[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                    August 14, 2009
Demobilization

New veterans benefits system introduced

By Tom Michele, Eagle Systems & Services, Inc..

Soldiers demobilizing at Fort McCoy this month have been surprised to discover that a new demobilization process model is being used to ensure they receive fast delivery of earned Veterans affairs (VA) benefits and other needed help.

About 3,400 Soldiers assigned to the Washington National Guardís 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT) are demobilizing at Fort McCoy after an 11-month tour of duty supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Washington Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) Warrior, Veteran and Family Service Support Directorate organized a large interagency team and deployed them to Wisconsin to support their troops before they returned home.

Photo: Department of Veterans Affairs External Affairs Manager Rob Hard explains Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits to a group of 81st Brigade Combat Team Soldiers going through the demobilization process at Fort McCoy. Unit members have completed a tour to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by Tom Michele)
Department of Veterans Affairs External Affairs Manager Rob Hard explains Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits to a group of 81st Brigade Combat Team Soldiers going through the demobilization process at Fort McCoy. Unit members have completed a tour to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. 
(Photo by Tom Michele)
   

According to team operations director Scott Miller, "this team of about 35 people consists of Washington State, federal, and local Wisconsin county veterans service officers, employment specialists, education counselors, health care advisers, transition assistance advisers and Veterans Center readjustment counseling technicians who are dedicated to supporting the returning 81st Soldiers regardless of their home of record."

"The teamís intent is delivery of benefits and services to the Soldiers before they return to their home state and become distracted by transition to civilian life," Miller said. "The teamís goal is to facilitate the Soldierís rapid and orderly return to productive drill status by completing these tasks before they leave active duty."

The team plans to speed the application for VA benefits for health care, compensation and home loan certificates and provide information about the new 9-11 GI Bill. In addition to VA benefits, the Washington State Employment Services Division and the JFHQ Employment Transition coaches are on site reaching out to the unemployed members of the brigade to assist them with post-mobilization employment needs.

The support and services provided by this interagency team benefit not only members of the Washington National Guard, but also Guard members from 26 other states who were attached to the 81st during the deployment.


"This team's intent is delivery of benefits and services to the Soldiers ..."

Scott Miller,
Team Operations Director

Feedback from across the brigade has been overwhelmingly positive. Sgt. Tisoc Vasquez, a member of Company B, 184th Infantry Battalion from San Jose, Calif., said, "we really appreciate what you folks are doing for us at Fort McCoy."

"A key feature of this process is that the Soldiers of the 81st have direct access to knowledgeable veterans service officers who can answer their questions in a personal manner instead of through e-mail, Web sites or cumbersome 1-800-number phone trees," Miller said.

Preparation for this event included a survey of the brigade to determine the membersí employment status upon return to home station. Miller said 30 percent of the Soldiers indicated they wanted unemployment counseling, needed assistance finding a job or needed assistance finding a better job.

Additionally, more than half of the 81stís Soldiers responded indicating that they will use the new 9-11 GI Bill to pursue a college degree. As a result of this response, JFHQ organized a robust employment and education services team to develop local community relationships with employers and institutions of higher learning.

"The bottom line for us here at Fort McCoy is to provide Soldiers with the services needed for getting jobs and veterans benefits that include education and health care," Miller said.

Another interesting aspect of this event is the use of three of the Veterans Centers new Mobile Vet Center (MVC) motor coaches. These MVCs are 40-foot motor coaches outfitted with satellite radio systems and Internet capabilities designed to extend VA services to remote locations. Each state was equipped within the past year with these vehicles to help ensure that veterans in remote locations can access VA services.

The Washington Soldierís positive response to this event at Fort McCoy has generated interest from the Wisconsin National Guard Transition Assistance Office.

The Badger State crew is working with the Washington group to duplicate this service delivery model for the 32nd BCTís return home early next year.

 

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