One Rifle. One Book. Two Hundred Veterans.

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Older man and young man on stage at a motorcycle rally

By Kellie Speed

Though Andrew Biggio served in the Marine Corps as an infantry rifleman during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), he never could have imagined the future impact he would have on veterans.

The founder of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, New England’s largest motorcycle ride now in its 11th year, helps America’s most severely wounded combat veterans by raising money to provide housing modifications, new transportation, financial support and basic living needs through his nonprofit.

While delving into his own family’s military legacy and reading letters sent home from his great uncle killed during World War II, Biggio felt compelled to honor the Greatest Generation. His great uncle, also named Andrew Biggio, spoke of the M1 Garand rifle in his letters, which inspired the younger Biggio to purchase one.

What happened after turned into a five-year journey for Biggio, traveling the country to hear the inspirational stories of these warriors and have them sign their name on his rifle. He has 240 signatures to date! The result of his travels and collection of combat stories turned into his recently published book The Rifle: Combat Stories from America’s Last WWII Veterans, Told Through an M1 Garand.

U.S. Veteran’s Magazine caught up with Biggio to discuss this year’s Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, how he decided to feature the veterans in his book and what’s up next for him.

U.S. Veteran’s Magazine: You’re celebrating the 11th year of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run. Did you ever think it would be as popular as it has become?

Andrew Biggio: I never thought I would be doing this for over a decade. Like every other organization, we haven’t gotten to see our peak numbers because of COVID. People are still coming out and riding 10 years later, and some people take pride in saying they have been at every wounded vet run, so I love doing it.

USVM: How do you choose the veterans to honor each year and how much money do you raise each year?

Hundreds of motorcycles and riders at rally eventBiggio: Really, it’s just people I come across, people I meet, referrals from previous wounded veterans. I had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with veterans who got wounded, and they spent time in these hospitals with veterans who they think should be honorees.

USVM: Why did you decide to write The Rifle?

Biggio: I started having World War II veterans show up to my wounded vet ride, and I started to realize how it’s not every day you see a World War II vet come to a motorcycle rally to pay respects to the younger generation of veterans. It got me into really focusing on America’s last World War II veterans. I started to read my uncle’s last letter home, who I was named after, and how much he enjoyed the M1 rifle. The M1 rifle just represented that whole Greatest Generation because that was the standard rifle of the times, so I went out and bought one. I wanted to collect signatures of all of the different World War II veterans while I still had them around. After hearing some of their stories and visiting them, I just realized some people hadn’t heard the particular stories of these men I was meeting.

USVM: How did you choose the veterans to feature in the book?

Biggio: I really wanted to write about the units that weren’t often covered in history; they were often overlooked, so I picked not well-known divisions and things like that because my grandfather had served with the 10th Armored Division. That was a division you don’t often hear about.

USVM: What’s up next for you?

Biggio: I think I am going to do volume two of my Rifle book. The book [took me in so many unexpected directions, including leading] me to bring a World War II veteran from the 17th Airborne Division back over to Germany. [In March of this year,] we unveiled a monument for the 17th Airborne Division in Germany because there was no memorial there.

For more information about Andrew Biggio, his book and the veterans whose stories were featured visit thewwiirifle.com.

The PACT Act and your VA benefits

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Disabled Veteran in wheelchair

The PACT Act is a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. This law helps us provide generations of Veterans—and their survivors—with the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

This page will help answer your questions about what the PACT Act means for you or your loved ones. You can also call us at 800-698-2411 (TTY: 711).

And you can file a claim for PACT Act-related disability compensation or apply for VA health care now.

 

What’s the PACT Act and how will it affect my VA benefits and care?

The PACT Act is perhaps the largest health care and benefit expansion in VA history.

The full name of the law is The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

The PACT Act will bring these changes:

  • Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras
  • Adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures
  • Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation
  • Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care
  • Helps us improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures

If you’re a Veteran or survivor, you can file claims now to apply for PACT Act-related benefits.

What does it mean to have a presumptive condition for toxic exposure?

To get a VA disability rating, your disability must connect to your military service. For many health conditions, you need to prove that your service caused your condition.

But for some conditions, we automatically assume (or “presume”) that your service caused your condition. We call these “presumptive conditions.”

We consider a condition presumptive when it’s established by law or regulation.

If you have a presumptive condition, you don’t need to prove that your service caused the condition. You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.

Read more about the PACT Act on the VA’s website here.

Gary Sinise: Positive About Service

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Gary Sinise collage of his phots

By Brady Rhoades

When the inaugural issue of U.S. Veterans Magazine hit the stands — and the internet — Gary Sinise was on the cover.

He’s back, and for good reason.

Sinise, best known as Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump, has devoted his life to serving veterans.

What’s the author of the New York Times best-selling Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service have to say 10 years down the road?

“I’ve been honored to be featured, and it’s an honor and a pleasure to be featured again,” he said. “I did not serve. One way I can serve is by shining a light on those who do serve. U.S. Veterans Magazine does that.”

The 67-year-old husband and father of three has been busy for the past couple of years. He continues supporting veterans through the Gary Sinise Foundation, and the Illinois native moved from California to Nashville, Tenn.

“I was looking for a change, and there are so many veterans groups from that part of the country,” he said, adding that his foundation — which supports veterans and their families by building homes for wounded warriors (as part of its R.I.S.E. program), hosting day-long festivals at military medical bases and serving meals to deploying troops — is in its 11th year. “We’re poised and positive to do so much of service to the men and women of our military.”

He said he’s looking forward to Veterans Day and a salute to veterans ceremony at the National World War II museum in New Orleans, La. That week, he’ll be giving away another house to a wounded veteran, as well.

When Forrest Gump first played in theaters in 1994, Lt. Dan — Gump’s no-nonsense platoon leader in Vietnam — resonated with veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam. One oft-cited scene, which critics have called a classic in American film, involves Lt. Dan climbing to the top of the mast on Gump’s shrimping boat during a lashing storm, shaking his fist and hollering at God.

“Never once did he think that either one was going to happen, that he was going to lose his legs and also suffer PTSD and tremendous guilt,” Sinise said. “This is not an uncommon thing, and then he isolates, drowning himself in alcohol and drugs.

“That scene is an absolute metaphor for wrestling those demons… That was the story of many Vietnam veterans.

“And he wins. It’s the story of a Vietnam vet that we hadn’t seen before.”

Lt. Dan Band performs at an Invincible Spirit Festival providing respite from medical treatments for wounded warriors and their family members
The Lt. Dan Band performs at an Invincible Spirit Festival providing respite from medical treatments for wounded warriors and their family members. (Courtesy of Gary Sinise Foundation)

After the storm, Lt. Dan is seen floating on his back in the calm waters of Bayou La Batre. Later, at Gump’s wedding, he shows up with what Gump calls “magic legs.” Lt. Dan has received prosthetics. He is newly married and clearly sober and happy.

Sinise, a rock and roller from the Chicago area (he’s a lifelong Bears and Cubs fan), didn’t anticipate the attention that would come his way.

But it did, and quickly.

It was a pivot point in Sinise’s life. He said he was so deeply moved that he felt compelled to turn his emotions into action.

Around the turn of the new century, that’s what he did. One strategy he employed was to introduce himself as Lt. Dan when trying to make inroads with organizations.

“They’d patch me right through,” he joked in an earlier interview.

In time, the bass player formed the Lt. Dan Band, which has put on more than 500 concerts for veterans who get to revel for a few hours in the 13-member group’s covers of Adele, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Charlie Daniels and others.

Said one Marine, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons: “Upon returning from my first tour in Afghanistan, the loss of more brothers than I’d like to remember was taking its toll. I saw a poster that the Lt. Dan Band was performing in my area and decided to attend. I like to believe that one show kept me from doing the unthinkable. Thank you for all you do.”

Sinise’s work on behalf of the military is described in detail in Grateful American, which includes, Sinise said, “hilarious things about my childhood.”

Mostly, it’s about his transformation.

Gary Sinise with Christian Brown during a RISE home visit
Gary Sinise with Christian Brown during a RISE home visit (Courtesy of Gary Sinise Foundation)

“The book continues to sell three years later,” he said. “It’s an interesting journey from self to service.”

None other than Clint Eastwood said about the 254-pager: “The book is called Grateful American, and I promise you after you read it, you will be grateful for what Gary has accomplished and contributed to our country.”

Forrest Gump won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis) and Best Actor (Tom Hanks). Hanks and Sinise went on to team up in two other classics, Apollo 13 and The Green Mile.

“We hit it off,” Sinise said.

Hanks has joined Sinise on several occasions in efforts to benefit veterans.

“Tom’s been a good supporter of mine and what I’m trying to do,” Sinise said.

Sinise has also starred in Of Mice and Men (which he directed), Reindeer Games, Snake Eyes, Ransom, Mission to Mars, The Stand and Impostor.

In 2004, he began his first regular television series with the crime drama CSI: New York, in which he played Detective Mac Taylor. He was credited as a producer from season two onward and wrote the storyline of an episode.

In 2008, he was the narrator for the Discovery Channel’s miniseries, When We Left Earth.

Sinise was the executive producer — along with David Scantling — of the Iraq War documentary Brothers at War. The film features an American military family and the experiences of three brothers.

In 2009, Sinise narrated the highly acclaimed World War II in HD on the History Channel. In 2010, he narrated the World War II documentary, Missions That Changed the War on the Military Channel.

He has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and with the Presidential Citizen Medal — given to him by President George W. Bush for helping the military and Iraqi children.

Mona Lisa Faris and Gary Sinise standing together smiling for camera
U.S. Veterans Magazine’s publisher Mona Lisa Faris catches up with Gary Sinise at Sky Ball Foundation benefit.

But for all his fame and accolades, Sinise is that rare celebrity whose off-screen work might turn out to be his greatest legacy.

His foundation faced a major challenge when the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, ending the longest war in American history.

“That was a tragic withdrawal,” he said. “To watch the Taliban raise their flag was difficult for our military members to watch… We found ourselves reaching out to a lot of Afghanistan veterans and letting them know they have our support.”

The impact of Sinise’s foundation (garysinisefoundation.org) on the lives of veterans, first responders and their families is evident in the math.

To date, the foundation has built, modified or retrofitted 77 homes for severely-wounded heroes, dished out 771,144 meals to the nation’s defenders, donated 12,020 pieces of essential equipment to the military and first responders and provided supportive experiences and resources to 11,181 children of fallen servicemen and women.

“It is upon us to give back to our heroes to ensure they have the tools and resources to deal with their physical and invisible wounds,” he said. “It’s up to us to give them comfort. To give them support. To give them hope. I believe while we can never do enough for our nation’s defenders and the families who sacrifice alongside them, we can always do a little more.”

Military Veterans in Journalism

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Mobile news application in smartphone

In order to ensure that military veterans are covered properly, truthfully and ethically in the news, the Military Veterans in Journalism, in collaboration with News Corp Giving, the nonprofit organization, will be providing a range of resources for reporters covering military and veteran issues through an online resource portal.

MVJ will provide standards, tips, and guidance to reporters navigating sensitive topics using this portal. The organization will put together a directory of experts on such subjects as post-traumatic stress and veteran suicide. MVJ will also create a style guide with explanations on technical terms to help journalists avoid common stereotypes and tropes.

The U.S. Veterans Magazine sat down with Zack Baddorf of MVJ as he expanded upon their mission and its importance to the veteran community.

USVM: Tell us more about the mission and purpose of this new initiative and how it got started. Why did your founders feel it was important and necessary to include access to veteran writers and journalists?

MVJ: The purpose of this new initiative is to improve the quality of reporting on military issues across the board and help journalists who may not have much military experience properly cover these topics. We felt it was necessary to include access to veteran journalists in the initiative so that newsrooms would have a resource for contacting (and hiring) journalists with firsthand experience.

USVM: How did you seek out/receive funding and how do you plan to allocate the funds to support your mission?

MVJ: I submitted a request for funding to News Corp Giving in 2021. In December 2021, we received the news that funding for the project had been approved. We plan to allocate the funds toward the creation and development of the portal and to pay the veteran journalists who will be contributing to our reporting tips guide.

USVM: What kind of resources can veterans and publications expect to find on your portal?

MVJ: Veterans and publications can expect to find several things:
■ The Military Veterans in Journalism Style Guide, which will provide definitions of technical terms and usage corrections while also providing some useful information on thematic issues like veteran disabilities. The goal of this is to help reporters who are not familiar with the military avoid these mistakes in the future. This Style Guide will follow standards set by the Associated Press.
■ A series of blog posts and videos intended to provide tips on how to broach sensitive topics and dig deeper. The blog posts will be specific to one issue, while the videos will teach skills for conducting stronger reporting on military and veteran affairs.
■ A showcase of military veteran journalists that are doing great things in their field. This showcase is intended to focus on the veterans themselves.
■ A directory of experts that can provide insight and analysis on a range of topics. This will include military veterans working in journalism who have carved out a niche. The current topics covered include VA medical care, veterans’ mental health, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, Iraq, anti-war activism and special operations.

USVM: How do active duty and veteran journalists enroll in your database? Will there be any vetting tools or procedures in place? Can they create a portfolio of their work along with their profile?

MVJ: Active duty and veteran journalists can email me at zack@mvj.network to be included. Our team will also be performing a standard vetting process on each showcase submission prior to placing them on the site.

USVM: Will there be breaking news, commentary or opinion pieces, or will the articles you publish mostly cover specific subject matters, like PTSD, transitioning out the military or veteran-owned business stories?

MVJ: We will not be publishing breaking news articles on this site. Instead, we will be publishing blog posts and videos with reporting tips. These will cover specific issues within reporting on veteran and military affairs.

USVM: Who will have access to your portal, or will it be completely free to the general public?

MVJ: The portal will be free to the general public. We will be promoting it to newsrooms nationwide for their use. We intend to create this portal as a tool for reporters and newsrooms to learn and improve their journalism.

USVM: How quickly do you hope to get started and be fully operational?

MVJ: We plan to have the site up and running by Veterans Day this year – November 11, 2022. We’ve already begun the process of building the portal and are putting together our directories with help from our community.

Rear Admiral John ‘Mac’ McLaughlin & the Magic of USS Midway

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Rear Admiral ‘Mac’ McLaughlin standing at podium with US flag in background

By Annie Nelson

San Diego is one of the hot spots for tourism and for our nation’s west coast Navy. People flock to San Diego for many reasons, the weather, the beauty, the Pacific Ocean, the sightseeing, sports and conventions. Whatever the reason, the city’s number one tourist attraction is the majestic USS Midway aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1945, eight days after the surrender of Japan during WWII, and decommissioned in April 1992, the Midway Magic now has her permanent home in the San Diego Bay and still serves the country as a history museum.

While visiting the museum you get a sense of rich history, respect and love of country of all those who work on her who beam with pride. At the helm of this beauty is retired Rear Admiral John “Mac” McLauglin. After an amazing career in the Navy, Mac has served aboard the Midway for 18 years, guiding her safe passage as a tourist destination. Often, you will see Mac on the decks of the ship, his infectious smile, warm personality and twinkle in his eyes; you know he loves his job, the ship and all those who work aboard her. A true leader and the driving force behind the growth of the Midway and her outreach.

I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing Mac and wanted to share just a bit about his story as a veteran who truly continues to serve. We talked about his journey to get to the Midway and what makes her so special.

Navy Born

Raised in a military family, his father was a sailor in the Navy and at a very early age Mac too wanted to join the Navy. He ended up going to the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned an ensign in June 1972. He is not one to boast, so, as he says, “The rest is history.” I pushed a bit —,] asking him what the highlights of his career were. “A few highlights in my Naval career were getting my wings, flying helicopters, getting to command a squadron and a Naval Station, being selected for Flag rank, all the while staying married to the same girl the entire time!” A true accomplishment. His personal decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals. His final role of active duty was Commander of the Naval Reserve Forces Command. Mac retired from the Navy in August 2003 and was hired as the Chief Operating Officer of the USS Midway that December.

Midway Magic

The ship has become the most visited historic ship in the world. They have over 1 million guests annually, while also hosting 250 special events and 400 military ceremonies.

I asked Mac what led him to the Midway after he retired from the Navy. “When I retired from the Navy, I got a call from a Midway Board member asking me if I’d be interested in interviewing for the Midway CEO job. I interviewed and began work in December 2003, and the ship arrived in SD [San Diego] the next month.” As our conversation continued, I wondered if there were any similarities in both careers. According to Mac both careers involve the management of people and projects. The clothes you wear are different, but the leadership challenges of both careers are very similar.

I have been aboard the Midway many times for events, ceremonies and meetings. I find part of the charm of the Midway experience is due to the crew who share the rich history of the ship, her stories and magic with the guests. They share stories about each of the aircrafts on board, her battles, her milestones and so much more. I asked Mac about his staff because they all are very special. “The volunteers are the key to the great success Midway has enjoyed since we opened. San Diego has a rich demographic of retired veterans and many have volunteered to work on Midway since they retired. We like to call the Midway the best adult day care center in San Diego, and the enthusiasm and professionalism of our volunteer corps is the secret sauce of Midway Magic.”

He continued “The Midway is a LIVING tribute to the service of all veterans and we try to honor their service when they come aboard. We hope that the ship will remain a popular tourism venue long into the future so that everyone that comes aboard can understand the importance of service and sacrifice of many great Americans to ensure our freedoms are preserved for future generations.”

Looking Forward

Speaking of the future, they do have big plans, “We are planning on building the largest veterans park on the West Coast of America. The park will surround the Midway and cover approximately 10 acres right here on the San Diego Bay. Our education programs continue to expand nationally, and our events’ after-hours business has become and will continue to grow its international audience.”

The legacy of Rear Admiral Mac Laughlin goes far beyond his Naval career; it is continuing to grow through his service as president and CEO of the USS Midway Museum and also in his son who is active duty in the U.S. Navy. A true, rich military family who exemplifies the dedication, sacrifice and love to these United States of America. While not everyone in our nation is friendly to our veteran community, you would never know that on the Midway. Patriotism is alive and strong aboard the ship, and it truly starts with its leader! If you have not given yourself the gift of a day on the Midway and you find yourself in San Diego, it is a must! You can learn more information about the ship and tours offered at midway.org.

Looking for a Service Dog?

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labradoodle with guide dog pack on its back

They say that dog is a man’s best friend, which could not be more accurate for veterans. Dogs provide the sense of responsibility and companionship that comes with pet ownership, but they can also act as a source of support both therapeutically and physically.

If you’re a veteran looking for a service dog to aid you in your day-today life, here’s what you need to know:

What Are the Benefits of Service Dogs?
There are approximately 500,000 service dogs on duty in the United States, with 19 percent explicitly trained to help owners with PTSD. Service dogs can be trained to perform numerous activities that are helpful to your specific needs, whether it be to provide mobility assistance, interrupt harmful behaviors, calm panic attacks, retrieve medication and more. Service dogs have also been proven to help veterans recognize and cope with their symptoms, gain sleep, reduce anxiety, strengthen relationships, balance emotions and assist in healthy transitions.

Does the VA Provide Service Dogs?
Until recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs did not provide service dogs. However, in August of 2021, a new piece of legislation known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program on dog training therapy based on the promising “train the trainer model.” The program will provide dogtraining mskills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses, regardless of whether or not they have mobility issues. However, regardless of how you receive your service dog, you will need to apply for VA Veterinary Health Benefits to get approved for ownership.

How Can a Veteran Apply for VA Veterinary Health Benefits?
■ Hearing, Guide, Mobility: The veteran should meet with their VA clinical care provider to begin the application process for this benefit. The specialist will complete an evaluation and make a clinical determination on the need for assistive devices, including a service dog. Once the assessment is completed and a service dog is determined to be the optimal tool for the veteran’s rehabilitation and treatment plan, the provider will work with the veteran to obtain the necessary information and documents to request the benefit. This includes coordination with the local VA Medical Center Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service.
■ Mental Health Mobility: The veteran should meet with a VA mental health provider to begin the application process for this benefit. The mental health provider and care team will evaluate and determine whether the mental health condition is the primary cause of the veteran’s substantial mobility limitations. The team will also assess whether a mobility service dog would be the veteran’s optimal intervention or treatment approach. If the team considers a service dog to be the optimal intervention, they will request the benefit on behalf of the veteran through coordination with the local VA Medical Center Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service.

Each veteran’s case is reviewed and evaluated by a prescribing clinician for the following:
■ Ability and means, including family or caregiver, to care for the dog currently and in the future
■ Goals that are to be accomplished through the use of the dog
■ Goals that are to be achieved through other assistive technology or therapy The veteran will be informed of an approval or disapproval of their service dog request by the VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aid Service. Veterans approved for service dogs are referred to Assistance Dogs International, or International Guide Dog Federation accredited agencies.

Where Can I Find My Service Dog?
For more information on where to find a service dog and connect with a community of other veterans with their own service dogs, the VA will usually coordinate with an organization such as the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International.

To access more information on the service dog process, please visit the International Guide Dog Federation at igdf.org.uk and Assistance Dogs International at assistancedogsinternational.org.

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs, Purina, tillis.senate.gov

Understanding the Exceptional Family Member Program

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boy in wheelchair with military dad giving a kiss on his forehead

Managing the care and services for a family member with special needs is more manageable with the right support. The goal of the Exceptional Family Member Program is to help your military family with special needs thrive in military life. EFMP is more than just one program or connection point. It’s the work of three components: identification and enrollment, assignment coordination and family support. The resources, tools and services that are available to support your journey are organized as part of the EFMP Resources, Options and Consultations or EFMP ROC.

If your spouse, child or other dependent family member is in need of ongoing medical or educational services, your first step is to enroll them in the Exceptional Family Member Program. Enrollment is mandatory but once enrolled, you will have access to the services, support and information you need to become your family’s best advocate.

Each branch of service has its own mission and history with EFMP. However, there has been a focus over the past several years on creating more standardization across services to make it easier for families to find what they need, when they need it. We can minimize misperceptions and increase satisfaction by helping families understand how the system works and what to expect.

What is EFMP?

The EFMP is a Department of Defense program implemented by all service branches. The EFMP has three components all working together.

  • Identification and Enrollment is the point of entry into the EFMP. Enrollment in the EFMP is mandatory for active-duty military members who meet enrollment criteria. When a family member is identified with special medical or educational needs, those needs are documented through enrollment. Members of the National Guard or reserve may enroll according to service-specific guidance.
  • Assignment Coordination ensures the family’s special needs are considered during the assignment process. The EFMP makes every effort to help keep families together and support the service member’s career. The final decision for duty station selection will always be determined based on mission need.
  • Family Support enables the family to become its own best advocate by helping them identify and connect with resources, expert consultations, education and community support. EFMP Family Support provides in person support as well as virtual self-service support through online information and resources available on Military OneSource and through Military OneSource EFMP ROC specialty consultations.

Ways EFMP can help your service member’s family

Each installation has an EFMP Family Support office staffed with providers who can help your service member and their family in the following ways:

  • Find and tap into community resources, services and programs that will meet their needs.
  • Provide information and referrals and help your service member’s family develop a family services plan.
  • Offer training and other support to help your service member’s family be their own best advocate.
  • Provide a warm hand-off to EFMP Family Support at the next installation when your service member PCSs.

Tools and resources for families with special needs

EFMP and offers a number of tools and resources to support military families with special needs. Your service member and their family can tap into these to stay in the know and connect with the services they need.

  • EFMP resources, options and consultations provides enhanced support by phone or video. Special needs consultants can connect your service member and their family with experts in education, the military health care system and TRICARE, special needs financial planning, and more.
  • EFMP & Me is an online tool that allows your service member and their family to navigate services for military families with special needs, create customized checklists and stay organized.
  • The Exceptional Advocate is a quarterly e-newsletter that focuses on updates and information from the Exceptional Family Member Program.
  • The EFMP & Me podcast series covers all things EFMP and other topics of interest to military families with special needs, like caregiving, legal and long-term financial planning, PCSing with a family member with special needs and more.

Everything is easier when you have a network of support. EFMP can help your service member pull together the information, services and resources that will allow their family to thrive.

Source: MilitaryOneSource

Questions About Filing Your VA Disability Claims?

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man in military unifrom pinting at a image collage of disability icons

By Brett Buchanan

Life as an active-duty military service member can be extraordinarily intense, and many veterans will, at some point, experience some type of residual physical or mental difficulty after years of serving their country.

These service-connected conditions may develop into lifelong disabilities that can have considerable impact on a veteran’s daily activities. A response to this need is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation program, which provides monthly tax-free payments to eligible applicants.

There are, however, several potential obstacles that veterans can encounter when looking to file a disability claim. These obstacles can cause delays in claim approval, or even cause claims to be rejected outright. In fact, only about 32 percent of claims were approved by the VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals in 2021.

One unavoidable obstacle that veterans can expect to face is a wait time of at least several months while their benefits application is processed. On average, it takes the VA approximately 161 days to complete disability-related claims. The exact length of time could vary substantially based on several factors, including the type of claim filed, the number and complexity of your claimed medical conditions, and how long it takes for the VA to collect the required evidence for your claim(s).

The VA has historically experienced times of disability claims backlogs, and it varies as regulatory and policy changes are made to the VA disability program each year. Because it is hard to say with certainty how long the approval process will take, it is recommended that veterans that are experiencing service-connected disabilities submit a completed application and supporting documentation to the VA as soon as possible.

Once an initial claim is submitted, a large portion of the process will involve evidence gathering and review. The VA may ask for additional information from you, your healthcare providers or other governmental agencies. It is important to keep detailed records of your condition and the progression of your symptoms so that they can be demonstrably linked to your service. If you submit an application with outdated information regarding your doctors, the VA may not be able to verify your medical history and could end up delaying or declining your claim.

The VA disability claims process is lengthy and complex, and can prove to be both mentally and physically exhausting. There is very little margin for error if you hope to get an application approved. It may be wise to find an advocate, to help make sure you understand and meet all the requirements for VA benefits. Professionals who work in the area of VA disability benefits advocacy can assist with document gathering, provide expertise with assembling evidence and submit a claim or appeal on your behalf.

The Department of Veteran Affairs has a comprehensive checklist that can help applicants compile a fully developed claim:

Log on to the website

  • Go to eBenefits.va.gov and click “Apply for Benefits” to begin an application by answering some preliminary questions about your claim.

Provide information about federal/state records

  • Disclose any Social Security benefits you may be claiming, and identify/provide military and/or federal medical records.

Gather all applicable non-federal records

  • Request and provide copies of relevant private medical records from your medical practitioner, along with any applicable supporting statements or other documentation.

Choose the correct type of claim

  • Select the proper claim: Original Disability Claim, New Disability Claim, Reopened Disability Claim or Secondary Disability Claim. Submit all supporting documentation, including medical evidence of your injury or physical/mental disability and evidence connecting it to your military service.

Upload all documents

  • Ensure legibility of all documents, and properly upload them to the VA website. If you have an claims advocate, have them verify all documents to ensure compliance.

It is important to remember that even in the event that your benefits application is denied, that does not have to be the end of the road. If you meet the VA’s requirements, you have earned your benefits. Remaining patient and persistent is critical to the process of pursuing an appeal. Recognizing the resources and expert help available, like VA-accredited claims agents at Allsup, who can advocate for you and your benefits claim, can make a huge difference and help ensure that you ultimately get the benefits you deserve.

Brett Buchanan, a veteran of the U.S. Army, is a VA-accredited claims agent at Allsup and guides veterans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability appeals process.

Coping with Chronic Pain as a Veteran

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man in military uniform sitting on floor holding his head in pain

Chronic pain, one of the most common medical problems, is any pain that persists after your body has healed, usually after three to six months.

Some types of chronic pain include headaches, low back, neck, and other muscle, joint or nerve pains. These problems may be caused by an injury or an ongoing medical problem like arthritis or diabetes. In many other cases, the exact cause of chronic pain is unknown.

How you respond when you hurt is essential for managing any type of chronic pain. Many efforts to reduce pain in the short term create increased pain, suffering, and disability in the long term. This includes taking more medicine, resting or avoiding activities.

There are multiple treatment options available to treat your chronic pain. No single treatment is suitable for everyone. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more about the possible treatment options and decide which ones are best for you.

Opioids and chronic pain

Opioids are natural or manufactured chemicals that can reduce pain. Healthcare providers prescribe them. Opioids work by changing the way your brain senses pain. Some common opioids are:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone

Healthcare providers used to think that opioids could safely reduce chronic pain when used for extended periods. New information has taught us that long-term opioid use may not be helpful or safe for treating chronic pain.

New knowledge leads to new practices

We have learned three key things through studying opioids and chronic pain. This new information has changed medical practice.

  • Opioids will only temporarily “take the edge” off pain no matter the dose. You will not be pain-free over the long term.
  • There are very significant risks that come with using these medicines. Higher doses carry greater risks with very little evidence of any additional benefit.
  • There is absolutely no safe dose of opioids. An overdose is possible even when you are using your opioids as prescribed.

Facts about opioids

Opioids have many effects in addition to reducing pain. They slow your mind and body and can cause shortness or loss of breath. Long-term opioid use can cause multiple other problems, including:

  • Increased pain
  • Accidental overdose or death
  • Opioid use disorder or addiction
  • Problems with sleep, mood, hormones and immune system

Treating pain without opioids

Many treatments can be helpful with chronic pain, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Non-opioid pain medicines
  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Nerve blocks or surgery
  • Acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic

The best long-term treatment for chronic pain requires you to be involved in your own care. Self-management includes taking care of yourself in ways other than taking medicines, having surgery, or using other medical treatments. Cognitive behavior therapy can help you learn to respond differently to your chronic pain and reduce its effects on your daily life.

You should work with your healthcare provider to develop an individual treatment plan based on realistic expectations and goals. For most people, long-term improvements will depend more on what you can do to help yourself in lieu of what medical providers can do for you. Appropriate goals focus on improving your overall quality of life instead of providing urgent and complete pain relief.

Source: Veterans Health Library

Retired Military Working Dogs Overcoming PTSD

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military working dog posing in a grassy area

The men and women of the United States Armed Forces aren’t the only ones who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning from active duty — the dogs who serve so bravely alongside them often do as well.

Mission K9 Rescue, a working dog rescue in Houston, TX rehabilitates and re-homes retired military and contract working dogs. Since 2013, they’ve saved over 1,100 dogs and reunited over 540 dogs with former military handlers.

Often, retired military and contact working dogs have been in situations that have caused them severe anxiety and stress. Many retire with issues such as PTSD. These dogs need time with us to decompress and reintegrate into society, and Mission K9 Rescue works with these dogs to make them suitable for adoption.

Rehabilitating Retired Military Working Dogs Who Have PTSD

Causes — Retired working dogs frequently come to Mission K9 from high-intensity and potentially traumatizing circumstances. Many are trained for dangerous and high-risk tasks such as tracking, search and rescue, explosive detection, patrol, and attack, many of them undergoing explosions, air drops, and heavy-handedness by uncaring handlers. Because of this, many of these dogs exhibit PTSD. Of the dogs brought to Mission K9 Rescue, approximately 30% of military working dogs and 50% of contract working dogs exhibit PTSD. Contract working dogs are a higher percentage, as on top of the training and stressful scenarios, they are more likely to be handled poorly and often aggressively.

Removal From Kennels — After retirement, many military working dogs are stuck in kennels, whether overseas or stateside. The first step for rehabilitation of these dogs is to get them out of these kennels as soon as possible, one of the many reasons being that the kennel environment does not help their PTSD.

Symptoms — Dogs with PTSD may exhibit symptoms such as shaking, crying, and trying to hide. They can also be aggressive around people, including being resource aggressive. They may also not trust, occasionally mistrusting one sex over the other due to handler neglect or abuse. Various triggers from their service cause these behaviors.

Treatment Once Mission K9 Rescue determines a dog to have PTSD, they isolate them in their own play yard so they can get used to their new surroundings and begin to feel a bit more grounded and peaceful. Mission K9 Rescue will also make sure they’re not around any loud noises, which can trigger their condition. “We treat them all the same, giving equal amounts of love and care,” says co-founder, Bob Bryant. “If they cower or show aggression, we’ll take more time with them, working to gain their trust and love. Unfortunately, if dogs with PTSD have continued difficulties, we may have them prescribed Prozac or Trazodone, though we try to keep this at a minimum as there can be nasty side effects.” However, though Mission K9 Rescue can mitigate PTSD with time, love, and patience, “We unfortunately cannot cure it,” says Bob.

Adoption Despite not being able to fully cure PTSD, Mission K9 Rescue has seen many dogs initially exhibiting PTSD eventually decompress, become adoptable, and find happy homes with devoted caretakers. Behavioral changes that show less agitation, return of normal drive, and sociability are some of the signs we look for when evaluating a dog for adoption that initially presented with PTSD.

Awareness is the key for dogs with PTSD. It takes someone with patience, awareness, and compassion to take care of a dog that has any level of trauma. But as that dog begins to find peace in its new home and develops a sense of trust for its new owner, the richness of the bond can be incredibly special.

Chicago fundraiser ‘Ruck March’ supports veterans in need

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Veterans at the Ruck March

By , Fox 32

With Memorial Day around the corner, one Chicago veterans group is preparing for their biggest fundraiser of the year.

The daily average of veterans who die by suicide has dropped, but the pandemic put a huge dent in services.

The big event later this month aims to show veterans they are not alone.

The Chicago Veterans Ruck March is 17 miles and raises money for veterans in need — 17 miles representing how many veterans die each day from suicide.

“The Ruck March is basically bringing awareness and it’s also giving soldiers a therapeutic value that they can wear their lost soldiers picture, they can do it in their honor,” said Carlos Vega, Veteran Outreach and Events Coordinator. “And also bring awareness that PTSD is an issue and it needs to be addressed.”

For eight years, the organization Chicago Veterans has hosted 300 community events in 45 Chicagoland communities.

“This is all about keeping us together as a team. One team, one fight. We’re all fighting one mission. We’re all battling ourselves,” said Army veteran Armando Vega, Organizer of Veterans in Recovery.

Vega has been sober for more than eight years. Through Chicago Veterans, he launched the Veterans in Recovery program. Money from the fundraiser helps keep the program going.

“It’s all about paying it forward, helping others and ain’t nothing better than helping another brother or sister veteran,” Vega said.

Click here to read the full article on Fox 32.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Multiple Hire GI Hiring Events During June-December!
    June 21, 2022 - December 8, 2022
  4. Commercial UAV Expo Americas
    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022
  5. Department of the Navy Gold Coast Small Business Procurement Event
    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022