This year, Catholic Social Services has been excited to staff a brand-new position: Health Care Navigator (HCN) for Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).  HCNs are trained to work with Veterans on a variety of issues to assist them.

Health Care Navigator, Ben, is a combat Veteran who has navigated the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system himself. Through his own experience, Ben realized that the VA is a complex system. A survey cited by the VA found that “Veterans reported that the VA eligibility process can be overly complicated and difficult to access” without expert assistance.

For veterans, the VA provides healthcare and disability compensation for injuries that are deemed “service-connected,” meaning they occurred during a veteran’s military service. Along with specific injuries, the VA determines how much service-connection each veteran is entitled to as a percentage—someone with mild injuries might only receive 10% service-connected benefits, while someone who lost use of a limb might receive 80% benefits, which includes unemployment compensation and comprehensive healthcare.

Ben in the gunner seat of an MRAP truck during his military service.

Ben specializes in helping veterans increase their service-connected benefits through the VA, by proving that health issues they experience as civilians began with injuries sustained during their military service. Paratroopers, for instance, often suffer chronic injuries to their hips, knees, and backs from jumping out of planes, even though they might not feel the full effect until years later. Studies have found that soldiers and civilians that spend time around caustic chemicals and burn pits—especially in Vietnam and the Middle East—are up to ten times more likely to develop various forms of cancer, such as leukemia, brain tumors, and lymphoma.

Although a Veteran might not immediately realize which mid-life health challenges began during military service, Ben has the experience to recognize injuries that Veterans commonly suffer and can usually investigate and prove where they originated. With that expertise, Ben can work with a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) and his Veteran client to ensure that the VA provides the full care each Veteran is rightfully due.

Another aspect of Ben’s work involves advocating for Veterans who have been unjustly punished. When a service member’s time in the military ends, they receive a discharge status, ranging from an Honorable Discharge for exceptional service to Dishonorable Discharge for criminal punishment.

Ben and his buddy, “Storm”, with their combat awards during their military service together.

Sometimes, Veterans receive discharge statuses that do not appropriately reflect their time in service. This can be due to personal conflicts with their superiors, racial, religious, or sexual discrimination, or because they were falsely accused of a crime. Receiving an Other than Honorable (OTH) Discharge can cause problems for Veterans for the rest of their life, hampering job prospects, denying them VA benefits, and leaving a permanent mark on their record.

That’s why Ben also specializes in helping Veterans apply for Discharge Upgrades, gathering evidence and making the case that a Veteran’s OTH Discharge was not accurate. For Ben, advocating for Discharge Upgrades gives him the chance to achieve justice for a fellow Veteran. For the Veterans Ben works with, upgrading an OTH Discharge can be life-changing; it not only makes them eligible for more VA benefits, it also provides resolution and justice.

At Catholic Social Services, we are honored to serve our nation’s Veterans. We are excited to see Ben in this new role, and thankful for the expertise and lived experience he brings to his work.

If you know or are a Veteran who is experiencing homelessness, please reach out to the SSVF Hotline at 907-222-7331 or the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 Option 1.

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