Thoughts from the Master Chief: Why it’s Never Too Late to Apply for your VA Benefits - ITS Tactical
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Thoughts from the Master Chief: Why it’s Never Too Late to Apply for your VA Benefits

By ITS Guest Contributor

Military VA Benefits

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: I’d like to extend a warm welcome to my Uncle, Master Chief Doug Berger, USN, Retired, who with a little prodding, agreed to write his thoughts on the Veteran’s Administration and why you should be applying for benefits if you’re able. I hope you’ll appreciate him sharing his perspective as much as I have.

Okay. I get it. After three, four, six, ten or even twenty years and more of service, you’re done. There are many reasons that Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen or Marines (Coast Guard are Sailors, like it or not) are no longer in the service. I speak to those who are honorably separated or retired, or for those that managed to come away with something other than honorable and are entitled to their VA benefits. I’m not here to judge anything other than the human nature of Veterans and the VA System. For the former, I send my tribute and for the latter, believe it or not, it’s not all bad.

Here’s my first side story. My father was in the United States Air Force during WWII. Four years in Germany post VE day and then out. He and I had many (heated) discussions on his VA benefits that he refused to apply for, because in his own words “they aren’t service connected.” So after 10 years of arguing about it, I took him to the front door of Audie Murphy VA Center in San Antonio, TX and walked him up to a very nice young man at a small table in the lobby. I introduced my father to this young man, briefly explained my father’s situation and asked him, “What can you do for my father?” He very politely produced a book about the size of your typical Sunday service hymnal and said, “Mr. Berger, read through this very carefully. The VA is here for you.”

My point being, it’s never too late to apply for your benefits. Let me repeat that for emphasis.

It’s never too late to apply for your VA benefits.

The question is, should you?

Military VA Benefits

After retiring from the United States Navy and remaining in the Norfolk, VA area, I’m consistently running into old shipmates of mine. I mean “shipmate” in the non-offensive, uplifting and overall positive sense and not the “hey shipmate, get your ass over here so I can screw up your day” sense of the word that so many have come to interpret it, but I digress. I’ve come to make it my mission to ask every single one of them, regardless of branch of service this very important question, “How’s the VA treating you?”

I do acknowledge that it’s a rhetorical question. Even when the VA is on their “A” game, it can barely muster a C minus. With 1.7 million Veterans using the system, in general it’s just going to suck. But for hundreds of thousands of us, as it was for my father, the VA is the last best hope of health care.

The most common response I would get is somewhat disturbing and it’s for this reason that I’m reaching out to you all. Most of those I asked respond with a bit of a blank stare and follow with “Well, I haven’t ever gone to see them,” or “I never got hurt,” or “I was never in combat,” or “I was a cook at the Pentagon,” or “I was in theater but never made contact,” or “there are so many more that were hurt so much worse than me” and so on. To which I most commonly reply, “Well Doctor, what the hell are you doing self-diagnosing?”

I get it though. To some it makes them feel weak knowing that there are over 50,000 wounded vets from the GWOT that are currently and desperately seeking care from the VA system, as well as the 150,000 of our Brother and Sister Service members from the Vietnam and Korean Wars. I honor your loyalty, concern and compassion.

Military VA Benefits

From others, I get the response, “Those slack jawed, punk-assed bureaucrats can kiss my ass; My whole entire ass!” and I get that. With the revelations of thousands of our brothers and sisters dying of injury related illnesses and suicides related to PTSD, I feel a great measure of understanding towards your distrust. To some great degree, it’s not unfounded, it’s very disturbing and it pisses the hell out of me too! We can take care of those slack jawed, punk-assed bureaucrats at the ballot box. But again, I digress.

So to the first two groups of those who have not yet begun the process of applying for their VA benefits, I have one thing to say, “Shipmates, Devil Dogs, Soldiers, Airmen, Aviators, Heroes, it’s not about you!”

Warrior Ethos

I love every one of you and I’d take a bullet for the least of you. So I ask you, what is the Warrior’s Ethos?

It states: “My life is worth nothing. The life of the one serving next to me is worth everything!”

It’s what made us leave our families for months, years, or decades at a time to chase the most worthless class of human beings into the rat holes from which they crawled out of and  keep their worthless pieces of sub-human flesh from coming over here to try to kill our loved ones. The cost of human and monetary treasure is incalculable.

You thought I was talking about al-Qaeda, but that’s what my dad said about the Nazis. There’s always one class of rat or another trying to kill America and good men and women will always stand up to tyranny. Conversely, there will always be Veterans needing the pieces put back together once their fight is over.

Military VA Benefits

So you “never got hurt,” or “were never in combat,” or “were a cook at the Pentagon?” Whatever! Get over yourself. There were a dozen generations before you and there will be a millennia of generations to come.

You must carry yourself down to the VA. Stand in the shortest line there, the ID card line and begin the process. Do it for the millions of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to fight in the countless wars to come, the resources you apply for today will provide the resources they will need tomorrow. If not for yourself, you must do if for our posterity.

You must resist being among those who will choose to self-diagnose the ill effects from their service, as we’re so patently unqualified to make that determination. By our very decision to serve, we demonstrated that we were ready to pay the ultimate price for our country. We demonstrated that service over self was not just a commitment, it was an obligation, a duty. We chose to look the other way for our country and its unfinished work. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but for many, it’s understated.

Military VA Benefits

We in the Navy have a part of our retirement ceremony called “The Watch,” but it speaks of all of us who’ve served; the number of years is irrelevant.

For 20 years
This sailor has stood the watch

While some of us were in our bunks at night
This sailor stood the watch

While some of us were in school learning our trade
This shipmate stood the watch

Yes.. even before some of us were born into this world
This shipmate stood the watch

In those years when the storm clouds of war were seen brewing on the horizon of history
This shipmate stood the watch

Many times he would cast an eye ashore and see his family standing there
Needing his guidance and help
Needing that hand to hold during those hard times
But he still stood the watch

He stood the watch for twenty years
He stood the watch so that we, our families and
Our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly in safety, Each and every night
Knowing that a sailor stood the watch

Today we are here to say
“Shipmate… the watch stands relieved
Relieved by those You have trained, Guided, and Lead
Shipmate you stand relieved.. we have the watch…”

“Boatswain..Standby to pipe the side…Shipmate’s going Ashore..”

Shipmates, Brothers and Sisters of the United States Armed Forces, Veterans one and all, for us, the watch has been relieved. The wall is guarded by the next generation, but our duty is not over. We must ensure that Congress does not sequester us and through us, sequester them.

Military VA Benefits

In Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address he wrote:

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Let the professionals at the Service Organizations in your state take you through that process. Whether through the Disabled American Veterans, Fleet Reserve Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars or your State Department of Veteran’s Services, stand up and be counted so that the resources needed to treat whatever disability with which you may be diagnosed are appropriated and reserved for you and those who will follow you. It’s not about us and it never was.

And finally, for those of us who, years after standing in that first line and after years of standing in countless other lines, I have one bit of encouragement; be the tortoise, not the hare. The race was long and the tortoise was slow, but he prevailed.

From the day I submitted my claim, it took two years to receive my rating and another six months to receive my first nickel and another year for any retroactive payment. It took the help of my Congressman and both Senators through a process called a “Congressional Review.” It was a fight, but a fight worth making for the sake of myself and my family. That amount of money will be there for the next generation of Veterans long after I’m dead. When you receive your rating, dispute each percentage for each item rated and appeal each item that was not rated.

Military VA Benefits

Never give up. Never quit. America loves you and respects you and is willing and ready to pay for the sacrifice that you’ve made and for their freedoms with which you’ve purchased. But we must know that you are still out there and still in need. Recall other words of President Lincoln.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

For all of my Brothers and Sisters of the United States Armed Forces, to me you are a chosen few, a royal priesthood of, by and for freedom. This is not a form of welfare, a gift, a payoff, or a vote buy. YOU EARNED THIS. It’s yours whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. The choice is yours, but it affects us all.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” -President John F. Kennedy

It is the Soldier

by Charles M. Province, US Army

It is the Soldier, not the minister who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Military VA Benefits

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” -President George Washington

With these videos I close, listen to them all for they speak volumes. This is my tribute to you. I love you. I honor you. I thank you for your service. You are my Brothers and Sisters; FOREVER.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Doug Berger as a contributor on ITS Tactical. Doug is an honorably retired United States Master Chief Petty Officer and graduate of the US Navy’s Senior Enlisted Leadership Academy and the Command Master Chief Academy. As a “Tin Can” Sailor, he was a Fire Controlman by trade, but a Gunner’s Mate at heart. He led teams in the Terrier Guided Missile System, MK86 Gun Fire Control System and MK34 Gun Weapon System, ran the Naval Surface Fire Support school at NAB Little Creek, VA and stood the watch as CIC Watch Officer, Surface Warfare Coordinator, VBSS/MIO boarding team leader and Disaster Response team for the last earthquake in Haiti with the USMC’s 22nd MEU on board USS BATAAN and qualified over 1,000 sailors in Shipboard Self Defense Force tactics, Crew Serve weapons and small arms over his career (and yes he misses the hell out if it). He’s married 33 years to his wife, Judy and has one daughter and two grandsons, Zachary, 12 and Cameron, 6. His son-in- law Nick is a Virginia Beach VA Police Officer.

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