Tips on How to Obtain VA Benefits

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By Catherine Cornell, Attorney – The Veterans Practice, Ltd.

Let’s take things back to basics: what makes a good VA disability compensation claim? VA disability is like worker’s compensation for veterans.  When hurt on active duty, veterans can get VA compensation, just as a civilian worker could get worker’s compensation if hurt on the job.

This sounds simple, but the process can be trickier than you might think.

If not handled correctly from the outset, a compensation claim could be denied, possibly leaving the veteran mired in the appeals process for years. Yes, that’s right. Years.

The following tips can help veterans avoid the delay and frustration of a denial and have a better chance of obtaining VA benefits from the outset.

  1. Understand what’s required for the claim. Basically, VA compensation requires the veteran to show he has the condition he is claiming, usually through a doctor’s diagnosis. The veteran must also prove an in-service incident or injury caused the condition or that it showed up for the first time in service. That’s usually done with the help of a medical professional. Finally, in most cases the veteran needs to prove the incident, injury, or the manifestation of the condition actually occurred by using service records, buddy statements, newspaper articles or other proof. Other VA benefits, such as unemployability, have different requirements. There can also be other proof required depending on the time period and location of service. Veterans should carefully research what’s needed for a specific benefit, or get help from a veterans service officer. Many of those officers can be found in each state’s VA regional office.
  2. Don’t claim un-winnable conditions. After veterans nail down requirements for specific claims, they may realize a certain condition is not worth claiming. For example, a back injury from a car accident after service will not lead to VA compensation. Veterans should save time and possible frustration by not claiming disabilities that are clearly not service connected.
  3. Be proactive. The VA has a duty to assist veterans in obtaining information that might establish compensation claims. However, the reality is that the VA is overwhelmed, so it’s in the veteran’s best interests to gather as much evidence as possible for the claim herself.
  4. Use the correct forms. For example, the form for a new claim is different than the one needed to appeal a claim that was denied. The same goes for a veteran seeking unemployability benefits. The VA has forms for almost everything and they can generally be found on the Internet. If the correct form isn’t used, a claim can be delayed or rejected.
  5. Get military records. If a veteran doesn’t already have a complete copy of his Official Military Personnel File, he should request it, usually from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The military file might contain helpful evidence to prove claims. Again, the VA has a duty to help obtain records to establish claims, but the veteran is best served by taking an active role in this process.
  6. Send in evidence with the claim. After a veteran gathers all the evidence and information possible, it should be sent in with the claim.  Helpful evidence may include: service and medical records; witness statements; private doctor statements; and any additional information or documentation that might help the VA make a favorable decision faster.
  7. Show up to VA exams. If the claim has merit, the VA will likely schedule a Compensation and Pension exam. That’s when a VA examiner meets with the veteran and renders an opinion on the likelihood that the claimed condition did stem from service, and the degree to which the condition is disabling. If a veteran doesn’t show up for the exam without re-scheduling it, the VA may deny the claim.
  8. Know what the VA exam is about. Often veterans submit claims for many conditions but are then scheduled for just one exam. Don’t go in blind. Contact the VA to ask what the exam will cover. That way the veteran can be prepared to explain the condition and how it resulted from service.
  9. Don’t miss deadlines or fail to respond. After getting a claim, the VA might send additional forms for the veteran to fill out or ask for clarification of a claim and set a deadline to respond. If a veteran lets these forms go or misses a deadline the VA might issue a denial.
  10. Don’t give up. The VA process can be wildly confusing and frustrating. Despite best efforts to send in correct forms and supportive evidence, compensation claims are often still denied. Veterans shouldn’t be afraid to seek help from knowledgeable people if necessary and, above all, shouldn’t give up on the benefits they deserve.

Mitsubishi Motors Introduces Team ‘Record the Journey’ for 2021 Rebelle Rally

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Selena “Mason” Converse and Erin Mason are sisters-in-law, wives, mothers and combat veterans, and they are two-thirds of Mitsubishi Motors’ 2021 Rebelle Rally entry.

They’ll be joined in their 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander on the nine-day, 2000-km, all-women off-road navigational rally by Sammy, Mason’s two-and-a-half-year-old German Shepherd, the first service dog ever to compete in the Rebelle.

Altogether, Mason, Erin and Sammy are Team #207, representing Record the Journey (RTJ), a military veterans charity dedicated to helping service members successfully transition to civilian life, and advocating for PTSD awareness.

“Mitsubishi Motors’ participation in the Rebelle Rally is first and foremost about our partnership with Record the Journey and supporting Rachael Ridenour and the charity she founded to help military veterans,” said Mark Chaffin, Chief Operating Officer, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (MMNA). “This year, in addition to supporting two veterans who honorably served, we’re breaking ground with Mason and Erin competing with Sammy to raise awareness for PTSD and the potentially life-saving work that trained service dogs do. We couldn’t be more proud to see the three of them in their 2022 Outlander, and celebrating one of Mitsubishi Motors’ most significant Dakar wins.”

MMNA and RTJ have broken new ground at the Rebelle each year and are poised to do it again. Starting in 2019 – when the brand first partnered with RTJ as part of MMNA’s “Small Batch – Big Impact” social-good program – Team RTJ finished second in the Rebelle’s CUV class with the event’s first ever adaptive athlete – U.S. Air Force veteran Karah Behrend – at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

In 2020, MMNA and RTJ marked another first for the Rebelle, competing in a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle ever to complete the grueling multi-day event. This year, MMNA and RTJ will again make history in the wilds of Nevada and Southern California, when Sammy will become the first four-footed Rebelle.

“Record the Journey couldn’t be more grateful for the support that Mitsubishi Motors and our other partners have provided to enable military veterans to have this life-changing – and life-affirming – experience,” said retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major and RTJ Founder Ridenour. “And this year is particularly important, as Sammy joins Mason and Erin to bring focus to PTSD and the important role that service dogs play for our returning heroes.”

MMNA recently shared a rendering of the vehicle that will carry Erin, Mason and Sammy through the 2021 Rebelle Rally October 7-16. The Outlander’s special paint scheme pays tribute to a history-making Dakar Rally win twenty years ago, when Jutta Kleinschmidt drove a Mitsubishi Pajero to victory in 2001, becoming the only woman ever to win the world-famous Dakar. This was only one of Mitsubishi’s 12 overall wins in the world’s most rugged motorsport competition, and the first of seven in a row.

Navigator: Erin Mason

Erin Mason smiling wearing uniform

Military Info:
Branch Served –
United States Navy
Job Title – Aviation Structural Mechanic
Brief Job Description – Maintained aircraft airframe and structural components including flight surfaces and controls. Responsible for inspections, fabrication and repairs.
Years Served – 4
Deployments – 2 – Flight deck, USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal, Red Sea, as well as the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea
Duty Stations – Naval Air Station Oceana
Last Rank Earned – E-4 Petty Officer

Personal Info:
Hometown –
Wildomar, CA

Current Residence – Quitman, TX

Age – 32
Marital Status – Married, 7 yrs.

Number of Children – 2

Current Job – Owner & Farmer, Mason Wholesale Greenhouses – Plant Nursery Airport; Manager, Collins Field Regional Airport

 

Driver: Selena “Mason” Converse

Selena "Mason" Converse

Military Info:
Branch Served
– United States Air Force

Job Title – Emergency Medical Services Technician – EMT
Brief Job Description – Provided emergency medical care in both combat and non-combat situations. Instructed EMT Certification Courses (NREMT) for incoming Air Force Medics and Navy Corpsman.
Years Served – 12.75 yrs.
Deployments – 1 – Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

Duty Stations – MacDill Air Force Base (Florida), Grand Forks AFB (North Dakota), Mountain Home AFB (Idaho), Fort Sam Houston (Texas)
Last Rank Earned – E-6 Technical Sergeant

Personal Info:

Hometown – Quitman, TX

Current Residence – Hurricane, UT

Age – 37
Marital Status – Married, 17 yrs.

Number of Children – 3

Current Job – Owner of Mason Converse Media. MCM Provides Off-Road / Adventure Photo & Video Content Creation, as well as social media services for off-road, adventure, and travel/tourism companies.

 

Service Dog: Sammy

Sammy the dog smiling

 

Breed – German Shepherd

Color – Black
Age – 2.75 yrs.
Birthplace – Colorado
Service Dog Type – PTSD
Services Provided – Guarding/Protection Alerts, Anxiety Regulation, Night Terror Management, and Social Situation Guide Tasks.

Preferred Pastime When Not Working: Non-stop Frisbee!

Service Dog Info:

https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/ptsd-service-dog-tasks/

In addition to honoring the 20th anniversary of Kleinschmidt’s momentous win, MMNA is also celebrating the brand’s 40th anniversary in the United States this year.

Alongside Mitsubishi Motors North America, Ally Financial, Inc., BFGoodrich Tires, Nextbase Dash Cams and Vision Wheel are partnering with Team RTJ this year, and Skout’s Honor Pet Supply Co. is providing special support to Sammy.

About Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.
Through a network of approximately 330 dealer partners across the United States, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc., (MMNA) is responsible for the sales, marketing and customer service of Mitsubishi Motors vehicles in the U.S. MMNA was the top-ranked Japanese brand in the J.D. Power 2021 Initial Quality Study. In its Environmental Targets 2030, MMNA’s parent company Mitsubishi Motors Corporation has set a goal of a 40 percent reduction in the CO2 emissions of its new cars by 2030 through leveraging EVs — with PHEVs as the centerpiece — to help create a sustainable society.

With headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, and corporate operations in California, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and Virginia, MMNA directly and indirectly employs more than 8,000 people across the United States.

For more information on Mitsubishi vehicles, please contact the Mitsubishi Motors News Bureau at 615- 257-2698 or visit media.mitsubishicars.com.

Helping Other Vets Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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man lying down on pillow with breathing device attached to nose

By Annie Nelson, Founder, American Soldier Network

Throughout my life, I have been blessed to befriend some amazing men and women in military communities. They often do not just serve our nation while on active duty, but continue to do so long after they hang up their uniforms. Many of them strive to support their fellow veterans with their free time, some through their employers, and still others as entrepreneurs who create new businesses that serve our nation.

I was fortunate to recently interview two of those veterans who are successful entrepreneurs – Scott Brauer a retired Navy SEAL, and Mark Holtzapple, PhD, a professor at Texas A&M. They have partnered up on a new business called NozeSealTM that addresses sleep apnea, a growing critical health concern for active-duty members, veterans, their families and friends.

I sat down with Scott and Mark to ask them a few questions about their latest endeavor below:

Annie Nelson: Scott, why is sleep apnea such a hot topic?

Brauer: Annie, there are over 25 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea, and likely another 10 million undiagnosed. The situation has been getting worse, especially within the military. A recent study shows that since 2005, there is a 30-fold increase in active-duty military members diagnosed with sleep apnea. In general, sleep disorders originate from a wide range of common issues found in the veteran community, such as sleep deprivation, chronic stress, depression, anxiety, pain, tinnitus, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), toxic pollution, emotional trauma, substance abuse and even substance withdrawal.

Nelson: What are the health impacts of sleep apnea?

Brauer: Poor sleep leads to many negative health effects, such as obesity, depression, irritability, high blood pressure, diabetes, lower sex drive, suppressed immune function, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. New studies are emphasizing the negative effects of sleep apnea on the health of the heart and the brain. A recent study showed that patients with severe, untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) had a significant increase in the number of both fatal and non-fatal cardiac events. The risk factor was nearly 3 times higher than normal! A key intervention for patients with severe OSA is treatment with positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy for greater than 4 hours per night, which significantly reduces incidences of fatal or non-fatal cardiovascular events.

Nelson: What are the challenges with PAP therapy?

women holding up attached large breathing device
The old way to sleep. Photo: Igor Kraguljac, DP Cinematographer & Photographer

Brauer: Frankly, it can be a nightmare for many. The most frequently reported reason for discontinuing PAP therapy are side effects – leaks, discomfort and pain, facial marks and rashes, hair damage, anxiety and claustrophobia – which are experienced by approximately two-thirds of PAP users. By far, the most common complaint is leaks. Patients attempt to correct leaks by over-tightening the straps holding the mask in place, leading to the other side effects previously mentioned. Additionally, the PAP device compensates for leaks with higher air flow rates, which reduces nasal humidity contributing to nasal irritation, dryness and congestion. Leaking masks can cause eye irritation, infections and even swallowing air from increased PAP air pressures. All of these difficulties lead nearly half of those prescribed to use a PAP device to not comply with their doctor’s therapy, often quitting entirely.

Nelson: How can we improve PAP compliance?

Brauer: Results improve significantly by fitting masks properly and modifying a patient’s usual sleep position to reduce leaks. Minimalist masks – like a nasal mask or nasal pillow – can reduce air leakage and diminish claustrophobia. To improve comfort, seals and quietness, manufacturers continue to develop innovations for PAP masks and comfort accessories that minimize contact. Some of these innovative solutions include new nasal pillows, cushions, liners, wraps and accessories that eliminate headgear.

Nelson: Mark, what led you to invent NozeSeal?

Holtzapple: On my honeymoon, my wife informed me that I gasp for air in my sleep. Like most spouses, being woken nightly by snoring and gasping does not contribute to a happy marriage. After some prompting from my wife, I took a sleep study. Finally, after some struggles getting a proper diagnosis for sleep apnea, I received a PAP of my own. I quickly learned just how uncomfortable they are. On my second night, frustrated by excessive leaks, I threw my mask against the wall and shattered it!

Fortunately, on the third night, my respiratory therapist gave me a nasal pillow to try. It leaked, but in a manageable way. I invented a way to hold the nasal pillow in place during the night using an adhesive that stuck it to my nose, keeping it in place all night! After many refinements and filing some global patents for our highly engineered, yet simple and elegant solution, the NozeSealTM adhesive strip was born! Since last fall, Scott and I have assembled a terrific team to scale up our business for the many patients who suffer from sleep apnea.

Nelson: What has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?

Holtzapple: Nearly every week, our NozeSeal team gets a new 5-star review like this one:

“I have suffered with uncomfortable CPAP masks for years and have had my sleep destroyed. NozeSeal is the best product on the market. No strap marks or bruises on my nose, no painful magnet attachments, no hair loss from head gear friction and no constant adjustments to eliminate mask air leakage. I can finally sleep in comfort and turn over as often as I need to with ease. I am so happy!!!!”

These heart-felt messages truly inspire us to do our best every day to make a difference in patients struggling with sleep apnea!

Nelson: What can folks expect from NozeSealTM?

Holtzapple: The NozeSealTM adhesive strip is easy-to-use, inexpensive and compatible with any commercially available nasal pillow. We are blessed to deliver on our motto: “No Leaks, No Straps, Just a Great Night’s Sleep.” Please try one of our trial packs!

Just a few months ago, I learned of a young USMC veteran, married with a wife and young children. One day he was at the Houston Astro’s baseball game and the very next morning, he never woke up. He had passed away from sleep apnea. This is a silent killer, one to be taken seriously. Men and women alike should not brush it off. I’m thankful we have people like Mark and Scott who are striving to make this condition easier to live and sleep with. To learn more, visit NozeSeal.com.

 

 

Busting 12 Military Benefit Myths

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Don’t know what to believe about transition assistance, Veterans Affairs benefits and entitlements? Click on a myth below to reveal the true story.

Myth #1: After I return from Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom, I need to have my dental work (as part of my VA benefit) completed before the end of the 180-day period.

The Truth: The 180-day period refers to enrolling in the VA and making the dental appointment within 180 days of the Release From Active-Duty date, but you are not required to have all of your dental work completed before 180 days.

Myth #2: If I receive disability compensation from the VA, I will be discharged from the National Guard.

The Truth: You can be a traditional National Guard member and receive VA disability compensation. However, you cannot receive VA compensation for the same time period that you receive military pay. For typical traditional Guard members, this means 63 days of military pay (48 unit training assemblies and 15 annual trainings). Any Active-Duty Operational Support Guard program, readiness management assembly, etc. counts as military pay as well. If you are Active Guard Reserve or mobilized, you will be receiving military pay 24/7, and must stop VA compensation immediately, or you will become indebted to the federal government.

Myth #3: I am receiving 40 percent disability compensation from the VA and have heard that I will be discharged if I am receiving more than 30 percent.

The Truth: Although there is something in the enlistment contract about 30%, that does not apply to you because you are not enlisting. The percentage of disability compensation from the VA does not affect your membership in the National Guard. However, you must pass the physical examination for the NG – “fitness for duty exam or ability to perform your duty” – this is what will determine if you are retainable. And always record accurate information on the Annual Medical Certification. There is a block that asks if you are receiving disability compensation from Social Security, VA, Workers Comp, etc. These are government documents and to give an untrue answer is deemed as committing fraud and then neither the Department of Defense nor VA is going to be chomping at the bit to take care of you.

Myth #4: VA does retirement physicals.

The Truth: They do not. Guard members often confuse the Compensation and Pension Exam as being a retirement physical. However, if there is a VA/DOD Sharing Agreement, the VA Medical Centers may be requested by DOD medical facilities to assist with these service retirement physicals, but these instances are rare. Note: Under the Benefits Delivered at Discharge Program, DOD will accept the VA’s physical as their retirement physical. If the service member has already done a VA Compensation and Pension exam, they can get a copy of it and use it as their retirement physical.

Myth #5: If I am injured in a car accident, my Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection benefits will reduce the amount of my SGLI in the event of my death at a later time.

The Truth: Payment of TSGLI has no impact on the amount of SGLI payable. For example, if a service member is insured for $400,000 of SGLI coverage and receives a TSGLI payment of $50,000 for a traumatic injury, that member is still insured for the full $400,000 of SGLI coverage, which will be paid upon the service member’s death.

Myth #6: As a National Guard member, I heard that my SGLI coverage is only good while I’m at drill.

The Truth: If you are a National Guard member and have been assigned to a unit in which you are scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive duty that is creditable for retirement purposes, full-time SGLI coverage is in effect 365 days of the year. You are also covered for 120 days following separation or release from duty.

Myth #7: I cannot go to the VA Hospital for a service-connected problem because I have private health insurance.

The Truth: You may enroll with the Department of Veteran Affairs for health care benefits regardless of your private health insurance plan. You may, depending upon the circumstances, have to make a co-payment for treatment for non-service-connected conditions. Your private insurance may be billed for non-service conditions as well.

Myth #8: If I am a service member returning from theater and do not have a job, I am not eligible for Unemployment Compensation.

The Truth: Although the Unemployment Compensation benefit varies among states, you may be eligible in your state for unemployment insurance. Usually, the states provide these temporary wage replacement benefits to qualified individuals who are out of work through no fault of their own. Check it out, and also check your state benefits, which may include employment benefits and job placement assistance, too.

Myth #9: I need to pay enrollment fees to take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The Truth: There are no enrollment fees to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Myth #10: If I file for my VA compensation, then I have automatically enrolled in the VA Healthcare System.

The Truth: The process to apply for VA compensation is separate from the process to enroll in the health care system. To enroll, you must complete a 10-10EZ and submit it in person, online or via the mail to your nearest VA hospital. It must be signed before you submit it. It is also wise to have a copy of your DD214 to verify your active-duty status and theater of deployment for combat vet eligibility for enhanced health care and other benefits. Additionally, if you submitted your military medical records with your disability claim, it is not available to the hospital. For VA health care enrollment, it is also necessary to bring copies of any of your medical records so that they can be scanned into the VA’s VISTA electronic record system.

Myth #11: Service members and their families are not eligible for Pre-activation Benefits (Early Eligibility) TRICARE.

The Truth: Guard and family members are eligible once the service member receives mobilization alert orders, is within 90 days of deployment and all are currently enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. Special note: if you think there is a possibility that you may be found not fit for duty, you should keep your civilian health insurance until you are found fit for duty. Remember that when you return from this deployment, you are eligible for six months of the TRICARE Transitional Assistance Management Program for your and your family’s health care needs. (Enrollment is not automatic – see your Reserve Component Transition Assistance Advisor or TRICARE representative for details.) VA health care covers only veterans for five years from the REFRAD date.

Myth #12: I am enrolled in the TRICARE health care program and am automatically covered for dental care.

The Truth: Enrollment in TRICARE does not cover your dental care. The TRICARE Dental Program is offered by the Department of Defense and you must purchase this benefit from United Concordia, which administers the program. Learn more at TRICARE dental.

Getting Help for Combat Stress

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Young depressed military man talking about emotional problems with psychotherapist at doctor's office

Learning to recognize the signs of combat stress in yourself, another service member or a family member who has returned from a war zone can help you call on the right resources to begin the healing process.

Combat stress and stress injuries

Combat stress is the natural response of the body and brain to the stressors of combat, traumatic experiences and the wear and tear of extended and demanding operations. Although there are many causes and signs of combat stress, certain key symptoms are common in most cases:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Uncharacteristic irritability or angry outbursts
  • Unusual anxiety or panic attacks
  • Signs of depression such as apathy, changes in appetite, loss of interest in hobbies or activities or poor hygiene
  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, nausea, diarrhea or constipation
  • Other changes in behavior, personality or thinking

Combat stress sometimes leads to stress injuries, which can cause physical changes to the brain that alter the way it processes information and handles stress.

You should be aware of the following when dealing with a stress injury:

  • Stress injuries can change the way a person functions mentally, emotionally, behaviorally and physically.
  • The likelihood of having a combat stress injury rises as combat exposure increases.
  • The earlier you identify the signs of a stress injury, the faster a full recovery can occur.
  • If left untreated, a stress injury may develop into more chronic and hard-to-treat problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • There is no guaranteed way to prevent or protect yourself from a stress injury, but there are things you can do to help yourself and others recover.

Stress reactions

Different people handle stress — and combat stress — differently, and it’s not clear why one person may have a more severe reaction than another.

Here’s what you need to know about stress reactions:

  • Stress reactions can last from a few days to a few weeks to as long as a year.
  • Delayed stress reactions can surface long after a traumatic incident or extended exposure to difficult conditions has occurred.
  • An inability to adapt to everyday life after returning from deployment can be a reaction to combat stress.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is suffering from a combat stress injury, it is important to get professional help as soon as possible. Reach out to one of the following resources if you have symptoms of combat stress or stress injury, or if you are experiencing severe stress reactions:

  • Combat Stress Control Teams provide on-site support during deployment.
  • Your unit chaplain may offer counseling and guidance on many issues that affect deployed or returning service members and their families.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has readjustment counseling for combat veterans and their families, including those still on active duty, at community-based Vet Centers.
  • TRICARE provides medical counseling services either at a military treatment facility or through a network provider in your area. Contact your primary care manager or your regional TRICARE office for a referral.
  • The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence provides free resources on traumatic brain injury to help service members, veterans, family members and health care providers. Resources include educational materials, fact sheets, clinical recommendations and much more.
  • Veterans Crisis Line offers confidential support 24/7/365 and is staffed by qualified responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs — some of whom have served in the military themselves. Call 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting to 838255.
  • Non-military support channels such as community-based or religious programs can offer guidance and help in your recovery.

If you are suffering from combat stress, you are not alone. Reach out to get the help and treatment you need to be able to live your life fully.

Source: Military OneSource

The National WWII Museum Celebrates Oldest Living U.S. Veteran on his 112th Birthday

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LAwrence Brooks stands on porch with balloons

Lawrence Brooks, a New Orleans native and the oldest known U.S. veteran of World War II celebrated his 112th birthday at his home on September12, 2021. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing recovery efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Ida,  The National WWII Museum arranged a small, socially distanced birthday celebration with cake, a performance from the Museum’s vocal trio, The Victory Belles, and a Jeep parade courtesy of Kajun Outcast Jeep Club and Northshore Wrangler Association. Entertainment also included the Lawrence Brooks Birthday Band, a collection of local New Orleans musicians presented by the Bucktown All-Stars. The City of New Orleans also issued an official proclamation recognizing his milestone birthday.

Lawrence Brooks, born Sept. 12, 1909, served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion, which was stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines during World War II. He was married to the late Leona B. Brooks and is the father of five children and five step-children. His oral history, recorded by The National WWII Museum, is available here. Last year, Mr. Brooks received more than 21,000 cards from all over the U.S. and abroad wishing him a happy 111th birthday.

Mr. Brooks’ birthday is a significant reminder of those who have served and continue to dedicate their lives to our freedom. The National WWII Museum’s ongoing educational mission is to tell the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL WWII MUSEUM
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that future generations will know the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, the institution celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. For more information on TripAdvisor’s #1 New Orleans attraction, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org.

From Vietnam to Flag Rank – An Asian American Story

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Rear Admiral Huan Nguyen headshot

Rear Adm. Huan Nguyen’s road to an admiral’s star was not a journey for the faint of heart. Arriving in this country as a teenage orphan from Vietnam, he faced an uphill climb. He credits his Asian heritage and community with helping him get to the top.

On Oct. 19, 2019, Nguyen put on a rear admiral’s star, making him the first Vietnamese American to attain flag rank in the U.S. Navy. That October day was a far cry from his roots as a boy in the 1960s, growing up in the South Vietnamese city of Hue at the height of the Vietnam War. His is a story of personal loss and adversity, and the resilience he found in himself through serving his adopted country.

“Growing up in the war zone, it is literally a day-to-day mental attitude,” said Nguyen, who is a Naval Sea Systems Command Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering.

“You never know what is going to happen next. The war is at your doorsteps. Images of gunships firing in the distance, the rumbling of B52 bombings on the countryside, the nightly rocket attacks from the insurgents—it becomes a daily routine. There is so much ugliness in the war and living through a period of intense hatred, I didn’t have any peace of mind.”

Nguyen’s father was an armor officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, making his whole family enemies of the Viet Cong insurgents.

During the 1968 Tet Offensive, his family was attacked in their home. His parents and five brothers and sisters all died at the hands of the Viet Cong.

Nguyen, nine at the time, was shot three times. Though gravely wounded himself, he stayed with his wounded mother, trying to help her. Once she died, Nguyen, despite his wounds, managed to escape.

He would live with his uncle until the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, when they fled the country.

MyNavy HR sat down with Nguyen to talk about his journey and the contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make to the Navy and the nation. Here are his words:

MyNavy HR: How did the tragic events of your childhood in Vietnam shape who you are and who you became?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It is not easy to get over the trauma of losing your entire family. It has been over fifty years, but it is something I will never forget. Every day I asked myself: “Why me?”

I thought of myself as a curse. In my mind, bad news was always around the corner; it was just a matter of time. I was afraid of building relationships just to lose the people I love. I was afraid of losing everything.

I have often thought of the actions of my father the day he died. Why did he make those decisions that ultimately led to not just his death but those of my mother and siblings? Would I have made the same choices?

The message I have come to understand from his example is that it is about service before self and doing what is right, with honor. What I experienced and learned from that event is about honor, courage, and commitment. The same ethos that the Navy I serve pledges today to uphold — honor, courage, and commitment.

MyNavy HR: What did growing up in a time of war teach you about resilience at a young age?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: Having gone through the war in Vietnam and having survived the worst of it, I strongly believe that we all have the inner strength to be resilient.

Having a chance to emigrate here to the U.S. gave me hope. Every day I wake up, looking at my scars every morning; I thank God that I am alive. I learned to take control of my own destiny and overcome the adversities that life throws at me.

To go beyond just surviving, and to thrive through the trauma, the stress, the emotional scars that I carry with me. I needed to have the courage to challenge and conquer adversities rather than allow myself to wallow in self-loathing and victimhood. It also helps when you think about serving something that is greater than yourself. In my case, it is about serving my country.

MyNavy HR: Tell us about your journey to America and how and why you joined the Navy?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: I first set foot on American soil forty-six years ago. Under Operation New Life, more than 111,000 Vietnamese refugees were transported to Guam in the last days of the Vietnam War, and I was one of them.

At 15-years old, I was scared. I was afraid. I didn’t know what to expect. On Guam, I witnessed the young Sailors and Marines go above and beyond their duties to make us feel welcome. They made us feel like a part of their family, a part of this country.

I knew then I wanted to be in the U.S. Navy. Their dedication to service and their commitment to helping us inspired me. I wanted to repay the kindness and my debt to this country and serve our great nation.

In college, I tried to join the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps. But, not being a citizen yet, I could not.

After receiving my citizenship, I applied and was admitted to the Navy Reserve as an Engineering Duty Officer through the Direct Commission Program. One of the best decisions that I’ve made.

MyNavy HR: Returning to war in Iraq as a Sailor. Can you tell us what you did and where and what that experience was like for you?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It was one of those experiences that I will remember for life. It is the idea of shared risk, of serving the soldiers, Sailors and Marines that keep you going. It is the bond that you developed between each other for life.

I worked on the Counter [Improvised Explosive Device (IED)] mission, first with the Army Warlock Program Office, Task Force Troy and the Joint Crew field office. I was involved in fielding, training, engineering in the early days of the war.

I was the executive officer and chief engineer for an Army O6 when I first got into theater. Since it was the early period of our fight against radio controlled IED, I did everything along with our military and contractors’ personnel.

We collected intel, developed threat loads, route clearance and did mundane administrative control. I am grateful that I have a chance to serve and to do my part in the fight. A few memorable moments that I remembered were the chance to brief then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen when he came into theater. He was surprised to learn that Navy personnel were leading the Counter IED fight.

By then, my CO was Navy Capt. David “Fuzz” Harrison. He and I had a chance to work on a Request For Force that brought in hundreds of officers and enlisted Navy personnel to help with Counter IED fight, leading to the establishment of Joint Crew Composite Squadron 1.

I also attended many memorial events for soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty in the C-IED fight. It speaks volumes to the toughness and dedication and honor of our service members.

MyNavy HR: What does it mean to be the first Vietnamese American to achieve flag rank? How does that make you feel as a person, as an Asian American?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It is a great honor to attain the rank of admiral. I am tremendously humbled to become the first Vietnamese American to wear flag rank in the U.S. Navy.

The honor actually belongs to the Vietnamese American community, which instilled in us a sense of patriotism, duty, honor, courage and commitment to our adopted country the United States of America.

This is our America. A country built on service, kindness and generosity, opportunity and the freedom to hope and dream. These values are what inspired me to serve. And what a great honor and privilege it is to serve our Navy—to serve our country—to support and defend our Constitution.”

MyNavy HR: Tell us how being an Asian American and specifically a Vietnamese American has shaped you as an American and a Sailor? What is it that your heritage brings to the table for you today?

Rear Adm. Nguyen; I came here as a political refugee in the 1970s. Millions of South Vietnamese refugees left their homeland, risking their lives, seeking freedom on the high seas. Many fall victim to pirates, to weather.

Yet, they were determined to leave, seeking the ideas of freedom and democracy. Refugees have typically suffered severe trauma, lost family members, and languished in refugee camps before coming to the United States.

They leave their homelands without hopes or plans to return again.

Nevertheless, once here, Southeast Asian refugees share many experiences in common with other immigrants and refugees from all over the world.

Things such as a language barrier, culture shock, racial discrimination and the challenge of starting new lives are shared between us all.

A common and a long-standing tradition for Asian Americans is the belief that we are not only individuals but also part of a larger community.

This is also a shared experience and value among Vietnamese Americans and all other minority groups. All Americans believe in the value of hard work, family responsibility, community development, and investment in education for the next generation.

Together we are stronger.

MyNavy HR: What does service mean to you and how does patriotism fit into that for you?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: America was founded on ideas that our founding fathers stated eloquently in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The history of our country is a struggle to keep these ideas alive.

My desire to serve is to give back and repay the debt to this country and fight for the ideas and values for our children, for our next generation, for the world. It took years, including a civil war, for the United States to be where we are today.

America has always been great. We are the North Star to the world on the ideas of democracy and freedom. As a U.S. citizen and as an American service member, I have the duty and the honor to serve and to ensure that the American Dream is alive, that the ideas that our founding fathers of freedom and equality are preserved.

Source: U.S. Navy

Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark D. Faram

Library of Congress Veterans History Project

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U.S. Navy veteran Keith Sherman embraces Gold Star family members

Mother Teresa once said: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Have you ever considered the impact you have on others?  Without realizing it, you have the power to change someone’s course.

What if I told you that by sharing your story, you can create a ripple effect that could benefit countless individuals? The Veterans History Project (VHP) offers that opportunity. (pictured; U.S. Navy veteran Keith Sherman embraces Gold Star family members)

In 2000, the United States Congress passed legislation to create VHP under the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (Public Law 106-380, 2000). VHP’s mission is to collect, preserve and make accessible the firsthand narratives of our country’s military veterans and families of the fallen, better known as Gold Star family members.

Participating in VHP is simple, meaningful and leaves a lasting legacy. There are many ways to share a story, either through oral history interviews or original items such as photographs, letters, diaries, 2-dimensional artwork and other historical materials.

Whether you served in uniform or simply know someone who has, VHP is your chance to make history through participating as a volunteer contributor. Individuals and organizations across the nation sit down with the veterans or Gold Star family members in their lives and communities to help them gather materials, interview veterans within their communities and establish primary sources for our national library. Interested parties can find online resources through the VHP website at loc.gov/vets. The Field Kit and Field Kit companion video provide step-by-step instructions, required paperwork and sample questions for interviewing veterans.

For veterans, VHP is your opportunity to leave your imprint and to enrich our historical record. As World War II veteran Don Griffin noted, “These aren’t the stories in history books or TV. If we don’t tell our story, then nobody will know what transpired” (Griffin, 2004).

Veteran sitting in chair participates in oral history interview about his service.
Veteran participates in oral history interview about his service. Photo provided by Library of Congress.

VHP is currently home to over 111,000 collections of veteran and Gold Star memories. These collections provide an invaluable cultural resource that informs the historical record and illuminates the times in which our nation’s veterans lived. They are accessible to the public and are used regularly by researchers, family members, historians and students. VHP collections have informed more than 800 different books, publications, films and other artistic productions including Ken Burns’ PBS docuseries “The Vietnam War (2017),” Liza Mundy’s book “Code Girls: The Untold Story of American Women Code Breakers of World War II (2017)” and Douglas Taurel’s “The American Soldier (2017)” performance.  As the veteran or next of kin maintains the copyright to their story, permissions need to be obtained before using the interview or other materials in exhibition or publication.

While VHP has come a long way since its inception, there is still a long way to go. With over 17 million veterans in the United States today (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019), we need your help.  All veterans deserve the opportunity to be remembered, so that their service and sacrifice for our country might not fade and be forgotten with the passage of time.  Now is the time for you to cast your stone.  Tell your story and discover the ripples your memories create.

For more information, visit loc.gov/vets/ or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848. Subscribe to the VHP RSS to receive periodic updates of VHP news. Follow VHP on Facebook @vetshistoryproject.

The Types of Government Contracts & What You Need to Know

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Black mature businessman working on laptop

When it comes to running your small business, one of the greatest assets you can acquire to help you succeed is a government contract.

The U.S. government is the largest customer in the world. It buys all types of products and services — in both large and small quantities — and it’s required by law to consider buying from small businesses.

The government wants to buy from small businesses for several reasons, including:

  • To ensure that large businesses don’t “muscle out” small businesses
  • To gain access to the new ideas that small businesses provide
  • To support small businesses as engines of economic development and job creation
  • To offer opportunities to disadvantaged socio-economic groups

There are a multitude of contracts that can be obtained and further searched into using Sam.gov, but here are a few of the different types of government contracts that could help fund your small business:

Set-aside contracts for small businesses:

To help provide a level playing field for small businesses, the government limits competition for certain contracts to small businesses. Those contracts are called “small business set-asides,” and they help small businesses compete for and win federal contracts.

There are two kinds of set-aside contracts: competitive set-asides and sole-source set-asides.

Competitive set-aside contracts:

When at least two small businesses could perform the work or provide the products being purchased, the government sets aside the contract exclusively for small businesses. With few exceptions, this happens automatically for all government contracts under $150,000.

Some set-asides are open to any small business, but some are open only to small businesses who participate in SBA contracting assistance programs.

Sole-source set-aside contracts:

Most contracts are competitive, but sometimes there are exceptions to this rule. Sole-source contracts are a kind of contract that can be issued without a competitive bidding process. This usually happens in situations where only a single business can fulfill the requirements of a contract. To be considered for a sole-source contract, register your business with the System for Award Management (SAM) and participate in any contracting program you may qualify for.

In some cases, sole-source contracts must be published publicly, and will be marked with an intent to sole source. Potential vendors can still view and bid on these contracts. Once the bidding process begins, the intent to sole-source may be withdrawn.

Contracting Assistance Programs:

The federal government uses special programs to help small businesses win at least at 23 percent of all federal contracting dollars each year. There are different programs for different attributes of a small business, such as:

8 (a) Business Development Program: Small Disadvantaged businesses.

Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program: Women-owned businesses

Veteran assistance program: Veteran-owned businesses

HUBZone Program: Historically underutilized businesses

SBA Mentor-Protégé program: Sets up your business with an experienced government contractor

Natural Resource Sales Assistance Program: Provides natural resources and surplus property to small businesses.

Joint Ventures: Allows businesses to team up and acquire government contracts (more info below)

Joint Ventures:

Two or more small businesses may pool their efforts by forming a joint venture to compete for a contract award. A joint venture of multiple small businesses still qualifies for small business set-aside contracts if its documentation meets SBA requirements.

Small businesses that have a mentor-protege relationship through the All-Small Mentor-Protege program can form a joint venture with a mentor (which can be a large business). These joint ventures can compete together for government contracts reserved for small businesses.

A joint venture can also bid on contracts that are set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned, women-owned, or HUBZone businesses, if a member of the joint venture meets SBA requirements to do so.

Resources

If you still have questions or are looking for additional information, visit sam.gov or sba.gov. No matter what your situation is, there are many opportunities available to help your small business succeed.

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration

How My Air Force Experience Shaped Me to Be a Leader

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two men shaking hands, one of them is in a suit, the other is in military uniform

By Joe Paranteau

From the foot soldiers of the Roman Empire and Genghis Khan’s cavalry to today’s military, the contributions and leadership of people in uniform have stood the test of time.

I spent eight years in the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserve and the leadership lessons I learned have lasted a lifetime. I often rely on my military leadership lessons to lead sales and business teams today.

Here are a few of the most enduring lessons I learned. Whether you have served or not, you can take some of these golden nuggets and apply them to your business:

It’s Not About “You.” It’s About “Us”

The moment enlisted or officers start their initial training – the core value is the same. No one person is greater than the team. If you are a lone wolf, you won’t go far. From the minute your service begins, you learn that the sum is more significant than its parts. The team is everything.

My first night in training, I watched people shed their individuality for the team’s good. Over time, our team grew stronger through proximity and shared adversity. If something wasn’t right, the whole team suffered.

I was a chow runner, which meant I ran ahead of the formation to the chow hall to sign our unit in. The fastest runners guaranteed their units ate first. I could run fast. In fact, on a good day, I could get signed in 5-10 minutes before my unit would arrive, which meant I had time for a bit of shut-eye. One day, I was fast asleep leaning against a pole. Click, click, click. I heard the boot taps of my drill instructors as they circled me. I woke up and stood at attention. They yelled at me for what seemed like hours.

I had already learned to take ultimate accountability for my actions. When asked why I was asleep at my post, I replied, “No excuse, sir.” In reality, there is no reason for an excuse, although people make thousands of them. My unit had to wait because of my actions instead of eating early. I stared into a sea of hungry, impatient eyes and realized I made a mistake that affected everyone. I learned to never repeat that mistake again!

No One Left Behind

Military teams take care of each other. As a result, one person rarely does anything alone. And no one is ever left behind. This is an ethos in the military, and builds upon the “Us” mentality. Strength gets forged in unity. You don’t need a battlefield for this to ring true. How do you check to ensure your people are never left behind in the activities that drive your business? Build strong teams that look out for each other and make your organization strong. Get rid of inadequate training, unclear expectations or guidance or a lack of support. Don’t leave your people behind.

Attention to Detail

In the military, you learn that the subtle details can cause big problems. For example, foreign object damage (FOD) is anything that should not be on the runway. The smallest of items can wreak havoc on jet engines resulting in fatal outcomes. Pay attention to the small things and their impact on the broader operation. Teach your people to be on the alert for these little details. Condition them to spot things that may otherwise go unnoticed. Instilling attention to detail can help your business avoid unpleasant outcomes. Consider creating more detail around safety, ethics, governance, compliance, and fiduciary matters.

It’s Easier to Course Correct a Moving Object

In the military, there is a significant amount of planning done for many things. You can talk, plan, and prepare. There is a need to act and put the plans in place. Standing still tells you nothing. Military battle planners will often admit their plans rarely survive the first bullet. It does not mean to stop planning. Instead, some things are clear when you observe them in action. Take flying a plane. You can preflight a plane, but flying in the air is dynamic based on many changing variables. If you miscalculated wind speed, you need to adjust your plans. Headwinds may cause you to burn fuel faster, and may call for you to make deviations to your course. When you march a unit in a formation, you may need to make minor corrections. But they happen once the unit is moving and marching. If someone gets out of step, make the cadence clear and consistent for everyone to follow. The same is true of many things in business. Get started and expect to make minor pivots along the way. You can learn a great deal when you move past your best plans and test them in the market.

Know When to Lead, Follow and Serve

Know when to lead from the front, stand beside and serve. The best leaders I’ve ever seen in my life are military leaders. What makes them exceptional leaders is how they model excellence. They have solid missions and visions, and they communicate them from top to bottom of the unit. Everyone knows the mission. Being able to create clear goals and focus on them is a critical skill. As a military leader, you learn to feed the troops first. I recall how my commanders demonstrated how to serve.

Joe Paranteau headshot
Joe Paranteau
During the holidays, leaders served in the mess halls, cooking and serving others. As a business leader, find similar opportunities to serve your people. Figure out what behaviors you can model that will make your team stronger.

It’s been years since I’ve been out of the military. Yet, fellow servicemen and women who have served can all relate to one or all these examples. How would it look if you applied them to change your business culture? What results should you expect? The military has been using these principles for centuries. Take a lesson from tried-and-true leadership practices, and see how your people respond. These principles show you care, and build trust and strong teams dedicated to the mission.

Joe Paranteau is the author of Billion Dollar Sales Secrets and works at Microsoft. He leads a sales team and serves as an industry leader for healthcare customers. He is a sales coach and mentor, keynote speaker, small business owner, entrepreneur and investor. As a U.S. Air Force veteran, he is committed to veteran’s issues. He supports causes to end child trafficking and exploitation. Visit him on LinkedIn or at.thejpar.com

Serving the Called — Letter From the Editor

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Kellie Pickler featured cover story

Merriam-Webster defines military service as “time spent serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc…” A simple, literal definition whose meaning goes so much deeper.

Service is at the heart of every facet of the military, no matter which branch you serve.

You might hear servicemembers and veterans alike speak of being ‘called to serve,’ or inspired to be of service in any capacity to their fellow man, their country and the greater good.

It’s this devotion to serving others – and the sacrifice it requires – that puts us in awe of our veterans, military members, spouses and families. It’s why we can never thank them enough.

Our cover story, singer Kellie Pickler, is attempting to do just that by serving those who have been called. By partnering with the USO (United Service Organizations), Pickler, alongside other celebrities, gets the chance to give back to a community that means the world to her.

“They have enabled me to be a part of something that matters,” Pickler shares.

“Working with the USO, it’s really all about keeping the families connected and keeping our servicemen and women connected with their loved ones. We take a piece of home to them.” Read more about Picker’s mission to serve on page 88.

If you’re preparing to transition from service, or have already started a new job, check out these 10 career tips on page 25 to keep you on a positive course.

Kat Castagnoli headshot
Kat Castagnoli, Managing Editor, U.S. Veterans Magazine

Looking for new career options? Consider putting your military experience to work in the electronics industry on page 28.

If you’re a recruiter, check out these 3 tips companies need to successfully attract and hire veterans on page 36.

Maybe offering a work-from-home option could be a draw, as most employees want to continue working from home on page 38 in these postpandemic times.

In honor of all of those who have served or are serving, we here at U.S. Veterans Magazine are proud to provide the information, content and stories that continue to serve you and your career and business needs.

Providing Business, DVBE. Employment & Educational Opportunities For Veterans

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Upcoming Events

  1. Women Veterans Alliance 2021 UnConference
    October 8, 2021 - October 10, 2021
  2. Camp Pendleton Career Fair
    October 14, 2021 @ 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
  3. Navy Base San Diego Career Fair
    October 15, 2021 @ 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
  4. VETS 21—Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium
    November 2, 2021 - November 4, 2021
  5. The DAV 5K will honor veterans with in-person and virtual events
    November 6, 2021