Dear #VA ,
It is early on a Saturday as I sit here, have a cup of coffee and try to prepare myself for the day, the struggles I may have to face today. This morning I took the time and watched " 60 minutes " with Secretary Robert (Bob) McDonald. It was interesting to see what he had to say, he sounded sincere but my heart and mind are still torn in two. Is he just talking a good talk or will he walk a good walk. I want to have hope, trust and faith in this man but after years of disappointment its hard to get past the fear of more anguish,helplessness and more struggles.I watched him there on the screen, talking to Veteran's, Doctors etc. but what I really would love to see, is him sitting down with FOV ( FamilyOfaVet.com - PTSD, TBI, & Life After Combat ). Just to get another side to the story, listen to those who care for Veterans not just while they come to an office for treatment but those who are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week , each month and each year. So here is my plea, Dear Mr. Secretary Robert (Bob) McDonald, while you travel the country, would you please stop for a visit at FOV?
This upcoming week , we will put our hopes on the line again when it comes to the VA.
I ran into a man, a Marine Veteran one day, we spoke briefly in the store when he told me please wait for me. So I waited outside, in the pouring rain, we stood together and talked - a complete stranger and me. He was the kindest man I have met in a while, he cared, he listened, he let me cry. He told me his story of years with the VA , different clinics, hospitals and the struggles he faced. He gave me phone numbers , directions and names , told me to reach out to this one clinic and explained that "they really do care!". We went out on a limp and gave them a call , we have nothing to loose at this point at all. An appointment is set for the next week and the lady on the phone was sweet as can be. We have to give it a try, no promises made, nothing to loose what do I fear ?
Here is your chance VA, let me see that you can be better then the last 10 years.
A Veterans wife, a Mom of 3 , One Voice
I want to talk to you today about widows and children.
I don't know that most people are aware of what happens to someone when they wake up the morning after their hero dies.
I've already watched too many times families who not only wake up and must face that unbelievable grief and sadness... but also face almost instant financial ruin.
There are some things we could do to change that. To make sure that when our heroes say their final goodbyes, the families that have loved and cared for them aren't left in poverty.
Most families I know (even incredibly pro-active families who are the type to double and triple check every benefit and piece of paperwork) have at most a $10,000 life insurance policy (your S-DVI).
They don't know (to know, they would have to read far into the #VA website or in the tiny print of federal code) that many of them are eligible to increase that amount by another $25,000. Its one of those "hidden secrets".
VGLI would be a lifesaver... as it would provide an option for them to have an insurance policy of up to $400k (which most financial planners tell me is the minimum a family whose primary "breadwinner"... which is effectively what our heroes are... passes away should have). But that policy has a deadline (240 days after separation from the military). And even I know of less than 5 families who knew about the deadline in time to sign up.
Because of the injuries and illnesses our heroes have from serving their country, " commercial" insurance policies (from private companies) are not an option.
And then there's DIC (dependent indemnity compensation) - sort of a widow's benefit - which currently at the most is around $1400 per month.
The SBP (survivors benefit plan) that allows families to prepare by paying each month so that a widow or widower can receive a portion of their Hero's military retirement has so many catches (and offsets DIC) that it really isn't worth the monthly cost for many families.
Social Security doesn't help unless a family has children under the age of 16 at home or a spouse is older than 60 (well, except for the really helpful $300 one-time "death benefit" that is somehow supposed to help with final arrangements, but is hardly a drop in the bucket).
And, I know you are as aware as I am, that typically a caregiver (especially those who start caring for younger veterans) will have gone decades without any real job experience (and thus items for their resume) by the time they say goodbye to the hero they have stood by, cared for, fought for, and loved.
So, they wake up the next morning with a bank account that is empty, will receive (sometime... Often 3-6 months later) 1/4 of the income their family was living on... with (if they're lucky) a $10,000 life insurance policy (a good chunk of which they will likely use for final expenses), no job skills (and few prospects).
I've watched many of them lose their homes, go bankrupt, have vehicles repossessed, struggle to eat and keep their utilities on... All while grieving their hero.
We don't expect to be bank-rolled by the government for the rest of our lives (we are veteran and military spouses after all... we are proud and well acquainted with the idea of hard work). But there HAS to be some sort of viable safety net that allows families who have quite literally given their lives to care for a hero to then recover and get on their feet.
The following would make HUGE steps to making sure those grieving heroes don't go homeless and hungry:
Open enrollment season for VGLI - so that heroes and families actually have a responsible way to prepare for the future. We would gladly pay monthly premiums to have the option for a "safety net"... But you have to open that option up.
End DIC "offset" (where widows benefits from the VA are cancelled out by widows benefits from the DoD) - including YOUR support of HR 32 and S 734, companion bills in the House and Senate that would put an end to the offset
Raise the DIC rate - again YOUR support of HR 4741, a House resolution that would raise the DIC rate so that it was more inline with other federal survivor benefits (surely the widows of veterans deserve at least as much as others?)
Benefits for the Month a hero passes stay in place - it is cruel for benefits to be removed... For a Hero's final days to be effectively "pro-rated" which puts a family in further dire financial circumstances
DIC processing times - DIC payments should start the following month, so that there is no 3-6 month window where a grieving family has no income
I know the #NewVA has a lot to do... But this has to go on your list as well. We can't allow widows and children to loose their homes, to struggle for food and basic necessities... all while grieving the hero they have cared for, a hero who gave his or her life on behalf of our country. It's no way to honor the commitment and sacrifice of our brave.
Sincerely, Brannan Vines