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MilitaryConnection.com Supports the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool

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By Debbie Gregory.

Every Veteran and service member planning to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill needs to know about the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool. This interactive information resource could be considered the single greatest improvement to the VA’s Veteran education benefit in the last two years.

When making the important decision to go back to school, Veterans are left with many more choices that can affect the rest of their lives. Much like deciding on enlisting in the military, which branch, which rate, which MOS to sign up for, going back to school is not a singular, nor easy, decision.

Veterans should first consider their course of academic study. This can include what career field they would like to ultimately end up in. Veterans should have a good idea about what majors and minors they would like to study. Next, they should research the schools they might want to attend, and then what programs in their chosen areas of study those schools offer. Once a Veteran sees the schools that offer their academic programs, they are ready to evaluate those schools using the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

By simply inputting the answers to a few questions, Veterans gain access to a wealth of information about their prospective schools and futures using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. All that users of the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool need to input are:

  • Their cumulative time of Post-9/11 service
  • Their military status
  • The school they want to research
  • Whether or not they will be taking courses entirely online

In seconds, users of the GI Bill Comparison Tool have access to vital information, including the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) they can expect from a particular school, how much tuition that school charges (the Post-9/11 GI Bill caps at $19,198.31 per academic year), what the graduation rates at the school are, how many Veteran students are currently enrolled in that school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and if the school participates in the Yellow Ribbon program and/or the Principles of Excellence program. The Yellow Ribbon program participants agree to cover or excuse portions of tuition if it exceeds the VA’s yearly cap. The Principles of Excellence program guarantees a personalized education plan and schedule accommodations, among other items.

Giving Veterans access to compare data for potential schools, within seconds, makes the decision of where to use their education benefits much more convenient.

MilitaryConnection.com urges every Veteran considering the use of their VA education benefits to weigh their options before enrolling. The quickest, easiest and most informative resource for this is the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

Would You Test a PTSD App for Stanford University?

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By Debbie Gregory.

One of the biggest concerns for combat Veterans is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Service members who survived the horrific events of war and witnessed the aftermath when the dust cleared often struggle with the brain’s inability to cope with the memories of those experiences. Many people don’t understand PTSD. Our service members volunteer to be put in the position where serious bodily harm and death can occur.  They also face the risk of a lifetime of unmanageable memories from events that occur while in the military.

A number of government agencies, including the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA), continue to fund programs that treat service members and Veterans with PTSD and also fund programs that research PTSD in order to better treat symptoms and provide the best care for service members. One of the programs that the VA has funded has developed a mobile application (app) that Veterans and service members can download onto their personal smartphones. The VA sponsored app was designed to offer rapid care for users who suffer from PTSD. The app provides users with general information of PTSD, a self-assessment tool, helpful methods to cope with their ailment, and also informs them where they can locate support services. In one study, users reported having fewer PTSD symptoms after using the app for as little as one month.

Currently, a research team from Stanford University is conducting a more in-depth study of the VA’s PTSD app. The team is asking for PTSD sufferers to volunteer for the study.

For three months, participants will be randomly split into two groups. One group will have access to the app, and the other group will not. After the study period, both groups will be allowed to use the app, and all the participants will fill out surveys from their experiences. All participants must be PTSD sufferers 18 years or older, who are not currently being treated for their PTSD symptoms. The study does not require in-person visits as part of the study. All volunteers must also have their own smart phone (iPhone or Android) and be able to download the free app.

Veterans are no strangers to duty and responsibility. This research project provides a great opportunity for Veterans and service members who suffer from PTSD to participate in an effort to improve treatments for themselves, their current brothers and sisters in arms, and future PTSD sufferers.

If you are interested in participating, please contact research coordinator Nitya Kanuri at nkanuri@stanford.edu or call (650) 485-3465.

Military Death Benefits Bill Introduced into House

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By Debbie Gregory.

Last October, when Congress’ stalemate led to a sixteen day government shutdown, the families of five recent KIA service members were further tormented when they were faced with a delay in receiving their $100,000 payment. “Death gratuity” payments are used by families to help cover the costs of meeting and receiving their fallen loved one’s remains, and then laying them to rest. When these payments were in jeopardy, the Fischer House Foundation graciously offered to immediately forward the money to the families, until the shutdown ended. The foundation also offered to pay for travel and lodging for the families to meet their fallen warrior’s remains. In 2013, the Fisher House Foundation also paid for 22,000 other families to see their wounded service members in military hospitals and recovery centers.

Last October, Congress unanimously agreed to adjust legislation to award the five families their entitled benefits. The Honoring the Families of the Fallen Act made it mandatory that death benefits be paid to families, even during a government shutdown. However, the changes made then were only temporary and expire at the end of fiscal year 2014.

Recently, Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) introduced legislation that would permanently allow the Defense Department to continue making death benefits payments to the families of fallen soldiers, even during a government shutdown.

Barber’s bill, H.R. 4274 proposes to adjust the Honoring the Families of the Fallen Act to say the DOD is authorized in any fiscal year to make death gratuity payments, even if there is a lapse of government funding.

MilitaryConnection.com believes that Veterans and their families deserve the best that the country can give them for their service. But the men and women who die while in service to their country should be honored above all else. Their sacrifice, their honor, their entitlements and their families should be considered sacred, especially by the government they died supporting. There is no question that H.R. 4274 needs to be approved or improved upon and then approved.

Families of fallen service members deserve all of the help and support that we as a nation can give them. If you or someone you know has lost a loved one in the service to their country, please refer the survivors to the Tragedy Assistance programs for Survivors (TAPS). MilitaryConnection.com is a proud supported of TAPS and all that they do for grieving military families and families of wounded Veterans.

One Veteran’s View of the VA Honesty Project

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By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.

It is no secret that most Veterans have had a complaint or two about the VA. The plain and simple truth is that any organization that takes care of more than 2 million patrons in a broad range of services such as healthcare (medical, dental, vision and mental), disability compensation, education benefits, employment assistance, home loans, and even death and funeral benefits, is going to accrue some complaints.

Recently, U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller,(FL) launched the VA Honesty Project. The Project is a website designed to track the Veterans Administration’s transparency with both the press and the public.

In a prepared statement, Miller said, “With 54 full-time public affairs employees, VA’s media avoidance strategy can’t be anything other than intentional.” He added, “What’s worse, the tactic leaves the impression that department leaders think the same taxpayers who fund the department don’t deserve an explanation of VA’s conduct.”

To be fair, the same complaint that Miller made about the VA can be said about law makers on Capitol Hill, who employ more than 54 full-time public affairs employees. But finger pointing won’t improve benefits for anyone. I do applaud Mr. Miller’s efforts to improve benefits that Veterans receive and agree that the VA should be held accountable for their actions and shortcomings. But I don’t know what the congressman is expecting. Does he want press conferences explaining individual cases where the VA dropped the ball? Does he want reporters hounding VA representatives like they were athletes after losing a big game? I don’t know who would want to hear excuses being made about their agency’s performance.

However, unlike the congressman, I do see the VA responding to critics and complaints. As a writer and Veteran who daily researches VA programs, I have seen rapid improvements in the VA over the last few years. I have seen the VA application move to a faster, paperless system. I have seen needs addressed in employment opportunities for Veterans. I have seen the VA address and nearly eliminate Veteran homelessness. I have seen the VA expand its healthcare and mental health benefits. And I have seen the VA taking measures to reduce their backlog. I think that I prefer the VA’s responses over hearing excuses made in front of a camera.

Rep. Miller is absolutely correct to point out that the VA is not perfect, and has room for improvement. Veterans deserve the very best, because they gave the very best. But I don’t see that adding another set of bureaucratic handcuffs is the solution to bettering the care for me and my brother and sister Veterans. I will continue to voice my concerns to the VA on where deficiencies lay in their department. And I will continue to see what actions they take in response to expressed concerns.

Service Members Peer to Peer Support

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By Debbie Gregory.

Every branch of the U.S. military takes pride in honoring the generations of warriors that came before them. From revering historic events and battles, to obeying instructions from their senior leaders, to following the guy in front of them in ranks, service members take a lot of their cues from their predecessors. This is as it should be, because who know more about the position that a service member is currently standing in than a person whose boots were previously in that same exact spot? This is the wisdom that the Vets4Warriors program was founded on in 2010.

The stated mission for Vets4Warriors, sponsored by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office,  is “For any issue, at any time, a Veteran is here to help. We all need a helping hand sometimes and Vets4Warriors provides 24/7 confidential peer support, information, and referrals for all service members.”

Originally, the program was intended only for members of the National Guard and Reserves, but since September 2013, Vets4Warriors has been open to any current member of the active duty military, National Guard and Reserves. Since their inception, the Vets4Warriors programs has fielded over 45,000 calls to their call center and 2,000 internet chats. The program provides current service members and their families with guidance and support.

The support that the Vets4Warriors program offers comes in multiple forms, such as call centers, email and instant messaging chat boxes. Veterans from all branches of service who have had similar experiences, as well as military family members who are empathetic to the pressures of military life, provide around the clock peer support.

The Veterans in the call center provide reassurance that the struggles faced by the person on the other end of the line, while unique to military lives, are not unique to them alone. Veterans manning the toll-free number are trained to provide service members with information about resources and programs that are available to benefit them and their current needs, and in some cases, can offer referrals to programs and benefits.

The family members who staff the call centers are trained to offer military families, caregivers and survivors assistance and support in times of crisis and need.

All Veterans and family members who man the Vets4Warriors call center assist callers in managing stress, staying healthy, overcoming adversity and building resilience. Along with fielding calls, the program provides follow-up support for as long as the service member or family member is struggling with that issue, even if it takes months.

All communications to the Vets4Warriors program is confidential, and is not disclosed to the military or anyone else. Callers can remain anonymous, if they choose to do so.

The Vets4Warriors contact information would be good to keep in your cell phone, your email address book, or on your refrigerator. Their toll-free number is (855) 838-8255. You can email them at info@vets4warriors.com and visit the program’s website at www.vets4warriors.com

As in all emergency situations, you are advised to dial 9-11 or your local emergency number. You can also call the Military Crisis Line at (800) 273- 8255 (1).

 
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