at the most flexible but most difficult resume to compose: the combination format.  As the name implies the combination format is actually a blend of the functional and chronological styles, which makes it more impactful in many industries.  It is the preferred format in situations where you have a very good idea of the job you are seeking and can tailor your resume to show your skills (think functional style) and experience (think chronological).

The difficulty in writing the combination style is that even though you are bringing in the best of both worlds you still need to fit it into two pages or less without doing something cheesy like shrinking the font down to microscopic size or using bigger sheets of paper.  Ruthless editing is everything!

What will greatly help you edit is researching the company and position where you are applying.  This will help you refine both your skill set and experience so that you are showing only what is relevant to the job or firm; you don’t have room for everything, so you can pick and choose what needs to be presented.

As with all things, there are some advantages and disadvantages to the combination format.  That said, if well written and focused on the job and firm where you want to work they can be easily mitigated.

Advantages:

  •  If you have little experience in the work area that you are seeking you can offset it by showcasing your skill set
  • Likewise, if you have a tremendous amount of experience you can use it to offset a limited number of entries on your chronological history
  • If you are changing careers, you can emphasize both your skill set and your experience to show why they are relevant for a new career path

Disadvantages:

  • If you have been job hopping the chronological section will still show the frequency of change in your employment history, as well as any significant gaps.
  • If you have no experience and no skills in the area where you want to work this format will highlight both situations.  You may be hoping to change your life and go in a radically new direction, which is great, but since this resume style is tailored to demonstrate both your skill set and experience that may be problematic if you have neither.

In this format we also introduce a new element: The Objective Statement.  This is where you, the applicant, articulate why you are the best person for a particular job.  Interestingly, if you surf around and read some of the posts and articles about resumes you will see that the objective statement is a controversial subject.  Many writers feel that it is unnecessary and wastes space, while others feel that it is an important component of a well written resume.

My take on it is that the objective statement is the best way to focus the reader (think hiring manager) on what it is that you can do for them.  It makes their job a little easier.  Think of it like the thesis for a term paper – you state your position up front and then support it throughout the rest of the document.

A large number of transitioning military folks seek work in the Civil Service or with a government contractor.  The objective statement is particularly useful for those who are seeking those jobs because the requirements to fill those jobs are generally fully disclosed and readily available, which means that you can tailor your resume to fit the stated requirements.  Showing the person who has to fill a position that you are the right person is the purpose of the objective statement, and a well written one that is supported throughout the resume has the advantage over someone whose resume is not focused.

The tight focus on the job you are seeking also allows for more latitude in the use of jargon and acronyms.  If you are seeking a job with specific technical skills then the odds are that the reader of the resume will understand your area-specific terminology.  That said, be judicious and use jargon sparingly unless you know for certain that the reader will understand what you are saying.  My example resume contains a fair amount of jargon and acronyms, but in my research I found that using them was not a problem.  You can see it here: Combination Resume Sample.

After the objective statement comes the Summary section.  This is a few sentences that show a thumbnail sketch that backs up your objective statement and shows why you are the right person for the job.  It also introduces the functional areas (as bullets) that showcase your skills that support your objective statement as well as your summary –  and, of course, why you are the right candidate for the job.

Immediately following the summary section are the more detailed narratives for each of the functional areas that you identified in the Summary section.  I title this section of the resume “Accomplishments” and use it to show how my skills in each area make me the best candidate for the job.  It is important to remember that each skill must relate to the objective and summary; otherwise you are wasting space and confusing the reader.  Remember: Focus, Focus, Focus on the job you are applying for!  Anything that does not bolster your objective and summary is taking up valuable space that you do not have to spare.

The accomplishments section is the end of the functional component of the resume.  The next section is a whittled down version of the chronological format, presented from the newest experience to the oldest.

This is where editing is really important!  In a traditional chronological resume you have a couple of pages to work with, but now you are down to half that space.  What I recommend is to only go back in time as many years as are needed to directly support your objective and summary statements.  For my resume (Combination Resume Sample) I chose to go into detail on the jobs that I held for the previous six years.  Those jobs are directly related to the job I was pursuing.  I then wrote a brief paragraph about other previous work experience that again supports the objective and summary statements.

The format ends with a recap of Education, Affiliations, and Awards that highlight those areas.  Here is where it is OK to include some things that may not be directly related to the objective and summary.  If you have received awards that are unique or show recognition for your great work or leadership, then by all means include them because they will show that you have distinguished yourself.  Likewise, if you have completed education or training that shows a depth of experience beyond the scope of your target job that can help as well.

In a nutshell the Combination Format is the right one for most government and contracting jobs as well as others that are have clearly defined requirements for employment.  The best part about this format is that it showcases both your skills and your experience, but to do so effectively requires a lot of research and ruthless editing.

And with that our string of posts about resume formats comes to a close.  Next we’ll dive into the wonderful world of cover letters!

__________

Lessons Learned:

1)  The Combination Format is best for jobs and companies that are specific in their requirements.  This helps you focus your resume specifically on what the employer is looking for.  It is the best format for government and contracting jobs.

2)  You must focus your resume on the job you are applying for, which means that this particular resume format requires that you update and revise it for each job you are seeking.  A good idea is to place a date stamp in the footer of the document for the date that you complete it; just make the font the same color as the background and nobody but you will will know it is there.  Since you know where it is you can check the date by highlighting that area of the page – and this will be very useful because before you know it you will have multiple versions of your resume saved and it will help you keep them sorted.

3)  Ruthlessly edit and refine your resume.  You cannot go past two pages, and if you try tricks like filling up all of the white space or using smaller fonts the hiring manager will likely pitch it out.  Get to the golden nuggets of your skill set and experience – get rid of the rest.

4)  Write an objective statement that targets the job you are seeking and support it throughout the remainder of the resume.  It should grab the reader’s attention because it resonates fully with the job that they are trying to fill.

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?

The little things, part 2: Health insurance. Who knew?

As a uniformed member of the U. S. Armed Forces I have been very fortunate when it comes to health care.  No matter what malady I came down with or injury I suffered medical services were always there, and they were always free.  Everything is covered, from bullet wounds to brain surgery to chipped teeth.  Pretty nice benefit to have, particularly considering the occupational hazards that come with fighting our nation’s wars.

I have never had to really think of healthcare as something outside the purview of my job, but with my transition from active duty to retirement it rose in prominence from “interesting” to “important”.  The need to obtain health coverage was discussed at the various transition briefs, but I didn’t really pay close attention because the actual date of my reintroduction to the civilian world seemed so distant.  Time passed, though, and before I knew it my EAS was just around the corner.  So, after spending some time rooting through the enormous pile of transition related pamphlets, booklets, and notes that I had amassed over the last few months I found what I was looking for: a handout from the TAP/TAMP class that had “TRICARE: Transitioning from Active Duty to Retirement” emblazoned across the top.

Score!

I read the handout, and it had just enough information to point me in the right direction so that I could find a real person to explain it all to me.  In my case, that person is a very nice lady who works on the 6th floor of the Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital, and she took pity on my when I showed up in front of her counter in my quest to ensure that I didn’t enter civilian life unprepared and uninsured.

She also educated me on the ins and outs of health insurance.  It turns out that there are several different insurance products that I could choose, and each had advantages and disadvantages when compared to the others.  Although I am eligible for healthcare through the Veterans Administration, my family isn’t.  Needless to say taking care of myself and not my family is a non-starter, so I had some decisions to make.

The first decision was which level of TRICARE did I want?  There are three basic levels.  As a retiree my family and I are automatically enrolled and covered in two plans:  TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra.  These plans don’t have monthly or annual fees, but instead are pay as you go, or “cost for use” plans, so although they are free if you never use them, it can get expensive if you need medical care.  The difference between the two plans is based on providers; for Standard you can be seen my doctors outside the network, but you pay higher cost shares than Extra, in which you select providers within the network and receive a discount.  Here is a link to a TRICARE flyer that gives much more information on the programs: http://www.triwest.com/en/beneficiary/tricare-benefits/handbooks-and-brochures/Standard_Extra_Flyer.pdf

The other available product is TRICARE Prime.  For Prime you have to enroll and pay an annual fee of $520 a year, which seems like a lot when compared to the free healthcare options is incredibly inexpensive when compared to what people in the private sector have to pay for similar coverage.  That said, it is a benefit that military types have earned it the hard way through at least twenty years of service, a lot of which is hard on the body.  As a result, many retirees have conditions (such as combat wounds, partial deafness, and early onset osteoarthritis for example) that could be classified as “pre-existing conditions” and limit accessibility to a new healthcare provider.  So it all works out.  Here is a link to another flyer that has information on all of the available TRICARE options (of which there are a lot more than I cover in this post):  http://www.triwest.com/en/beneficiary/tricare-benefits/handbooks-and-brochures/tricare-choices-at-a-glance/TRICARE_ChoicesatGlance.pdf

I made my decision.  Prime it would be.  As with all things governmental, though, there are a few wickets to hit in order to enroll.  The first and most important is that you must enroll before your last day in the service in order to avoid any gaps in coverage.  If you don’t seek out the TRICARE office, fill out the paperwork, and give them a check before your retirement date your level of coverage defaults to Standard or Prime.  It can be quite a risk because the potential costs associated with care of you and your family can be staggering should something happen when you are not covered by Prime.  If you don’t get around to enrolling, however, don’t despair.  You can still sign up, but you will have to wait until the next month for coverage to start.  TRICARE follows what is known as the “20th of the month” rule, which means that as long as you enroll by the 20th of the current month your coverage will begin on the 1st day of the next month.  Wait until the 21st, however, and your coverage begins on the 1st of the following month.  Needless to say, it behooves you to sign up before you get out.

There are several factors to consider when you sign up for TRICARE Prime.  As a Marine I never had to select a doctor; all I had to do was go to the Aid Station or hospital and I would be taken care of.  As a retiree, however, the option of wandering into a Regimental Aid Station to be seen evaporated.  I needed to determine who my doctor would be.

Noting my puzzled expression, the very nice TRICARE administrator talked me through the process of selecting a provider: first, she checked to see if there was a clinic within 30 minutes of my home.  If there was a clinic, then that is where I would go for care.  It turns out there was a clinic, but she quickly determined that its patient load was full, so I would have to find another provider.  She printed out a list of possibilities (including pediatricians), and after a quick telephone conversation with my spouse we picked providers.  This step is particularly important for retirees who are moving to a new home because they may or may not have access to a clinic or even a TRICARE provider.  For those moving back to the country or out of the country (because TRICARE is administered differently overseas) make sure to surf through the TRICARE website to see what options pertain to your situation:  http://www.tricare.mil/.

So, after about a half hour with the most helpful and cheerful TRICARE administrator I had completed the application process.  She typed my information into her computer and presented me with a filled-in application which I reviewed and signed.  I handed it back along with a check for $130.00 to cover the first quarterly premium.  She gave me some advice, too.  “Call the TRICARE toll free telephone number in about a month,” she said, “to confirm that you are enrolled and that they received your payment.  If you don’t double check and something doesn’t go through you are not covered.  So do yourself a favor and double check!”

Sound advice.  She had obviously been around government agencies for a while.

So off I went, happy as a clam.  And then I remembered that there didn’t seem to be anything about teeth in the flyer.  Hmmm…

Sure enough, another lesson!  Medical care is different than dental care, so if I wanted my family and I to have dental coverage, I would have to apply for that, too.  And pay for it.  Retirement is getting expensive!

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Lessons Learned:

1.  Do some research.  There is always a table piled high with flyers and pamphlets at transition courses and seminars, so do yourself a favor and grab one of eveything that is available.  Then, over a cup of coffee or a cocktail, sort it all out and file it away because you never know when one of those bits of paper will prove worth its weight in gold.  For me, it was the TRICARE transition flyer because it was like the Rosetta Stone of post-service healthcare.  It gave me the basic information I needed to find the right people and ensure that my family and I were covered.  The internet is great, having a sheet of paper with all the info you need precludes frantic Google searches.

2.  Don’t let your retirement date pass without enrolling in TRICARE Prime or you are taking a serious risk.  Even if you don’t want Prime, find out where your base TRICARE office is and sit down with one of the helpful administrators – they are pros who will make sure you fully understand what you are entitled to as well as what the various programs offer.

3.  If you are moving then it behooves you to closely examine which option pertains to you.  This is particularly important for those going overseas because it gets complicated very quickly.  So, if you are headed back to the family homestead on the great plains or the mountains of Tibet make sure to get all of your questions answered before you pull chocks and hit the road – TRICARE administrators are difficult to find at the base of Mount Everest.

4.  Talk it over with your family.  They get a vote.  Healthcare is a big deal; indeed a much bigger deal than I had thought.  Make sure you make the best decision for you and your family that you can.