Understanding the Exceptional Family Member Program

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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

NHHC Debuts New Naval History and Research Center

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WASHINGTON NAVY YARD (Aug. 8, 2022) — Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to showcase its newest conservation and preservation site August 8 at the Washington Navy Yard.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, who attended the ground-breaking ceremony two years ago, spoke at the event for the new Naval History and Research Center (NHRC).

“History shows that the Navy that adapted better, learned faster and improved faster gained warfighting advantages over the long haul,” said Gilday.

“Stories of the past help us heed the warnings of history while helping us to reflect on and sustain our legacy as the world’s premier maritime force.”

Gilday explained, “This building and the stories and artifacts within will preserve the experiences and lessons of the past; use the Navy’s legacy of valor and sacrifice to inspire current and future generations of Sailors; and let those who serve today know that their sacrifice will always be remembered, honored, and valued.”

The new site, made up of two former ordnance factories and warehouses, has now been refurbished into a single state-of-the-art, 2-floor structure that maintains the building’s national historic district status.

“The Washington Navy Yard is significant to the early history of the U.S. Navy, the development of Washington, D.C., and the nation for its role in the manufacturing of ship equipment, advances in ordnance, and naval administration,” said NHHC Director Sam Cox. “Not only will this building continue to be a historic site, but it will be dedicated to preserving all our future naval artifacts.”

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NHHC and Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Washington began collaborations in 2018 to convert the two adjoining buildings. The NHRC will now house NHHC’s Navy Art Collection and Underwater Archeology Branch (UAB) of the Collection Management Division and Histories and Archives Division, including the Navy Library and Archives Branch.

These divisions have long served researchers and the public in their research and inquiries about naval history.

NHHC is entrusted to protect and present naval art, artifacts, and archeological collections to the public, and these renovations have modernized the command’s artifact protection capabilities. The upgrades also comply with mandates to create a facility that can preserve artifacts and restore pieces for future generations.

The building complies with Navy Facilities Criteria (F.C.) 4-760-10N (“Navy Museums and Historic Resource Facilities”), and the archives now meet National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Directive 1571 for archival requirements for temperature, humidity, and daylight control.

“[UAB] is thrilled to be moving into the renovated spaces,” said Kate Morrand, Director, Archaeology and Conservation Laboratory. “The archaeological collections recovered from U.S. Navy sunken and terrestrial military crafts will benefit considerably from these improved facilities and an updated curation environment. These buildings will contribute to each branch’s mission and long-term preservation of the Navy’s unique and irreplaceable cultural resources.”

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Since the early 1800s, the Washington Navy Yard has been a collection point for naval artifacts and trophies. In this effort, the two buildings were converted from munitions storage facilities where they will house artifacts for years to come.

“One building was built in the 1850s and the other in the late 1800s,” said Gregory Rismiller, NHHC’s facilities program manager. “Although the buildings had renovations throughout the years, they were never built to store, preserve, or conserve our artifacts. So these artifacts were in danger of disintegrating.”

Building 46 was originally constructed in 1851-52 as a Copper Rolling Mill and was enlarged in 1899 to function as a Cartridge Case Factory. It is significant for its architectural qualities as a critical component of the integrated industrial system at the Navy Yard and its role in producing ordnance for the Naval Gun Factory. Building 67 was constructed from 1899 to 1917 as a series of additions to Building 46.

NHHC, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for preserving, analyzing, and disseminating U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC comprises many activities, including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, 10 museums, the USS Constitution repair facility, and the historic ship Nautilus.

Source: U.S. Navy

The PACT Act and your VA benefits

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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.

Looking for a Service Dog?

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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

The Marines are set to have the first Black 4-star general in their 246-year history

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More than 35 years since his career in the U.S. Marine Corps began, Lt. Gen. Michael Langley could reach one of the highest ranks of the military.

Langley faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. If confirmed by the Senate, Langley will become the first Black four-star general in the Marines’ 246-year history. He will lead all U.S. military forces in Africa as chief of U.S. Africa Command.

A native of Shreveport, La., and the son of a former, noncommissioned officer in the Air Force, Langley has commanded at every level. His posts included Afghanistan during the war and various posts in Asia and Europe.

He assumed command of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa last year, “after his predecessor was removed amid allegations of using a racial slur for African Americans in front of troops,” according to Stars and Stripes.

He also holds multiple advanced degrees, including masters in National Security Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.

As of last year, Langley was one of only six Black generals in the Marines, Stars and Stripes reported.

Diversity in the military has been a long-standing issue, and one some leaders have been attempting to address in recent years.

President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948.

As a service member reaches the higher ranks in the military like, generals in the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps, and admirals in the Coast Guard and Navy, leaders are more than 80% white, according to research by the Council on Foreign Relations.

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral and former NATO supreme allied commander, previously told WBUR that racism has been an issue in the military for some time.

Read the complete article posted on NPR here.

One Rifle. One Book. Two Hundred Veterans.

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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.

Blue Angels names first female F/A-18 pilot in squadron’s history

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Navy Lt. Amanda Lee

The famed Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, selected their first female F/A-18E/F demo pilot this year following the completion of the Pensacola Beach Air Show on July 9.

Navy Lt. Amanda Lee was named alongside five other officers as the newest members of the 2023 Show Season for the Blue Angels.

Lee, a native of Mounds View, Minnesota, will join the ranks of countless other women who have served in other capacities with the Blue Angels for the last 55 years, the Navy said in a press release. She will serve the Blue Angels alongside three other women currently on the team serving as a flight surgeon, public affairs officer and event coordinator.

Lee, who is currently assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 106, also has another notable first attached to her resume. She participated in the first all-female flyover in 2019 as part of the funeral service for retired Capt. Rosemary Mariner, the first woman to command a naval aviation squadron.

“When I come into the ready room right now, I’m a pilot first, a person second, and my gender really isn’t an issue,” Lee said in a Navy press release at the time. “It’s people like Capt. Mariner that have paved that way for us, so it’s really a huge honor.

I’m super humbled to be a part of this flyover in her honor.”

Navy and Marine jet pilots with an aircraft carrier qualification and a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet flight-hours are eligible to fly jets Number 2 through 7, while Number 8 is reserved for a naval flight officer or naval aviator who has finished their first tour.

Marine pilots selected to fly the C-130J Hercules aircraft, affectionately called “Fat Albert,” must be an aircraft commander with at least 1,200 flight hours. There are currently 17 officers serving with the Blue Angels, according to the team’s website.

Read the complete article on Navy Times here.

ESPN Presented the Pat Tillman Award for Service to Gretchen Evans During The 2022 ESPYS

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ESPN presented the Pat Tillman Award for Service to Gretchen Evans during The 2022 ESPYS presented by Capital One on July 20 on ABC.

Author, athlete, and retired Army Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans was honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service presented by MassMutual at The 2022 ESPYS, which aired live on Wednesday, July 20 on ABC. The award is given to an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger.

Evans is a highly decorated veteran. After suffering a life-altering injury while serving in the Army, Evans founded Team UNBROKEN, an adaptive racing team of mostly veterans who have experienced life-altering injuries, illness, or traumas to compete in World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. The non-stop, multi-day expedition competition sees teams traverse mountains, jungles and seas. The team’s creation grew out of Evans’ involvement with a number of veteran advocacy groups where she mentored and coached fellow veterans with stories that echo her own extraordinary path.

“Members of Team Unbroken have had numerous doors shut in their faces and have been told they could not participate in certain activities,” said Evans. “People saw us as broken due to our injuries, but we are not broken, we are UNBROKEN. We set out to be an example of inspiration and hope for the mixed-ability community. It is an honor to accept the Pat Tillman Award for Service, and I can only hope that this serves as an inspiration for others. We believe that disabilities do not define who you are or what you can accomplish. If members of our team can compete in the ‘World’s Toughest Race,’ other individuals with traumatic brain injuries, who are deaf, live with Type 1 diabetes, or face some other challenge of body, mind or spirit can overcome obstacles and achieve their own goals and dreams in their lives.”

After joining the Army in 1979 to help pay for her education, Evans quickly realized, as she says, military life was her calling. During her 27 years of service she worked her way up to Command Sergeant Major, the highest non-commissioned officer rank in the military. In 2006, she was deployed in Afghanistan when she was severely injured by a rocket blast, landing her in an Army hospital in Germany. When she awoke, Evans learned that she had suffered total hearing loss and a traumatic brain injury, which would end her military career. In the months to come, suffering from severe depression and PTSD, Evans struggled to find her footing, but then found a path forward through mentoring and competition.

Evans has since become a nationally known motivational speaker, and been inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Hall of Fame and U.S. Veteran Hall of Fame – all on top of a military career that saw her win numerous medals and awards from the Bronze Star to a Presidential Unit Citation Medal, several Global War on Terrorism ribbons, and six Meritorious Service Medals.

“Gretchen Evans incurred life-changing injuries that ended her storied military career, but found strength to overcome through the help of No Barriers,” said Marie Tillman, board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Since leaving the Army, Gretchen serves on the boards of several veterans’ and educational organizations, fundraises for MaineVet2Vet, shares her story through motivational speaking engagements through Women Veterans Speak, and authored Leading from the Front. Gretchen’s commitment to serving after service mirrors the mission of the Pat Tillman Foundation as well as Pat’s example of leadership and passion for serving others.”

The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to honor Tillman’s life and legacy. Evans was presented with the award during The 2022 ESPYS in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation, which unites and empowers veterans and military spouses as the next generation of leaders. Past honorees include U.S. Paralympic gold medal sled hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney (2014), and former Notre Dame basketball player, Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (2015), U.S. Army Sgt. and Invictus Games gold medalist Elizabeth Marks (2016), and Purple Heart recipient and Invictus Games gold medalist Israel Del Toro (2017), Navy-Marine Commendation Medal recipient, Sergeant and founder of Team Rubicon Jake Wood (2018), former Marine and founder of the Kristie Ennis Foundation Kristie Ennis (2019), healthcare worker and boxing champion Kim Clavel (2020), and Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford (2021).

The ESPYS help to raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the charity founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first ESPYS back in 1993. ESPN has helped raise more than $165 million for the V Foundation over the past 29 years. The ESPYS are co-produced by Full Day Productions.

ABOUT THE PAT TILLMAN FOUNDATION
The Pat Tillman Foundation identifies remarkable veterans and military spouses as the next generation of leaders and helps them scale their impact as they enter their next chapter of service beyond self through academic scholarships, lifelong leadership development, and a global community of peers and supporters. For more information on the Pat Tillman Foundation and the impact of the Tillman Scholars, visit pattillmanfoundation.org.

Source: ESPN

Questions About Filing Your VA Disability Claims?

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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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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

Senate passes historic bill to help veterans exposed to burn pits during military service

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Senate passes a bill that will help veterans exposed to burn pits during military service

By Ali Zaslav and Jessica Dean, Cnn.com

The Senate on Thursday passed historic legislation that would help millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service.

A wide bipartisan majority approved the long-awaited bill by a vote of 84-14. It will now go to the House of Representatives, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to move quickly and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. The bill is an amended version of the Honoring Our PACT Act that passed the House earlier this year.

“Today is a historic, long awaited day for our nation’s veterans,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a floor speech on Thursday ahead of the vote. “In a few moments, the Senate is finally going to pass the PACT Act, the most significant expansion of health care benefits to our veterans in generations.”

Schumer continued, “The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over. Praise God.”

Burn pits were commonly used to burn waste, including everyday trash, munitions, hazardous material and chemical compounds at military sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan until about 2010.

A 2020 member survey by the advocacy organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits or other toxins. The VA has denied approximately 70% of veterans’ burn pit claims since 9/11, according to previous statements by Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican and ranking GOP member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The legislation is years in the making, and, once signed into law, would amount to a major bipartisan victory.

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