V-Wise: Sustainable Business Ventures for Female Vets and Spouses

13 Jul 2017

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, supported by funding from the Small Business Administration, is helping military families across a wide spectrum. One of the most interesting programs is V-Wise. This program is specifically designed for female veterans, female active duty members, and female spouses or partners; the program helps women develop and grow sustainable business ventures.

The program provides help from basic business education and development through information on entrepreneurship, and most importantly, provides ongoing mentorship. This level of support throughout the course of developing and launching a new business is critical for long-term success.

The V-Wise Program starts with a 15-day online course, followed by an in-person 3-day entrepreneurship training course, located across the nation at various locales. This year, the in person three-day training is going to be held in Louisville, Ky on August 11-13. A class will be held in DC in October 2017, and in Pittsburgh, summer of 2018.

The ability to start and nurture a small business, especially one which can move with the family, is critically important to the long-term financial stability of veterans facing challenges in the traditional workplace. When veterans start their own businesses, especially those that involve making things by hand, the quiet and solitude, the nature of the work, and some small degree of financial security may give veterans more peace and independence than currently offered job and employment help.

Many veterans still long to contribute to the world, the country, their communities and their families. When the support and structure of the military is lost, many vets face the challenges of service connected injury and illness alone, and without the support to successfully navigate a bureaucracy-heavy system. Beginning the journey toward small or micro-business ownership may let veterans build a new future.

Discharged Under DADT? Upgrade May Be Possible

29 Jun 2017

Since World War II, approximately 114,000 servicemembers have been discharged from all four branches of the United States military for homosexual conduct. From 1994 to 2011, "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) was the official policy of the military, forcing many service members to actively work to conceal their sexuality or face a less-than-honorable discharge. After the repeal of DADT, various bills were introduced in Congress - perhaps the best known put forth by Reps. Charlie Rangel and Mark Pocan in 2013 - to automatically upgrade any other-than-honorable discharges given for homosexual conduct, but none ever gained traction. Still, it is possible for you to upgrade your discharge if you are able to show the right documentation.

Very few discharged veterans have chosen to apply for an upgrade - only about 8 percent of those affected - but it is widely believed that many simply are unaware of the option. Some do choose to retain the designation as a reminder of history, but others jump at the chance to correct their records. The rationale is not only to right a historical wrong but also to improve their quality of life after service.

In some states, a dishonorable discharge is seen as equivalent to a felony, meaning that those dishonorably discharged lose rights like the ability to apply for certain jobs, and even to vote. A federal law, the Brady Act, prohibits you from owning firearms if you have a dishonorable discharge on your record. There are also benefits granted to honorably discharged service members that are not available to those with a general, other-than-honorable, or dishonorable discharge. Those with general discharges, for example, are not eligible to apply for GI Bill benefits, and those with other-than-honorable discharges may not be eligible for veterans' retirement benefits. 

In order to upgrade your discharge or have your separation designation code changed, you must provide evidence that your discharge was "inequitable" or "improper." Those are specific legal standards ("inequitable" means unfair or not in keeping with the values of the service, while "improper" means mistaken or erroneous), so meeting that burden with evidence can be difficult. If for example, you had any incidents of misconduct or disciplinary issues while enlisted, you may be denied an upgrade simply because your record was not clean. However, if you had a clean record aside from the instance or instances of homosexual conduct, the odds may be in your favor.

For more information on upgrading your discharge and improving your quality of life, please contact us.

Veteran Unemployability and Volunteer Work

18 May 2017

The issue of volunteering is an important one for veterans, because vets have always contributed to their communities and the country. After facing the challenges of living with a disabling condition as a result of military service, many veterans find the additional burden of not contributing to the world in a real way extremely disheartening.

But there are several ways vets can volunteer and have a positive impact on their communities without putting their disability rating or benefits in jeopardy. The employability rating is for those who are unable to work full-time. Contributing several hours a week as a volunteer does not imply the ability to work full-time.

It may help any concerns to volunteer in a field that was different from the previous job or occupation. Helping out at the local food bank, delivering supplies or giving elderly people rides to the doctor's office are all needed help that will not imply the ability to return to work. Working as a Foster Grandparent or a Big Brother or Sister is very important volunteer work. Many vets serve on advisory boards or committees, or help with veterans issues on an on-call basis.

The social interaction that comes with volunteering is important, and the feeling of being part of the community, and contributing, is one that many vets have always experienced. The isolation that comes after a disabling injury or illness can be very destructive to self-esteem and family dynamics. Volunteering in the community may be one way to continue to contribute to the world.

For more information on veteran unemployability, please contact us.

Discharge Upgrades

27 Apr 2017

Veterans must have a discharge from military service under honorable conditions to be eligible for benefits from the Veterans Administration.

Many veterans have been discharged dishonorably, even with a Bad Conduct Discharge, unjustly or erroneously. Some veterans have been punished and discharged dishonorably due to undiagnosed psychiatric illness caused by experiences in the service. PTSD is a common psychiatric diagnosis that may not be diagnosed in service but can cause service members much difficulty. PTSD may be responsible for conduct leading to a discharge under other than honorable conditions. Victims of sexual assault, often with PTSD, have been and continue to be discharged dishonorably.  Many victims do not report assault or suffer repercussions from commanders for doing so.

Personality disorders have been diagnosed by some military psychiatrists leading to discharges preventing a veteran from getting benefits as these are considered pervasive and usually existing prior to service. Veterans discharged because of an alleged personality disorder may be able to have their reason for discharge changed if they can substantiate that the personality disorder was improperly or erroneously diagnosed. This can be particularly important if there is another psychiatric diagnosis that is applicable and occurred during or as a result of service.

Thousands of veterans were discharged during the years that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in force. Those that were discharged dishonorably may be eligible for an upgrade.

The Department of Defense is making a renewed effort to encourage veterans to apply for discharge upgrades.

Reasons for requesting an upgrade must be explained. The veteran will have to justify why their discharge was unjust or erroneous. Medical records may need to be submitted if relevant to the claim.

Veterans who were discharged within the last 15 years should complete DD Form 293. Those that were discharged more than 15 years ago should submit DD Form 149.  Both forms should be submitted to the veteran’s respective service. The address to submit to is listed on the form.

Don’t leave your application to chance. Let our experienced law firm help you get the upgrade you deserve and gain access to the benefits you earned.

Incarcerated Veterans with Service-Connected Disability

30 Mar 2017

Veterans with service-connected disabilities, treated or untreated, are frequently in conflict with the justice system. What services are available to veterans who are under threat of incarceration, and what happens to VA benefits when a veteran is incarcerated?

The VA has a program called Veterans Justice Outreach Program. It is part of the homeless prevention initiatives, but veterans do not have to be homeless to receive services. The goal of the program is to provide mental health and substance abuse services to veterans who are involved with the justice system, to avoid unnecessary criminalization of mental illness.

There is also a program called HCRV, Health Care Re-entry for Veterans. This program is designed to reduce homelessness among veterans leaving prison. This program involves giving veterans information while incarcerated about how to plan for their re-entry.

VA pays disability and pensions. They are treated differently when incarcerated. Disability payments for those at the 20% or higher level are reduced to the 10% level. Those at 10% have their payment reduced by 50%. These reductions occur if a veteran is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days. Pensions are terminated on day 61 of imprisonment for a felony or misdemeanor.

For both programs, veterans have to reapply for benefits upon release and meet eligibility requirements again. There is a program that allows disability payments to be apportioned to a spouse, dependent parent, or child during incarceration. It's not automatic; the eligible family member needs to apply.

The compensation is not stopped for work-release programs, community control, or halfway houses. 

For more information on psychiatric disability & veterans, please contact us.


The Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act

16 Mar 2017

 The US took a trusteeship role over Micronesia in 1946, a large group of islands in the Pacific, and five days later those islands became the Pacific Proving Ground. The islanders were moved off and the US spent nearly twenty years detonating nuclear bombs on the islands, then left them, covered with plutonium and other radioactive waste blowing in the wind and seeping into the Pacific ocean.

When the US was forced by threat of lawsuit by the Enewetak Islanders to clean up the nuclear waste left behind, they used military personnel to save money. Safety gear, respirators and monitoring equipment were ineffective in the humid heat of the local climate, and there was not enough of it to protect all of the servicemen brought to work on cleanup. One veteran remembers asking for a mask, and being told there were no masks, to use a tee-shirt instead.

In 1988, Congress passed a law granting automatic medical coverage for veterans involved in the bombing, but the veterans who did the cleanup without adequate safety gear were excluded. One veteran recalls being given new safety gear to put on, and after his picture was taken by the military, the gear was removed and stored, and he went to work in shorts and sandals, with no shirt and no other safety gear.

Today veterans who participated in the cleanup report cancers, osteoporosis, birth defects in children, and other well documented health effects of exposure to nuclear waste. After being repeatedly denied by the VA, who relied on readings and documentation of broken or failed or nonexistent safety equipment, Congressman Takai from Hawaii wrote a bill called the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, specifically to address the inequity for veterans involved in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll. The bill has been sitting in committee since the end of 2015. There is a Facebook group for Enewetak cleanup veterans to share information and support.

For more information related to veterans, please contact us.


What is Gulf War Syndrome?

02 Mar 2017

Gulf War Syndrome is a chronic condition affecting those who served in the military while assigned to Southwest Asia. This service includes the Gulf War (1990-1991), Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2010) and Operation New Dawn (2010-2011).

Symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome can include a wide range of medical issues -- fatigue, memory problems, pain, rashes, and even tumors, to name just a few examples. Many causes are often blamed for the condition, from sarin gas to stress to exposure to smoke and pesticides. However, the exact cause of the problems still has not been reliably proven, even after numerous studies.

A recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs stated that anywhere from twenty-five percent to thirty-three percent of Gulf War military personnel suffer from this syndrome. In fact, veterans of this war suffer a greater number of multi-symptom illnesses, overall, than veterans of other wars.

Gulf War Veterans are generally eligible for special benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as health care and disability compensation, for any problems related to their service. If you're suffering from GWS, help is available! The Institute of Medicine concluded that serotonin inhibitors along with cognitive therapy are the most beneficial treatments to ease many symptoms. Even so, a fuller understanding of Gulf War Syndrome is still needed.

If you're a Gulf War Veteran, and you need legal representation to get the full benefits that you're due, please contact us as soon as possible. We represent veterans' interests in all states, and we can help you get what you're entitled to receive as a military veteran.

Is VA Healthcare Worth It?

16 Feb 2017

The Veterans Health Administration is the largest healthcare organization in the country if not the world. According to the VA:

The mission of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is "to serve the needs of America's veterans by providing primary care, specialized care, and related medical and social support services."

The VHA does not have another mission. There is no other agency or organization with that mission. Can the VA be trusted with veteran’s healthcare?

We hear of scandal after scandal at one VA facility after another. Veterans wait months for an appointment. We hear about veterans dying waiting to get care. We even hear about veterans dying on VA property and not being found for hours. The veteran suicide rate is reported to be through the roof. Veterans have killed themselves on VA property. What’s going on?

Some veterans and politicians have asked to privatize the VA or to allow veterans to get their wherever they want. Veteran’s organizations fight back and support the VA system of care. All our nation’s veteran’s organizations support the continued availability of VA provided healthcare. They argue that privatizing veteran’s healthcare will dilute it and not provide the expertise of many treatment programs available only in VA facilities. The consistency of access to experts in veteran’s care would be lost. The VA is a significant provider of training for virtually every medical specialty. Our entire nation would suffer without it. 

The decision about using the VA as a sole or primary source of healthcare is each veteran’s decision. Many veterans do not have a choice. Many veterans don’t have the financial option to get their healthcare anywhere else. Veterans must continue to depend on the VA to provide the best healthcare available and the government and veteran’s organizations to hold them accountable. There are many individuals, organizations, and political advocates fighting every day to insure the VA is there to provide the best care for our veterans. Should you have difficulty accessing your benefits or getting the healthcare or services you have earned, contact our experienced legal team for assistance.

New PTSD Treatment Studies -- Transcendental Meditation, Sleep, and Ecstasy

02 Feb 2017

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is experienced by a large percentage of military veterans. Its symptoms include flashbacks of traumatic experiences, stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

A new study, as reported by Medical News Today, shows that transcendental meditation can reduce the symptoms of PTSD. The study involved 181 male prisoners from the Oregon State Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary. These prisoners had undergone traumatic experiences and were considered a high risk for PTSD. The study compared those from the group who underwent a four-month transcendental meditation program of 20-minute sessions twice a day to those who hadn’t.

Symptoms were evaluated by using the Trauma Symptoms Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale. The results? The meditation sessions reduced trauma and stress by 47 percent.

In another recent study, also reported by Medical News Today, it was found that sleep can help reduce flashbacks of traumatic experiences.

In related news, the FDA studies of how the MDMA drug, commonly known as Ecstasy, can help treat PTSD are nearing completion. They have been going on since 2000 and are now in Phase 3 of the studies, which is the last step before a drug can be approved for pharmaceutical uses. All research until now points to the drug being approved when the studies are completed. Ecstasy saturates the brain with serotonin, which helps calm a person down and make them feel at peace with experiences they have gone through.

For more information on PTSD, and for help with receiving benefits for disability claims, just contact us.

Health Insurance and the VA

26 Jan 2017

Health insurance does not play a role in eligibility for health care at a Veterans Administration facility. 

The VA will ask if a veteran has insurance to provide the information. Providing insurance information does not impact eligibility for benefits at the VA nor does it impact your insurance benefits. The VA is required by law to bill your insurance company for the cost of non-service connected care provided by them. Your insurance company will not penalize you for services paid for at a VA facility. The VA will not refuse care because you have insurance. Having insurance will restrict your ability to receive emergency care outside the VA for a non-service connected illness or injury however.

Providing health insurance information may offset some of your costs for VA health care including copays. The requirement to pay copays is determined by the veteran’s enrollment priority and service connected status for the care being received.

Veterans may continue to utilize VA health care once eligible for Medicare. VA health care is considered credible coverage for Part D. Veterans do need to enroll in Part B coverage to prevent a penalty as the VA is not credible coverage for Part B. 

The Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obama Care, requires that everyone has insurance coverage to prevent a penalty. The VA is considered credible coverage under the ACA. Veterans who are registered in the VA health care system do not need to purchase health insurance to be in compliance with the law.

Veterans or caregivers having difficulty accessing VA health care benefits can call our experienced firm for assistance.

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