MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (MVP) and Cyberonics Announce Veteran and Transitioning Military Re-careering Workshop

 

MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program: Recareering transitioning military and veterans into compelling careers in the life sciences. (PRNewsFoto/MedTech BioTech Veterans Program)    

 

Continuing the successful series of nationwide recareering workshops, the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (www.mvpvets.org) is announcing the seventh Veteran and Transitioning Military Recareering event for 2014.  The program, which is free for veterans and those transitioning from the military, helps veterans find careers in life sciences companies, is partnering with Cyberonics in Houston to host 10 veterans in a daylong seminar which will provide insights into the Medical Device industry, partnering with mentors, a job skills workshop, and interaction with hiring managers and Human Resources professionals from the the company.  The company and the industry have many positions in areas such as supply chain, supervision, management, human resources, and other functional areas that they are eager to fill with veterans and those transitioning from the military.

A press release about the event follows:

HOUSTON, Oct. 14, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — On November 19, 2014, Houston, TX-based Cyberonics, Inc. (NASDAQ:CYBX; www.cyberonics.com) will partner with the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (www.mvpvets.org) to conduct a re-careering event for transitioning military and veterans in south Texas.

Military personnel in transition from service and honorably discharged veterans are invited to apply for the opportunity to participate in this free one-day seminar that will include active one-on-one mentoring, resume building and personal engagement with hiring managers seeking to employ program participants.

The event brings veterans and transitioning military together with mentors from the medical technology industry while they participate in active sessions that include resume review and refinement, job interview training and rehearsals, creating a professional online presence in social media, and networking.  Cyberonics will also consider participants for internship opportunities.

Space is limited, and pre-registration is required to ensure that participants get a seat at the event.

Details:

Date:  November 19, 2014

Time:  8:00 a.m.4:30 p.m.

Location:  Cyberonics Building, 100 Cyberonics Blvd., Houston, TX 77058

Cost:  There is no cost for veterans and transitioning military.  All materials, breakfast, lunch, and parking are provided free of charge.

Registration:  Transitioning military and veterans interested in participating in the program can register at the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program website (http://www.mvpvets.org/mvpvets-event-interest-form).  Pre-registration is required, and space is limited to 10 participants.

About Cyberonics:

Cyberonics is a medical technology company with core expertise in neuromodulation.  The company developed and markets the Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) Therapy System, which is FDA-approved for the treatment of refractory epilepsy and treatment-resistant depression.  The VNS Therapy System uses a surgically implanted medical device that delivers pulsed electrical signals to the vagus nerve.  Cyberonics markets the VNS Therapy System in selected markets worldwide.

About the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (MVP):

The MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program is a nonprofit organization with the mission to bring 5,000 veterans and transitioning military into the Life Sciences by 2018.  A fiscally sponsored 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, MVP brings active training and mentorship together with an integrated collaborative online portal and eLearning from the Life Collaborative in a concerted effort to help those who have served the country in uniform re-career into meaningful and impactful careers in the MedTech, BioTech, Pharmaceutical, BioFuels, and Wireless Medical Technology sectors.

If you are in the Houston area and would like to participate, please do sign up!

 

Great information about military health care benefits at transition

This is a repost from Jim Carman’s great synopsis of military health care availability for those going through transition (originally posted on the MOAA Linkedin group page):

 Career and Talent Management Team Leader: 703-968-6383

This week’s LinkedIn career building essay comes from Katherine Tracy, MOAA’s Deputy Director for Healthcare Programs. You’ve made the decision to transition from the military and may be wondering how this impacts your healthcare benefits. Let’s take a quick look through two lenses: military retirement eligible or not.
If you’ve not fulfilled the 20 year requirement for a military retirement, your healthcare ends on your last day of regular active duty service or in the case of an activated National Guard or reserve member and serving a period of more than 30 consecutive days of active duty in support of a contingency operation, on the last day of your transition period known as Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP) which is 180-days following your separation date. The TAMP benefit also applies to active duty service members serving in support of a contingency operation separating due to:
• stop-loss,
• sole survivorship discharge, or
• agreement to become a member of the Selected Reserve of a Reserve Component the day immediately following release from regular active duty service.
Military retiree’s under age 65 can choose between a managed care option (HMO), known as Tricare Prime, or a fee for service option called Tricare Standard. The main difference between the two is cost verses choice. Tricare Prime is least costly; whereas, Tricare Standard offers the greatest choice in selecting providers. Furthermore, the Tricare Prime option is limited to those who reside within the catchment area of a Military Treatment Facility (MTF).
Tricare also comes with a pharmacy benefit delivered through three points of service listed below in the order of least to greatest out-of-pocket cost to you.
• Military Treatment Facility,
• Tricare Home Delivery Pharmacy, or
• Tricare Retail Pharmacy.
Next, the Tricare Retiree Dental Plan (TRDP) provides a dental option for retiree’s as well as gray-area National Guard or reserve members and their dependents. Timely enrollment, within 120-days of eligibility, ensures the full range of benefits is available immediately. Otherwise, there’s a 12-month wait-period for crowns, bridges, orthodontics and dentures.
Lastly, once retired, your Tricare catastrophic cap rises to $3,000.00/family per fiscal year. The catastrophic cap is your maximum out-of-pocket expense for Tricare covered benefits. Here, the key is Tricare covered benefits. If in doubt – ask!
This has been a whirl-wind through the healthcare benefit structure. If you need further guidance or would like to schedule a one-on-one consultation to discuss your particular situation in more detail, call a MOAA Benefits Counselor at 1.800.234.6622.
Finally, for those readers in career transition who have served as officers in any branch of the armed forces and are located in the greater Washington, D.C. area, The West Point Society of DC’s annual Military Officer Job Fair will be held on December 6 from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm at the Waterford Reception Center in Springfield, Virginia. For the second consecutive year, MOAA is assisting in the promotion of this job fair, which will be open to all military officers regardless of commissioning source or branch of service. There is no charge to attend and no pre-registration is required. For more details, please see http://www.wpsdc.org and follow the links to career networking night. Thanks for reading and happy holidays, Jim Carman, MOAA Transition Center Director.

Team Rubicon

There are very few organizations or people in the world that do truly wonderful things without any expectation of recognition of personal reward.  Team Rubicon is one of the magnificent few.

Team Rubicon is a Disaster Response Veteran Service Organization.  As in responding to disasters in places like the typhoon wracked islands of the Philippines, Haiti, Chile, Burma, Pakistan, Sudan, and in the United States.  They are a growing group of dedicated veterans who bring the skills they learned in uniform (things like flexibility, teamwork, leadership, work ethic, dedication, sense of duty and commitment to duty) to a new form of warfare: fighting against the disasters that ravage communities and threaten the lives of innocent men, women, and children.

They are incredibly agile, and are often among the first relief and assistance agencies to hit the ground.  The credit for such agility is the committed deployability of the members of the team; they have all answered the call to arms for their nation and in doing so have become incredibly motivated, proactive, and prepared to grab their gear and catch a flight to wherever in the world disaster strikes.

Today they are conducting Operation SEABIRD in the Philippines at the same time that Operation HONEST ABE is underway to help with the damage wrought by the tornadoes that blew through the region this past weekend. To say that they do amazing work is an understatement of epic proportions.  They are the best our country has to offer, continuing to serve after hanging up the cloth of the nation.

My hat’s off to them.

To learn more, go to their website.  Also, here is a link to a great story in Stars and Stripes.

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!

Orders to Nowhere: The Book!

Coming soon!  The launch date is expected by be no later than November 10th, but hopefully sooner. I’ll post a note as soon as it goes live.

Written over the two years of navigating the often frustrating and always confusing waters of military transition, Orders to Nowhere is finally available in print!

Orders to Nowhere is the essential insider’s guide to military transition.  Demystifying the uncertainty and ambiguity that surrounds getting out of the military, Orders to Nowhere is the comprehensive After Action Report of a career Marine’s transition from the tightly knit military world back to civilianhood.

Tens of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen transition back into the civilian world each and every year. The change from life in uniform to life beyond the military is a significant emotional event for everyone who experiences it. Hanging up your uniform for the last time isn’t easy, and Orders to Nowhere was written to help explain the overwhelming process and make it easier for military members planning to get out, while they are in the midst of transition, or after they become veterans.

Mike Grice is an award winning writer, retired career Marine, and intrepid explorer of the military transition process.  Orders to Nowhere is the journal of his experiences , but it is also the story of every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman who takes off the cloth of the nation and goes back to civilian life.  Written during the author’s adventure through the trials and tribulations of transition, Orders to Nowhere eases the pain by giving an inside look at the widely varied aspects of military to civilian transformation.  Things like:

 -making the decision to hang up the uniform
– telling your boss that you are getting out
– the administration and logistics of moving on
– the emotional roller coaster of transition 
– effects on family
– transition decorum and ceremonies 
– the details of military retirement benefits
– transition assistance classes
– dealing with the Veterans Administration
– VA disability claims
– the Post 9/11 GI Bill
– finding a job
– how to dress like a professional
– writing a resume and cover letter
– networking
– interviewing for a job
– salary and benefits negotiation 
– adjusting to civilian life
– and much, much more

The book contains over 160 lessons learned and recommendations that can help anyone going through the military to civilian transition avoid making costly mistakes.  The path back to “normal” life is anything but normal, and Orders to Nowhere is the traveler’s guide that every member of the military and veteran needs to ease the pain of the journey.

A must for every man and woman in uniform to help make transition as smooth as possible!

Finally settling your VA claim, part 2: what it means to your bank account

My VA claim was finally settled a month ago after about two years of waiting.  I know it was settled because the VA sent me a very nice letter saying that it was, and along with my final disability rating came a brief paragraph that indicated that I would be receiving a settlement check from both the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) as well as the VA.  Intriguing, thought I.  What exactly did that mean, and more importantly for my bank account, how much money were we talking about?

The way that the system is supposed to work is that you receive any compensation related to your disability rating beginning the day after you leave the military.  That payment is supposed to come directly from the VA, and DFAS should have nothing to do with it.  Except for a couple of cases…

…like mine.

In my case, I received no VA compensation until my case was partially adjudicated some ten months after the claim was filed.  During that time I was receiving my full military pension.

On the tenth month of the life of my disability claim the VA made a partial determination in my case.  They rated me at a low level for a few conditions, but they needed to conduct more examinations to determine if I was eligible for a higher rating.  The bottom line was that now I was eligible to receive some compensation from the VA.

Great!

The devil is always in the details, however, and instead of receiving a check on top of my pension the military deducted the amount of my VA compensation from my pension.  The VA then did send me a check, but for the same amount that was deducted from my pension.  Pretty much a zero sum game, except that the VA compensation is tax free.  Here is an explanation of how it works from a previous post:

Let’s say that you receive a disability rating that results in a payment from the VA of $100.  That $100 is not added to your check for a total of $1600.  Instead, $100 of the $1500 that was paid by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) is now paid by the VA, so the total pension amount stays the same.  What changes is how the taxes are computed.

Now you have $1400 that is taxable, which results in a slightly lower tax bill.  Here is the math:

$1400 x 20% = $280 in taxes.

$1400 (from DFAS) + $100 (from the VA) = $1500 (which is your pension amount).

$1500 (pension + VA Disability) – $280 (taxes) = $1220.

Sooooo…..as a retiree you get an extra twenty bucks in your monthly check.  If you are not a retiree, however, you get the full $100.

In my case, I received the partial claim amount until my claim was settled a whole year later.  Now I became eligible for not only the full VA compensation amount, but also a check that amounts to all of the compensation that I would have been paid had my claim been settled the day I left active duty.  In other words, the VA would write me a check for the full amount of compensation I was eligible for, minus the money that I had already received.  Here is an example of how that works (following the previous example):

To keep things simple, I will use $100 as the partial claim compensation amount and $200 as the final compensation amount.  My claim took 22 months to complete, with a partial settlement issued at month ten.  The math looks like this:

Total amount of VA compensation that the veteran should receive in this case is computed by multiplying the number of months eligible times the final compensation amount, as follows: $200 x 22 = $4400.

The amount of VA compensation that the veteran has received to this point is computed by subtracting the number of months he or she received compensation from the total months eligible, and then multiplying that number by the partial settlement compensation amount, as follows:  22 – 10 = 12 months: 12 x $100 = $1200.

Now that we know how much the total amount of compensation the veteran is eligible for ($4400) and the amount of compensation that he or she has already received ($1000), we can determine the settlement amount from the VA by subtracting the amount received from the total amount:  $4400 – $1200 = $3200.

So the veteran will receive a tax free check for $3200.  Sweet!

But wait, there’s more…

For those veterans who are retired from the military, they are owed the same back pay as shown above, but in addition DFAS is required to pay back the taxes collected on the back pay.  For every month that you should have received a payment from the VA but didn’t, that amount was taxed.  Since VA compensation is tax free, you are due the taxes that you paid.  It is calculated as follows:

From the problem above, you are about to receive a check for $3200 from the VA.  DFAS has already deducted the taxes for the first $1200, but has not done so for the remaining $3200.  In effect, you have been paid that amount and been taxed on it, so DFAS needs to cut you a check for the taxes (assuming a 20% tax rate as used in the problem above): $3200 x 20% = $640.  Unfortunately, since you are retired and not simply out of the service you don’t get $3200.  You get $640.  Not as sweet, but still a nice chunk of change. 

But wait, there is still more!

In cases where your disability compensation rating is 50% or more, you are eligible for Concurrent Receipt of VA Compensation and Retired Pay through a program known as CRDP (Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay — to learn more about the nuts and bolts of the program follow this link).  Concurrent receipt means that you receive checks from both DFAS and the VA, and that you are entitled to the full amount of eligibility from both.  Now the numbers are quite different when you calculate them using the numbers above:

Since you are eligible to receive both checks, you will receive your full settlement check from the VA as well as back pay for the pension amount that was deducted and replaced by the monthly VA claim amount, less taxes on that amount.  Sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. The math looks like this:  (Full VA settlement amount) $3200 + (Pension amount deducted and replaced by the VA) $1200 – (taxes on the pension amount deducted and replaced by the VA) $640 = $3760.

If your brain hurts, that’s ok.  The bottom line is that the DFAS and the VA are sending you a check that will cover the cost of whole lot of aspirin.

Another “plan” to reduce retired veteran benefits

I wrote about not long ago about the government’s strong desire to reduce the health insurance benefit for military retirees.  The subject has reared its ugly head again with a renewed attack on retirees who are enrolled in TRICARE, the health care system for military members, their families, and retirees.

As reported in the Marine Corps Times yesterday (you can read the whole article here), Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, proposed that “working age” retirees should not be able to utilize TRICARE as their primary health care system but instead should be required to use their employer’s plan instead.  TRICARE would only be used as a secondary or backup plan.

Although the proposal is a long way from being written into legislation, it is a strong indicator that veterans are choice targets in the DOD’s battle of the budget.  Should it become law, though, it will be a significant blow to the 1.6 million veteran retirees who are currently enrolled in TRICARE but have not yet reached age 65.

Interestingly, the issue is one that impacts the Department of Defense and not the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is why the SecDef is pushing for the change.  Most benefits for veterans are covered by the VA, but in the case of retirees it is the DOD that pays the bills.  A retiree’s pension comes from the same place that it did when he or she was still in uniform: the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.  TRICARE, the military and retiree health plan, is also covered by the DOD’s budget.

And Chuck Hagel doesn’t like that very much.

The DOD continues to bang the drum of readiness, and as happens at the end of every war the organization focuses inwards to guard as much of the fiscal pie as possible from those who demand that the post-war military machine shrink in response to the wars no longer being fought.

I find that to be as normal as dawn follows darkness, but I also find the scapegoating of retirees to be a bit insulting.  It is OK for the military to squander $34 million on a useless headquarters in Afghanistan that the military commanders on the ground didn’t even want, but it is not OK for the Department of Defense to honor its commitment to those who dedicate decades of their lives to the defense of the nation.  Instead of conducting a thorough and critical review of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent (and often squandered) on defense equipment and service contracts Hagel finds it easier to go after those who actually went into harm’s way than the connected and powerful  who never left the comfort of their own living rooms.

It is an example of the oddly twisted thinking that pervades governmental agencies, and in my opinion it is just as hypocritical as the administration pushing to subsidize healthcare costs for members of congress and their staffs while ignoring small business’s pleas for relief from the costly requirements.

Anyhow, if having my promised access to health care is cut as an expedient to allow the DOD to keep squandering the taxpayer’s dollar, then so be it.

All I ask is for every military recruiter from every branch of service to explain to every prospective recruit and officer candidate that the benefits that they are being promised in exchange for the opportunity to risk their lives are not really promises.

They’re just part of the honorless practice of bait and switch.  I had always thought that we, as a nation, were better than that.

Sadly, I guess not.

The things you don’t expect: life out of uniform is not as easy as you might think!

This morning I literally ran into a friend of mine as I was out pounding the pavement on my daily jog.  He was returning from his morning run and I was just heading out on mine, so we stopped for a few minutes and catch up on things.

We chatted about this and that, and before long we were comparing life in uniform to life after you hang your uniform up.  In addition to the obvious differences, like being able to sleep late, grow your hair, and go for a run without wearing an obnoxiously annoying reflective belt, there are some that become apparent only when you need to get something done.

One of the tremendous strengths of the military is that many of the mundane, yet annoying, aspects of life are taken care of for you.  Things like food (which sits waiting for you to start eating at chowhalls on every base) and clothes (with uniforms being issued and a clothing allowance to help defray the cost to replace them) and administration (with clerks waiting to solve any problems you may have with your pay and allowances).  These things are taken care of so that warfighters can devote their time and efforts on the mission of preparing for and fighting our nation’s battles and winning our country’s wars.

Not so much in the civilian world.  Those things get done by one person.

You.

Although it may seem obvious that you will need to take care of all of these things (and more) yourself, it is not so simple.  What I was not really prepared for was the amount of time that I had to dedicate to taking care of all of those mundane little ankle biting tasks that civilians have been dealing with their whole lives.  Where before things like pay problems and meals seemed to take care of themselves I now found myself spending hours at the bank and the grocery store because otherwise my family and I would be broke and hungry.  Suddenly there was nobody around to deal with those things but me.

Civilians are used to it.  They cook their own meals because there are no chowhalls in suburbia.  They go shopping and buy their own clothes, which can be quite daunting when you consider that military folks have been wearing the same shoes and combat boots and dress uniforms for decades. When they have a problem with their paychecks or vacation days they get to go deal with it themselves because there is no First Sergeant or Sergeant Major or Chief Petty Officer hanging around the office to deal with such matters.

One of the things that comes with hanging up your uniform is freedom.  Freedom from people in different uniforms (or no uniforms at all) shooting at you as well as from people in your own uniform yelling at you and waking you up in the middle of the night.  With that freedom, however, comes responsibility for yourself in a way that has not been a critical part of your life since you first swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

Now you have to do all of those little annoying ankle-biting things that everybody else in the civilian world does.  And let me tell you, it takes some getting used to because everything takes a lot longer than you think it should and there is nobody there to tell you the right or wrong way to do things.  Just like you once learned how to become a successful Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine you must now learn how to become a successful civilian.

This time, though, you don’ t have a Drill Instructor “mentoring” you along.  You also don’t have a platoon of bald and nervous friends learning the ropes with you.  This time you get to figure it all out on your own.  But, all things considered, it isn’t bad.  It’s just a little surprising.

And really annoying.

Good luck!

Retired Veterans as a “Special Interest” group

As a uniform wearing member of the United States Armed Forces I viewed politics and the special interests that shape them as interesting, but largely irrelevant to my chosen profession.  By law and regulation I could not actively participate in politics; I could not wear my uniform to political events (not that I would have), and if I expressed any disdainful remarks about our elected officials I would have certainly followed in the flaming death spiral of General McChrystal after his disparaging remarks about the administration went public in that scion of popular culture: Rolling Stone magazine.

Once I hung my uniform up for the last time, however, those things that I found to be interesting and irrelevant became fascinating and important.  Suddenly, I was a member of a “Special Interest” group.  I became a retired veteran.

Suddenly, instead of taking what came my way with a smile or a shudder (depending on what it was) I could make some decisions and express my opinion about things and issues.  I could write this very blog and be critical of agencies and entities that I believe are not working in the best interest of veterans, and no commanding officer or general could haul me into his office and existentially threaten my career.

I am not a muckraker by nature, but I have no problem occasionally rocking the boat by writing about things and expressing my opinion about them.

That brings me to today’s post.  Earlier this week I received a newsletter that the Marine Corps mails out to all of us retirees. It contains lots of useful information, such as contact information for various offices and a checklist for my wife to follow when I die to make sure that all of the paperwork associated with my demise is properly completed.  It is a very factual and straightforward periodical.

The focus of this particular issue is TRICARE.  TRICARE, for those who are unfamiliar with the term,, is the medical care system for active duty and retired military members and their families.  The long and short of it is that active duty personnel and their families can receive medical care for free, but once you retire you are entitled to continue receiving care but you have to pay for it.

The cost of TRICARE is low in comparison to other plans, to be sure.  It is not a panacea, however.  It is a secondary or backup plan, so if you or your spouse has insurance through your job that plan comes first and TRICARE kicks in after that. You must submit co-pays for office visits and for prescriptions.  You must pick a doctor from an eligible list of providers.  It is a health care plan like most others, really, but not the golden egg as portrayed by the media.

TRICARE is insurance for vets and their families.  The VA provides healthcare for vets based on their service connected conditions, but does not provide services for their families.  So, if a veteran has a spouse and kids he or she needs to enroll in TRICARE to be covered.

In that manner it fit nicely with the Affordable Care Act that was passed in 2010.

In that manner, it was also viewed as a cash cow to subsidize others who did not have health care, with proposed fee hikes of 345% for some TRICARE members.

That, in my humble opinion, is exploiting a population of Americans who served their country, and as a result chose a career that was not as lucrative other pursuits.  A four star general, certainly equivalent to the CEO of a large corporation, makes a little over $200K per year.  How many CEOs of companys that employ thousands and tens of thousands of people make that little?  Scale it down the chain, with most officer making half that much but with the responsibility of leading hundreds and thousands of men and women in combat.  Is a 45 year old Wall Street hedge fund manager going to work for $90K a year and a pension of half that when he retires?  How about $50 or $60 or $70K per year that the majority of military members are making when they retire from service with half of that amount as a pension?

Nope.

Hence the low cost of TRICARE to the veterans and their families.  Military retirees pay an enormous opportunity cost in terms of lifetime earnings and employment possibilities to serve and defend their nation.  TRICARE is part of the remuneration package for those who have dedicated their adult lives to the service of their nation.

That brings me back to the newsletter I received in the mail the other day.  It discusses the proposed hikes in fees that TRICARE will face in the years ahead, and although I won’t personally see a 345% increase in my monthly bill, I will see it more than double.

Nice.  To all of those who complain that I pay to little and that my family and I are somehow getting over on everyone else because we pay low TRICARE premiums, I say that until you pick up a rifle and serve 20+ years in places where people are actively trying to kill you while your family waits at home in fear for your safety your opinion is both meaningless and insulting.  Decades of service in peace in war was the cost of membership in my “Special Interest” group, and if you aren’t a fellow member kindly shut your yap.

Anyhow, that is my opinion.

For what it’s worth.

A continuing test of patience: Yet another update on my VA claim

Well, I woke up early again this morning.  To be honest, I wake up early every morning, but this morning was earlier than most.  I was up at about 0400 (4:00 am for you nonmilitary folks), and the purpose of my early rising was to make yet another call to the Veterans Administration in regards to settlement of my disability claim.  I have learned that the only way to get through to the VA is to call them early before all of the lines are busy and the VA representatives are swamped.

The quick back story for those of you who may not be familiar with the saga of my VA claim, it began in the autumn of 2011 when I was on terminal leave as I was retiring from the Marines.  As a part of my transition from steely eyed killer to middle age and longer grey hair it was necessary for the Veterans Administration to examine me and determine whether or not I had incurred any service related disabilities.

Being rated for disabilities is a big deal because if you have sustained an injury which is chronic or if you have a condition that is directly attributable to your military service, then you are covered medically for that issue by the VA for life.  That is a pretty great benefit these days when you consider skyrocketing medical costs.

So anyhow, I began almost two years ago and have ridden the VA claims rollercoaster ever since.  I was examined and evaluated, and then my paperwork went into the mysterious void that is the VA ratings process.  Some nine months later I received a partial settlement of the claim, with the notification that I needed further evaluations before all of my conditions could be adjudicated.

Six months after that I reported to the clinic for another round of examinations.  At the completion of those exams I was informed that it should take a few weeks to get them into the file and evaluated.

After over two months of fruitless waiting I decided to give them another call, hence my early assault on the coffee pot this morning.

The gentleman I spoke with was very helpful and presented me the facts of my case in a professional and straightforward manner.  It was a very refreshing conversation!

Here is what is up with my case:

My case had run through the initial stages of evidence gathering and evaluation, and had actually made it to the adjudication phase.  It was then that the raters found that they needed more information, so my case was kicked back to gather more evidence that would come from another medical examination of yours truly.

Here is where my stock in the VA representative soared to unprecedented levels because he actually took the time to explain why a second set of exams was needed.  It turns out that when you are treated for an injury or condition, the doctor records the extent of the injury and how it is treated.  That is very relevant information for a health care provider, but the VA disability raters have a different set of responsibilities in terms of medical conditions.  The raters need to compare the injury or condition to a set of standards in order to determine if they are indeed disabling, and if so, just how disabling they are.

The example that the representative shared with me was what is needed for a joint injury (which, after nearly three decades of walking around with heavy things on my back in unseemly places, I had several of).  A doctor wants to cure the patient’s damaged cartilage and bone, and will prescribe medications, physical therapy, and perhaps surgery to alleviate the symptoms and heal the joint.  The VA raters need to know the extent of the damage that the injury or condition has incurred, which is different from trying to cure it.  For a joint injury, the raters need to have a documented range of motion test that the joint is capable of articulating that can be compared to the appropriate standards for a disability determination.  It turns out that very specific information about the condition or injury is necessary in order to rate the disability properly.

So that is why I found myself back in the VA clinic and wearing a modesty-shattering gown and sitting on a chilly paper-covered exam table.

Once the exam was completed, the information was supposed to be sent back to the rater and re-adjudicated in a timely fashion.  Certainly within a couple of months.

After assiduously checking the VA’s ebenefits website for weeks on end and seeing no progress, I decided it was time to pick up the phone and give them a call.

The VA rep was professional and told me the facts of my case as he found them.  He reiterated that my case was still in the gathering evidence phase, but that the results of my most recent examinations had been scanned into my file at the end of March.  The timeline for review of the case is supposed to be less than sixty days, and seeing as it is almost mid-June now that timeline has passed.

The representative offered to initiate an inquiry to the team who is reviewing my case to see what was up, and he said that they will contact me (via email this time) with their response.  Although I have heard that before (from the last inquiry on my case), I will be a glass half full optimist and see if my email inbox “bings” with the sound of an arriving email from the VA.

I won’t hold my breath, but I also won’t complain too much about the VA either.  They really are doing the best that they can in an overwhelming situation as they deal with me and literally millions of other veterans.  I’ll continue to be patient.

And wait.