Veterans lose VA ratings, vet status, and compensation when returning to Active Duty!

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header_50_01  Disabled Veterans who return to active duty temporarily lose VA benefits.

by Bob Hanafin, Staff Writer

      Though I show MyArmyBenefits as an example, this special report applies to VETERANS returning to active duty in any of our military services. Any Veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan war who has gone through the hassle of filing a VA Claim, getting rated from 10% to whatever for compensaton purposes loses that benefit once they voluntarily or involuntarily return to active duty as in recall to the Individual Ready Reserve, or voluntarily reenlisting.

I’m not writing to say or debate this being right or wrong, but to stress that disabled veterans in this position ARE NOT being told by military recruiters, the VA, or order issuing authorities of the Army and Marine corps especially that they must report their return to active duty to the VA, temporarily lose their veterans benefits, and veteran status, then have to apply for reinstatement when they once again become VETERANS.

     

     Why can’t our government make anything simple, straight forward, up-front, and honest instead of hiding truths and information much needed by veterans to make decisions to return to active duty or not. Given that a few may be recalled involuntarily anyway. That’s not the point. The point is intentional omission of information that impacts all recent and younger veterans, because those of us from the Vietnam Era and earlier are not subject to military recall or having our VA benefits taken from us because we are Stop Lossed or recalled involuntarily to the IRR.

      Let’s have the Army and DAV tells us in ways far better than I can, but remember what is said below does not apply exclusively to the Army. Even if you return to the Navy or Air Force and are receiving  VA compensation, you lose both your benefits and veterans status. If I had known that back in the day (after Vietnam), and I was service-connected receiving compensation unless it was too low to be meaningless (10% SC disability is well meaningless in fiscal terms), that would certainly have had an influence on my decision to return to active duty.

I probably would have returned to duty anyway, but would be disappointed had my service and the VA kept this info out of my decision to reenlist or honor recall to active duty while the rest of the nation’s youth had a get out of the war free card called VOLUNTEER.





ROBERT L. HANAFIN
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired


  Returning to Active Duty? You Must Let VA Know
      Joseph R. Chenelly writes in DAV Magazine, (Jan/Feb 2009, page 16.)

      "Did you get out of the military to find you miss it too much? Are you in the Individual Ready Reserve and being called back to active duty? Are you receiving compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for a service-connected disability? If so, there are some things you need to know before you put those boots back on.

      Every veteran receiving disability compensation from the VA is required by law to notify the VA if they are returning to active duty, voluntarily," [involuntarily-emphasis added by Major Hanafin] "or by order, even if just for training. Those monthly compensation payments have to stop while you’re on active duty. Failure to do so likely will result in having to repay that money, offsetting future compensation payments. But it doesn’t end there. Once you return to veteran status, the VA may require a new physical examination and review your rating. This could result in a change in compensation" [to include loss].

524308498_e83acba59e_50       Though not in record numbers due to a recent change in attitude toward disabled veterans by the Pentagon a few of our most severely wounded veterans are being encouraged to return to active duty. The Army’s policy has traditionally been to not support or encourage amputees or other severely wounded troops to complete a career. Since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, I know that at least the Army has done an about face on this policy. Frankly, that’s a GOOD THING!!!

HOWEVER, however WE are providing our most dedicated and passionate troops a disservice by not making them aware of all consequences should they make such a misformed decision and their return to active duty not prove fruitful to themselves or the military services. 

The Huffington Post reported way back in 2007 that "in an about-face by the Pentagon, the military is putting many more amputees back on
must make an informed one not for the reasons thus far stated for returning to active duty. Note also that though commendable amputees returning to active duty are comparatively few in number (unique to say it best) yet still a minority.

The Army spokesman at that time stated that "out of 600 troops being treated for loss of limb only 31 applied" for waivers to return to active duty and of course none of them have been involuntary. 

It must also be a given that if a dedicated trooper sincerely went into the Army or Marines desiring a career, the last thing on their mind in trying to get back on active duty is filing any VA claim, but that’s only Major Hanafin’s assumption, a realistic one given that the other 569 who decided not to return to active duty most likely did file a VA Claim or should have. We really need to be talking about and shining a light upon those troops who have applied for mental health VA ratings regardless if they are amputees or not.

Without mentioning names, I know of a General who commanded an Armor Division during Desert Storm, a book was written about him called Into the Storm by that’s right Tom Clancy. That general was an amputee from Vietnam who made the courageous decision to stay on active duty when even the Pentagon was dead set against having crippled troops, let alone officers, on active duty or anywhere near combat.

The first chapter of Into the Storm covers the tough challenges this young officer faced after Vietnam. However, the point is that general, and even those 31 are unique exceptions but not the general rule, and it is wartime at least for them if not the rest of the American people. I returned from Vietnam very disillusioned by that war and our government and yet joined a minority of my fellow Vietnam Veterans in staying on active duty.

Let me tell you we were in a minority and unique exceptions to the rule even compared to those Vietnam Vets today who passionately support the Global War on Terror yet decided against a military career. They are in the majority of Vietnam Era Vets who wanted nothing more to do with the military. Do I blame them for not wanting to stay in the Army or Marine corps, hell no; I transferred to the Air Force for a reason.

The Huffington Post story noted that previously, a soldier who lost a limb almost automatically received a quick discharge, a disability check and an appointment with the Veterans Administration. But since the start of the Iraq war, the military has begun holding on to amputees, treating them in rehab programs like Fort Sam Houston and promising to help them return to active duty if that is what they want. Writing in 2007, Lt. Col. Kevin Arata said, "The mindset of our Army has changed, to the extent that we realize the importance of all our soldiers and what they can contribute to our Army.

Someone who loses a limb is still a very valuable asset," said Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman for the Army’s Human Resources Command at the Pentagon. Also, just as advances in battlefield medicine have boosted survival rates among the wounded, better prosthetics and treatment regimens have improved amputees’ ability to regain mobility. However, Lt. Col. Arata failed to mention the impact that such a decision would have on the troops status as a veteran (he/she is no longer a veteran) and on any disability rating or compensation from the VA applied for or received.

Ok, it stands to reason not to inform someone who doesn’t want to be labeled a disabled vet while trying desperately to stay on active duty, but misinformation or failure to provide information is not ethical, especially when an amputee has to make a difficult decision to undergo a difficult readjustment to Army or Marine life. That’s why I seriously commend those who succeed, because the challenge is more than most other troops face even if the Soldier or Marine accepts a desk job in lieu of combat. I’ve personally worked with disabled civilians hired by the Pentagon, and I know the challenges they face even riding a desk let alone combat. 

As of 2007, two years ago, the Army had treated nearly 600 service members who have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan without an arm, leg, hand or foot. Thirty-one have gone back to active duty, and no one who asked to remain in the service has been discharged, Arata said. Most of those who return to active duty are assigned to instructor or desk jobs away from combat. Only a few, the Army doesn’t keep track of exactly how many have returned to the war zone, and only at their insistence, Arata said.

What Lt.Col. Arata says next back in 2007 has long term implications for veterans with PTSD recalled to active duty and sent back into combat. "To go back into the war zone, they have to prove they can do the job without putting themselves or others at risk." Frankly, if that applies to an amputee, it should also apply to troops with PTSD, especially amputees with PTSD of signs thereof.

One amputee who returned to combat in Iraq, Maj. David Rozelle, who helped design the amputee program at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. Major Rozelle noted (or was it encouraged) seven other amputees who have lost at least part of a hand or foot and have gone back to combat in Iraq. The 34-year-old from Austin, Texas, said he felt duty-bound to return after losing his right foot to a land mine in Iraq. "It sounds ridiculous, but you feel guilty that you’re back home safe," he said. "Our country is engaged in a war.

I felt it was my responsibility as a leader in the Army to continue." The irony is that those who seriously believe our country is engaged in a war, and that was an attitude Major Rozelle held way back in 2007, are the minority of people who feel duty-bound to serve the rest of us who have other things more serious to worry about like the economy. Well, readers get my point, no offense intended to Major Rozelle; for I hope and pray he and other do complete a successful military career as I did.  

Reality is and the low numbers confirm that not everyone comes through treatment as rapidly or as well as the few who are able to stay on active duty. Some have more severe injuries or struggle harder with the losses, physically or emotionally. Amputees interviewed noted that Soldiers who lose a limb early in their careers are more likely to want out. Those with long service are more motivated to stay.

"Guys won’t go back if it means riding a desk," Rozelle said. Well what about gals? Oh, that’s right women aren’t recognized in combat. This may account for a few of the other 500 or so preferring to remain veterans. Staff Sgt. Nathan Reed, who lost his right leg in 2006 in a car bombing, was 2 1/2 years from retirement and was ordered to head to Fort Knox, where he expected to be an instructor. This I see as a very commendable reason to keep seriously wounded warriors on active duty when they are so close to retirement anyway.

However reality is that even the very few who desire to return to combat, it is not clear they will meet the physical qualifications anyway. As I mentioned before, staying in uniform behind a desk is difficult and challenging itself in that the Army and Marine corps never routinely did this let alone expect an amputee to deal with the stress of combat, I would also be leery of anyone too anxious to get back in the fight, because they may be suicidal or have a death wish. A psychological evaluation of any amputee too passionately desire to return to combat would be more important than a medical determination. 

The DAV notes in 2009 that Veterans should contact their National Service Officer, any Veterans Service Officer for that matter, or their nearest VA office for more information before making a decision to return to active duty, according to DAV National Service Director Randy Reese. If orders have already been cut, you need to contact the VA as soon as possible. Once you return to veteran status, the VA disability compensation will not automatically resume.

You must apply for reinstatement of the rating. The VA may grant that immediately, but it may also require you to undergo a medical examination to determine if your disabilities are still present and as severe. If you don’t apply for reinstatement within a year, you may lose money and even have to go through the entire claims process again.

Returning to uniformed service is not the only time veterans must have compensation reduced. If a veteran is incarcerated, (that means jailed beyond 60 days) he or she must make the VA aware of this situation at once. On the 61st day of being locked up, the VA will cut any compensation payments in half if the inmate’s rating is 10 percent. If the rating is above 10 percent, the payment will be reduced to what it would be if it were 10 percent. Again, failure to notify the VA likely will lead to a large debt owed to the VA. Dependents of incarcerated veterans may apply through the VA to receive a portion of the inmate’s compensation payment. 

The DAV, [among other Veterans Service Organizations], have service and transition assistance officers across the United States ready to help veterans through these and any other dealings with the VA, Reese said. To find the DAV service office near you, contact DAV HERE


On the Net Sources: Fort Sam Houston: http://www.samhouston.army.mil/sites/local/

Huffington Post Article on Amputees returning to active duty.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20070530/amputee-soldiers/

DAV Magazine JAN/FEB 2008
Returning to Active Duty? You Must Let VA Know
http://magazine.dav.org/library/pdf/magazine_200901.pdf

My Army Benefits: VA Compensation
http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/EN/Benefits/FactSheets/Veterans.Disability.Compensation/FactSheet.aspx?articleId=99b4a9248b7b483fa949fb1e668e5cf3
back into combat, in some cases." However, the Huffington Post, DOD, and the VA failed to mention that if these volunteers had applied for VA compensation or ratings they may temporarily lose them should a return to active duty not succeed. I seriously believe that this change of heart on the part of our ground forces is commendable, however those who make this passionate and dedicated decision

 

Author Details
Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I’ve posted on Veterans Today, I’ve had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I’ve been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I’m now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.
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