Tag Archives: veterans

Soldier to Civilian: Establishing VA Benefits

My husband, Clay, recently retired after more than 20 years of service in the United States Army. Over the past 20 years of his career, his life was reminiscent to the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere.” He has been stationed, or trained on just about every military installation in the continental United States, not to mention assignments in South Korea and Germany. Oh, and there were the deployments, training exercises and more deployments.

Our family’s transition was fairly easy. Clay has a tremendous VA staff while undergoing this process in South Korea. He was shown how to properly complete the paperwork and they handled his case with the utmost importance. Unfortunately, not all service members receive the same care in this process.

Are you a military family nearing retirement and transition? Do you know a family who is transitioning from active duty to civilian? One thing that can be difficult for some is healthcare in the VA system. So, to help, I wanted to share a list of helpful information for you prior to your transition from the military to civilian life in regards to VA Benefits. Here is my checklist that helped our family:


  • Document EVERYTHING! I don’t care how minor the issue, go to sick call and get it documented. When you begin your transition, the VA requires a copy (digital or hard copy) of your medical records. It’s difficult to claim a disability when you’ve never gone to a doctor or physician and had it documented.  You must approach the VA as if you are the person scrutinizing your own claim.
  • Make copies.  The VA requires a copy of your medical records. If you’ve served one day in the military, you already know paperwork gets lost. Don’t be a statistic. Do yourself a favor by making copies. In the event you need to file an appeal with the VA, you will need those records. Never give your only copy away. When the military medical system went online, your medical records went digital are are now kept on a secure server. If you’re like my husband and enlisted prior to 2005 (and when medical records went digital), part of your records are hard copies. Worse yet, he spent four years of his military career as a recruiter. That means he had medical records from a civilian doctor. What we found out was that the military medical system frowned upon civilian records. For example, he was stationed at Fort Bliss, TX, after recruiting. When we left Fort Bliss, all Clay’s civilian medical records were missing. Luckily, he had made copies and inserted them back into the medical records we were keeping. However, every time we PCS’d, the same happened to his civilian medical records. If you remember nothing else from reading this, remember this: MAKE COPIES!
  • E-Benefits. Each branch of the military as some sort of class that help the service member transition back into civilian life. Part of the Army Career Alumni Program process is establishing an account on E-Benefits. This website allows the service member to track and manage your benefits. You can also establish care at the closest VA medical center through this website. Take time to navigate through the website and familiarize yourself with the information provided – there’s a lot of info!
  • Disability claims. Claim everything. Sore knees? Claim it. Injured your wrist in training? Claim it. Do not be shy, timid, or think the claim “isn’t that bad.” If you have had an issue with your health (physical or mental) caused by your service, or the underlying condition could become worse as time goes along, claim the disability. Your VA representative can help you fill out the paperwork.
  • Service Officer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offers assistance when filing VA claims. The claims process can be confusing and one that service members and veterans shouldn’t try to navigate alone.  VFW Service Officers are trained experts, helping veterans develop their case with ease by reviewing and applying current law, pertinent legislation, regulations and medical histories. As skilled professionals, they assist in filing for disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, and employment and training programs. And they won’t hesitate to request hearings before the VA and the Board of Veterans Appeals to present oral arguments when needed. This is a service the VFW is proud to offer–free of charge–to anyone seeking assistance with the claims process.
  • Do not waitGet your medical documents together as soon as possible. When Clay retired, he retired from an assignment in South Korea. The wait time to obtain a copy of his records was about a month. If you wait until the last minute, there could be a delay, or worse, a denial of benefits. Get seen by medical professionals, get your concerns documented and request the records.
  • Be prepared. I wish I could tell you why the VA approves and denies claims. I’m as confused concerning the approvals and denials of benefits, too. Having said that, be prepared to appeal. Chances are, you may not have to appeal; however, be prepared to appeal. It’s always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Keep copies of your medical records secure. The copies that will be provided to you will more than likely be digital copies. Continue to monitor, manage and track the VA claims process through E-Benefits. Don’t hesitate to contact a VFW Service Officer to assist you in the claims process. Continue to ask questions as they arise and research on your own.
  • Be patient. The process could take up to 6 months before you receive your disability rating. There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed along the process. Every VA area is different in regards to timing. We decided to retire in Tennessee. The wait time for Clay’s disability rating was a lot quicker than most of our friends who retired in other states, yet slower in a few other states. The point I’m trying to make is to be patient. Monitor the process through E-Benefits. You can call the VA everyday, but it makes no difference. When the VA gets to you, they will get to you. Remember there are hundreds of other service members who are going through the same process as you. Be patient.
  • VA Appointments. When your service member is retiring, they will receive a call from the VA to schedule their VA appointment prior to their official retirement date. Ensure the service member’s information is up-to-date with the VA through the E-Benefits website. Whatever phone number you designate as your point of contact, try to keep it until your appointments are complete. The last thing you want is a missed call or missed appointment. These appointments will take place at the nearest VA medical facility. You will also receive a small travel reimbursement for the mileage it takes to drive there. Be prepared for the appointment to last at least 2 hours. Your service member will be asked a plethora of questions and will be checked physically from head to toe. If your service member is claiming a mental disability claim, they will also be seen by a psychologist or licensed therapist. If a service member is not retiring, the process is the same, but the appointments may or may not occur prior to your official retirement date.

I hope this list assists your family during the transition process. Reach out to other veterans to learn from their experiences and visit your local VFW. The guys and gals in the VFW are loaded with helpful information.

Do you have any helpful tips for other transitioning military families? Share them with us!

laura-prater-headshotPosted by Laura Prater, National Military Family Association Volunteer and blogger at Raising Soldiers 4 Christ

Veterans Day: We Support You. We Appreciate You.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed civilians can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead


This Veterans Day, the National Military Family Association encourages you to show your appreciation for the men and women who dared to commit their lives to protect our nation. We owe them our respect and gratitude, not only for serving in our all-volunteer military, but for the impact they play within their communities, their jobs, and among their fellow veterans.

And behind every current or former service member, stands a family supporting, encouraging, and sacrificing. We cannot forget the mission these families accomplished during their loved ones’ active duty or reserve service. Though they may not have laced up boots or buttoned up a uniform, their part should not go unrecognized.

Veterans: with endless gratitude we thank you for your service to our country and your commitment to the mission. We are proud of what you’ve accomplished, and we stand behind you and your family.

Together we’re stronger.

Thanks to Meineke and Maaco, we’re giving away a $100 prepaid Visa gift card to a lucky Branching Out reader! These two brands have partnered to honor veterans through their Cars and Stripes campaign, where they’ve fully restored a truck to gift to a deserving veteran in need of transportation. Cars and Stripes is a four-week video series that will launch on the brands’ Facebook pages starting today.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is follow Branching Out blog! To follow, simply enter your email address in the right column! Giveaway ends tonight at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be contacted via email on 11/12/15.

Veterans Have Families, Too.

girl-holding-flagsRecently, I shared some of the awesome things NMFA does for the military community, and last week, we had a great opportunity to work with the military families, and other organizations who have a huge impact within their own towns all across the country.

NMFA hosted our second Military Transition Roundtable, where we dove into discussions about how we help communities around the country prepare, support, and welcome separating service members and their families.

Some of the questions tackled were:

  • How do we prepare our communities to handle the transitioning service members and their families?
  • Can military support organizations open the door to the civilian community more, if so, how?
  • How do we help these organizations move beyond offering only deployment support?

Being a civilian, this conversation really spoke to me, and the work I do with military families. Before I became involved with NMFA, I would always say I was a supporter of the military, but I’m not sure I really knew what that meant. I wasn’t sure how to go beyond the word support…especially when it meant helping families transitioning out of military service. Did they still need our help?

The answer is yes. Transitioning families do still need support, and here are a few ideas the experts around the table shared to do just that:

  • Let’s get our communities to adopt a mindset which supports hiring veterans and their spouses. It needs to be cultural within community businesses and organizations.
  • If community organizations should make a habit of asking newcomers if they’re members of the military.
  • There are significantly more information gaps and confusion when it comes to transitioning out of the military, and families in the throes of it are navigating as best they can. Just because families are finding their new normal outside of the military, doesn’t mean we need to stop supporting–we just need to change how we’re doing it.
  • Let’s encourage civilians to be the connecter in their communities.
  • Community organizations can make relationships with transitioning families happen by reaching out and talking to military family readiness leaders to find out how to help.
  • We must continue to make it known that veterans have families, too. In some instances, we are dealing with communities who aren’t thinking about the families behind the veteran, so, how do we shift the conversation?

If you are interested in seeing more, check out a full recap of our tweets from our Roundtable discussion.

What are some ways communities, and civilians, can help make transitioning military families feel more at home? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager


22 Lives Taken is Too Many: Clay Hunt SAV Act Signed by President Obama

clay-hunt-act-signing-paul-rieckhoffWhile Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), stood in front of 22 American Flags, he proudly recapped this historic day – one that he, and IAVA led the charge for. And I was left with goosebumps.

After hours on the phone, storming the Hill, and making sure our veterans are taken care of, IAVA and hundreds of others were there to watch President Barack Obama sign the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act into law. This Act will help aid in the prevention of veteran and active duty suicides among our service men and women.

“22 veterans commit suicide every day. If we can save just one life, this was all worth it,” Reickhoff reiterated at IAVA’s reception, following the bill’s signing.

My goosebumps came from the electric feeling of community that flowed through the room..

“This community that focuses on principles over politics is what made this happen,” Rieckhoff said. And we all felt it; this bill did not become law on its own. It took hundreds of people, working hours on end, to make sure the spotlight didn’t fade on our veterans. It also took Clay’s spirit.

“Clay Hunt was courageous. He was inspiring. He was awesome. This act will help continue his purpose,” Senator Bob McDonald shared.

Military service members, veterans, and their families need our support more than ever. President Obama encouraged those struggling, “If you are hurting, you are not forgotten, you are not alone. America is here for you. We need you.”

Congratulations to IAVA, and everyone involved in this extremely important and meaningful cause. You are helping to save the lives of our current and future veterans.

If you, or someone you know, are hurting, know that it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out, we’re here for you.

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Preparing to Return to Civilian Life: A spouse’s perspective

crossroads-sign2With small budgets and shifting priorities, the mission for the U.S. military is changing. An estimated 123,900 service members will leave the Services within the next five years. Some folks signed up for one tour and only intended to stay in for that enlistment. Others joined knowing they wanted to make this a career. Regardless of the reasons for separating from the military, a significant number of current service members will not make the military a career.

When I read articles about downsizing, I immediately think about how this would impact our family; specifically what happens to our pay and benefits. Any entitlement to pay and benefits after your service member leaves the service will depend on the circumstances of separation.

For example, if the service member retires; he or she is eligible for retirement benefits. Unfortunately, most folks who are separating due to the drawdown are not eligible for retirement benefits. If you fall into the later category, here are some tips to help you prepare for life outside the gates:

Pay: This is a big one. You and your service member will need to decide how you will earn an income. It may be helpful to consider the following:

  • Your taxable and nontaxable income (i.e. allowances such as a housing allowance (BAH) are not taxable)
  • Your current and estimated expenses (i.e. if you are living on the installation now and will move back to your home town, check out the local rental rates, property values, utility costs, etc.)
  • The cost of living in your projected job market
  • Your estimated income needed to meet or exceed your current standard of living

Health Care: Health care is the largest non-monetary part of the service member’s benefit package. While the service member may be eligible for service-connect health care for life through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), your family generally loses coverage once the service member separates from the Service.

You may be able to receive health care coverage in the individual market, a health care exchange, or through an employer’s plan. Your family may be eligible to participate in TRICARE’s Transitional Assistance Management Program for 180 days of premium-free transitional health care benefits after regular TRICARE benefits end. After this coverage ends, your family may be eligible for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP).

CHCBP is a premium-based program offering temporary transitional heath coverage from 18-36 months after TRICARE eligibility ends. A family premium for 2013 is $2,555 per quarter.

Life Insurance: Whether you are separating from military service or retiring, you will need to decide what to do with your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage. SGLI stays with you for an additional 120 days after you leave the service, and then it stops for good. You need to decide to either take Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) or get your own individual life insurance.

For those who sustained injury or have chronic conditions, it is imperative to look at whether or not outside insurers will cover you. You can convert to VGLI in the specified time period without proof of good health. After that time period, you will have to prove you are in good health.

Keep in mind that Family Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) provides coverage for your spouse and children. It may be converted to an individual policy, but not to VGLI. Companies listed on the VA website will convert spouse health coverage without proof of good health during a specified time period.

Ancillary benefits: Ancillary benefits may include the Commissary, Exchange, reduced child care fees, or discounts in your local community – all part of the overall military lifestyle and some elements of the military compensation package.

In most cases, you will not be able to continue to access these privileges; however, some communities may provide benefits for veterans. It is recommended you ask each establishment to determine what type of documentation you need to show if you are eligible to participate. You may find there is another type of discount, such as a community membership, for folks who live in a specific neighborhood, which is available to you instead of a military discount.

This is the first of a blog series discussing transition from military life to civilian life. What other transition topics would you like to see? Leave a comment below!

KatiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

The Veterans Charity Challenge – Help Us Win Up To $35,000


Craigconnects, founded by Craig Newmark of craigslist, and The Rahr Foundation are teaming up to honor military families and veterans.  They’re launching The Veterans Charity Challenge and will be giving away $100,000. The National Military Family Association is competing in the challenge and we’re super excited to raise as much money as possible for our cause.

The charity that raises the most throughout the Challenge will receive $35,000. Second place gets $25,000 and third place gets $15,000. We’re out to raise as much money as possible for our cause so we can win that $35,000 donation!!

Any donation, large or small, can make all the difference. Please GO HERE and give what you can.

And, if you want to go one step further, visit our fundraising page  and click ‘Fundraise for this charity.’ In seconds, you’ll have your own fundraiser that you can share with all of your family and friends so that you can raise money for our cause too. And, please help us spread the word. If you email a list of your co-workers, family and friends and ask them to help, we can get that much closer to winning the grand prize and raising money for our cause.

Thanks so much for your support!

annie Posted by Annie Morgan, Deputy Director for Development and Membership