Getting out of the military can be one of the most challenging transitions of a person’s life. This challenge can be drastically increased when the separation from service was involuntary or unexpected. Navigating separation and transition to civilian life is difficult for every Service Member. When also navigating the way your health has changed due to disabilities either caused or exacerbated by your time in service, it can be overwhelming.
Congress has mandated the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) across the services. Every person separating is required to meet specific benchmarks on a specific timeline to best prepare them for life after the military. However, people fall through the cracks. Often, service members who are medically separating have difficulty fully accessing the benefits of the program due to doctor’s appointments. It is key to remember that you continue to have access to TAP for 180 after separation, and if you have a medical retirement, you have access for life.
One of the benefits to medically separating from service is that your military medical appointments sync up with the Office of Veterans Affairs (VA) claim process, making it that much easier to ensure your disability check starts on time with your separation. It is important to remember during these medical and psychological appointments to not sugar coat your issues. Think about yourself on your worst day, not your best day. Don’t over exert your range of motion or lessen the amount of pain you experience from everyday activities.
After you separate from service, ensure you are connected with your local VA Medical Facility and/or Vet Center. The VA is the hub of all your veteran benefits including:
- Montgomery/Post 9-11 GI Bill
- Veterans Group Life Insurance
- VA Home Loan Guarantee
- Veteran Readiness & Employment (VR&E)
- Health care
Additionally, the VA is the prime place to locate additional information for veterans including programs for women, minorities, and LGBTQ Veterans.
The VA maintains a directory of Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs). The directory is sorted by type of VSOs ranging from ones that have a Congressional charter and are recognized by the VA to deal with veterans’ claims to those that do not have a charter and cannot assist with veterans’ claims. Every VSO has the ability to connect veterans with resources, assistance, and other veterans. The following are a few of the VSOs that are Congressionally chartered and recognized by the VA for assisting with claims.
- Marine Corps League
- Military Officers Association of America
- Paralyzed Veterans of America
- National Veterans Organization of America
- Blinded Veterans Association
- Wounded Warrior Project
It is important to connect with a VSO that can help you with your disability claim in the event that your disabilities worsen or new ones pop up. Often disabilities worsen and can cause secondary complications in your health. For example, if you injured your left knee in a Humvee accident while deployed, that is a service-connected disability. If for the next 10 years you compensate for that injury by overusing your right knee, that is also a service-connected disability. Take all your medical records to your VSO so they can go through them. They have the expertise to identify which medical issues are service connected and how to best put together and strengthen your disability claim.
In the event that you get a 100% disability rating from the VA, you have access to additional benefits at the federal, state, and local level. Some of these benefits include not paying property or personal property taxes, expanded education benefits for your dependants, and more.
Some veterans are not aware that the VA recognizes autoimmune diseases or disorders for disability claims. There are over 80 autoimmune diseases that can be connected to service or worsened by service, including:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Crohn’s Disease
There can be many challenges to living with an autoimmune disease or disorder. And there a lot of resources available to help manage life with these issues for both veterans and non-veterans.
Some people find that their autoimmune disease or disorder can be managed or kept in remission with diet. The wahls protocol provides more information. Additional resources can be found with the Autoimmune protocol or AIP diet which looks at reducing inflammatory foods, since inflammation seems to be related to autoimmune disorders.
One benefit available to veterans through the VA is housing grants that ensure the veteran and their family can live in a home that meets the veteran’s disabilities. Grants are available to help you buy an appropriate home or to adapt the home you have.
It is important to know the difference between grants available. The Specially Adapted Housing and the Special Home Adaptation are two different grant programs with different requirements and eligibility. There is also an option for a home that you do not live in permanently called the Temporary Residence Adaption. The VA has additional information and your preferred VSO can also provide assistance.
Education, Employment, and Entrepreneurs
Depending on the level of your disability, you may be able to benefit from the VR&E program. This program is specifically designed to assist disabled veterans with retraining and finding employment that fits any limitations they are living with post-separation. VR&E also offers training and funding for veterans who want to start their own business.
It is important for disabled veteran entrepreneurs to know that there are extra programs and preferences available for disable veteran small business owners. The VA partners with the Small Business Association to offer a range of programs, trainings, and partnerships for veterans, and a number of them are specifically for service-disabled veterans. Two specific programs that are of note are The Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program and Surplus Personal Property for Veteran-Owned Small Business programs.
You may not be aware that you can qualify for a service dog. The VA will cover veterinary visits and equipment for your service dog, but not pay for the dog or routine expenses such as food and grooming. There are a lot of steps to obtaining a service dog whether it is for a physical disability or PTSD. Some organizations that help connect veterans with a service dog include:
- America’s Vet Dogs
- Disabled American Veterans (which is also a VSO)
- K9s for Warriors
- Pups for Patriots (through the American Humane Society)
You can coordinate with your VSO to help navigate the process, and additional information is available on the VA website.
There are a host of benefits that are frequently underused simply because veterans are not even aware they have them. These include, but are not limited to:
- Automobile Allowance
- Clothing Allowance
- The Aid and Attendance and Household Improved Pension
It is important to know that as a disabled veteran, your family and/or caregivers have access to certain benefits and assistance as well.
Regardless of your disability rating from the VA or the type of your military separation, there are resources available to assist you. It is important to remember that you and your family must pursue these benefits, they will not just be handed to you. There are hundreds of VSOs throughout the country who want to help you thrive in your life after the military.