(BPT) - There are currently 19.6 million veterans in the United States. These hard working men and women have access to a variety of programs and benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs during active duty and retirement - yet many are not taking full advantage. Why?
One reason is that the VA system can be difficult to navigate. That’s where the Military Order of the Purple Heart National Service Officers can help. NSOs are accredited veteran representatives located at VA regional offices, medical centers or clinics, and military bases throughout the country. Guidance from these experts can make all the difference for veterans of all ages.
In 2014, National Service Officers helped over 19,000 veterans get over 300 million dollars in lifetime benefits from the VA.
“My job is to get them [veterans] the most compensation I possibly can within the guidelines, but I also want to take care of them,” says Sandra Ripe of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Program. “I always encourage them to go to the VA and get enrolled.”
Ripe says a main piece of her job is making veterans comfortable so they can start talking about their experiences. “We talk and figure out what’s going on. Often they don’t think of certain things or don’t realize issues they may be having are combat related, such as tinnitus,” she says.
While veterans can file claims on their own, Ripe doesn’t recommend it. NSOs are experts who not only have ongoing training in the legislation, regulations and precedents, they have relationships within the veteran community they can leverage.
“If I get a really tough case, I can go to appeals at the VA and ask how to put it in, and they will help me, because wording is very important,” Sandra says.
Her primary goal is to put the fully developed claim in correctly the first time with all the proper documentation and evidence to back it up. If submitted incorrectly and a claim has to go into the appeals system, it can take 2-3 years to be resolved opposed to the 4.5 month average a first-time claim takes to make its way through the system.
This complex and time-consuming process is why many veterans miss out on important benefits. The Military Order of the Purple Heart National Service Program, which is funded by the Purple Heart Foundation, assists all veterans who are trying to navigate programs and obtain benefits through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. In addition to health and wellness programs, these benefits include:
Another function of the program is the National Appeals Office in Washington D.C., where expert professional representation is provided to veterans whose claims have been denied at the regional office. This program is one of the few Veteran Service Organizations eligible to take selected cases to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
This Veterans Day, celebrate the service men and women in your life by ensuring they are getting the benefits they deserve. NSOs are available to be advisors and confidants to veterans who struggle to speak openly to friends and family about their time in the service as well as current struggles. They help veterans get the care they need and the benefits they deserve.
Consider making a tax-deductible, nonprofit donation to the Purple Heart Foundation to help support this important program. Visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org to find out how easy it is to help.
A veteran resource station will soon boost services offered by Rancho Cordova Public Library. Opening on Jan. 29th, the facility will assist veterans and their families to connect with their benefits.
“We’ll help them fill out forms,” pledged library Branch Manager Jill Stockinger. “We’ll let them access their VA records by computer; we’ll refer them to help if they’re in crisis or needing food and shelter. This service is much needed in Rancho Cordova. We have many residents who fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Middle East wars. We also have hundreds of homeless veterans here and in surrounding areas. Some don’t know how to get their benefits. They served us, now we can serve them.”
The Veterans Connect @ the Library program has established 28 similar outposts in California. Joining Sacramento Central and Southgate Libraries, Rancho Cordova hosts the third Sacramento center. Organizers are inviting veterans to attend the Jan. 29the kick-off event, which will feature speakers, music, free refreshments, and free advice. After opening, the station will operate at least three days a week. Veterans and non-veterans of any age are sought as station helpers. Online volunteer training is provided at the library; a commitment of at least two hours per week is requested.
The program is funded by a Library Services and Technology Act grant, administered through California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Veterans Affairs.
Rancho Cordova Library is located at 9845 Folsom Boulevard. For information, visit www.saclibrary.org or call (916) 264-2920.
Mary White is an Air Force veteran who was one of the first females stationed at Mather Air Force Base. After serving her country for 10 years, White now puts her energy into helping all veterans as the District 13 Commander of Team Amvets, an agency within the state of California—they can be reached at (916) 320-0804 or via their website at www.teamamvets.org.
I asked White about the services her office provides and was surprised by her answer: “We serve all veterans, in all branches of service, including the Merchant Marines. How many military service organizations can say that?”
White’s office serves El Dorado, Sacramento, and Yolo counties. One of the programs White and her Amvets help organize is: Sacramento Stand Down, a three day event that was most recently held this past summer at Mather Air Force Base (AFB). The event, attended by more than 200 U.S. military veterans, provides essential services and comfort to veterans and their dependents, and has been doing so since Sacramento Stand Down was created in 1992. The mission of the organization is to end homelessness for veterans in Sacramento County, for more information on this visit www.standdownsacramento.org/.
In addition to assisting with Sacramento Stand Down, Amvets provides clothing for veterans who may have a job interview or, as White stated, “fill in the gaps” in essential services for veterans if they need help weaving their way through the maze of bureaucratic paperwork. There are approximately 180,000 veterans living in California with about 10 percent being women.
At the recent Air Show at Mather AFB, the Amvets had a booth that functioned as a clearinghouse for veterans, especially those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “My organization was helpful in saving 28 veterans from committing suicide because they found the help they needed,” said White.
It is reported that a veteran commits suicide every 22 minutes in the United States and, as a reminder, I was given a wristband by White that is inscribed “22 Everyday,” referring to the suicide crisis concerning our veterans. If a veteran calls the (800) 273-8255 crisis line, they will get a counselor to help them deal with their immediate emotions. White told me that veterans do not like to call for help because they believe the myth that “the cops will come and get you,” meaning that they might be detained for psychiatric evaluation.
There has been progress on the PTSD issue. White tells me that Amvets was instrumental in getting the California Department of Motor Vehicles to issue licenses to veterans that indicate the veteran suffers from PTSD and the act of being pulled over for a vehicle violation may heighten the agitation level of the driver. It does not mean these drivers are dangerous, it just means the officer is aware of who they are dealing with.
White asked me to remind the general public that Amvets would like to get additional support for their organization through financial contributions. Also, volunteering for the organization is always appreciated and is a great way to give back to “those who served.”
(NewsUSA) - For years, the military has worried that an over-reliance on prescription painkillers was putting both veterans and active-duty troops at risk of addiction, serious adverse reactions to the drugs, and accidental death. The problem was found to be greatest among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan -- particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder -- who, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, may have been given "inappropriate prescriptions" for opioids in a misguided attempt to quickly relieve their suffering.
Finally, change appears to be coming as the military expands its use of alternative treatments like chiropractic care.
In fact, Dr. Robert D. Kerns, the national program director for pain management at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the New York Times that the study "encourages" his department as well as the Pentagon's health system, "to build on our existing initiatives."
That would be welcome news to Congressional committees following up on last year's Veterans Health Administration scandal.
"We have said for a long time that sending a veteran out of the door with a bagful of pills is not a solution," Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said in investigating allegations that a Tomah, Wisconsin, Veterans Affairs hospital was prescribing "excessive dosages of opiates."
As more research pours in, chiropractic care continues to gain supporters. A 2013 study published in the journal "Spine," for example, found that 73 percent of participating active-duty military patients with acute low back pain receiving a combination of chiropractic manipulative treatment and standard medical care rated their global improvement as "pain completely gone," "much better" or "moderately better."
Just 17 percent in the same study who received only standard care said likewise.
To learn more about chiropractic care or to find a chiropractor in your area, visitwww.F4CP.org/findadoctor.
Recently I had the privilege to meet Commandant Mark P. Hite of the Marine Corps League, Elk Grove, Calif., and Detachment 1238. Hite was a combat Marine during the Vietnam War, having served from 1964 through 1970. He achieved the rank of Staff Sargent E-6 and was attached to the 6th Marine Regiment. I told Hite that I heard about the phrase: “Once a Marine, always a Marine;” and asked him if this rings true for him? “I am a Marine in another phase of my life,” was his answer.
The “other phase” of Commandant Hite’s life is working to help fellow Marines and their families through the Marine Corps League. Established in 1923 and receiving its Federal Charter in 1937 through an Act of Congress, the League’s mission is to “join together in camaraderie and fellowship for the purpose of preserving the traditions and to promote the interests of the United States Marine Corps…”
There are several programs within the League that Marines work toward for the betterment of the community. For example, the Toys-for-Tots program, a well-known program of the Marine Corps, is assisted by the League through collecting and distributing toys to needy children, and by raising needed funds for the program. The League also has a scholarship program to help students with their college expenses.
One aspect that many people are unaware of is the Semper Fi Fund (www.semperfifund.org). Semper Fi, always faithful, is the well-known motto of the U.S. Marine Corps. This fund provides “immediate financial assistance and lifelong support to wounded, critically ill and injured Marines and FMF (Fleet Marine Force) Corpsmen and their families.” The fund, established in 2004, has issued 103,000 grants totaling more than $118 million dollars in assistance, with little to no red tape. Hite told me that nearby housing is provided for families when a Marine is rehabilitating or spending time in the hospital. “It is a major hardship for families” Hite said.
Commandant Hite mentioned that his grandfather was a Marine and that he always admired him for serving. I thanked Hite for his service and let him know that it was an honor for me to interview him. In fact, it is quite admirable what the Marine Corps League is doing in the greater Sacramento region. They are a nonprofit organization and if you are interested in making contact with them, try calling Commandant Mark P. Hite at (916) 687-8208 or send an e-mail inquiry to email@example.com. Their meetings are held the first Thursday of the month at the Elks Lodge in Elk Grove.
Citing the tragic death of a veteran at the Mather Veterans Affairs hospital last year, Congressman Ami Bera, M.D. introduced a bill to implement additional accountability measures at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country.
His bill, the VA Quality Care Act, includes additional oversight measures to ensure all problems at VA facilities are reported, communicated, and fixed across the network.
“The tragic death of this veteran illustrates problems within the VA system that must be addressed,” Bera said. “My bill increases transparency and reporting so that any issues in the delivery of care at one facility are shared with other facilities in the system. The information from my requested investigation suggests that VA facilities are not sharing best practices and other quality improvement measures effectively. This bill will ensure doctors, nurses, and staff are all operating efficiently and effectively and collaborating across health centers to deliver the best care possible to our nation’s heroes.”
Last October, a Sacramento County Vietnam veteran died after a do-not-resuscitate bracelet was incorrectly placed on his wrist. Bera requested an investigation with the Office of the Inspector General; their report found that Mather was responsible for a “delay in life-saving intervention.”
“Our service members have sacrificed for our country and it is our responsibility to ensure they receive top quality care,” Bera said. “Based on the findings in the Inspector General report, there are institutional problems that are seriously affecting the quality and delivery of care. Reporting requirements in my bill will help correct and improve care. We must do all we can to ensure this does not happen to any other veterans.”
Source: Office of Congressman Ami Bera