Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS - We Are The Mighty
Veterans

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

Michael Whittaker joined the military in July 1982 through the delayed entry program. He served in the U.S. Navy for 24 years, including 16 active and eight years in the Ready Reserve. Today, he lives with Multiple Sclerosis.

Michael Whittaker while serving in the US Navy
Michael Whittaker while serving in the US Navy

The following was written by Whitaker:

I remember a moment where an enemy was in sight during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and my fingers became numb. It felt like I had frostbite. I reported what happened to the physician, but he couldn’t find anything wrong. When I returned to the US, I had a series of tests and they figured it out. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2006.

When I was diagnosed with MS, I knew nothing about the disease. While I was extremely active before I had MS, my activities diminished as MS started to change my body. Before MS, I felt there were no barriers to what I could do.

Getting Diagnosed with MS

With MS, I found myself having a pity party and I stopped participating in the things I loved. It didn’t help that I pushed my family and friends away following my diagnosis. Everyone seemed to have a suggestion on what I should or shouldn’t be doing. I didn’t want to hear people’s home remedies, that they “understood” what I was going through, or that I could still do so much even though I had MS. It wasn’t until I became affiliated with VA’s spinal cord injury program that my outlook started to improve.

Getting Help

I joined an MS support group where I could talk about what I was feeling and experiencing. MS symptoms are different for everyone, but members of the group understand and can relate to how I feel. They understood not just about living with MS, but about serving in the military and dealing with the PTSD I was diagnosed with. Talking with others helped me to look at things as achievable.

Veteran Michael Whittaker competes in VA Adaptive Sports Tee Tournament.
Veteran Michael Whittaker competes in VA Adaptive Sports Tee Tournament.

I found that I didn’t have excuses not to do things, I just had to do them differently. I discovered adaptive sports through VA: riding a bike, golfing, air gun shooting and sailing were now things that I could do again. I even took some cooking classes at my local VA. In September 2019, I attended the National Disabled Veterans Tee Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa, with about 400 other Veterans. It was amazing to see so many Veterans together, competing in sports and making the most out of life.

While my diagnosis of MS was difficult to accept, I’ve now educated myself about the disease and feel prepared to take on anything that comes my way. Whenever I tell my providers that I can’t do something, they don’t accept the excuses. They help me to break down barriers that MS has caused, or that I’ve created myself. Everyone is dealing with changes and difficulties in life, and I’ve learned that adapting is the best way to move forward.

Accepting the Challenges and Changes

I’ve also learned the importance of communicating, not just with family, friends and my healthcare team, but with others going through the same thing. MS has changed me. There are days that I miss my military lifestyle, but I’ve learned that I’m not that guy anymore and that’s okay. Life changes us. I feel I can lift my head high now because of all the amazing staff, nurses and doctors at the Long Beach, CA VA medical facility who have helped me.

Visit VA’s website https://www.va.gov/ms/ for information on Multiple Sclerosis (MS), VA services, benefits and MS resources.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Blue Angels cockpit video is terrifying and amazing

This cockpit video footage of Blue Angel 4 in the “slot” position shows F/A-18 Hornets flying INCHES from each other — even as they do advanced aerial acrobatics.

Oh, and it’s a 360 degree video, so you can get the full picture of what these maneuvers are like (minus the 8’s pulled during the demonstration).


The U.S. Navy Blue Angels showcase the pride and badassery of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Each year, they perform more than 50 flight demonstrations at more than 25 air show sites.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fmedia%2FNlXmeEwm6pQLJIfsTS%2Fgiphy-downsized-large.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fmedia.giphy.com&s=165&h=d25b3e2883cd63368efbd37e6c530af8ae29108b776f504b937ca3335fc7a0f9&size=980x&c=3022943384 image-library=”0″ pin_description=”” caption=”HOW??” photo_credit_src=”https://media.giphy.com/media/NlXmeEwm6pQLJIfsTS/giphy-downsized-large.gif” crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Fmedia%252FNlXmeEwm6pQLJIfsTS%252Fgiphy-downsized-large.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fmedia.giphy.com%26s%3D165%26h%3Dd25b3e2883cd63368efbd37e6c530af8ae29108b776f504b937ca3335fc7a0f9%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3022943384%22%7D” expand=1 photo_credit=”media.giphy.com”] media.giphy.com

I was lucky enough to fly a JET-O (Jet Orientation) flight as a cadet in a T-37, and while my pilot was generous enough to take me on some thrilling barrel rolls (I did *not* throw up, thank you very much), that sortie was nothing compared to this aerial demonstration.

Anyone with VR sets can take this video to awesome heights, but even without, it’s pretty breathtaking.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Look at that precision. I’ve seen troops that can’t even walk in formation, let alone fly a supersonic jet three feet away from another supersonic jet.
(Photo by Dirk HansenFlickr)

Also read: This WWII ace scored kills from every Axis country — and the US

Blue Angels fly fighter aircraft that are maintained to near combat-ready status — except for the paint scheme and the removal of weapons. More specific modifications include the use of a specific smoke-oil for demonstrations and a more precise control stick.

“Precise” is the operative word here. Check out the video below to see for yourself — butt clenching begins around 2:10. You can drag your mouse or move your phone to look around.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Military movies can show PTSD battles

Military movies can often remind Veterans of their service. They can also bring up painful memories of the past.


Air Force Veteran and Silver Star recipient John Pighini is someone who knows both sides of this issue. He recently worked as a technical adviser on a major motion picture that showcased the bravery of service members, but also brought up a painful past. These movies can sometimes show Veterans dealing with their own struggles: anger, paranoia, edginess, regret and survivor’s guilt.

Pighini saw those struggles on the big screen after working on the movie. “It feels like they take post-traumatic stress and they set it right in your lap,” he said. “Don’t go to this movie and not take a handkerchief or tissues with you. You will not make it through.”

PTSD in Veterans

These are the feelings Pighini knows all too well. He served as a pararescueman during Vietnam, which led to his role on the movie as a technical adviser. As members of Air Force Special Warfare, pararescue specialists rescue and medically treat downed military personnel all over the world. These highly trained experts take part in every aspect of the mission and are skilled parachutists, scuba divers and rock climbers, and they are even arctic-trained in order to access any environment to save a life when called.

Dr. Paula Schnurr, executive director for National Center for PTSD in VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, started studying PTSD in 1984. She said Vietnam Veterans are still dealing with effects because the lack of support when they returned from deployment.

“Vietnam Veterans, like Veterans of earlier wars, were expected to come home and get on with their lives,” she said. Schnurr added the publicly opposed war made Vietnam Veterans’ transition hard to come home.

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, completed in 1988 by the Research Triangle Institute, was pivotal for Veterans and the medical community. At the time, it was the most rigorous and comprehensive study on PTSD and other psychological problems for Vietnam Veterans readjusting to civilian life.

The study findings indicated about 30% of all male and 27% of female Vietnam theater Veterans had PTSD at some point during their lives. At the time, that equated to more than 970,000 Veterans. Additionally, about one half of the men and one third of the women who ever had PTSD still had it.

A 2013 National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study showed that 40 or more years after wartime service, 7% of females and 11% of males still had PTSD.

PTSD symptoms may increase with age after retiring from work, or from medical problems and lack of coping mechanisms.

Having a mission

Having a mission can help Veterans deal with PTSD. While working on a recent movie, Pighini recalled the struggles he still deals with–50 years after his Vietnam service.

“The early days, we didn’t know what we had,” he said. “As we get older, we become more melancholy. We’re not busy and we’re not out there on the firing line.”

While filmed in Thailand, Pighini said the smells from Southeast Asia raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Despite the flashbacks, Pighini said he hopes viewers realize the importance of putting a spotlight on PTSD. He added movies also depict the courageousness of military members. In the movie he worked on, the movie told the story of an Air Force pararescuemen who lived by their motto, “That others may live.”

“That means you lay it out,” Pighini said. “You do whatever you need to do to save a life. It’s the ethos we have. It’s what we live by. If you have to lay down your life or one of your limbs or whatever it is, you do it. It means everything.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

This city ended veteran homelessness in just 100 days

The La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness (Collaborative) announced today [Monday, Dec. 19, 2016] that it met the ambitious goal they set in September of this year: to end homelessness for veterans in the City within 100 days (by Christmas Day). This makes La Crosse the first city in Wisconsin to end homelessness among veterans.


Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
First, La Crosse. Next, the country? (Photo: Tomah VA Medical Center)

Over the 100 days, the Collaborative increased its monthly housing placement rate for veterans by 400%, demonstrating what’s possible when multiple agencies join forces and focus on clear, measurable goals.

This goal was not accomplished by doing business as usual. It was accomplished by unprecedented cross-agency collaboration between over thirty agencies, including: the Tomah VA Medical Center, Couleecap, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, La Crosse Police Department, and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (full list of Design and Leadership Team members).

This effort elevated action-oriented problem-solving over traditional planning.

Also read: This is an easy way to help homeless veterans this holiday season

With the support of Gundersen Health System’s Office of Population Health, the Collaborative is using a proven innovation and improvement model (adapted from one developed by Community Solutions and the Rapid Results Institute for the 100,000 Homes Campaign) to accelerate housing placements and profoundly improve system performance.

“The key to our success has been the amazing collaboration within our initiative and a strong shared focus from everyone on the team”, said Kim Cable, Design Team member and Housing and Community Services Director at Couleecap). “This is just the beginning of our journey to end all homelessness in the City of La Crosse. We are excited and inspired by our initial success and the support from the community.”

“I am so proud of the La Crosse Collaborative’s incredible efforts to end veteran homelessness here in our community”, said Mayor Tim Kabat, a Leadership Team member.

“La Crosse signed on to the national effort, as part of the Mayor’s Challenge, to work together and provide permanent housing for our homeless veterans and it is awe-inspiring to see this dream realized.  We are so fortunate to live in such a caring, compassionate, and hard-working community.”

“This is a tremendous achievement and milestone for our community,” said Victoria Brahm, Acting Director of the Tomah VA Medical Center. “I am extremely proud of our staff members who worked with the Collaborative. This is the result of a lot of hard work – getting to functional zero was a tough challenge, but one that we were never going to give up on.”

“Gunderson’s Office of Population Health is focusing on elevating the health of the community by engaging beyond the health system walls, and partnering with organizations in communities who are going upstream to prevent illness, disease, injury, and crisis”, said Sandy Brekke, Senior Consultant, Office of Population Health, Gundersen Health System.

“It’s hard to be healthy when you go to sleep hungry, homeless, or in substandard housing. As an institution, GHS recognizes that safe, secure housing is foundational to the health of individuals and families in our community and are proud to support the effort to end homelessness in La Crosse. We are grateful to the Design Team of the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness, they have brought the community together and have worked incredibly hard to make sure that our Veterans have a warm place to call home.”

Related: 5 ways to support veterans all year long

The Collaborative will celebrate its success tomorrow afternoon, December 20th, at the Waterfront Banquet Room, hosted by Don Weber, CEO of LHI and Leadership Team member, who said: “Veteran homelessness is our nation’s silent shame. It goes without saying that any who has served and protected our nation should not have to worry whether they will have a roof over their heads. In dedicating ourselves to ending Veteran homelessness in our region, our community has proven that the story does not have to end here. Our Veterans deserve our lifelong commitment to returning to them the same comfort and safety they’ve so selflessly secured for us through their service.”

For more information on what it means to end homelessness (defined nationally as reaching “functional zero”), visit the FAQ section on the Collaborative’s website. On the website, you can also donate to ongoing efforts to end homelessness, sign up to volunteer or—if you are a landlord­—offer housing to others who are homeless in La Crosse.

For more information on the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness, contact Kim Cable, Design Team Member, Housing and Community Services Director, Couleecap, at kim.cable@couleecap.org or  608-787-9890. See more here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This amazing Microsoft training is the key to the ultimate post-military tech career

The military of today looks very different from the military of parents or grandparents. Many of us veterans will go into high-tech training on things like satellites, avionics, or even automated weapons. Military careers with a technical background are a great starting point for a post-military career.


“Veterans and transitioning service members are an amazing talent pool,” says General (Ret.) Chris Cortez, Vice President of Military Affairs at Microsoft. “You have a group of amazing young men and women who have served their country, put their organization above themselves, and come with unique skills and sense of discipline.”

“From a great career in the military, we want them to have the opportunity to go into another great career in the technology industry,” Cortez says.

But what if you didn’t happen to work in a technical field?

Much of the warfighting capability of U.S. armed forces still depend on door-kickers and trigger-pullers. A noble job, but it doesn’t always have a civilian equivalent. And then there are the military careers we take for granted: the plumbers, boatswain’s mates, and undesignated airmen (and others) that may not want to continue those careers after serving.

We live in the information age, in a digital word, where tech jobs are the holy grail of well-paying careers. Sometimes it seems like getting to work in tech after the military means coding your own app and moving to Silicon Valley.

Or maybe check out what Microsoft is doing for the military-veteran community.

Edgar Sanchez joined the Army at 32 and while he was at the base education office, he learned about Microsoft Software Systems Academy, or MSSA. The program is an intense 18-week training course that gives aspiring vets a background in Information Technology systems.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

In a world full of shady dealers who will tell you anything to get a piece of your GI Bill benefits, isn’t the idea of Microsoft directly teaching you things like cloud application development, server cloud administration, cybersecurity administration, and database business intelligence administration a bit comforting?

Best of all, finishing the course gets you a job interview at Microsoft. But don’t worry if you don’t get that job. More than 240 companies have hired MSSA graduates. The program has a 94 percent employment rate.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Sanchez describes his transition from the U.S Army to a civilian career. (YouTube screenshot)

“Why not bring the technology industry’s skills gap and thousands of transitioning service members together?” Cortez asks. “Why not fill this need in technology by training people that are interested, that are leaving active duty, and preparing them for those jobs?”

A thought that would be comforting when it’s time to think about leaving the military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Jane Fonda opened up about the dumbest thing she ever did

There’s no limit to the amount of vitriol the military-veteran community can muster for actress Jane Fonda. Now 80, the actress is the subject of a new HBO Documentary film, Jane Fonda In Five Acts. Since the film covers her 50-year career, it could not avoid a discussion about her anti-war activism during the Vietnam War.

Her experience with war and the U.S. military before the Vietnam War was limited to her World War II-veteran father, actor Henry Fonda, and her work as “Miss Army Recruiter” in 1954. It was a famous photograph of her sitting on a Communist anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam in 1972 that earned her the eternal scorn of veterans and the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”


To this day, the actress says she is confronted by veterans of the Vietnam War who are still angry about her visit to the enemy in 1972. If you need further proof, look at the Facebook comments on this article — yes, the one you’re currently reading.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

In a meeting with television critics in Beverly Hills, Calif. on July 25, 2018, she talked about how she came to her anti-war beliefs and what led her to sit on that anti-aircraft gun. She says she didn’t know much about the war or what was happening in Vietnam. She told the group she met some American soldiers in Paris who told her what was going on and it infuriated her.

The actress said before that meeting, she “didn’t even know where Vietnam was,” but “believed that if there were men fighting, they were ‘on the side of the angels.'” While she doesn’t regret her visit to North Vietnam, she does regret the photo and the effect it had on the men and women fighting in the war and their families, she told Variety.


“What I say in the film is true: I am just so sorry that I was thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun at that time. The message that sends to the guys that were there and their families, it’s horrible for me to think about that. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh I wish I could do it over’ because there are things I would say differently now.”

The actress says she uses the confrontations with Vietnam War veterans as a chance to apologize and explain, to talk to them with what she calls, “an open mind and a soft heart.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

This veteran farmer will make you celebrate your meat

“When was the last time you actually met the animal you ate for dinner?”

Jon Darling, a former Army Ranger and scion of a long line of farmers and restaurateurs, now runs one of the most humane livestock farms in South Carolina, where he strives to be a shepherd to the sheep he raises and to the people who eat them.


When Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl visited Darling’s farm, he found himself in a world where things are done with purpose and uncommon care.

Though his family had always been in the food business, Darling turned to a new brotherhood after the attacks on September 11th: the Army. When he got out, he looked for peace in other places, and found it the moment he stepped on a farm.

Working with other people in that way gave him the same feeling of fraternity that being in the military did, and his interactions with the animals he raises brings him a calm sense of satisfaction as he delivers meat to restaurants with a humane guarantee.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
(Meals Ready to Eat screenshot)

Darling raises his sheep to live free and happy lives, and professes to feeling no fundamental conflict when it comes time for him to bring one of those lives to an end.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
(Meals Ready to Eat screenshot)

Unlike factory farming operations, which treat animals as commodities and people as thoughtless consumers, farms like Darling’s are working to reconnect people to an awareness of the sacrifice that keeps us humans at the top of the food chain. Through quiet leadership and outreach in the form of regular community dinners that center around the slaughter, preparation, and enjoyment of one of his lambs, Darling is reawakening the people he serves to the circle of life on Planet Earth.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
A gathering of conscientious diners at Darling Farm. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Darling’s community appreciates the work he does, and agrees that the animal that dies for a meal should be celebrated. That’s why they join him for meals at his farm; to celebrate the animal that nourishes them. They attribute his ability to listen, rather than just to act, to his military service.

Small farming is both Darling’s family legacy and his way of healing—but his neighbors add that his style of farming is also therapeutic for the community, and society. Knowing the animal rather than only viewing it as meat makes a difference in the level of respect given to the earth. Darling points out that his method is healthier for the animals as well as the land he uses to farm them.

Here’s hoping that sharing his story and life’s work with Dannehl and Meals Ready to Eat will help spread the good word far and wide.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Have some respect, you baaahhhd boy. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

These military chefs will make you want to re-enlist

This is why soldiers belong in the kitchen

What happens when a firefighter’s secret identity is revealed

This Galley Girl will make you want to join the Coast Guard

This is the food Japanese chefs invented after their nation surrendered to the Allies

Veterans

Pin-Ups for Vets ‘brings out the bombshell’ in a military caregiver

Gina Elise of Pin-Ups for Vets did it again.


Her non-profit organization helps hospitalized veterans, sends gifts to deployed troops, and supports the spouses and families of service members.

Recently, that support went to Melissa Comeau, an advocate for military caregivers and wife of U.S. Marine and Purple Heart recipient Stephen Comeau.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Melissa and Stephen share a tender moment together. (From Melissa’s book, Sleeping With the War)

As a full-time caregiver to her husband, Comeau had little time to focus on her own wellbeing. So Elise decided it was time for a little pick-me-up in the form of a full-fledged makeover in classic Pin-Up style.

“When I first met Melissa, I could tell she was very special, and I wanted to do something to show our appreciation to the caregiver of one of our Marines,” Elise told We Are The Mighty.

When Comeau’s husband Stephen left for his fourth combat deployment, she prepared herself for the worst — but it never occurred to her to prepare for him to come home with a brain injury.

When he returned, Stephen was diagnosed with multiple combat injuries including traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, osteoarthritis, and degenerative disc disease.

Together, Melissa and Stephen researched his diagnoses and soon discovered that there is a significant difference between being a supportive wife and being a caregiver.

“I didn’t know I was a caregiver. I just thought of myself as his wife, doing what anyone would do,” Comeau explained. “But once I learned about that word, it opened up a new world.”

Comeau became a fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which helps strengthen and empower American military caregivers, and now works at the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network, helping people identify as caregivers sooner and providing them with peer-to-peer support and assistance.

After meeting Comeau, Pin-Ups for Vets’ Elise knew she wanted to do something to show her appreciation.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

So Elise delivered a pin-up makeover for Comeau — complete with classic hair and make-up styling by Ana Vergara, vintage-inspired dresses by Voodoo Vixen, and a professional photoshoot by Jason Holmes of Retro Dolls.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Bombshell, indeed! (Photo by Jason Holmes)

Elise couldn’t wait to reveal Comeau’s pin-up look.

“It was a special moment when Melissa first saw herself in the mirror,” Elise said. “How we appear affects our confidence and this makeover brought out Melissa’s inner bombshell. I could see the shift towards happiness and excitement in that moment.”

According to Comeau, it’s tough to look after yourself when you’re focused on caring for others. As a mentor, she teaches, “If you take care of yourself, it makes you better for everyone. It all starts with you — and if you don’t nurture yourself, you’ll burn out.”

That’s why Elise was inspired to reach out to Comeau.

“I always want to bring awareness and attention to military families and the sacrifices they make,” Elise said. “Our military would be impossible without support from loved ones and it’s important to acknowledge that.”

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

3 things Veterans should know about VA’s new electronic health record

VA is implementing its new electronic health record (EHR) system on Oct. 24 at initial sites in the Pacific Northwest. The implementation improves how clinicians store and manage patient information, including visits, test results, prescriptions and more. This will also mean some changes to how Veterans access their own health data online if their VA facility has changed to the new EHR.

Veterans who receive care at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Spokane, Washington, and its community-based outpatient clinics in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, Idaho; Libby, Montana; and Wenatchee, Washington, will be the first in the nation to use VA’s new electronic health record and patient portal, My VA Health. As a complementary tool to VA’s existing My HealtheVet patient portal, My VA Health will allow Veterans to manage their appointments, prescription refills, medical records and communication with health care providers online.


Since full implementation of VA’s new EHR is expected to occur over a 10-year period ending in 2028, most Veterans will not see immediate changes to how they view their medical records online. VA will continue to support its current EHR systems, including My HealtheVet, throughout the transition period to ensure there is no interruption to the accessibility and delivery of care. Veterans can expect to learn more as their local facilities prepare to migrate to the new EHR.

In the meantime, here are three key things Veterans should know about VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program and My VA Health.

What is VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization program, and how does it impact Veterans?

EHRM is an effort to unite VA, the Department of Defense (DOD), the U.S. Coast Guard and community care providers on a single interoperable health information platform. This modernized system will allow VA to continue providing a world-class health care experience for Veterans across all VA facilities.

The new system will replace the department’s current electronic health record, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), with a commercial, off-the-shelf solution developed by Cerner Corp.

The new EHR will create a paperless transition from receiving care as a service member through DOD to receiving care as a Veteran through VA. It will also support providers’ clinical decision-making by increasing their ability to make connections between a Veteran’s time on active duty and potential health issues later in life.

When will Veterans start using My VA Health?

Veterans will begin using the new My VA Health capabilities, accessible via VA.gov or My HealtheVet, when their local VA medical center or clinic transitions to the new EHR. Until then, Veterans will use only the existing My HealtheVet portal, which is also accessible via VA.gov. Mann-Grandstaff VAMC and its clinics are the first facilities introducing My VA Health to their patients.

Once My VA Health launches at a site, Veterans will be able use their current credentials to sign in to either My VA Health or My HealtheVet. This will ensure Veterans who have received care at more than one VA site have access to all of their records. For example, Veterans who receive care at Mann-Grandstaff VAMC and its four clinics will use My VA Health to manage their care from those sites and My HealtheVet to manage their health care from other VA and community sites. Historical records, including prior secure messages, will remain available on My HealtheVet.

Meanwhile, VA is working to make VA.gov the single place where Veterans can go for their health needs, so navigation between the two portals is not necessary. VA will provide resources to walk Veterans through these changes as EHRM deployment reaches their facilities.

How will Veterans at Mann-Grandstaff and its associated clinics access the patient portal?

Veterans will sign in as they do today, either through My HealtheVet or VA.gov, using any of the following accounts:

  • Premium DS Logon account
  • Premium My HealtheVet account
  • Verifiedme account

Once logged in, Veterans will be directed to My VA Health regarding care received at Mann-Grandstaff and its clinics and to My HealtheVet regarding care received at other VA locations. Veterans with basic or advanced My HealtheVet accounts can upgrade to a premium account using this guide.

Additionally, Veterans who receive care at Mann-Grandstaff VAMC and its associated clinics can visit this page for more information on My VA Health ahead of its introduction Oct. 24.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

popular

Everything you need to know about your latest benefit and insurance changes

A House-Senate conference committee tasked with ironing out differences in separate versions of the defense authorization bill has rejected Senate-passed provisions that would have sharply increased TRICARE fees, deductibles and co-pays for a million retirees under age 65.

Lawmakers who in recent weeks shaped a final $716 billion John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (HR 5515) also voted to allow disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients, and caregivers of veterans severely injured in war to shop on military bases, paying slightly more at checkout than current patrons. They also will be able use base recreational facilities.


Expansion of access to on-bases services, which the Department of Defense endorsed in part to make commissaries more self-sustaining, is to occur Jan. 1, 2020.

Conferees also narrowed the scope of Senate-passed reforms to officer accession and promotion practices so officers will continue to be considered for promotion as part of the same year group they were promoted to current rank.

Also shelved was the Senate plan to repeal use of authorized officer strength tables to instead require that Congress annually authorize number of officers allowed to serve in the ranks of O-4 through O-6 across all the services.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicole Thurston )

Officer promotion law long has required consistent promotion timing and promotion opportunity across officer year groups. The Senate wanted to replace those requirements by grouping officers based on competitive categories — similar qualifications, specialties, occupations or ratings. Conferees also rejected that idea.

However, a host of other accession and promotion reforms survived the conference and will “begin to modernize officer personnel management to bolster the effectiveness, recruitment and retention of the all-volunteer force,” says a Senate Armed Services Committee press release.

“The 38-year-old Defense Officer Personnel Management Act requires all military services to manage their officer corps in the same general manner within specific constraints. By beginning to reform this system, the [2019 defense authorization bill] will provide for flexibility in the careers of commissioned officers [to] better serve the demands of the modern force.”

Officer personnel issues

Changes approved to better manage officers include:

  • Repeal a requirement that candidates for regular commissions not be older than 42, or at least have enough service years to complete 20 years by age 62.
  • Enhancement of services’ authority to award constructive service credit for special private sector training or experience to allow active or reserve officer appointments up to the rank of colonel or Navy captain in critically-needed fields.
  • Authorizing each service to award temporary promotions to the ranks O-3 through O-6 for specified positions. Only Navy has such authority today so this change would standardize it across all branches.
  • Authorizing promotion boards to recommend that “officers of particular merit” be placed higher on promotion lists than peers.
  • Allowing officers, when deemed in the best interest of the service, to have their names removed from consideration by a selection board for promotion to the next higher grade, and authorizing officers in certain military specialties to remain on active duty until reaching 40 years active service.
  • Authorizing use of an alternative promotion processes for officers in certain secretary-designated competitive categories, to include a term-based continuation process when certain officers are not selected for promotion. This would selectively end the traditional up-or-out requirement for officer management.

Conferees rejected House language that would have required the Air Force to assess the “feasibility and advisability” of allowing otherwise qualified candidates who are deaf or hearing impaired to be Air Force officers.

Military pay issues

The highlight of compensation provisions embraced by conferees was decided months ago: a 2.6 percent military pay raise effective Jan. 1, 2019, to match recent wage growth in the private sector. It also will be the largest percentage military pay increase in nine years.

On the other hand, conferees agreed to end a “personal money allowance” that, by law, has been paid to senior naval officers holding five prestigious positions. The titles impacted, and the size of allowances disappearing are:Director of Naval Intelligence (,200); Superintendent of the Naval Academy (,200); President of the Naval War College (id=”listicle-2590252146″,000); Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy (0) and President of the Naval Postgraduate School (0).

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

TRICARE changes

Military associations lobbied successfully against Senate language to repeal an unusual grandfather provision in current law that protects working-age retirees from a host of TRICARE fee increases that, for now, target only members who enter service this year or later and eventually retire.

Senators wanted the higher TRICARE cost-shares applied to all current and future retirees under age 65 and not disabled, as the Defense Department intended. Conferees blocked that but said they “remain concerned about the high cost of military health care, understanding that much of the cost has been driven by new benefits and benefit enhancements authorized by Congress.”

With the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimating the average military cost of providing health care to a typical retiree household at ,800 by 2021, conferees directed the defense secretary to update that estimates by February 2019 and to list policy options both to improve quality of health care and to better control costs.

The compromise bill also directs that a survey be conducted “to ascertain whether beneficiaries would be amenable to additional modest fee increases to maintain a fiscally viable, comprehensive health benefit.”

The sweeping fee increases blocked included a first-ever TRICARE Select enrollment fee and, for retirees who use non-network providers a new annual deductible. CBO estimated that retiree users of Select would have seen average out-of-pocket costs jump from id=”listicle-2590252146″,645 a year to ,800 for family coverage and from 0 to id=”listicle-2590252146″,160 for self-only coverage. Retiree households using Prime would have seen more modest increases. TRICARE for Life recipients would been spared.

Commissary & exchange

Commissaries and exchanges nationwide are expected to see a few hundred thousand more shoppers. Conferees accepted House language to open base stores and services, starting in 2020, to any veteran with a service-connected disability, as well as to Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war and veteran caregivers.

Defense officials supported the House-backed provision, to strengthen the military resale system and to reward deserving veterans with shopper discounts, if an extra user fee could be imposed on these “secondary” groups of store patrons.

A department study concluded that “a large influx of new patrons is necessary to continue efficiently providing commissary and exchange benefits into the future.” Military associations and veteran groups also had backed the move.

Trump parade

Conferees modified House language in support of the president’s call for a Washington D.C. military parade. The conference report says it’s “appropriate to honor and celebrate 100 years of patriotic sacrifice in a way that expresses appreciation and admiration for our men and women in uniform.” But the bill “prohibits the use of operational units or equipment in the parade if the Secretary of Defense believes such use will hamper readiness.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

6 ways the Army was the perfect primer for ‘Batman’

The whole world mourned June 9 at the news that Adam West, the Army veteran and actor who brought “Batman” to the silver screen, had died at the age of 88 after a battle with cancer.


Adam West was born, and drafted into the Army, as William West. In the military, he was in charge of standing up TV stations at San Luis Obispo, California, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But if it seems odd that the star of a farcical show like the 1966 version of “Batman” got his start in the Army, it was actually the perfect way to prepare for such a ridiculous show.

Here are six reasons why:

1. Renaming everything to some arbitrary standard like “bat cuffs,” “bat time,” and “bat channel,” makes sense for anyone who has had to relearn names for Velcro, Duck Tape, and zipper

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Batman and Robin stand with their utility belts. (Photo: Greenway Productions, Public Domain)

Batman wore a bat belt that contained bat pills and bat cuffs which came in handy for the show that played twice a week at the same bat time, same bat channel. While all of that seems like nonsense to civilians, soldiers are used to fastening “hook and loop fasteners,” taping items down with “100 mph tape,” and securing their blouses with “slide fasteners and tab thongs.”

Those are ridiculous ways of referring to Velcro, Duck Tape, and zippers, which are all brand names that the Army can’t use in official doctrine. So young Billy West would have gotten used to using the Army names. It was probably easy to start calling everything “bat” later in life.

2. Dealing with a group of ne’er-do-wells like the “Batman” villains is old hat for anyone who has dealt with an Army squad

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
The villains of the 1966 Batman film. From left to right, the Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and Joker. (Photo: Greenway Production, Public Domain)

Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Archer, and other crazy villains were always hatching insane schemes in the Batman TV show. But, once again, the Army would’ve prepared the future Bruce Wayne for this.

Soldiers decide to get high with spice and bath salts? Yup, sounds about right. Troops smuggling liquor overseas by pouring it into Listerine bottles and mixing in food coloring? Seen it. Enlisted hijinks are basically Silver Age Batman ridiculous, just without the fancy gadgets and costumes.

3. Having to mentor a grown adult while treating them like a child is how all specialists deal with new privates

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
(Photo: flickr/BATMAN)

One of the more awkward truths about the Batman is that Robin, the Boy Wonder, was actually a 21-year-old man when the show began. The grown adult Adam West had to act like mentoring another grown man while treating him like a child wasn’t sort of weird.

But again, the Army is perfect preparation for this. After all, most specialists have only been in the military for a few years and they can be assigned responsibility of a private first class who has been in the Army a couple of years. So, 24-year-old  supervising 20-year-olds.

4. Spending all of your time with an attractive lady without giving in is easy for any NCO who had to ignore their co-ed lieutenant’s good looks

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Adam West’s Batman and Catwoman almost kiss. (Photo: YouTube/InnuMaccaband)

One of Batman’s greatest villains was Catwoman, who definitely had a thing going on with Batman. But Batman refused to give in to it (though he almost kissed her once, and a later incarnation of Batman ran off to Europe with her).

But any specialist or sergeant who has pulled overnight duty with an even moderately attractive officer knows what it’s like to weigh the consequences of “fraternization” over and over. Chances are, young and attractive Billy West had to say no to a few female sergeants and officers, or at least find the right place to give in without getting caught.

5. Only in the military and “Batman” can the little stuff be crucial during an emergency

This is a small one, but most organizations will let little things go during an emergency. But Batman doesn’t accept any of that crap from Robin. Proper grammar is important, and Batman corrects Robin even as Catwoman tries to get away on a rocket.

You know, just like a sergeant major yelling about gloves during a firefight or reflective belts during literally anything.

6. Working within made-up rules is easy for anyone who has dealt with UCMJ and Rules of Engagement

Batman runs into some pretty stupid bureaucratic problems during the show, like that time the Riddler sues Batman (while using riddles to explain his scheme, because of course he did) for false imprisonment and assault.

While the details of the case seem insane, Billy West probably sat through the Uniform Code of Military Justice briefing where soldiers are told they technically can’t engage in anything other than “missionary”-style sex because of Article 125.

Really think anyone who was briefed on Article 125 will be thrown for a loop by Gotham’s insane judges?

MIGHTY SPORTS

The NFL’s most generous legend gives homeless veterans a new life

1977 was a big year for Chicago’s Walter Payton. After two years in the NFL, he was the league’s leading rusher and was selected to play in the 1977 Pro Bowl, where he was named the Pro Bowl MVP. His on-the-field performance turned the struggling Bears franchise around, but his off-the-field performance would earn him the NFL’s Man of the Year Award, an honor that would later bear his name.


Throughout his 13-year career, Payton was an exceptional member of his team, the example by which all team members should follow – in any kind of group, setting, or sport. He only missed one game in that entire span and, despite being the league’s premier running back, he was able to do anything the team asked of him, throwing eight touchdown passes and even setting a game rushing record with a 101-degree fever.

Heck, he wanted to kick,” Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka told ESPN. “We wouldn’t let him kick.”
Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

“Never Die Easy” was Walter Payton’s motto.

(NFL)

But it wasn’t his football performance that prompted the NFL to name its prestigious award after him. What he did in his spare time left a legacy of humanitarianism and generosity that prompts NFL players to use their high earnings to good works within their local communities to this day.

As a young black man in Mississippi, Payton helped integrate his local high school and its football team. From there, he would go on to play at tiny Jackson State University, but his determination at running back caught the NFL’s eye, earning him his spot in the 1975 NFL draft. He didn’t make waves in his first season with the Bears, but he would soon be one Chicago’s — and professional football’s — most legendary athletes.

He founded the Walter Connie Payton Foundation to give back to the city that gave him so much. Though Payton died of a rare liver disorder that led to bile duct cancer, his legacy lives on through his foundation.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

Walter Payton with beneficiaries of his foundation’s support.

What began as an effort to help Chicago’s children now includes Chicago’s homeless veteran population. The foundation works with the Northlake, Ill. Concord Place Assisted Living Community in providing veterans with everything they need to live with dignity and pride.

Concord Place Assisted Living is a 55-and-older community, but homeless veterans can live there thanks to Walter and Connie Payton’s foundation. The new homes include food, health care, and physical activities. It keeps them off the cold streets of Chicago while offering them a chance to build new lives. The project is so close to the foundation’s heart that 100 percent of donations for vets will go to the project.

The foundation is now run by Payton’s widow, Connie, to whom he was married for 23 years.

I had no idea how many veterans had no place to go,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “They serve us knowing there might be a chance that they’ll never come home. … I wanted to find a way to do something to help.”

They turned the entire 15th floor of the assisted living community into veteran housing. A mere ,500 funds a room for a vet, complete with bed, TV, food, health care – the works. Once the 15th floor was filled, they started on the 14th. The foundation continues to fund the rooms using its other charitable works.

[Walter] was a kind, genuine person, and the foundation was important to him,” Payton said. “We always felt that when you’ve been blessed, why not learn to give back to other people and bless them, and hopefully someday they can bless someone else.
Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS

Walter and Connie Payton Foundation President Connie Payton oversee the renovation of the Northlake, Ill. Concord Place Assisted Living Community.

(WLS ABC 7 Chicago)

Today, the NFL’s Man of the Year Award is named for Payton, honoring players who display Walter Payton-level excellence in every aspect of their lives. The award for 2017 went to the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt, an outstanding defender who raised million for those in Houston affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The frontrunners for the 2018 award are the Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, and Robbie Gould of the San Francisco 49ers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The earliest-born American to be photographed is also a veteran

Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with George Washington. He was also the earliest-born person, one of only a handful of Revolutionary War veterans, to be photographed. But there is one important historical inaccuracy in the legend of Conrad Heyer that may not add up.


Heyer was born an American in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now the State of Maine) around 1749. He sat for this photo in 1852, at age 103. In that time, he saw the young republic finish the British off during the American Revolution and fight them, again, to a draw in the War of 1812. He saw President Jefferson purchase Louisiana and watched President Polk and the U.S. Army defeat Santa Anna in the Mexican-American War of 1847.

In his 107 years of life, he saw 15 Presidents of the United States, 31 colonies and territories become U.S. states, and barely missed the start of the Civil War.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
TV wasn’t around back then. He had to watch something.

Although this is not the earliest photo of an American, Heyer was the earliest-born American to be photographed (and this is actually a daguerrotype — an early kind of photography).

In the telling of Conrad Heyer’s Revolutionary War tale, however, people have been adding one detail for decades that just might not be true: that Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with General Washington in 1776.

Washington’s daring plan to attack Hessian mercenaries in Trenton on Christmas, 1776, was audacious and dangerous. Any troop who fell into the icy river would likely die — and two of the three flat boats set to make the crossing didn’t even make it. Somehow, Heyer was counted among those in Washington’s boat, according to the Maine Historical Society.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
Look out for icebergs, Conrad.

The Journal of the American Revolution did some digging into Heyer’s story. They went back to the sworn testimony Heyer gave years after the Revolution when applying for a veteran’s pension.

In 1818, Congress allotted funds to give pensions to veterans of the Continental Army who were struggling financially. Applicants had to prove their service either by enlistment documents or sworn testimony of those they served with. Don N. Hagist went back to the National Archives for the Journal of the American Revolution and found Heyer’s original sworn testimony, along with the support of his officers.

Heyer did serve in the Continental Army, but his testimony states he served for a year, starting in the middle of December, 1775. But Heyer says he was discharged in December 1777. This could allow for Heyer to have served at the Battle of Trenton. The records of Heyer’s unit, the 25th Continental Regiment, indicate that the unit served in Canada and was disbanded in New Jersey in 1776.

It looks like the year 1777 was a mistake made by the person who wrote Heyer’s pension deposition, as mentions of Heyer and his unit disappear into history a year earlier.

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
But not the hearts of Revolutionary War re-enactors.

If he was discharged in Fishkill, New York, as records show, then there is little chance he could have been at the Delaware River crossing in time to join Washington by Christmas, even if he did re-enlist.

But by the time he died, his obituary claimed he’d served three years in the Revolution. Heyer, in reaffirming his pension claim in 1855, swore that he served those three years and was also at the Battle of Saratoga, being present to see General John Burgoyne surrender to Horatio Gates and was later part of Washington’s “bodyguard.”

Accepting life’s changes: A veteran living with MS
His second exploit worthy of a painting.

This is where Heyer could be correct — there is no complete list of members of General Washington’s guard corps. The guard was hand-picked from members of Washington’s field army.

But never once did Heyer ever swear that he was with Washington at the Delaware Crossing.

See Conrad Heyer’s pension statements at the Journal of the American Revolution.