Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough Approved for Service

Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough Approved for Service

In Like A Lion With A Promise of Being “Fierce” For Veterans

Recently confirmed, Denis McDonough is now serving as United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Joe Biden. It’s a job that many didn’t see him as qaulified for, but his committment to “fight like hell for Veterans” was enough to get him approved 87-7 in his Senate Confirmation Hearing. He also won over the initially skepital hearts and minds of Veteran Service Organizations – for now.

Secretary Denis McDonough with President Obama

McDonough Inherets a VA in Disarray

McDonough succeeds Robert Wilkie, former president Donald Trump’s second VA leader. Under Wilkie, the agency expanded Obama-era options for veterans to see private doctors outside the government-run system and advanced an antiquated medical records system. However, Wilkie’s tenure ended in ruin for those who thought that you needed a Veteran to lead the organization. A scathing inspector general’s report in December that found he campaigned to discredit a congressional aide who said she was sexually assaulted at VA’s medical center in the District. McDonough is only the second Secretary to be a non-veteran.

Big COVID-19 Challenges Lie Ahead

More than half of all Veterans and their families are not inclined to queue up for the COVID-19 vacccine. However, the depression and anxiety that comes with the pandemic is affecting Veterans at a higher rate than civilians. Suicides rates are on the rise and unemployment and homelessness – persistent Veteran issues – only add to the misery. And it’s affecting the youngest of Veterans the most.

Recent research points to the average age of Veteran suicide dropping to the youngest group. Previously, older Veterans in the 45-65 year-old range were killing themselves at the highest rate. Now ages 24-35 have passed them. Increasing support for prevention in the past years has not only failed to slow down the overall rate of suicide, it’s also been rising. Veteran suicide is proving to be the deadliest foe in all of the Iraq/Iran/Afghanistan wars.



Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans.

We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.

2019 VA Report Cements Soldier Suicide as Veteran Suicide

2019 VA Report Cements Soldier Suicide as Veteran Suicide

Annual Report Removes Active Duty Deaths – Lowers Fatalities to 17 a Day

Focus Now Sharpens on the Families

For years, National Veteran Suicide Prevention reports have cited that 20+ veterans commit suicide each day, spurring widely known social media campaigns to raise awareness on the devastating statistic. In 2019’s Annual Report, released on September 19th, the Department of Veterans Affairs excludes active duty service members in the count. Reporting by the VA now only includes those defined as a veteran under Title 38; a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.


Each Death Affects 135 Surviving Individuals – That’s 8 Million Annually

The numbers for veterans are still disparaging, showing that suicides continue to rise amongst those who fought for our freedom. According to their data, 6,139 Veterans died by suicide in 2017, increasing X% from 5,787 in 2005. This also brings the average of suicides of veterans, no longer including active service members, from 15.9 each day in 2005 to 16.8 each day in 2017. The most staggering figure is that 60,000 veterans have taken their own lives in the last decade, with each death estimated to affect 135 surviving individuals. That’s over 8 million lives affected by veteran suicide in the last 10 years. 

Others note that the data released specific to active-duty troops, while making up a lesser percentage of the overall suicide rate, is also alarming considering the suicide rate for troops jumped 13% in 2018. The overall number rose 34% percent between 2013 and 2018, citing what the VA calls a “national public health concern that affects people everywhere.”  While the daily total of suicides between veterans and active-duty troops remains around 20 per day, the rates climb year over year. One thing is clear, Veterans continue to be at an increased risk to suicide compared to the total U.S. Population. 

Now that separate reporting is released, we have a more complete picture of where suicide takes place during the journey from civilian, to active duty, to veteran. Having a more clear picture will hopefully drive researchers and decision makers to better mental health practices and intervention for the men and women in this country who continue to fight even after leaving the war zones. We know these numbers are dismal, but at Once a Soldier, our work starts once all hope appears to be lost. You can take part in this important work by contributing to our support programs for families who’ve been left behind.


Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans. The emotional toll is incalculable.  We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.

Once a Soldier Rejects VA’s Position on Medical Marijuana Bills

Once a Soldier Rejects VA’s Position on Medical Marijuana Bills

H.R. 1647 Seeks to Help Veterans – One of Three Newly Proposed

“The Veterans Administration was right in deferring to US law, but needed to go the extra step for Veterans, something they’ve proven they’re incapable of.”, Dave Barbush, CEO and Chairman of Once a Soldier said recently.

“Opioid abuse is much more deadly than marijuana. Denying them the same rights that many other Americans enjoy boggles the mind. Bill 1947 is called Veterans Equal Access Act for a reason. Big Pharma and the VA need to reconsider their relationship.

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), sponsor of H.R. Bill 1967

During a hearing Tuesday on eight VA health-related bills under consideration by Congress, VA officials told House lawmakers that as long as marijuana is illegal under federal law, the department cannot support legislation that promotes its role at the VA.

“[The House Veterans Affairs Committee] can make strong proposals for us to move forward with recommendations of filling out forms and such but, in the end, we need to go back to the [Drug Enforcement Agency] and [Justice Department] for their opinion,” said Larry Mole, chief consultant for population health at the VA.

Three of the bills before the House Veterans Affairs health subcommittee relate to medical marijuana. One, the Veterans Equal Access Act, H.R. 1647, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, would allow VA health providers to recommend medical marijuana to their veteran patients and fill out the necessary paperwork for them to enroll in state marijuana programs.

A recently released poll conducted by The American Legion showed that nearly 1 in 4 veterans self-reported using marijuana to alleviate a medical or physical condition.

From a NORML article:

In the House, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has reintroduced H.R. 1647, the Veterans Equal Access Act, which expands medical cannabis access to eligible military veterans.

Presently, V.A. doctors are forbidden from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a recommendation, thus forcing military veterans to seek the advice of a private, out-of-network physician. Passage of this bill would lift this prohibition.

In the 114th Congress, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include similar language as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee elected to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote.

Veterans are increasingly turning to medical cannabis as an effective alternative to opioids and other conventional medications. A retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reported a greater than 75 percent reduction CAPS (Clinician Administered Post-traumatic Scale) symptom scores following cannabis.

Our veterans deserve the option to legally access a botanical product that is objectively safer than the litany of pharmaceutical drugs it could replace.

2019 VA Report Cements Soldier Suicide as Veteran Suicide

Veterans Administration Confirms Soldier Suicide is Mostly Veteran Suicide

New Details from June 2018 Update Earlier Landmark Report – Lowers Daily Suicide Rate from 22 to 20.6

(17 Veterans – 4/Active)

A Veterans Administration report that came out in June 2018 reveals some shocking new insights into their VA’s previous landmark soldier and veterans suicide report, published in 2016. Veteran suicide is worse than some thought.

The biggest adjustment lowers their official number from 22 soldier suicides a day down to 20.6, but Veterans carry most of that burden. Secondly, the academic and nonprofit community’s response isn’t what we would have expected it to be. Let’s take a quick look at both insights to learn more about veteran suicide.


20.6 Not 22

Instead of 22 soldier suicides a day, we now know that the national average is 20.6 suicides every day. Of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active-duty service members, guardsmen and reservists, the report states. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 service members who died by suicide in one year. 

The important thing to remember about the original report, and what makes this new information more interesting, is the time frame of it all. The first VA report, delivered in 2016, reviewed 55 million records from 1979 – 2012. It covered the 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D. C. Thirty-three years is a quality report, but it is unclear as to what going back further, if possible, would tell about these more modern day statistics. We know that WW I and WW II soldiers suffered from shell-shock (PTSD), but did they kill themselves over it before 1979?  

The VA’s 2016 report was delivered by VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour. His statement and the new numbers sent a minor shockwave through the groups involved. Many nonprofits have branded themselves with 22. Some other high level participants were truly not aware that the number represented veterans at all. Many believed it was active duty. Honestly, I was one of them when the news first hit and the awareness started. 

Veteran Suicide Advocates Caught Off-Guard

Information in the 2012 report wasn’t as complete as the newer ones. At the time, only 21 states shared information from their death certificates. California and Texas, which have large veteran populations, were two of the states that didn’t provide their data. For that reason perhaps, some veteran advocates responded on social media with questions.

One person said the community was “thrown off.” Heidi Kar, a project director at the nonprofit Education Development Center and a clinical psychologist with expertise in veteran suicide, said she had previously understood the statistic to be a veteran-only number.


Cedrick Taylor - Connecticut 2016 PTSD-related suicide

VA To Update Veteran Suicide Data More Often

What seems to have been missed was that the VA is committed to researching and publishing regular veteran suicide data, perhaps on an annual basis. Now that the crisis has entered the mainstream consciousness of Americans, doing the right things on all fronts should be easier. 

Once a Soldier in on a mission to ease the financial burden of the family after a veteran suicide. Please donate to help us do more for them.

Ken Amaro of First Coast News Visits Once a Soldier

Ken Amaro of First Coast News Visits Once a Soldier

Soldier Suicide Gets Some Primetime Exposure

I’d like to thank Ken Amaro from First Coast News for doing a story on Once a Soldier. FCN enjoys helping veterans in the area and this was a great chance for us to get some serious local exposure. As a young nonprofit, and one that’s built from the digital ground up, credibility is one of our early year goals. I feel we’ve crossed some major milestones and are getting our feet solidly under us in that area. Ken answering my call is a great step up for us, and he will always be one of our Silver Linings.

By way of a story behind the story, I filled out Ken’s online intake form that asked for a brief description of the story. It wasn’t thirty minutes after I submitted it that he called and we set an appointment. Even more amazing, he came out to me and we shot the interview in an hour.

During that hour, Ken asked very good questions and allowed me to inform him about our mission, the need that we face, and how I found this cause. To answer that for you, it was a combination of a few things. First, I have a co-worker, Mallory, who was a young newlywed Navy bride. Her husband, a helicopter pilot, was deployed for 8 months. 8 months! It was then that I realized that the family serves just like the soldier does.

Second, a friend of mine on Facebook took up the 22 in 22 challenge that brought the issue to my attention. Finally, the Google ad grant allows those nonprofits who qualify a very generous monthly ad budget. Taking advantage of that to build this nonprofit, along with the emotional engagement, makes this a pleasure.

Ken Amaro also gave me a link to my site from his site. This is important for SEO for the nonprofit, as well. I’d like to ge more, and we will, but this is a good start.

On the downside, I don’t know if the story really captured what we do in the clearest manner. I know that the mission is simple, and Ken did a great job communicating that. I only watched it once, so I don’t want to make too much of any little off center part of his story. (for example, we’re a Ponte Vedra nonprofit, not a Jacksonville one.) He did a great job and I am thankful to him and his cameraman for doing such a professional job.

Click here to see the video that aired today.

Here’s is the transcript of their story found online:

Jacksonville nonprofit plans to help families of veterans who committed suicide
A 2013 study by the Department of Veteran Affairs found what some are calling the unimaginable. It revealed as many as 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
Author: Kenneth Amaro
Published: 5:05 PM EDT October 15, 2018
Updated: 7:21 PM EDT October 15, 2018
JACKSONVILLE, Fl — A 2013 study by the Department of Veteran Affairs found what some are calling the unimaginable. It revealed as many as 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

“You can’t even imagine it,” said David Barbush, “That’s correct. Twenty-two a day.”

Barbush, a social media marketing executive, said this public health issue has broader ramifications.

“That’s 22 families and they’re left with a mess to clean up financially and emotionally,” he said.

Inspired by a co-worker in 2017, Barbush created Once A Solider. It is a nonprofit to help those families.

“It is a heartbreaking event. I cry every time when I talk with them there’s a need out there,” said Barbush.

The VA’s maximum allowed burial benefits for the families of these veterans is $2000, not enough at times to help those left behind.

“It is a sad story in the best of circumstance they will get $1000 – $2000 for funeral benefits,” said Barbush.

He said he is not blaming the VA nor Congress, he is just helping families.

“We are going to do what we can one family at a time,” he said.

In January 2019, Once A Soldier will give the family of Cedrick Taylor of Connecticut $1000. In February, the nonprofit will provide help the family of Jerad Johns of South Carolina.

“We’re going to get one family every month,” he said, “That is my goal for 2019.”

Barbush was moved by an email he received from the mother of Cedrick Taylor. She simply said thank you for your help.

Barbush said Once A Solider is the silver lining for those military families coping with the darkness of suicide.

“Nonprofits have a way of getting things done when government cannot and that’s what this is getting things done,” he said.

The nonprofit has a major fundraiser planned for December. To learn more about Once A Soldier click on the link below:

Assisted Living Benefits for Veterans – A Complete Guide

Assisted Living Benefits for Veterans – A Complete Guide

Reprinted by Permission from The Assisted Living Research Center

Their superb and comprehensive page for Assisted Living Benefits for Veterans can be found here. This repost contains all of their original links, as well as links to their site’s home page. Their research offers more than just raw data and information – they add deep insights and real solutions to problems seniors, caregivers and influencers face every day.

The mission of Assisted Living Research Center is this: We are committed to improving aging adults’ quality of life by leveraging our data-driven research and expert-informed insights to inform critical decisions made by seniors, caregivers, influencers, and leaders in the senior care industry.

Information is power when it comes to getting all the benefits you’re entitled to. Their information is a great asset for those whose lives have been altered by the death of a loved one, a veteran who’s looking for housing, and the families of all concerned. I am pleased that they have shared this information with my audience. Please read on for their guide to Assisted Living for Veterans:

Veterans who are injured in the line of duty face many challenges when they return home, including the inability to live an independent life. Whether fully or partially disabled, many need assistance with daily activities.

Thankfully, there are assisted living options that can help veterans who have disabilities, as well as elderly veterans who need help as they grow older. There are two basic ways for eligible veterans to receive assistance: obtain an assisted living benefit from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or apply for residency in a veteran’s home.

This guide contains information about the benefit programs available from the VA. Read on to learn whether you are eligible, how to apply, and what programs are available in your state.

How Assisted Living Supports Disabled and Senior Veterans

Veterans who come back home with disabilities may no longer be able to live in the homes they left. With some disabilities, veterans have a need for accessible housing, or may need support services if they are unable to live independently.

As they age, elderly veterans experience the same declines in function that all seniors do. When veterans get older, they may be unable to maintain the tasks of independent daily life, including hygiene, housekeeping, and meal preparation.

Assisted living facilities are communities where veterans live in an apartment or rented room. The community typically has shared living spaces, including a dining room and recreational areas with social and entertainment activities. At an assisted living facility, veterans can benefit from trained caregiver assistance, which can offer support for:

  • Hygiene, including bathing, dressing and toileting
  • Housekeeping, including laundry and cleaning
  • Meal preparation
  • Medication reminders
  • Medical care

Assisted Living Benefits from the Veterans Administration

The VA offers increased pensions to pay for assisted living care.

Aid & Attendance and Housebound

Veterans and survivors may be eligible for Aid & Attendance or Housebound allowances. These types of allowances are paid on top of the regular monthly pension. They are sometimes referred to as a VA assisted living benefit, improved pension, or veterans elder care benefits. These benefits are designed to help senior and disabled veterans pay for care offered from an assisted living facility.

While the specific benefit amount depends on your Maximum Annual Pension Rate category, qualifying for Aid & Attendance or housebound status can offer thousands in additional pension benefits each year. A housebound veteran without dependents can get an additional pension benefit of $2,923 annually. A veteran without dependents who qualifies for Aid & Attendance can get an additional $8,796 annually. Note that you can’t receive both an Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefit, only one or the other.

Eligibility: VA pension eligibility is required, which means you must meet certain income and active duty requirements. Additionally, veterans must also be age 65 or older with limited or no income, totally and permanently disabled, a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, or receiving Supplemental Security Income.

To qualify for Aid & Attendance, veterans or survivors must meet at least one condition:

  • Require the aid of another person for personal functions such as bathing, feeding, dressing, toileting, or adjusting prosthetic devices
  • Bedridden or required to remain in bed except for prescribed courses of convalescence or treatment
  • Nursing home patient due to mental or physical incapacity
  • Eyesight limited to corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less
  • Overall, qualifying for the Housebound monthly pension increase requires you to be effectively confined to your home due to permanent disability.

Veteran-Directed Home and Community Based Services

With the Veteran-Directed Home and Community Based Services program, veterans can get help paying for skilled services, case management, and assistance with daily living activities including bathing and meal preparation. The program offers veterans a flexible budget for services and the ability to hire their own personal care aides.

Eligibility: This benefit is part of the VHA Standard Medical Benefits Package, so all enrolled veterans are eligible if they are determined to have the clinical need for the service, providing it’s available in their area. Veterans of all ages who served in active military service and were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable are eligible for the VHA Standard Medical Benefits Package. For example, veterans who have served for 24 continuous months or the full period for which they were called to active duty are eligible. Veterans who were discharged for a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, or for a hardship or early out are eligible. Those who served prior to September 7th are eligible. Reserves or National guard members who have active duty for training purposes only are not eligible.

Veterans Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

Community Living Centers

VA community living centers are similar to a nursing home and designed to support veterans of all ages with 24-hour skilled nursing care, restorative care, access to social work services, and geriatric evaluation and management. Some centers also provide mental health recovery care, special care for veterans with dementia or other cognitive deficits, respite care, palliative care, and hospice care. There are activities for veterans of all ages and family-friendly visiting areas. Pets are allowed to visit or live in the center, and veterans are invited to decorate their rooms. Typically, veterans stay at community living centers for a short period of time, but some stay for the rest of their lives.

Eligibility: Community living centers accept veterans based on clinical need and setting availability. You must be enrolled in the VA health system and be medically and psychiatrically stable. There are certain criteria for service-connected status, level of disability, and income. Contact your local community living center for more information.

Armed Forces Retirement Home

The Armed Forces Retirement Home is a retirement community for American military veterans. Qualifying veterans can live in the retirement home, which offers activities, meals, wellness programs, and advanced care. The wellness center offers care from a nurse or doctor, pharmacy services, nutrition guidance, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dental care and podiatry care. There are two locations: one in Washington, D.C., and another in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Eligibility: To be considered eligible, veterans of the armed forces must not have been in active, commissioned service for more than half of their career, unless they served as a warrant officer or limited-duty officer. Other requirements include:

At least 60 years of age and discharged or released from service under honorable conditions after 20 or more years of active service
Determined to be incapable of earning a livelihood due to a service-connected disability in the line of duty
Served in a war theater during a time of war, or eligible for hostile fire special pay
Served in a women’s component of the armed forces before June 12, 1948 and eligible for admission under compelling personal circumstances
Veterans must be able to live independently upon admission. However, advanced care with skilled nursing is available if needed later.

State Veterans Homes

State veterans homes offer nursing home, residential care, or adult day care services. Although they are formally recognized and certified by the VA, State Veterans Homes are owned and operated by each individual state. Homes may receive payments from the VA to reduce the cost of care.

Eligibility: Like Community living centers, state veterans homes accept veterans based on clinical need and setting availability. Eligibility and admission criteria will vary by state, as each state sets it own criteria. Contact your local state veterans home to learn about eligibility and admission. Typically, homes require that veterans are honorably discharged from military service with a minimum of 90 days of service, of which one was during a wartime period, must be a resident of the state during the immediate past 12 months, a recent medical exam showing that a veteran does not need care that exceeds that of the home, and not have felony or fugitive status.

Working With A Veterans Benefits Planner

There are many benefits available to veterans, and it’s not always easy to understand how to qualify for or make the most of available benefits. Veterans benefits planners offer veterans or surviving spouses guidance for available benefits and can offer assistance with applications, representation, and appeals.

How Veterans Benefits Planners Help

Veterans may consider working with a veterans benefits planner to simplify the process of receiving benefits, and potentially receive greater benefits than they’d be able to receive by working without a planner. Planners can make disability and pension claims less complicated, prevent obstacles, and speed up the claims process so veterans receive benefits faster.

A knowledgeable veterans benefit advisor can help veterans and their families maximize their eligibility requirements. For example, planners may be aware of exceptions to income limits such as homes, vehicles, and life insurance policies. A planner can be helpful in obtaining military or medical records to support claims as well.

The services offered by veterans benefits planners depends on the type of advisor and their association with the VA. For example, Veterans Service Officers are employed by the VA or veterans groups such as the American Legion and can assist with application preparation, filing, and working on claims. Veterans pension planners are not typically associated with the VA, though some may be accredited. These planners help families plan their finances to receive the maximum benefit amount. Accreditation is important if you want an advisor to officially represent you as you make a claim.

This chart offers more information on the types of veterans benefits planners and what they offer:

veteran benefits planners chart

veterans benefit planners chart

Services offered by veterans benefit planners typically include:

Education: A planner can advise veterans and their families on benefits they may be eligible for. At this stage, planners typically help veterans structure their finances to maximize their benefits.
Application: Planners can help veterans prepare their application and determine which additional forms and supporting documentation are necessary. Gathering the right documentation is key, as omitting important documentation can result in a delay or denial, but sending more documentation than necessary can result in a delay as well. If additional documentation is requested, the planner can help with that as well.
Appeal: If your claim has been denied, an advisor (typically an attorney) can review the reason for the claim denial and determine whether there are grounds for an appeal. They can assist with appeal paperwork and additional supporting evidence, as well as present the case at the hearing.
Veterans benefits planners often assist with claims including:

Aid & Assistance pension
Housebound pension
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
Disability Compensation
Burial Benefits
Survivors/Death Pensions
Enrollment in the veterans’ health care program
Admission to a state veterans’ home
The Cost of Veterans Benefits Planners

Veterans benefits planners typically offer their services at no charge, except for attorneys who work to overturn denied claims. Legally, no person or organization can charge a fee for assistance in preparing applications for VA benefits or presenting claims to the VA.

Planners who work for the VA for non-profit organizations are paid a salary and receive no compensation directly from veterans. However, attorneys and other advisors can charge for claims appeal and related services including estate planning.

Typically, attorneys or planners may offer free assistance in preparing applications. If a claim is denied, the attorney or planner will then charge a fee to overturn the appeal. This is typically a percentage of the benefits, or by the hour or project.

To View the Assisted Living Page that continues with a state by state list of veterans homes, please click here and scroll down to the State-Sponsored Veterans Homes Map. It looks like this:

state by state veterans home listings


It breaks down the home available in alphabetical order for each state. Smaller states tend to have only one location, with Maine being a notable exception. States like Florida and California list 6 and 7, respectively.

I’d like to thank the Assisted Living Research Institute for offering to share their valuable veterans content.