A highlight from S6 E3 - What is VA Solid Start?
Welcome to we serve now. What were we seek to answer. The questions. veterans and their families are already asking that stays question is about a relatively new. Va program called va solid. Start and on today's show. We'll be answering all your questions about this program. What is it. who's it four. What's the goal of the program who's eligible and perhaps most importantly the actions that you need to take to not only take advantage of this program but also to take advantage of ball. The va benefits that you've earned through your military service. And i thought who better to answer this question than the person who came up with the program. So some of you may have heard of dr paul lawrence who is the head of the veterans benefits administration. Well his second. Command is a lady by the name of margarita devlin and she is an absolute well of knowledge. Not just from the. Va solid start program. But about so much more as well hello. My name is aaron perkins. I'm a. Us army combat veteran husband to a beautiful wife. Father to two amazing kiddos on the author of resolve a step by step guide. That takes you the veteran through the journey of rediscovering purpose. Meaning and passion in your life after you've left the military and if you hadn't guessed on the host of this podcast and when we come back my special guest will be here so sit back. Relax and enjoy my conversation with margarita. Devlin who am i. Why am i still here. How can i uncover who. I was meant to be during my own transition from the. Us army the wounds of war especially those not visible continued to plague my through the pain of job loss of ptsd diagnosis at crippling anxiety by finally discovered the reason. I'm here on the earth. And i knew i couldn't keep it to myself so i wrote a book. Simply titled result. Resolved is a book that has one apologetically faith-based a step by step guide designed for maximum effectiveness in the context of a small group of other veterans resolve provides veterans everywhere with the tool to help you step into your new life a life full hope purpose and vision for the future to pick up your copy of resolve head over to courage to fight again dot com. That's courage to fight again dot com. Well i am here with margarita. Devlin and i just want to take a minute to thank you margarita for being here on the show. This is going to be so so great. I'm super excited about it. But i want to take a minute just to kind of introduce you. And i don't want to steal your thunder because i'm going to give you a chance to introduce yourself as well but margarita devlin. She is the principal secretary for benefits in the department of veterans affairs. She's held that position since may of two thousand eighteen. Now that title in itself obviously a mouthful right. But i will let you. Margarita explained what your role is and all of that and kind of dive into a little bit more for listeners. Basically she second in command at veterans benefits administration so veterans benefits administration. Va that's your va. Va home loan disability compensation of oak rehab life insurance transition assistance and speaking of transition assistance marguerita has a lot of different advancements in military to civilian transition and also suicide prevention to include. What we're talking about today and that is the. Va solid start program so margarita. It is so good to have you. I just want you to want you to take a few minutes and introduce yourself but is so great to have you here. Welcome to we served now. What inky so much. It's really my pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me to be on this podcast And i guess what. I areas like to tell people as i've been in the va for twenty five years It's my passion to serve veterans in in various different roles throughout my career. i'm also mom of inactivity serving marine And also the mom of a college student Dad was a navy veteran brother served in the army so Military family close very close to my heart this mission so really happy to be here and talk about the solid start program haas of also weived definitely excited to have you and again on this show. We do our best to answer the questions that veterans and their family members are already asking and one of those questions is what is the. Va solid start programming. And that's question. Maybe we can just lead off with that. What is the. Va solid start program. Absolutely i'm happy to just dive right into that. so solid. The solid start program is really part of the military to civilian transition journey. That really looks at the fact. That transition does not end when you get the d. to fourteen at the end of your military service in fact those of you who have served you know this right. That's really when everything starts to actually happen and no amount of preparation With the military can really prepare you for what what your situation is gonna be like after we heard this from veterans so this program really seeks to connect with veterans in that first year after separation starting at about three months and then we follow up beginning six months in a year and it really is an opportunity for us to start out with. How is it going for you. How's your transition going. How're you doing what's going on in your life. What are you worrying about. And really letting the veteran drive the conversation about what he or she needs the moment how it's going and then our agents are very well trained to pick up on those cues from that conversation and provide that veteran with specific resources in guidance on how to continue their transition in the most successful manner. Possible that is that is huge. I remember. I remember when i got out at the end of two thousand fourteen. It was a kind of a drinking from the fire hose. Except i didn't even know what i was supposed to be drinking. You know it's like hey here's a bunch of benefits you might be eligible for good luck and so it's funny so we started this podcast in the summer of two thousand eighteen and it wasn't until i started this podcast and started doing some research that i learned about more benefits. I could've taken advantage of when i first got out. You know four years prior and so the fact that this this solid start program is tackling that specific issue. I think is great. So what what. Problems specifically is the program trying to solve will it is really a suicide prevention initiative and it came from the fact that we heard from veterans. That sort of felt like all the services and support sorta stopped When they separated from the military and because it was like drinking from a fire hose. They really didn't know where to go to do And who to connect to and it was really difficult for. Va to connect with veterans who were not engaging with our with our systems already so we entered into this agreement with department of defense and homeland. Security is coastguard is under homeland security to get data feet of all the military members when they were separating so that we can start those phone calls so that we can call everybody and by the way we do call everybody that we have information for that includes regardless of character discharge We will call these veterans and we will make sure that they get connected to services and resources that are that are specific to their needs so again suicide prevention. We recognize that. There is a a real. There's a reality about transition stress Which is very different than what you might think about with clinical rate with post traumatic stress disorder. Which is a clinical diagnoses Comes with its own required treatment in the mental health arena. But this is just It's stress around. All the life changes that happened with transition. And what you said you know sometimes they. You're hearing so much about so many benefits while you're in the process of separating that when you get out you might not realize that you didn't take advantage of all of them right right. That is so true. That is so true. So so the the tap program transition assistance program or the army's version i think is a cap or something. It is this part of that is essential that the tap program still exist. How does it factor into all that. They're they're connected. They're two separate things but connectors so the transition. Assistance program does still exist Dod really owns and operates. Don on any of the military services of course puts their own branding on their part of the program via has an entire day where we come in and we teach about. Va benefits was really great. We were able to get it to a full day. Always didn't always look like that but even in that full day where we teach it's really It's a classroom experience right so you're Before covid you were in a room with twenty twenty five other service members and as much as we try to make it engaging and make sure that the servicemember can tie all the benefits to their own personal situation using interactive workbook. All of those things. It still was a classroom experience. A not individual not one on one We do still have benefit visor. Available for one on one support with and they. They advertise that during the class. Now when we went into the code environment we go to virtual So we we are still pretty much in the virtual environment. We've we've started working on getting a little bit more in person presence with tap classes but of course as you can imagine Safety is the number one concern And so we think about this way. Transition assistance program is about teaching. You what you might need to know and getting you prepared in the right mindset for transition. Solid start is like okay. Now we're gonna talk to you after this happened after you got out of the military to see. How are you doing ended. All that stuff makes sense. What questions do you still have. And it's one on one so rather than having to listen to what everybody has to listen to if you already have a job and that's not your concern or you're already in college and using your education benefits that's not your concern but maybe you need to get into a medical appointment. You don't know how to navigate. That will work with you on justice. If that's what you need is maybe you have issues with your children. You need some some other resources. We have access to information about state department of veterans affairs benefits that can sometimes filling gaps were. Va can't Provide a service to really is personalized the comments we hear from veterans. I know you've been seeking feedback from veterans. As well is that they're surprised that va's calling and they're so thankful for it because they were maybe not sure who to call her how to ask about a particular benefit so it's been really interesting seeing the positive reaction from our veteran community. Absolutely and you know. I think that you know this is my opinion. You based on my own experience and the experience of know friends and other veterans who gone through the transition systems program. There are getting ready to get that to you to fourteen right. So all of those briefings. I shouldn't say all but a lot of those briefings are at least in the transitioning servicemembers. Mind it's it's a check the block it's like all right. Let me just get through this thing. So i can go home. Take off this uniform for the final time and get on with my life so the fact that you're contacting them throughout that first year i think they're going to be a whole lot more receptive to hearing. What the benefits are. Because it's not like you're not keeping them from you know from going home you know. You're not you're not saying. Hey you have to be here. This is your place of duty right now. So you mentioned covid nineteen and a lot of things have gone. virtual has there been any other impacts to the program. I know the program still pretty new but have there been any other impacts of the program as a result of the pandemic like are you behind or ahead or anything like that. A solid start actually was in a great position to react effectively to the covid nineteen situation. All of our agents were telework ready and all of our equipment works from telework standpoint. So they haven't skipped a beat they are not behind. They are on target When we first created the program we weren't sure what kind of response we were gonna get so when we created the program We we have to have a performance measure right so we said well. How many people do we really going to answer. The phone won't va calls. You know think about yourself right if your cell phone rings and you don't recognize the number what's the chance you're gonna answer it. Probably not your let it. Go to voicemail right. And if that person's important deli new message so we kinda thought we might get that sort of a reaction so we kinda started. Set the bar low. We said fifteen percent our goal was fifteen one. Five fifteen percent of veterans we reached out to we would be able to actually engage with. They would answer the phone and engage with our with our representatives. It's been just phenomenal. The actual result actually have your with me the december twenty twenty report since we began the program. We have reached over. Eighty seven thousand veterans and the fiscal year. Twenty twenty today fifty seven point. Five percent have responded and engaged. Yeah i know it's it's been just an incredible Response and we also prioritize veterans. Who we know from the information from dod if a veteran had mental health appointment In that last year of service before they left the military prioritize them and we also know that for that population. We need to make sure we get them connected into. Va healthcare and with that sub population. The percents even higher seventy three point. Six percent have responded to our agents and our end have engaged with them on the phone. Wow that is really really great. How surprised were you at the at the numbers when he finally saw them. In the beginning. I was very surprised. And then you know we had a town hall with are Representatives the ones who are actually making the call and it was really interesting. Many of them are veterans themselves. Some of them are you were military spouses. And some of them even used to work in the tap program and and they're so passionate about their work and they're always submitting new ideas about how to improve the program here in the anecdotes That they shared with me about what some of these veterans were telling them and how grateful they were for this phone call. One thing we do is we did put it on the caller. Id so in most with most cellular services You you'll it'll save veterans affairs on your phone so you kind of notes the. Va calling so kind of helps to increase the the response rate but yeah. It's it's been an amazing response for veteran for so happy that this program is reaching them in making impact. Yeah definitely that's great. That's great so. Va solid start. It's for those who are basically brand new to the civilian world right so for those of us like myself and a lot of our listeners who are not newly separated what resources are available for us for helping us understand available that that we can take advantage of so a couple things you're right. Solid start is for those that are recently separated so for veterans of any era. Were here for you as well. And you know i always. I'm always very sensitive to that that you know if you Or vietnam era veteran. We care about you. We want you to call us if you if you never got connected to your benefits. Please call us and we will walk you through. There's a main toll free number which is one eight hundred eight two seven one thousand and that is our main call centre. Those agents are trained across the entire portfolio benefits as well and they will help you identify. What eligibilities you might have In the benefit side and they can even connect you to healthcare If you if you haven't signed up for your healthcare so they can. They can kind of connect you regardless of when you got out of the military And if you are a veteran that just got out in the last year and you haven't gotten your solid start call. I say the information we get from dod his last information we had about the servicemember. Sometimes people change their phone number They changed their email address. We do try and reach out by email First before we make that first phone call so call us. And if you're in that last in the first year after separation just asked to be transferred to the solid start program very cool very cool and you just taught me something with this eight hundred numbers at eight hundred eighty two seven one thousand right cracked. Okay so i could you know after we finish this conversation i could off here. I could call that number and find out the benefits that i'm eligible for. Maybe i'm not taking advantage of. Yes and really. What what they're gonna do is they're going to ask you some questions. What type of benefit are you thinking about. you know. and because we haven't education call center so if you said hey. I'm really wondering if i'm if i'm eligible for the gi bill. They'll transferred to gi bill experts. Right if you say well. i'm really kind of thinking. What kind of employment types of benefits or what about disability benefits So you know they'll help you with those benefits. It's a little bit different than solid. Start in that There are more got react to what you're needing in the moment whereas are solid start agents are trained to sort of prompt And get information out of the veteran to help navigate the whole suite of benefits they might be entitled to and i also wanna say your state department of veterans affairs. They have offices in in different states. We have regional offices. One day hopefully will be able to meet in person again. But in addition there's the veterans service organizations in. They're out there to help. There's a lot of resources but yes feel free to call us. Anybody listening to podcasts. Give us a call one. Eight hundred eighty two seven one thousand and we'll try and get you connected to your benefits above love it and so speaking of benefits and this is it's kind of a curiosity question. I guess what is the most overlooked benefit that veterans typically. Don't take advantage. There's a couple and we actually make it a point to focus on these in the beginning They're time sensitive so one thing for example is life insurance benefits. There is a time limit on when you can convert your service group. Life insurance to veteran group life insurance. And if you don't do in that timeline you kind of miss the opportunity It's about a year and a half out from from when you leave the military so We tell them always about life insurance and that's always kind of a tricky thing right. Nobody ever wants to think about end of life. Especially you know you. A young twenty five year old veteran and twenty six year old. And they're thinking while life insurance okay. You know if they're single and they don't have a a spouse children they might not be thinking about it so we want to make sure they understand the value of having that life insurance policy and so that they make an informed decision potentially to take advantage of it another one is dental care the eligibility for dental care which is time limited in a lot of veterans miss out on that because they don't fully understand it so there's a couple of the ones that we know are are critical sensitive And honestly we've heard some some of our veterans who say they didn't file for disability benefits. Because they didn't feel like they should take that benefit away from another veteran so we do spend some time explaining that they don't take benefit from another veteran. It's a it's a mandatory benefit. Were any veteran. Who's eligible for the benefit and it also opens up the door for healthcare. And you know if you're young and strong now but but you know that you had injuries orthopedic injuries for example. But you're okay and you can kind of deal with the pain right now. Well one day you're going to need healthcare it might worsen You know this is. This is not a handout. It is an investment in that veteran. Making sure that they can stay strong and half the care that they need to to For the rest of their life if needed sure sure so that is some really really great information. But it's not every day that i get to to the principal. Deputy undersecretary for benefits at the veterans benefits administration or being translated. Second command right. So i have a couple of questions that they're they're along the lines of transition but not solid start specific right sure all right so one thing that i'm incredibly passionate about is helping veterans rediscovery since of purpose and meaning after the military and so finding that sense of purpose in that sense of meaning after military service is. It's really the single most challenging part of a chat challenging part of the transition and so one question. I wanted to ask you is how does the. Va help with this aspect of post military life. It's interesting that you bring that up because our research also validates that is one of the biggest challenges. In fact we did. We just started last year. A post-separation study of veterans. Who went through the top programme while they were in uniform to kind of see the retrospective look right. Because it's one thing we can really high marks in the classroom right there. The ninety six percent are highly satisfied with our tap class. But what we wanna do is wait to your veteran in the naski. Look back on and say okay now. How well prepared did you feel you were and we also bounce that against data to see are they employed you know are they using our benefits and we ask them for information about how they're doing so in that study we found the open comments that we got from veterans were very much around that loss of sense of camaraderie. That loss of sort of feeling that you're part of a community unit cohesion that you had the military you don't have that in communities today And just that that loss of sense of purpose and mission so we're just now starting to lean in to explore how the can help with that. We can't solve the problem ourselves right because we're not going to be that sense of community for them but we can connect them and we've been engaging with a lot of organizations nonprofits and via so organizations that provide that connectivity that sense of community in that sense of mission And we're starting those conversations to say. How do we infuse that into the solid. Start program so that we can start connecting veterans in a different way to give them that sense of community. they're looking for. It's really going to involve have to involve a partnership model via. Can't do this alone. Sure sure on love the fact that that the va is realizing this and is like you said leaning into that so now this is a this next question for you is potentially a touchy question. But i don't need to tell you that. A lot of veterans are like. I don't like the va about experience for those veterans who have had that experience or they're just like man. I've heard so many bad things. I don't even wanna try it you know. It's probably not worth the hassle. What what would you say to them if they were if they were asking like. Okay what should i do. Should i do anything. What would you say to them right now. A couple of things first of all. I wanna say avenues. Cells and good news typically unfortunately does not get the same kind of traction. There are so many good news stories out there. And if you look for them you'll see them. I would say comback triumphs again. It's not the same. va that. It was a few years ago. We have come such a long way in the healthcare system with the hospitals in the end the outpatient clinics in our regional offices are outreach is is so much different and we understand better how to improve the experience for our veterans. So i would say it's been a couple of years maybe had a bad experience comeback to us get another chance and if your experience is not absolutely stellar fabulous edit. It doesn't make you turn around your opinion of va. Reach out to us. And i would say in the healthcare system. We have Advocates in every medical center. Go talk to the patient advocate. Tell them about your experience. Let us change something. If there's something specific that's not quite right. Sitting in our via regional office asked to speak to the leadership team. We have lead dan so hard on getting feedback from veterans and making changes across the entire enterprise. It's it's just not the same. Please try again in comeback. That's what i would say. Sure sure so of just just anecdotally right so my family. And i we live in alabama and so my closest a regional center is in birmingham. And so you know i. I've been there a lot over the past few years. And when i compare the service and the facilities and everything like that to a to a more local hospital more local medical facility. It is night and day difference. I mean bring. Va clinic is just top of the line. So it it is really an and again. I know everyone is different but it even from. When i used to go to the va we lived in texas to go into the va. Here it is. There's so many positive changes that have been made in at so honestly i'm really really happy with with the facilities and the care receive and everything like that so glad to hear that. Yeah absolutely absolutely so what's a big takeaway here right. So what does something. All veterans and newly separated veterans or. Otherwise what should they really remember from our conversation. Today i would say remember that. Va is here for you We probably have a benefit or a service that you might not have been aware of And we wanna be there. We want to be partners in your military civilian transition. We want to be partners in your life and help you with any issues that you might have. We're not the answer for everything But we also have connections with community resources and just reach out to us if if you need anything don't try and go it alone and again if if you had a bad experience in the past comeback to us i promise you it should be a much better experience now and like i said if there's anything you encounter that that you have an issue with let us know we're here to be part of it. I mean my personal story. My brother who is an army veteran wouldn't go to the. Va for the longest time. I finally got him to go and he's been so thrilled he was. He calls me up and he's like says they're offering me services that i didn't even ask for. They're they're doing this. They're doing that. And i said yes. That's what we call wraparound services when you come into a va. We are not just looking at the problem that you presented with. We're gonna ask you how else we can help you. And he's been so impressed with that. He wishes he would start in the. Va system a long time ago. It really is We've really made some great advances. So please come see as awesome awesome so here on the show. We like to give our listeners. Some practical next step. So when this podcast finishes playing what should they. Do you know the context of our conversation today. What should they do because today's question is. Hey what's the. Va solid start program. And obviously you've answered that more than we could ever imagine and in so having you on the show has been just absolutely outstanding but what should their next steps be right after listening to this podcast. I would say if you're curious about the benefits and services we offer You might try to going to our website. Www dot va dot gov easy to remember And when you go to. Va dot gov. You'll see sort of things grouped into logical sort of life domain issue. So you'll be able to kind of navigating see. Wow you know what is what does the. Va half for me. And then you can actually apply for many of our programs online. Some of them Were still working on getting online. But you get the application online so that would be one thing and then if you just don't wanna talk to somebody some full more comfortable calling on the phone and talking to somebody call that number i gave earlier one eight hundred eight two seven. One thousand You know we're here for you. Take that step. Check us out If you're already enrolled in one of our programs you know good on you but there might be something else that he don't know about so check us out. Sure well margarita. Devlin this has been so so rate again. You have answered the question. What is the a solid star program. Frankly answered a whole lot more questions as well. So thank you so so so much for coming on serve now. What really enjoyed having him my pleasure and thank you for what you're doing to. It's really important work. I hope you've enjoyed my conversation with margarita devlin. So what are your questions recorded voice memo on your phone and send it to podcast at courage to fight again dot com or joined the post nine eleven veterans and families facebook group. And post your question there. We all have a lot of questions but the most important question we can ask ourselves is this have. I accepted the forgiveness of sins. That only comes through faith in jesus. Christ we'll i'll see you right back here. Two weeks from day and the nixed veteran question. We'll be asking is this. How do i use my post nine. Eleven gi bill. Well until next time. Thanks for listening. We serve now. What is a production of courage to fight again.