A salute to returning warriors
November 17, 2009
TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii - When it came time to ease into retirement last year, following nearly three decades in the Army, Command Sgt. Maj. Tom Bookman discovered what many veterans learned long ago.
Transitioning from active duty to civilian is anything but a walk in the park.
"Your mind is in a million different places when you get ready to retire," Bookman said. "You're worried about your next job and what you're going to do."
To his credit, however, Bookman didn't let an uncertain future weigh him down. Instead, he did what any good Soldier would do.
Soon after his retirement papers were submitted, Bookman began talking to his military buddies. Several of them turned him on to the organization Disabled American Veterans (DAV). After researching the group and its eligibility requirements, Bookman decided it was the right one to join in order to satisfy his quality-of-life needs as a retiree.
Today, he has a job as an emergency manager at Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC), an unwavering belief in the DAV and its services, and some well-deserved peace of mind.
In particular, Bookman's been impressed with how the organization has documented his medical history and lobbied for veterans' benefits on Capitol Hill.
"(The DAV is) actually an organization that goes in front of Congress and supports what veterans have done by fighting for their rights," explained Bookman, who prior to retiring from the Army in 2008, served within the Pacific Regional Medical Command (PRMC). "That was important to me."
In truth, Bookman is one of the lucky ones who, upon retirement, realized the importance of attaching himself to a veterans organization. With so many to choose from, he did the smart thing by delving into the DAV's mission and exploring the many services offered.
More importantly, he acted upon his newfound knowledge. That's something more veterans need to do, according to Donald Devaney, provost marshal, PRMC and TAMC, and member of the National Association for Uniformed Services and the Military Officers Association of America.
"In this day and age, veterans need an organization that represents their best interests," Devaney said. "Some of these groups tend to be more in the patriotic and social mode, and exist for the camaraderie. Then there are those that tend to be more into lobbying for laws.
"I tend to lean toward those organizations that have active participation and not passive participation," he added.
Just as every veteran is different, so too, is every organization.
Aside from providing educational and vocational rehabilitation opportunities, many veterans organizations instruct members on compensation and pension matters, as well as health, life and home insurance plans.
"There are organizations out there that have savvy subject matter experts who can cut through the issues that are and aren't factual," explained Devaney. "So that's one of the benefits of belonging to these groups."
The oversight by some service members to join a veterans organization is not surprising, Devaney said. Many qualified veterans, for example, won't even take advantage of the health programs offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Some of them don't even bother to have their records examined," Devaney noted. "They think they're in OK health, but they don't really know. Some (veterans) are really young and, because the problems haven't really shown up yet, they think they're all right."
For those who haven't yet looked into the services offered by various veterans organizations, Devaney counseled that it's not too late.
"I'd encourage our veterans to get online if they haven't done so yet, and get their names on mailing lists," he said. "Many of these organizations even have newsletters, which contain valuable information the veteran needs but won't get otherwise."
Added Bookman, "Our veterans really need to get into one of the organizations out there. Those groups will give them information on their benefits and rights, and keep them up to date on any changes that may affect them."
<b>Choosing an organization</b>
Choosing an organization When deciding among the numerous veterans organizations to join, service members and their dependents often base their decisions on the group's eligibility requirements and services offered. Rick Gajonera, chief, Retirement Services Office, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, lists the following seven military associations who take an active role in working for veterans.
<i><a href="http://www.legion.org">The American Legion</a></i>
The American Legion is a congressionally-chartered group that benefits those service members who served during wartime periods. Founded in 1919, the nonprofit organization currently has about 3 million members in more than 15,000 posts across the world. A politically active entity, the American Legion represents veterans' interests before Congress. In October, for example, the organization urged legislators to pass the Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act, which would make it easier for military veterans to transition into careers as educators. Among its membership entitlements are professional help in obtaining full medical, educational and insurance benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and quality assistance in preparing any VA claims. To learn more about the American Legion, visit <a href="http://www.legion.org">www.legion.org</a> or call customer service at 317-860-3111.
<i><a href="http://www.ausa.org">Association of the United States Army (AUSA)</a></i>
AUSA is a private, nonprofit organization open to all Army ranks and components - active duty, National Guard and Reserve, as well as civilians, retirees and family members. The group prides itself in educating members about the value of the Army to the nation. It was formed in 1950 and currently boasts 125 established chapters around the world. In the past year, AUSA has opposed an increase in Tricare fees, enacted legislation that would allow military retirees to use pre-tax earnings to pay for health insurance premiums, and fought to reduce the age at which retired Reserve Component Soldiers may receive their pay and benefits, from age 60 to age 55. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.ausa.org">www.ausa.org</a> or call 800-336-4570.
<i><a href="http://www.dav.org">Disabled American Veterans (DAV)</a></i>
With membership totaling 1.2 million, the DAV is dedicated to improving the lives of America's disabled veterans and their families. Founded in 1920, the organization was congressionally chartered 12 years later, and thus became the official voice of the nation's wartime disabled veterans. In October, the DAV's decades-long efforts to ensure timely access to medical care for men or women who served in the armed forces were realized when President Obama signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. Annually, the DAV represents more than 200,000 veterans and their dependents with claims for benefits from the Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense. For more information on the DAV, visit <a href="http://www.dav.org">www.dav.org</a> or call 877-I Am A Vet (877-426-2838).
<i><a href="http://www.moaa.org">Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)</a></i>
The nation's largest association of military officers, the MOAA, currently serves about 370,000 members from every branch of service. The independent, nonprofit group takes an active role in military personnel matters, particularly in proposed legislation that affects the career force, the retired community, and veterans of the uniformed services. It is not, however, a politically partisan group, meaning it will not advocate the election or defeat of candidates or parties. Established in 1929, the association was previously known as The Retired Officers Association (TROA) before members voted on a name change in 2003. To learn more about MOAA, visit <a href="http://www.moaa.org">www.moaa.org</a> or call the member service center at 800-234-6622.
<i><a href="http://www.naus.org">National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS)</a></i>
Billed as "The Service member's Voice in Government," NAUS works to protect and enhance the benefits of uniformed service members, retirees, veterans, and their families and survivors. Founded in 1968, the association currently has a membership of 200,000. The group took an active role in getting the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act signed, a bill that included such key components as: a 3.4-percent pay raise for those in active duty; special compensation for designated caregivers of catastrophically ill or injured service members; and Tricare Standard eligibility for Reserve retirees under the age of 60. NAUS offers its members health, life, auto and home insurance plans, benefits counseling and various financial services. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.naus.org">www.naus.org</a> or call 800-842-3451.
<i><a href="http://www.militarywidows.org">Society of Military Widows (SMW) </a></i>
The SMW was established more than 40 years ago to serve the interests of women whose husbands died while on active military duty, of service-connected illness, or during disability or retirement from the armed forces. The nonprofit organization is politically active on Capitol Hill, working closely with NAUS to protect the benefits and entitlements of military widows. There are currently 25 chapters of SMW in the United States, including one here in Hawaii. To learn more about SMW, visit <a href="http://www.militarywidows.org">www.militarywidows.org</a> or call 800-842-3451, ext. 1005.
<i><a href="http://www.vfw.org">Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)</a></i>
With 2.2 million members, the VFW, with its auxiliaries, continues to be one of the largest veterans organizations in the world. The group prides itself in "honoring the dead by helping the living" through veterans' and community service. The association's roots can be traced back to the late 1800s, when, following the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection, a group of veterans established local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. Since then, the VFW has been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 20th century, and developing the national cemetery system. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.vfw.org">www.vfw.org</a> or call the national headquarters at 816-756-3390 or the National Service Officers Helpline at 800-839-1899.