“Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said.“
“However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.
Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.
Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.
DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.
“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”
Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.
Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.
Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”
“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”
But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.
“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”
“If you’re a veteran who wants to be your own boss, it may not be obvious how to get started. Here’s what they told us:
1. Take advantage of the help available to you
Vets who want to start their own businesses can run into a unique problem: There are so many programs and resources out there to help, they may not know where to start.
Misty Stutsman, director of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, said there are several hundred programs developed to help vets start their own businesses.
“There’s a huge navigation issue that veterans are now facing,” she said. “With all of those resources, you can kind of spin your wheels.”
Stutsman suggested that vets start by finding local groups and resources, as well as consulting their network of fellow vets to see what groups they found most helpful.
The military’s transition assistance program, or TAP, includes a section focused on entrepreneurship called Boots to Business, which can help vets learn the basics of entrepreneurship and get a grasp on the support programs available to them. Vets who have already separated from the military can get a version of this training by signing up for its sister program, Boots to Business Reboot.
“SBA has this amazing myriad of resources,” Stutsman said.
Larry Stubblefield, associate administrator for SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, said his organization can help veterans find mentors, navigate lenders, learn how to market themselves and much more.
“We have 22 Veterans Business Outreach Centers located around the country,” Stubblefield said. “They’re like a one-stop shop for transitioning service members, veterans, military spouses.”
And the cost is already covered by your tax dollars, typically.
“The vast majority of our resources are free to the recipient.”
3. Find a mentor
“The folks who go out and connect … you’re much more likely to be successful than going at it alone,” Stubblefield said. “Entrepreneurship is definitely a team sport.”
If you know fellow vets who started their own businesses, reach out and ask them for advice. If you don’t, look into the SCORE program, a volunteer initiative associated with SBA that helps vets find business mentors.
“SCORE’s been around 56 years, now, and it’s what is called a resource partner of the SBA,” said Jay Gladney, a certified SCORE mentor. “We actually extend their … personnel resources to allow them to better serve SBA clients.”
SCORE connects budding entrepreneurs with mentors who have successfully grown their own businesses, often in the same field. The mentors can help budding entrepreneurs hone their ideas, improve their pitches to lenders and plan for growth and next steps.
“There are very few brand-new ideas out there,” Gladney said.
But the fact that someone has probably already tried your business idea in some form can work to your advantage – it gives you the opportunity to learn from their successes and failures.
“Learn as much as you can about the industry, the product and the service that you’re going into, so that you’re going in with a much better possibility of success,” Gladney said.
Gladney and other entrepreneurship experts told Military Times that it is important to make sure that your idea has enough target consumers who are eager to buy what you’re trying to sell. This probably means doing more than just asking your friends and family what they think.
Gladney suggested that entrepreneurs create surveys using free online tools to help them better understand what the consumers they’re targeting really want.
“You can actually create a small survey to ask people about what it is that you’re creating, whether they would be interested in buying that, and even ask them the price points,” he said.
5. Build a business plan
You’ve surely heard that you need to make a business plan before you launch your own company. But what exactly is a business plan?
You should be making a “fairly robust document” in the range of 15 to 20 pages, Gladney said. And it’s important that you physically write it out, rather than just having a vague sense of it in your head.
“Getting it written down is important, because it forces them to be specific and to make it make sense,” he said.
Ask your network of mentors and advisors to help.
And once you write the plan down, it doesn’t become an infallible document that should never be changed again, said Stutsman of Syracuse’s IVMF.
“A business plan becomes a living document,” she said. “ It’s not something that’s set in stone.”
Stutsman said that business owners should go back to their mentors and advisors, even long after getting their businesses off the ground, for advice and help adjusting their business plans to meet changing conditions.
6. Figure out financing
Launching a business will require money. Depending on your business, it could be a lot, or it could be a relatively modest amount. But regardless, you’re probably going to need to find a lender.
One of the first things that any lender will want to see is a business plan and market research that shows that your idea is viable.
“Lenders are going to be looking at that,” said SBA’s Stubblefield. “They’re not just going to, you know, hand you money.”
Even once you have all that material together, chances are that you’ll still have a hard time getting a loan by just walking into your nearest bank.
“Banks are generally a little difficult for startups,” said SCORE’s Gladney. “There’s no track record for success of the business for a startup, and so therefore the bank has less data on which to evaluate the risk that they’re taking.”
Another great resource is the SBA’s Lender Match program. Just fill out some forms online and the service connects you with possible funding sources, all of which have been approved by the SBA.
7. Talk with your family
Your personal and family finances – credit scores, debt, collateral, etc. – will affect your ability to get a business loan, Gladney said.
And of course, the inverse is true as well: Whether your business succeeds or fails will have a big impact on your family’s financial situation. So starting your own business needs to be a family decision.
“You absolutely must have … partner/family buy-in, or you’re doomed to fail,” said Janet Harris, director of recruitment for Dream Vacations, a franchise brand that helps entrepreneurs launch their own travel businesses.
One way to minimize your personal financial risk is to start slow, said Stutsman of Syracuse’s IVMF.
“Don’t quit your day job … Don’t cash out your 401k on an idea,” she said. “It’ll take a while to get to cash flow. It’ll take a while until you can take an income without hurting your company.”
In addition, Gladney recommended setting up a separate legal structure for your company, such as an LLC, so that the company bears more of the financial risk, not you. But even if you take all these steps, starting your own business is still a big risk.
“You have to assume the risk if you want the reward,” Gladney said.
8. Consider franchising
Starting a business from scratch will require you to do marketing, accounting, website building and much more. Are you an expert in all of those areas? Are you ready to pay someone else to help?
If not, franchising might be a great option.
“If you have a franchise, it’s like a box with a big bow on top,” said Janet Harris of Dream Vacations. Inside that box, you’ll find marketing, accounting, training and other help.
Of course, that help comes with extra cost.
SBA’s Stubblefield said that while franchisees can typically expect “a lot of support from corporate headquarters,” they are also likely to have much steeper startup costs.
Franchisees also typically have monthly franchise fees, or royalties, marketing expenses, material costs and other ongoing expenses.
That said, the franchise system is often a very good fit for veterans, Harris said.
“Franchising is a road map, so you follow that road map to success, which is also what … men and women in the military do,” she said. “That makes them very comfortable, and it also gives them more confidence.”
VetFran, a branch of the International Franchise Association, has online advice and resources for veterans interested in franchising.”
“Everyone wants the best for the members of our military coming home after years of service, fighting for our country. But so many of these wonderful, courageous and giving people come back and have MAJOR struggles — that often don’t seem to be well-addressed. Just look at the suicide rate! Of the 245,000 veterans who return home every year, at least 20 commit suicide every day. That’s an alarming and heartbreaking statistic that needs to change.
Two people who are working to make this transition between military and civilian life much less stressful and much more successful are Alignable Power Users Julie and CJ Niehoff. They founded and now run an incredible organization called SkillsAfterService.com, and they’re the stars of Casto’s Closeup, Episode 7.
Julie and CJ coach former members of the military on everything from the language that’s used in Corporate America or Entrepreneurial America, to the best ways to present themselves in interviews to demonstrate how their many skills can translate well to different job opportunities. Ultimately, they want to help veterans to find a purpose they can be proud of in their next job — a purpose that helps them to fully embrace this chapter of their lives.
CJ and Julie also show former soldiers how to create their own business and then grow it, if they want to go the entrepreneurial route.
In our video, we dig deep to explore many of the struggles former soldiers experience — and the solutions CJ and Julie have found to help them.
We learn that of the 245,000 soldiers each year that leave the military, a good two-thirds of them are affected by Transition Stress. In fact, this is much more common among veterans than PTSD is, though very few media outlets have reported on Transition Stress. This immense stress can sideline many wonderful, talented veterans, leading to everything from general aimlessness and depression to suicide.
But the good news is that the compassionate, but goal-oriented SkillsAfterService.com programs are designed to help combat Transition Stress and channel the skills and approaches needed to find or create meaningful work in the civilian world.
If you have a friend or loved one who is about to leave the military, or has left already and doesn’t know what to do next, please go to SkillsAfterService.com’s Alignable Profile. Any former member of the military would be in great hands with CJ and Julie.
We hope you enjoy this very topical episode. Please feel free to share it widely.
Also, for any veterans reading this story, please be sure to add our new veteran-owned business tag to your profile.
After the majority of our veterans tag their profiles, all you’ll need to do is press that tag to see who else served in the military. Then you’ll have an instant community to connect with — as business contacts, as well as new friends who share a common bond.
The table of contents below reflects free small business federal government contracting books and reference materials. You may download the book, SmallBusiness Federal Government Contracting and its supplement from the first, vertical “Box” in the left margin of http://www.smalltofeds.com. Blue topic titles are the basic book and red topics are contained in the Supplement.
Use the links beneath the table to access more recent articles since the publication of the book and the supplement.
You may also benefit from the free “Reference Materials” in the second, vertical “Box” in the left margin of the site. Contract agreements, incorporation instructions for all the US states, guidance on marketing and business planning are all included.
Other books by Ken available as free downloads in the “Box” include:
“A Veteran’s Photo/Poetry Journal of Recovery
From Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ”
“Odyssey of Armaments” My Journey Through the Defense Industrial Complex”
“Expectations and Reality are Far Apart on Both Sides of the Employment Spectrum. Aside from the legal and moral obligations to employ returning veterans, there is a third, vital challenge in the employment transition equation: understanding the vast difference between the military and civilian work environments.
Civilian Knowledge of the Military Environment Has DiminishedAs a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 18 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once. The Tragedy of the American MilitaryWar was much closer to home when the draft existed and military participation ran higher during WW II and the Vietnam Conflict.
The Nature of Today’s Wars and a Cynicism with Regard to Their Outcome Impacts the Veteran and the Civilian Outlook Ultimately, the military’s discontent may stem from dissonance between the commitment to, and pride in, the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan and the knowledge that these sacrifices have not yielded the desired results. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan arguably have prompted a crisis of confidence within the military itself.Despite a six-year, $287 million effort to make troops more optimistic and resilient, an Army survey found that 52 percent of soldiers scored badly on questions that measured optimism, while 48 percent reported having little satisfaction or commitment to their job.Understanding the Military’s Morale Crisis
Veterans bring these issues home and find a civilian employment environment that does not have a focus on combat life and death, but rather an emphasis on long term thinking, collaboration, viewing actions with respect to the impact on internal and external customers and politically correct human resource considerations.
The assumption on the part of the employer is that the strength and training of the individual coming out of the military environment permits a reasonable transition. It does not.
We Must Educate and Develop Programs to Bridge the Gap from Both Ends. A transition partnership between the veteran and the company is necessary. Expectations must be adjusted to reflect the differences in both venues.
Military core values such as – oaths, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a culture of direct command, and a narrow focus on the task at hand are no longer available when the veteran leaves the military. In the civilian environment political correctness, strategic group awareness, tact, organization factors, and a broad view of mission and achievement are required.
A veteran is therefore is not so much entitled to a job as he or she is entitled to be understood, and to be allowed to understand the civilian job environment, growing into it.
Professional Roles are Vital
There are two important types of professional roles to consider when hiring and managing military veterans in the business venue. As a veteran who made the transition to civilian professional work and ultimately owned a small enterprise, and as a counselor who supports veterans in becoming business owners, my experience over several decades indicates military men and women do well in Role 1 below. They have the most challenges with Role 2.
Role 1 Technical – Scientific, engineering, logistics, electronics, design and similar skill sets where direct supervision, team building, corporate policy compliance and human resource planning and utilization are not major factors.
VS Role 2- Management – Functional process capacities responsible for hiring, evaluation, supervision, compliance with civilian law and department activities involving group dynamics, customer relations and sensitive human factors.
I came out of the military having had a leadership role in engineering, base development planning and combat support. I served in war zones in Southeast Asia and on highly classified missions. I was not a manager. I was a military leader in specialized skill sets under Role 1 above.
I knew how to direct people who followed orders without question because the Uniform Code of Military Justice to which we swore an oath said they must do so.
I felt uncomfortable in jobs involving Role 2 above because they were foreign to me. I later adjusted, learned the venue and became skilled as a manager in the corporate world. I preferred staff assignments, however for most of my career.
The corporate venue seemed enormously political and bureaucratic to a former war fighter like me. I was not that tactful. I cut to the chase often and did not always take everyone with me when I made a decision.
Once I grew into a Role 2 performer, I found in interviewing, hiring, evaluating and managing young veterans, even seasoned ones, who had retired and joined the civilian work force, that almost all were better suited for Role 1. It took years and effort on my part to fit them into Role 2 and some never made it.
Management Analysis and Moving Forward
The principal reason for the logic conveyed above is that the military environment may seem to be structured in a way that fits Role 2, but the military does not turn out individuals who are suited in the knowledge and experience necessary in the civilian environment and they are not very good at it without extensive training and adaptation.
Enterprises have multiple-faceted challenges and they require multiple- faceted people. Even though individuals may hold a specific position job title, success in the civilian work force demands avenues where the human resource can contribute in multiple ways.
If a contributor has experience and training in several areas the business can utilize, that makes him or her a valuable resource and it is likely they will be professionally fulfilled and rewarded from doing so. Military personnel have specialty training and focus; few have a wide view of what is in front of them, particularly with respect to military vs. civilian professional settings.
It all comes down to the workers having an element of control in the future success for both themselves and the company and having the opportunity to realize their potential in that regard.
If the professional is in a narrow, technical discipline and his or her expectations are to have others support them in that role or if they are more comfortable in a “Stove-piped” professional setting and not attuned to group dynamics and the often politically correct nature of the civilian organization, they perhaps belong in technical roles and they do not belong in management roles at the onset of their employ. Summary
In fairness to veterans and to our hopes for them in the future, we must understand these above distinctions, build on Role 1, understand the risk in Role 2 and assist wherever possible.Above all, a respectful partnership and realistic expectations must evolve between the veteran and the company for success in transitioning former military personnel into the civilian work force. This must be achieved through education, training, communication and assessment of both the veteran and the company personnel. “
About the Author: Ken Larson is a 2 Tour US Army Vietnam Veteran, retired after 36 Years in the Defense Industrial Complex, having worked on 25 major weapons systems, many of which are in use today in the Middle East. He concluded his career with his own consulting firm. As a MicroMentor Volunteer Counselor Ken receives many inquiries from small companies wishing to enter or enhance their position in federal government contracting.
“Starting Jan. 1, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and all service-connected disabled veterans, regardless of rating, as well as caregivers enrolled in the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, will be able to shop at Defense Commissary Agency stores and military exchanges. “
“The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are gearing up for what will be the largest expansion of patrons to the military commissary system and exchanges in 65 years, making sure that shoppers will be able to get on base and find the shelves fully stocked.
They also will have access to revenue-generating Morale, Recreation and Welfare amenities, such as golf courses, recreation areas, theaters, bowling alleys, campgrounds and lodging facilities that are operated by MWR.
Facilities such as fitness centers that receive funding from the Defense Department budget are not included.
At commissaries, however, there will be an added cost for new patrons who use a credit or debit card to pay for their groceries, in addition to the 5% surcharge commissary patrons already pay.
DoD officials told Military.com on Wednesday that an estimated 3.5 million new patrons will be eligible to shop. However, after analyzing store locations and their proximity to where veterans live, they expect that slightly more than a quarter of those patrons, or 800,000 people, will take advantage of the benefit.
According to Barry Patrick, associate director of MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, the DoD expects veterans in high-cost areas like Guam, Alaska, Hawaii and parts of California to take advantage of the benefit. Stores in states or cities with large populations of service-connected disabled veterans, including Florida, California, parts of Texas and Washington, D.C., may also see an increase in customers.
“Through this data analytics tool that we’ve developed, we’ve been able to provide the services and the resale organizations information … to ensure that [they] can adjust,” Patrick said. “We are working with distributors to ensure that the supply chain is adjusted accordingly, based on high-impact projections, and that the supply chain is also prepared for rapid, agile reaction to any unexpected situation.”
In addition to ironing out the supply chain concerns, Pentagon officials also have been working to guarantee that the new patrons can get to the stores, which often are located on secure military installations, and will be able to make purchases.
The details have required a joint effort for much of the past year between the DoD and the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Treasury. Homeland Security is involved because Coast Guard Exchanges are part of the deal, and Treasury plays a role, because it is responsible for ensuring that new patrons pay a fee for credit and debit card purchases at the commissaries.
Since most new patrons lack the credentials needed to get on military bases, installations will accept the Veteran Health Identification card, or VHID, from disabled and other eligible veterans. For caregivers, the VA plans to issue a memo to eligible shoppers in the coming months, which will be used in conjunction with any picture identification that meets REAL ID Act security requirements, such as a compliant state driver’s license or passport.
Justin Hall, director of the MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, said that, after Jan. 1, newly eligible patrons should go to the visitors’ center at the base where they plan to do most of their shopping to register their credentials. Thereafter, they will be able to access the base in the same way as CAC and DoD ID card patrons.
According to Hall and Patrick, store computers and registers are being tweaked to scan VHID cards, and employees are being trained on identifying the new patrons.
The most significant difference mandated in the law that created the benefit, the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, is that the new customers must pay a fee if they use a credit or debit card at the commissaries. By law, the stores, which receive funding from the Defense Department budget, are not allowed to cover the extra cost of the new users’ card convenience fees.
The initial fee for commercial credit cards will be 1.9%; for debit cards, it will be 0.5%. Patrons can avoid the card fees by paying by cash or check, or by using the Military Star card, a credit card offered by the military resale system, which they will be eligible to apply for beginning Jan. 1.
The card fees will apply only to the new patrons.
The Defense Department is preparing a fact sheet that will contain information on how veterans can get a VHID card if they don’t already have one and how caregivers can obtain the memo they need to access the benefit.
MWR and Resale Policy officials said they also will launch an information campaign to alert service-connected disabled veterans of this new benefit.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is excited,” Hall said. “We’re really hoping to get the word out so veterans will learn about the opportunities.”
“Veterans suicides rose in 2017 despite concerted efforts in recent years from federal officials and lawmakers to address mental health and emergency intervention services within the military community. “
“Veterans Affairs officials noted in a new analysis released Friday that because of a data delay, their report does not take into effect any new initiatives put in place over the last 22 months. They also emphasized in the report that suicide prevention has become a major public health problem throughout the country, not just in the veterans community.
“Veterans do not live, work, and serve in isolation from the community, the nation, or the world,” the report states. “The issue of suicide in the U.S. also affects the veteran population.”
But the increase in the number of veterans who die by suicide represents another setback for advocates who have worked in recent years to address the problem through public awareness campaigns, easier access to psychological treatment and aggressive messaging against the stigma of seeking mental health care.
More than 6,100 veterans died by suicide in 2017, about 17 individuals per day. That’s up about 2 percent from 2016 and about 6 percent over the previous 12 years.
The shift is even more pronounced considering that the total number of veterans in America is decreasing each year, as older generations of former military personnel age. The total number of veterans in America dropped almost 2 percent from 2016 to 2017 (about 370,000 veterans) and was down almost 18 percent from 2005 to 2017.
Department officials in recent years have quoted the rate of veterans suicides across the country as “20 per day,” reflecting past figures which included active-duty military, guardsmen and reservists who served on active-duty, and National Guard and reserve members who were never federally activated.
Officials said they changed this year’s report to focus solely on veterans to avoid confusion about the population they monitor and directly assist. If the other military and never-activated reservist numbers were included, it would have pushed the suicide rate for the total veteran-connected group to about 21 individuals per day.
Nearly 87 Americans die by suicide each day, according to federal statistics.
Women with prior military service are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as their civilian peers, according to the report. Male veterans are 1.3 times as likely to die by suicide as men who never served.
Almost two-thirds of the suicide deaths among veterans in 2017 were individuals who had no contact with the Veterans Health Administration. VA officials in recent years have focused on public outreach efforts to address that problem, noting limited opportunities to share information on support services with veterans who they don’t interact with regularly.
In a letter accompanying the report, Dr. Richard Stone — executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration — said that suicide “is a national public health problem that disproportionately affects those who served our nation.” He called upon community partners to work with the department on “actionable, manageable steps” to address the problem.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced the formation of a new task force lead by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to focus on the issue of veteran and military suicide prevention. Among the issues that group of federal officials is considering is how to more quickly compile national suicide data, to provide quicker analysis of how prevention programs are performing.
The task force is expected to issue a formal report early next spring.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance. “
“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was recently recognized in studies by two independent peer-review journals — JAMIA Open and Psychiatric Services — for efforts to deliver trusted, easy access and high-quality online health care services to Veterans with complex health care needs or residing in remote areas.
“Telehealth technology remains a vital platform to provide high-quality health care to all Veterans, regardless of challenges they may face in accessing care,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA’s tablet program is a model that other networked health care systems across the country can mirror, and demonstrates the potential of telehealth capabilities in the years to come.”
According to the JAMIA Open study published Aug. 5, VA’s initiative to distribute video telehealth tablets to high-need patients appears to have successfully reached Veterans with social and clinical access barriers, including Veterans in rural areas and patients with mental health conditions.
The study published by Psychiatric Services, Aug. 5, validates that the initiative also appears to improve access and continuity of mental health services of Veterans with mental health conditions. Furthermore, researchers discovered that VA’s efforts are improving clinical efficiency by decreasing missed opportunities for care.”
“To prevent these tragedies, the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, and leading mental health organizations aggressively target the critical moment of crisis when a person is contemplating the act of suicide.
These critical organizations are lined up in a strong “end zone defense,” providing multiple areas of support for veterans in the midst of a suicidal crisis.
But what about veterans who haven’t reached a crisis point? What if there was a way to provide relief for everyday problems, pain and isolation before these issues snowball into self-destruction?
As a retired major general in the U.S. Army, who has lost a son to suicide, and a son to the war in Iraq, I can attest that the key is to connect with veterans before they reach the point of crisis.
Veterans are often reluctant to speak with anyone who “won’t understand” when they’re dealing with depression or anxiety about life issues. Many feel the pressure to figure it out themselves and “stay tough” and are embarrassed to discuss their problems with finances, relationship issues, housing issues, family dysfunction, or feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The reality is they need a direct connection to someone who has been in their shoes, long before they need a direct intervention. They need a peer.
Everyone needs a support system. Peer support provides veterans that sense of immediate trust, and gives them a confidant they can connect with at any point in their journey.
I joined Vets4Warriors in 2013 to lead a 24/7 peer-support network that serves all veterans as well as the entire military community, from those who just put on a uniform to the caregiver and families of a veteran who has long since stopped wearing a uniform.
Our peers are veterans from every branch and every era, dating back to Vietnam, and 70 percent of our peers are combat veterans. We truly are who we serve.
Since inception, we have had over 325,000 connections with members of the veteran and military community who are dealing with life challenges before they turn into crises. Regardless of the complexity of the issue or how long it takes, our veteran peers continue to follow up, seek out possible avenues, and pursue different options until an answer is found. We go the extra mile. And that is often what veterans need to help put them on a path that does not lead to tragedy.
Peer support is in many ways an upstream tactic in the fight against veteran suicide. Peers identify the issue at hand and can provide support and resources before the problem becomes unbearable.
Yet even with resources like ours available, when it comes to certain demographics of veterans, the rate of suicide is growing.
According to the most recent report on veteran suicide published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate of young veterans, those aged 18 to 34, increased more than 10 percent from 2015 to 2016. The largest number of suicides remain among aging veterans, since the majority of veterans are 55 or older.
Research has found that many suicides are decided impulsively, with less than five minutes between the decision to attempt suicide and the actual attempt. In other words, there is yet a brief moment in time in which we can intercept someone’s fateful decision. This is why it is critical to get upstream and tap into the power of peer support to help veterans grapple with their problems, challenges and even opportunities long before they find themselves in crisis.
Vets4Warriors is a connecting network; we connect with individuals and also connect them to resources, preferably in their communities, and then we remain connected as we follow up with them regularly.
I have seen this type of scenario play out many times with our peer-support network. An active-duty soldier from Fort Bragg struggling at work called Vets4Warriors and described how his marriage and children were suffering as he dealt with his PTSD. After speaking with one of our peers, he agreed to go to behavioral health services on post as well as to speak to the chaplain. During the first follow-up call, he stated that his peer at Vets4Warriors had been a “blessing to him.” The follow-up calls continue.
Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” once said: “We live in the most connected time in the history of the world, yet we’ve never been more disconnected from the things that matter the most.”
It makes a critical difference to immediately connect with someone who has walked the path and knows what you’re going through.
Peer support is vital for saving lives across our nation. We should all seek to always be there for those who hit tough times and struggles, whenever they may happen. Vets4Warriors is available 24/7 and we answer the phone live.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is director of Vets4Warriors. Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. If you want to speak with a peer, call Vets4Warriors at 1-855-838-8255, visit http://www.Vets4Warriors.com or follow us on social @Vets4Warriors to learn more.”
“Although the number of veterans in nursing homes is expected to rise 16% between 2017 and 2022 as veterans who served in Vietnam continue to age, the VA may not be prepared to handle the increase, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
And while some of those issues may be helped by a recent VA healthcare law, known as the Mission Act, concerns remain, auditors wrote.
“While VA expects to continue placing more of the veterans needing nursing home care into CNHs, officials noted some challenges contracting with these homes,” the GAO report states. “Specifically, VA central office officials said that about 600 CNHs had decided to end their contracts with VA over the last few years for a variety of reasons. For example, officials from four of the [VA Medical Centers] we interviewed told us about CNH concerns that contract approvals can take two years, homes have difficulties meeting VA staff requirements, and VA’s payment rates were very low.”
In addition, the homes may not be able to handle the special needs some elderly veterans face, including behavioral issues or dementia, the study found.
“[VA officials] said homes may not have any of the necessary specialized equipment or trained staff, or may not have as many of these beds as needed, to meet certain veterans’ special care needs,” the report said. “VA officials told us that they are working to expand the availability of special needs care in each of the three setting.”
The VA covers the full or partial cost of nursing home care for veterans, depending on availability and the veteran’s disability rating or injuries. Veterans rated at 70 percent or higher for service-connected disabilities or those who are receiving nursing home care as the result of a service-connected disability are fully covered.
The system provides care in three types of homes. CNHs are publicly or privately owned and operated and contracted with the VA. State veterans homes are typically owned and operated under the preview of the state in which they are located. And community living centers, which often provide acute care, are owned and operated by the VA and associated with the local VA hospital.
Auditors found the VA should do a better job monitoring the quality and performance of nursing homes, an improvement that will be increasingly important as the number of veterans using the facilities increases.
VA officials contract out inspections of nursing homes, but do not regularly monitor contractors’ performance to determine whether or not inspections are being done correctly, the report said. And the way the system works with state veteran homes does not flag all quality problems, which keeps the system from tracking them.
Moreover, VA officials haven’t given VA hospital staff instructions on how to conduct on-site reviews of nursing homes without the contractor, which means they can’t hold those facilities accountable for correcting problems, the report said.
“By making enhancements to its oversight of inspections across all three settings, VA would have greater assurance that the inspections are effective in ensuring the quality of care within each setting,” the report said.
The report also recommended that VA clarify its communication on the types of nursing home care are available, giving more information on state veterans homes and how their quality compares to the other options.
VA officials generally concurred with all four recommendations. They said they plan to act on the report’s recommendation to increase oversight of inspectors while changing how issues with state veteran homes are flagged. They argued, however, that their employees don’t have the authority or oversight to inspect community nursing homes directly. They also said they would investigate whether or not it’s feasible to provide data on state veteran home quality.”