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.

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!

Patience

I just had lunch with a friend and colleague who is currently on terminal leave.  He has climbed out of the cockpit for the last time and now he is knee deep in the job hunt.

We had a great conversation about the highs and lows of transition, and it brought out one aspect of the journey from being a uniformed killer to a suit-wearing civilian: it takes time.  Lots and lots of time.  And, to reach a happy destination at the end of that journey, it requires patience.

Lots and lots of patience.

Patience to work through the Veterans Administration’s bureaucracy for things like the GI Bill, medical examinations, and the excruciatingly long disability claims process.

Patience to find out what you want to do with the rest of your life.  Once you take your uniform cap off for the last time something happens to your brain, and suddenly the things that you thought would be easy (like getting a sweet job, going back to college, moving back home) are dauntingly hard.

So this is a quick post on the importance of patience.  Even though the trials and tribulations of your transition are unique to you, there are tens of thousands of people just like you going through the same thing.  Those who are the most successful are those who are patient.

A smart person once said that with patience comes wisdom, and that person was right.  A certain way to be unhappy is to jump on the first job that comes your way, because it most likely is not what you really want to do.  Following the quick and easy path to a college or school with a dubious reputation will result in your GI Bill benefits being flushed down the proverbial toilet because once they are gone you can never get them back and use them at a more reputable university that takes a little work to get into.

Patience is a virtue, even though it is very painful at times.  So stick it out, hold to your goals and dreams, and keep moving towards them.  Don’t give up and take the easier path — you’ll regret it later.

Trust me.

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!

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.

 

Calling the VA. Again.

In theory, I have undergone all of the physical examinations, evaluations, pokings, and proddings that are part and parcel of transitioning from Active Duty to becoming a veteran.  After over a dozen trips to various clinics and hospitals at the end of my time in uniform and during my first year or so of post-military life I have been informed that all of my examinations are complete.  To make sure that they were all indeed finished, I logged into the VA website regularly to see if my status had changed.

To my utter lack of surprise, it didn’t.  Growing tired of logging in and viewing at an unchanging screen on the VA’s eBenefits webpage, I looked forlornly at the telephone on my desk and resigned myself to another early morning attempt to get through to the VA.

So, early the next morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and staggered into my office.  I punched in the VA’s telephone number, and much to my surprise (not really) found that even though it was a couple of hours before the rooster would crow (on the West coast, at least), all operators were busy.  I was, however, offered the option of having a VA representative call me back the following week at a time that would be convenient for me.

I figured that the following Monday at about 0900 was convenient enough, so I hung up and waited for the weekend to pass.

It did, and sure enough my phone rang at about 0905, with a live human being on the other end!  Very exciting indeed.  After providing my social security number and other identifying information, the nice lady on the other end asked how she could help me.  Although deep down I didn’t think that there was much help to be had, I asked anyway.

“Can you tell me the status of my case?”

After a few moments of furious typing on the other end of the line, my VA friend replied:

“It’s under review.”

Which is exactly where it has been for nearly nine months.

We talked for a few minutes, and then I hung up.  In order to spare you from the rather boring conversation, I’ll just cover what she had to say.

1.  All of my examinations are complete.  That said, if they find something that they need to look into I will again be headed off to the examination clinic.

2.  My results are somewhere between the clinic and my case file.  Even though it has been nearly two months since my last exams, the results have not made it to my case team.  Not surprising, but still disappointing.

3.  Once my team receives my results, they will merge them with my file and put it in the queue.  When my file comes to the top of the pile they will evaluate it and let me know the result.

How long will that take, I asked?

“Nine to twelve months.”

Sigh.  Good thing I’m not in a rush.