Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Survivors Speak: Tips for Navigating the VA System

Stanley Aldrich is a Vietnam vet who writes the blog, Desert Spirit (Living with PTSD). A couple of months ago he wrote a guest post about recognizing Combat PTSD and seeking help. Now, he’s agreed to explain something about navigating the VA system. For all you veterans wondering how and where to begin, Stanley gives some concrete tips on how to manage your healthcare. For all you civilians who aren’t aware of the VA maze, imagine being deep in the PTSD fog and having to deal with these considerations!


The problem with informing you on how to deal with the VA is the VA varies so much from state to state. The VA within each state is a separate entity from the Veterans Administration in Washington D.C... What?! you say… I know this sounds stupid but it appears to be how the system operates. To get care, you have to be registered in the state in which you live. This means if you live in Michigan and spend the winter in Florida you need to register in both states. In addition, the medical records cannot be accessed from state to state. Each system seems to be independent from each other.

This may sound really messed up, but trust me, the system is greatly improved from what it was years ago. President Bush put a lot more funding into the system from the previous president. The former head of the VA, James Peake, really made some great changes to the system. He also increased our mileage reimbursement up to the present 41.5 cents a mile. The previous amount had not changed for 30 years. The old reimbursement would not even cover gas for half my trip. Now, it covers my gas and leaves a little extra.


I hope that the new VA Secretary Shinseki will keep up the improvements and make life a little easier for us Vets. As I stated in the first guest post, veterans who recently returned from a combat zone are eligible for no-cost VA care. They are entitled to five years of free VA care. The five-year “clock” begins with their discharge from the military, not their departure from the combat zone.

Each VA medical center has an enrollment coordinator to provide veterans information about these programs. Veterans may also contact THE VA’s Health Benefits Service Center at 1-877-222-8387 or visit the VA health eligibility web site.


If you feel you deserve a VA compensation for injuries or PTSD, it is best to get a representative to submit your paperwork and represent you to the VA. The VFW, American Legion, DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and others have representatives.

I personally believe the DAV can represent you the best because they are paid employees and not just volunteers that may or may not know the system well. The DAV represented me for my PTSD. I had already had a 30% disability for injuries in Nam since my discharge.

Once the paperwork is submitted, HURRY UP AND WAIT. It can take as long as two years for older veterans, but I believe the current veterans are getting through much quicker. At some point in this process, they will send you to a Compensation and Pension examination. You are getting close at this point.


Usually you will be rejected the first time so keep pushing for another review. If you are suffering with PTSD, try to get into one of the Post Traumatic Stress Recovery Tracks they run at the VA hospitals. These tracks run from 28 days to two months. It is intensive therapy along with medication adjustments and group therapy. Going through a track will help you get VA compensation. You will also be paid when you go through a track.

You can get up to 75% disability and if you cannot function enough to work, an additional 25% will be added for unemployables. I have an 88 years old WWII veteran in my group therapy who has tried to get unemployables (the word we use is unemployability, but I do not think that is a real word). At 88 years of age, he should have unemployability. Sometimes we feel the VA figures, “kill a vet, save a check”.


One thing I forgot to mention in my first blog was about brain injury. They have discovered that big explosions close to you might cause a jarring of the brain. You will not have any external injuries, but your brain is injured. These injuries will appear similar to PTSD but can only be detected via an MRI exam. Both PTSD and explosive brain injury can be present in combat veterans.

This is a quick overview of PTSD in the VA system, but I hope some of it helps. My word of advice: Do not suffer with problems. Get the help you need and deserve from the VA.

Semper Fi

'Survivors Speak' is a weekly feature written by or interviewing a survivor and PTSD experiencer about some positive aspect of healing. If you would like to participate in the series (anonymously if you prefer), please email me thoughts, ideas, and topic suggestions: parasitesof.themind @ yahoo.com.

(Photo by one of my favorite Gulf War Vets who wishes to remain anonymous.)


airbrush said...

Thanks for writing this page. I have been wondering where to start and if I should apply and this has helped me a lot.

Thanks Again,
M. Allen

Michele Rosenthal said...

@M. Allen - Glad you stopped by and glad the post was helpful.

Two other helpful things:

1. the vets I know think the DAV is the best resource, so contact your local chapter for a personal connection to help guide your case.

2. Yahoo! Groups has a terrific vet group: Combat Vets with PTSD -- join them! They are very warm, welcoming, knowledgeable and proactive.

If you have questions or issues please feel free to contact me -- I'm happy to share my resources and networks to help progress your healing.

Anonymous said...

Are you #9? Did you end up with me at Fort Dix?
(585) 732-6063
David Milliman

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