This blog was written by our fifth SkillBridge Intern, Nate Swann. He is sharing his transition journey as he leaves Active Duty service. Read Nate’s first blog here.
I have been in the transition space for going on a year now, so I often get asked: “How do you know all this stuff?”
It takes genuine time to learn all the critical details of this space. In this blog, the topic I’m going to cover is probably the most critical one that all soon-to-be Veterans need to get right. And, no, I’m not talking about getting one of the new uniforms before you lose all your CAC Card privileges, nor am I referring to a “post service” vehicle purchase…
I am talking about your medical records.
We’ve All Rangered On…
Now, I know everyone in our community has “Rangered on” or “Charlie-Miked” after we got injured in any number of incidents. We all went see the “Doc,” the team medic, PA, Flight Surg, or any number of other SOCMs; we would take our prescribed “Motrin and water” treatment, and would get back out into the fight; because the world needed our unique abilities to help bring truth and justice to the dark corners of the planet.
Well, now is the time (before you transition from active duty) to get all of these old ailments documented and, where possible, remedied. Just like conducting regular vehicle maintenance, if you keep patching the tires, eventually you won’t have any tires left. With the many different training/readiness exercises, classified missions, blow-outs, short-notice (or extended) deployments, or any other reason I’ll put money down that your records are incomplete.
So where does one start?
The best thing to do is go into your active-duty provider, sit down and actually tell the truth (for all those aircrew out there) on what ails you, bothers you, and ask what can be done about it. This first meeting might go long, but it will be well worth it in the end; as the process to get your medical records corrected could take a year or more to get right.
Wait, did you say a YEAR to get right?….yes I did!
You might be thinking, “But, I’ve only got 9 months left in the Service and I have to find a job, write a resume, (maybe) complete a DoD Skillbridge, (maybe) complete a civilian transition program (like The Honor Foundation)…I don’t have time to get my records in order!”
That might be your approach, but nothing is going to take care of you better than your medical records. The difference in VA benefits for a 80% disabled veteran compared to a 100% disabled veteran can be TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS LOST over a lifetime, because the time wasn’t taken prior to getting out to get your records correct.
So, advice point #1: go see doc, and start getting your records right.
Submit for a Medical Evaluation Board
Advice point #2: the best decision I ever made in my career was to submit for a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB).
Hold it, I’m a high-speed, tough as nails operator who isn’t a quitter! I ain’t broke. I can operate on forever…but, how many mornings has it been that it’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed? How many times have you had to “check yourself” as you throw your ruck on, get your kit on, rig for a jump or a dive (or both)? How many times did you think that you could do something that, in your younger years it would have been automatic…that isn’t as automatic these days?
The military has very specific criteria of what meets medical retention standards, and if you have been fighting through some “issue” for at or over a year…it might be time. If you have a permanent profile from that “bad exit” or “rough landing” that you had years ago; or if you’ve got been on the receiving end of an IED blast; or maybe it was just playing with your kids (that one time) and you threw your shoulder out…all of these kind of things could be reasons to talk to Doc about an MEB.
As a (soon to be) 16+ year retiree, my MEB has granted me access to things I never thought possible. With injuries sustained across my career, my Physical Evaluation Board (part 2 of the MEB process) assessed me for benefits that equate to even more than I would have earned had I completed a full 20+ years. So, anyone who has injuries from “doing the mish,” it’s worth a discussion with your Doc. If you are over 20, and retirement is already in your sight picture, my advice to you is…..you should MEB!
“But wait, I’m already retiring, why do I need to MEB too?”
One main reason: everything “wrong” with you is service connected. You’ll find out, as you go through your “Compensation and Pension Exams” (C&P) that everything that is wrong with you first has to be determined if it occurred while on active duty. If you set up your C&P exams for after you’ve gotten out, you have immediately injected uncertainty into the system for the VA. “But it happened when I was training?” The VA’s response…show me where it says that in your records… oh.
Don’t Think About “Now”…Think Long-Term
So, you can see how your hard-earned VA benefits can very quickly and easily go astray if you don’t have all the conditions set before you begin. I mean, you wouldn’t get on the helicopter and launch on the mission BEFORE: identifying the target, conducting a map recon, building a plan, briefing and rehearsing that plan, PCCs/PCIs, etc. Why would you “jump out of the door,” before checking the light status? It sounds crazy, but we see fellows doing this all the time (some of the worst offenders are our Senior Leaders, to be frank).
Therefore, I urge each of you to take the time to get your medical records cleaned up while on active duty, talk to your Doc and gain their insight into what is best for you (not for the now, but for the length of your lifetime), and really evaluate whether or not a MEB might be a good option for you to ensure all your medical ailments are directly tied to your service.
You have given so much to this Nation, and as a thank you the Nation has graciously offered up these benefits for you. If you don’t take them, no one else will. They were meant for you, the individual alone; and the only person/family missing out on them is the one who chooses to not pursue them.
In that same light, that leads me to the topic of our next post – what opportunities really are out there to help someone land on their feet, and how can I use them?
If you found this post useful, please come back for our next installment where we’ll provide some direct links to resources provided through your participation with the SOF for Life program!
Until Next Time…