Saturday, December 29, 2018

President Ronald Reagan: Peace Through Strength

As the "Great Communicator," President Ronald Wilson Reagan had the unique ability to bring together tens of millions of Americans, people of every background and experience. His presidential tenure marked a distinctive era in American history, a time of decision and prosperity.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Longest Enlisted Soldier Finally Retires

CSM Jeffrey Mellinger was the longest serving soldier who ever served, who was originally drafted. He was drafted in 1971, but made the U.S. Army his career until he finally retired in 2011. His long service was exemplary and is something that should be remembered.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

History of the 7th Infantry Division

Though I never served with the 7th Infantry Division (Light) in combat, it was certainly a place I felt at home, in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment (Bearcats!).

Sunday, December 16, 2018

WWII IN HD Eisenhower Speech

Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower: The buck stopped there.

VA Announces Electronic Health Record Changes

This change in DoD and VA record management is so significant for veterans who need access to their information.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Overcoming an opioid addiction with VA support

Personally, I have used the VA system for addiction treatment, in East Orange, New Jersey, and found it to be a very positive, effective program. I think this is something that veterans in need should think about.

For information about special health issues, call 1-800-749-8387 and for information about VA benefits, call 1-800-827-1000.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Veterans, Addiction, Mental Health Consumers and Vocational Rehabilitation, Part I

Helping veterans with challenges 
find work again is necessary

It's a big equation for a veteran, being a mental health consumer, addicted and needing vocational rehabilitation. 

   As a peer support specialist, I worked with this population for abot two years. It was an honor, a privilege and the hardest job I ever had. As I speak about this, I am doing so using my experiences in the field as a guide.

Sobriety and Compliance
   To begin with, if anyone who suffers from addiction is actively using mind and/or mood altering subtances then they are not a good candidate for voc rehab. Anyone who is a mental health consumer and is not fully compliant with their medication is also not a good candidate for voc rehab. A veteran must be in recovery, about a year, and medically compliant (a year would be a good amount of time), before they can really get down to the work of vocational rehabilitation. In my experience, prematurely working on vocational rehabilitation leads to a bad outcome for the client.

   Veterans have access to many programs that might assist them with vocational rehabilitation. However, without a willing, medically stable client and with addiction being in remission, the work of vocational rehab is so futile, so often that it makes little sense to try.

   Finding a job is stressful. Preparing for job interviews is stressful. Beginning a new job is stressful. Without a sound program of recovery then these stressors may well lead to a client becoming , compromised in one of these areas. Of course, anyone can fall prey to mental health disorders and addiction at any time. Adding stress to very early recovery, though, is a recipe for disaster.

Dealing with Court, Drivers Licenses, 
Finances and Credit, Etc.
   The work of helping a veteran return to the workforce actually begin with meeting them where they are. Someone cannot get and/or keep a job when they do not have adequate housing; are not able to have access to food or medical attention; have a drivers license or extremely reliable transportation; have the adequate training or experience in a given field; and/or have open warrants by the police.

   Helping a veteran find his way to work restoration is not something that any one individual can do. That effort begins with the client. A man or woman must be sober, medically comliant and interested in moving forward with work, or with school. But, it can be a long road until the task at hand becomes diagnostic testing, interview preparation and creating a resume.

   Many of my clients had pending charges or were on probation or parole. Well, if someone has not violated parole or probation then that is great. If someone has pending charges, outstanding warrants, has violated parole or probation and is pending court on any of these then they need a lawyer. There are organizations that help veterans with legal help. However, pro bono lawyers volunteer for such on an isolated basis and may not be available in every area.

   Having a driver's license or reliable transportation is a must for any job seeking client. If a client lives in the suburbs or in a rural area, a driver's license is absolutely necessary. If a client lives in an urban area then buses or subways are an effect transportation tool.
Using resources available to vets from the VA can really help

   It is straightforward, if a client has a suspended license then it needs to be reinstated. This means that fines have to be paid up, surcharges have to get paid and, perhaps, a client will have to take the driving test and/or a road test. This is precisely why a client must be sober and dedicated. Putting an addict behind the wheel again isn't a good idea for anyone.

   There is also the issue of credit. Many companies today check credit reports before they give an applicant a job. Consequently, if someone is well behind in their bills then they need to deal with that. If the situation requires assistance then referring a client to a financial counselor may be a good idea. If it is worse than that then maybe referring a client to a bankruptcy attorney is the right thing to do. No one wants to go bankrupt, but sometimes it is necessary. Getting a client in front of an attorney that specializes in bankruptcy can be important. Finding an attorney who will do it pro bono is easier to find if a client is a veteran, but that is no guarantee there is one in someone's local area.

   When a client suffers from addiction, when they are non-compliant with their meds and they are mental health consumers, then bad things can happen. The wreckage of past deeds can haunt a client, and spoil their plans for the future -- unless they are dealt with in a forthright manner by a client. This is also why a year's 'cooling off' period is important. A year of sobriety, of being medically compliant makes a statement about a client wanting to help themselves.

Next week: Part II - Housing and Supportive Employment

Friday, December 7, 2018

Upgrading a Discharge Takes Work and Commitment

Veterans who want to upgrade their discharges face an uphill fight


I am not an expert in veterans benefits. However, I have used a lot of Veterans Administration benefits and had good and bad experiences along the way. So, I want to share a few thoughts with my fellow vets throughout the course of several editorials. 

   The fable about how easy it is to change the character of a discharge: One barrier to veterans not receiving VA benefits is them receiving an Other Than Honorable Discharge or a Dishonorable Discharge. When I was a peer specialist working at Lyons VA, in New Jersey, as a contractor, I had some exposure with this.

   If anyone ever tells you or someone you love that it is easy to change the character of a discharge, they have no idea what they are talking about. Most civilian lawyers have no idea how to go about this procedure or how to begin. Rather than give anyone enough information to be dangerous to themselves, I would say this: You need expert help in changing the character of a discharge. The first thing that anyone helping someone is going to need will be records of all of the provost marshal and court proceedings that were a part of Uniform Code of Military Justice proceedings with the veteran concerned. This is a first step for anyone who is wishing to undertake this process.

   In my experience, getting records from the Naional Guard or Reserves can be more challenging than obtaining records for former Active Duty members. The only person whom I have ever met to complete a request for change of character discharge for a veteran was not a lawyer. He was a very dedicated vocational rehabilitation specialist for the VA.

   As a peer, I referred several "pro bono" lawyers to my clients. All of these attorneys or firms stated they knew how to go about changing the character of a discharge. And, after my clients were referred to them they never received a call back, not one, even after more than a year.

   What does this tell me? Well, if anyone is going to attempt changing the character of their discharge, I suggest they find a lawyer who has done it before for someone else. I would not want to be the first client someone ever tried to changea discharge for.

   Trying to find an attorney in your neighborhood to do this is very, very doubtful so be prepared to travel for the right lawyer. Second, with my experience in "pro bono" in mind, I suggest the experienced lawyer in this someone finds will not be pro bono and that is OK.

   Follow through, follow through, follow through. I have helped several former soldiers and one ex-Marine reservist try to obtain hearings for their change of discharges All of them, at some point along the way, simply stopped calling me and did nothing by way of providing documentation regarding their case. While I am no expert, the process for appealing a discharge is laid out pretty well. If someone is detail-oriented with good follow-through they might even consider doing their own paperwork unassisted. For more information, click HERE and HERE. However, I have not met the candidate for discharge upgrade yet that has been on his or her game about getting this done. Yes, I have heard every kind of story about why someone deserves an upgrade of discharge. But, when I agreed to do what I could to help them, then the disappearing act.
VA benefits are valuable for U.S. veterans

   Bottom Line: At some point, a veteran will need to demonstrate, in detail, how a military authority 'got it wrong' with their decision about their discharge, or introduce some new evidence that was not there for the original hearing.

   Review boards are gong to need a lot more than a 'story.' They are going to need facts.

   From what I have seen, in my experience, not many veterans or veteran service organizations are too concerned about these veterans. Veterans who have received honorable discharges have worked for years, often under very trying circumstances, to receive veterans benefits from the VA. When someone is thrown out of the service, when they have been tried for crimes in the military, for right or wrong many people believe they made their own problems.

   'Why should I be concerned if someone could not live up to their duty and did the wrong thing?' It's a valid question. Proving that the military did the wrong thing is an uphill fight...know that. Yes, mistakes are sometimes made, but cases where the military 'got it wrong' are rare. So, they are treated as rarities.

   The chances are overwhelmingly good that a veteran will keep the discharge they left the service with unless they have an incredibly compelling case.

(Jim Purcell is a U.S. Army veteran and former peer support specialist who worked with vocationally challenged, chronically addicted veterans as a contractor within the VA. He is now retired and lives in Western North Carolina with his wife, Lita.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018