Hey Marine, Heads Up!

by James Glaser
January 31, 2007

About once a week or so I get an e-mail from an active duty Soldier or Marine who is wondering what they should do to obtain their VA benefits when they get out. The following is an e-mail I got today. I left out the Marine's name, unit, and the date he was wounded, because I was in the Marines, and even a letter requesting this kind of help could get this guy in trouble.

    I'm an active duty marine with xxxxxxxxxxxxx Battalion Camp Pendleton California. I was wounded in Iraq xxxxxxx 2005. I'm being put out because I can no longer do my job. I hear about all kinds of help out there for wounded veterans but you have to have a V.A. rating, and you don't get that tell you get out. I wanted to know if you could point some of us that are dealing with this problem in the right direction. I thank you for your time to read this and hope you can help us.

This Marine is way ahead of where I was when I was getting out of the Corps. I wasn't thinking about a VA rating or benefits for my service, I just wanted out. Back then, the Marine Corps did nothing for us, and for sure they told us nothing about any help there might be for us when we got home. They must be doing something for the troops today, and that is a good thing.

Like many of the guys who have written to me, this Marine was wounded, and so I told him a bit about how he would go about getting a disability rating from the VA. If you get rated at 30% or higher you are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation. That means you get a good bit more for going to school. I also always tell them that college is not the only training that is open to them. I talk about Nam vets who became gun smiths and even one guy I met who learned to be a Harley mechanic.

First off I told him that getting that rating is like playing a game. The VA sets up all these hoops that you have to jump through to get rated. I also told him that by they time he was done he would be pissed off many times. I believe the hoops are set up knowing that a certain percentage of veterans will get so upset with the process that they walk away, and the VA would never have to pay them a dime.

I always give each vet a bit of the story of how I got my rating. I tell them how I used the service officer from the Fraternal Order of the Purple Heart, but that they could use the VFW, the American Legion, or the Disabled American Vets. I used the Purple Heart because I kind of connected with their service officer. The guy helping me knew how to play the game, he helped me jump through all the hoops, and he was there for me when I would get discouraged.

I also tell every veteran that the men and women from these service organizations are out to help any veteran they can, and that their help is totally free. I like to give the Vet Centers a plug too, because if you don't even know how to start out getting help, the Vet Center is a good place to start. There are a few hundred of them around the country, and they are listed in the phone book.

Another thing I always like to tell every veteran, is that the people who work at the VA, be it a hospital, clinic, or some vet drop in center are working there because they believe in helping veterans. Many of them are veterans, but even the ones who are not, want to help you. It is the VA laws, rules, and regulations that tend to drive a veteran nuts.

Here is a heads up that every veteran returning from Iraq or Afghanistan should think about. They should do this before they get discharged. I tell them if they ever have bad dreams about their time in the war zone, or if they even just start thinking about their time there, they should go to sick call and tell somebody. Get that into their medical record.

Now chances are that they will came home and their time in combat will never bother them again, and they will only really remember it twenty years down the road when they go to some unit reunion. But I have worked with vets for a long time, and some vets, ten, twenty, or even fifty years down the road start having a hard time with their time in combat. There are a lot of WW II vets seeking help from the VA right today, because after they retired they had the time to think about that combat and sometimes those thoughts overwhelm them, and they won't go away.

A few lines in their medical chart would make getting help so much easier. That goes for any medical problems too. Get them in your service medical chart before you are discharged. Every month in the VFW and Legion magazine there is a column where vets are looking for comrades they served with, who could verify that they were wounded, or injured. Sometimes everyone who could help you has passed away, or you just can't find them.

So, if you are reading this and you are in the service, do these things. If you have a friend or relative in the service, send them this article. It could save them a lot of hoop jumping some time down the road.

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