June 15, 2023

#102: Green Beret Foundation – Supporting America’s Army Special Forces – COO Frances Arias & VSO Beth MacDonald

Hosted by Fran Racioppi

The motto of the Green Berets is De Oppresso Liber; to free the oppressed. America’s Army Special Forces answer the nation’s call 24/7/365 in every corner of the world. Our Special Operators are some of the smartest, hardest working and mentally, emotionally and physically fit people on Earth. They dedicate their lives, and many give their lives, to help others in need. But who helps them when their time comes for support?

Green Beret Foundation provides all generations of Green Berets and their families with emergency, immediate and ongoing support. They are the only Special Operations non-profit accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs to handle claims and benefits directly. And as of last year, they have an experienced Veterans Service Officer permanently placed in each active duty Special Forces Group to ensure our Green Berets and their families have access to support while still serving and beyond.   

For this episode Fran Racioppi headed to the home of Green Beret Foundation in San Antonio, TX to sit down with Chief Operating Officer Frances Arias and Veterans Service Officer Beth MacDonald. The purpose of this conversation is to educate transitioning Green Berets, those already in the civilian world, and anyone looking to support the most elite soldiers on the planet on all that GBF brings to the table.

Fran and Frances discuss GBF’s programs such as the Next Ridgeline Veterans Service Officer program, academic scholarships, health and wellness, and GBF’s recent commitment to supporting Green Berets of all generations.

A recipient of GBF’s support himself, Fran and Beth break down the Next Ridgeline Veterans Service Officer program, how Beth and her team are all experienced in the Green Beret community which allows them a unique perspective when analyzing transitioning Green Beret’s records, and the do’s and don’ts of the VA disability claims process. Beth is not only a VSO, but also the Gold Star Spouse of MSG Greg Trent (3rd SFG(A)).

Check out our long form discussion here and the short-form VA Claims How To series on YouTube.  Learn more about Green Beret Foundation at greenberetfoundation.org and on social media at @greenberetfoundation.

Listen to the podcast here

Green Beret Foundation – Supporting America’s Army Special Forces – COO Frances Arias & VSO Beth MacDonald

Welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast. In each episode, I speak with transformative leaders, visioners, drivers of change, and those dedicated to winning no matter the challenge. The Jedburgh Podcast is founded in a lineage of the special operations Jedburgh teams of the past and is produced in partnership with Talent War Group, a management consulting and executive search firm focused on helping you optimize the people side of your business.

We are sponsored by Jersey Mike’s Subs. Together, we share the mission of giving and making a difference in someone’s life. Visit The Jedburgh Podcast, Talent War Group, and Jersey Mike Subs on the web and on all social media. A percentage of all proceeds is dedicated to the Green Beret Foundation, supporting America’s Special Forces and their families.

It is gone through a lot of change over the years. When we think about those organizations that are tremendously impactful to the special operator community and who are out there taking care of our Green Berets, you have served for the last several months as the Interim Executive Director. You have seen every aspect and every facet of this organization as different programs have been built.

We want to take some time here and talk about the different programs. I want to talk about the mission of the organization, the values, and some of the important defining characteristics of this organization that have made it special and have created an impact in so many lives of not only our Green Berets but their families too. Let’s talk about the mission of the Green Beret Foundation.EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

Our mission is to provide all generations of Green Berets, going back to 1952 throughout Vietnam, the Cold War, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now and the future, and their families with emergency, immediate, and ongoing support.

It has not always been the focus to be all Green Berets. It was initially post-9/11 for a long time. How has opening it up to all Green Berets of every era changed the focus of the Green Beret Foundation?

It is a little surprising. It wasn’t a tremendous shift in how we were going to address the issues of our pre-9/11 Green Berets and families because we fully expected knowing and understanding that health and wellness would be important in supporting those specific issues for that portion of the community. With the legislative efforts we have made on the hill as one of the signing organizations trying to get the PACT Act passed, we knew we needed to do more to ensure that not only our post-9/11 Green Berets were getting their cancers addressed and compensated for those cancers. We are ensuring that our Green Berets, who are pre-9/11, were also being taken into consideration through those changes that were made through the PACT Act too.

It is one of those things where we go to war, the organization gets bill, it starts supporting people, and one day, you turn around, and you go, “Why wouldn’t we support all Green Berets?”

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“Our mission is to provide all generations of Green Berets…and their families, with emergency, immediate and ongoing support.”

We have such a tremendous relationship with the Fraternal Brotherhood Association. GBF is such a great complement because we are on the benevolent side of what SFA does not support in terms of what GBF does with financial assistance for health and wellness transition support and casualty support at the point of injury or illness. That is how we complement each other. The Special Forces Regimen has been around since 1952. We have to ensure that we are taking care of all of our Green Berets, families, survivors, and caregivers.

We are entering a time where there is not a whole lot of talk of conflict. Conflict exists. When I say there is not a lot of talk of conflict, I’m saying defined war. We are at war with a dedicated and devoted adversary that is pure to us, which is something we haven’t seen in America in a long time. Special Forces, as we look forward over the course of the next 5, 10, and maybe upwards of 20 years, will be the primary effort for our nation’s battles and wars. They will remain covert and clandestine. This organization will continue to lead that effort globally 24/7 and 365, whatever the term is.

My friends are out there, and they are working hard every single day. The Green Beret Foundation, in order to support that, has built a series of programs. As I have dug into them, we can define them as six different programs. The first of these is Casualty Support. Talk a little bit about the casualty support program and how that is supporting those who require it.

Let’s go back a little bit in our history. As an organization, we stood up when our Founder was injured in Afghanistan, Aaron Anderson. He was 7th Group Green Beret. At the time, there was no benevolent organization or nonprofit that was specific to Green Berets and families that were supporting the injuries, illnesses, and the stuff that was coming from what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had the fantastic idea to stand up the foundation. Early on, our initial focus was on casualty support because we knew that our Green Berets were getting injured down range getting brought home.

It is 80% of special operations of injuries.

Sixty percent of all soft casualties have been Green Berets. Casualties is a broad term, not killed in action, but primarily injured or ill as a result of their service. When we talk about the tip of the spear, it is Green Berets who are out there and have unfortunately sustained those injuries the most, and the effect on what it is having on their families too.

The casualty support program is there to support them.

During Iraq and Afghanistan combat operations, we were sending out several GORUCK backpacks. We also provide checks for $2,500 to support immediate needs because, as we know, none of us are expecting our Green Beret to get injured. Some bills will start to rack up. We had the wherewithal to know that we needed to provide these kits to make their possible stays a little bit more comfortable while they are at Walter Reed or in San Antonio at BAMC.EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

Now that we have transitioned after Afghanistan, the injuries we are seeing are parachuting and halo accidents. Because we are not at war or in conflict, Green Berets are still training hard to continue that mission. They are still deploying, but you got to train up for those deployments. We are seeing a lot of training accidents.

Another program you mentioned was Health and Wellness. You mentioned it in reference to the pre-9/11 generation, but it is a huge component of the post-9/11 generation. What are the defining characteristics of the health and wellness program?

The defining characteristics are that here at GBF, we are always open to learning about new novel therapies and treatments that can help Green Berets, especially when we are looking at our pre-9/11 community. With a lot of the new research, treatments, and therapies available for traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, fight or flight, depression, and anxiety, we are ensuring that those same novel therapies are being made available to the pre-9/11 community.EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

For whatever reason, they may not want to gain access to medical support from the VA system. We completely understand. We can work with some of the providers, organizations, and clinics that we have partnered with to get all of our Green Berets access to new treatments and therapies that are making huge impacts on their well-being and overall health.

That is what we do with health and wellness. One main emphasis we do have here at GBF is on mental health because there is no health without mental health. We are always taking into consideration the Green Berets’ health and wellness, whether they are still on active duty or preparing to transition. One of the first questions we ask is, “Do you feel ready mentally and physically to go back to school or the workforce?” That will be a defining question that needs to be answered. How can we ensure you are set up for success with your health and wellness for your future?

There is no health without mental health. Share on X

This may be the headquarters in the office of a Green Beret Foundation, but this is also a sacred place. We are sitting in front of the Wall of Honor, which is honoring and commemorating those Green Berets we have lost. When I walked in here, I have seen pictures. You and I have talked about this wall. I have talked about this wall with the previous Executive Director, Brent Cooper. I talked about it again with the Chairman of the Green Beret Foundation, Lieutenant General Ken Tovo, when I interviewed him. It comes up in all the conversations that I have. It doesn’t hit you until you walk into this room and realize how many people on this wall you know personally. You don’t ever see it consolidated in a single place.

The Gold Star Family Program, which is being run by Green Beret Foundation, is designed to support the families that have been left behind as our brothers have given the ultimate sacrifice. Beth MacDonald was my veteran service officer, who has helped me over the course of 2022 with the support that the Green Berets Foundation has given me. I’m going to talk to her. Can you talk about the importance of this program and how it is supporting the families?EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

This is one of those programs that hit me personally and has had the most profound effect on me in my time here at GBF because I’m not married to a Green Beret. I’m not from this community. My former husband was in the Marine Corps on the conventional side. My connection to the regiment was Staff Sergeant Jeremie Border, next to Beth’s husband, Gregory Trent.

The sole focus of our Gold Star Surviving Family Program has been to ensure that our families have an understanding of what benefits and entitlements are available to them and what methods and ways we can continue to keep them involved with regimental activities. We always say, “We will never forget the fallen.” The fallen should also include remembering their families because they are the ones that are left behind.

Kids will grow up and age out. The spouses will move on, remarry, and lives will go on. That sacrifice still remains. We want to ensure that our Gold Stars and survivors understand that as the years pass, we will continue to be there for them, ensure that the legacy of their Green Berets stays in the spotlight as our role here at the foundation, but also ensure too that as years go by, there are changes in legislation on benefits and entitlements. We want to make sure that they know what is coming down the pike and what to prepare for. It is one of those programs, as I have been told by some Gold Stars, as a club that you don’t want to be a part of.

Nobody wants to be a Gold Star family, spouse, mother, or father.

If that day does come, the Green Berets Foundation stands ready to assist them for that purpose. It is not at the point of tragedy, a unit memorial, or a burial at Arlington. We are there for them from that day and forever and ever after that because that is our devotion to them, the legacy of their Green Beret, and the regiment.

I have been fortunate over the last couple of years on the show to sit down with a number of Gold Star families, including Sara Wilkinson. Her husband, Chad Wilkinson, took his own life. A close friend of mine, the Day family, Jim and Linda Day, whose son, Ryan, was somewhere between a brother and a son to me in age and lost his life. When you sit down with each one of these families and understand the struggles they have gone through, they will tell you the same thing every time. It came down to the organizations that were there to support them when their world was turned upside down.

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“There’s no health without mental health.”

Two great examples that we have here at the foundation are the families of retired Major Darren Baldwin and Master Sergeant Andy Marckesano. Major Baldwin’s mother, who is Fran Wesseling, sits on our board of directors. She has been supporting the organization for the last several years through a golf tournament and a reception in Cincinnati, Ohio area. She has raised well over $1 million for the foundation in that time period.

It has been incredibly heartwarming and impactful knowing her daughter-in-law’s story, Bianca Baldwin, Darren’s wife. They have come together to create a fund here at the Major Darren Baldwin Silver Star Families Support Fund because Silver Star families, which many don’t know, are not for Silver Star recipient families. The designation of a Silver Star family is for those service members who are injured or become ill as a result of their service. Major Darren Baldwin is one individual that fits that criterion. We set up this fund to ensure that we can fund long-term healthcare needs for not just the Green Berets but for their families as well as their caregivers. Caregivers carry a heavy burden too. They have a rucksack of their own that they have to carry.

Also, the family of Andy Marckesano. Andy’s story stems from taking his life in 2020. We stepped in to support his family. His family chose to work with us on establishing the Andy Markesano Burden Bearer Suicide Prevention Fund. As a result of that, we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into suicide prevention methods, treatments, and therapies that are helping our Green Berets and family members, not just spouses, but our kids. Some of our kids are struggling with mental health issues. We are ensuring they are being taken care of. Those funds have gone a long way to ensure that the mental health and overall well-being of our community are being maintained.

Those three programs, the Gold Star Family, the Surviving Family, and the Family Support, there are other components of those. You talk about the DOL Scholarship Program.

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“We want to ensure that our Gold Stars and our survivors understand that as the years pass we will continue to be there for them.”

When we talk about the support that we provide here at the foundation, there is this misconception. This is a misconception also with several organizations out there where the name says, “Green Beret Foundation.” The assumption is only Green Berets get resources out of the foundation. That is not true.

Here at GBF, we address all issues for everyone in the household. That household may not be necessarily a wife, partner, or children. It might be a parent. The parent may be the next of kin in a situation. We want to ensure that our kids are getting the resources they need to meet and achieve their educational goals. That is why we have the DOL Scholarship. We want to ensure that they get into school and they have ways to offset those crazy increasing costs in higher education.

The average is about nine scholarships a year. We talked about The Next Ridge Line Transition Support Program and the assistance that Green Beret Foundation and the Veteran Service officers are giving to the VA benefit and claim process. I say all the time, “The value of this program is having somebody who understands the unique challenges that our special operators face.”

Not only in the unique missions that they face, which often result in unique injuries and experiences that change their mental health, but the fact that we recruit, assess, and select a demographic of people to do this job who is the most thick-headed and hard-headed group of people that walk the face of the earth. They don’t document things in their records, don’t go to sick calls, and go to the doctor, and when they go to their team medic, their arm, and fingers are hanging off, their medic sews it back up, and they get back to work. It is not in their medical records.

That is fine to continue the mission. That is what makes this organization and the people who serve in this organization the greatest fighting force on the planet and in the history of the world, but at some point, our day comes to an end. We have to no longer get to be a Green Beret running around the battlefield. We have to move on, and our injuries surmount.

I had a chance to sit down with John. My team sergeant was the most broken man I have ever met in my life. He refused adamantly to go to the VA because he said his job had been to sustain these injuries. That was what he was asked by his country to do. He did that. They didn’t owe him anything. This program had become important for Green Beret Foundation over the last couple of years, since November 2020, when it was approved and accredited. Can you talk about the accreditation process, what it means for the Green Beret Foundation, and why that has become a unique and defining program for the organization?

Getting accredited by the VA is not a simple task. Our application got shuffled and reshuffled as a result of COVID to the point that we had to reach out to our Congress people to try and get us some answers. We are like, “This is taking quite some time.” The importance of having this accreditation sets us apart because GBF is the only special operations nonprofit that are accredited to handle claims and benefits for Green Berets and their families.

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“GBF is the only Special Operations non-profit that’s accredited to handle claims and benefits for Green Berets and their families.”

As a result of that, we have been able to secure $1.2 million in retroactive pay before our community, not including what a VA rating increase may result in or if it is an initial claim. We are giving you the best possible fair shot in front of the VA for your first initial claim and what rating you get. It has been incredibly impactful. The reason for that is that our VSOs have all walked the walk and talked the talk. They are former Green Berets or, in the case of our Fort Bragg VSOs, both our SF spouses, Beth, as you know, is a Gold Star. Her husband was in the 3rd Group.

We understand that when it comes to medical-related issues, it is not easy to talk about, but who better to open up to and listen to than one of your own peers? Somebody who gets it, somebody who may have dealt with or is dealing with the same issue and can provide insight and helpful resources to understand what is life afterward. Maybe it is a severe illness.

The way that I describe what we do here with the claims is that the United States owes our veterans compensation for illnesses and injuries sustained as a result of their service because you buy it. You have to return these individuals back out into society to succeed and become people who will thrive in the workforce, academia, and whatever endeavors they have after military service. They have to do that with good medical care and resources that are tied to their VA ratings.

The United States owes our veterans compensation for illnesses and injuries sustained as a result of their service. Share on X

I don’t like to call it the yellow brick road because the yellow brick road is different for everyone. Everyone has their own trail to follow. Some may be off the beaten path. These VA and, towards the end of your career, some of the DOD-specific programs and resources, the purpose is to help you succeed. Sometimes we step in, and we will help provide you with additional resources through our program partners.

You talked about returning Green Berets and Special Operators into this civilian world. When I’m not hosting The Jedburgh Podcast, I am building my own company. We do a variety of different things in leadership and security. We are full of Green Berets now, mostly 10th Group Mafia, but we have brought in a couple of 3rd Group guys. We make them carry the bags.

What we forget about is the recruiting assessment and selection process that we go through when in special forces, not only during SFAS and into the Q Course, but the continuous evaluation is you are always being assessed not only at the selection. You are always being assessed your entire career. Every day that you put the Green Beret on and you go to your unit, you are being assessed in some form and way. These are some of the highest-performing individuals we have in society.

Returning and putting them into the workforce in positions where they can be successful in the corporate world, whatever that may be, whether that be in small businesses, big businesses, private companies, public companies, you name it, is not only a duty of the military, SOCOM, USASOC, and everything in between, but society needs them.

We need these people out there in the workforce because they bring reason and rationale. We talk about effective intelligence, which is one of the nine characteristics used by Special Operations Command. We talk about it on the show all the time. Something comes from having the experiences and perspectives that you have as a Green Beret serving all over the world, in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific region, and South America.

You bring that into a company on day one, and you are immediately a leader. People look to you for guidance, expertise, and authority figure. Everything that we can do to help groom and prepare people for that transition is a spot and a place where we need to put maximum focus when we talk about this program specifically. The Green Beret Foundation has embedded these veteran service officers into the active duty groups because they have put them with the client to best understand who is coming out of the regiment, what they need, where they are going, and how we can best support them.

We meet you, the Green Beret or the family member, where you are in life, whether it is at the point of transition. Transition can also be a broader term, not just retirement, separation, injury, illness, loss of Green Beret, loss of a spouse, loss of a child, changing careers, and graduating from college or grad school.

What is the next step? What is the next phase of the evolution? We want to be there at those phases for those evolutions because many of us have been through it personally. Many of us have program partners who know what you need, which is a vetted resource that can get you into that successful position later on. One of the things that I have always been strong about is how Green Berets are the greatest teachers. That is what you are. That is the job.

My former husband used to give me a hard time because I used to say, “I’m going to go out to the range with guys. Why don’t you want to go shooting with me? They are the best teachers.” You all know how to break it down Barney style for me to make sure that I’m doing it right while I’m not on the range. They have the patience to do it. That is emotional and cultural intelligence. That is important because, in this day and age, we have diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and equity that are important in corporations out in the world. Cultural and emotional intelligence are important when you are going into corporations like that. Who is better than Green Berets?

It is a group of folks who have the biggest egos, yet none at the same time. It is an interesting dichotomy when you think and look at it. Eighty-five percent of every dollar that comes into the Green Beret Foundation is put into programs. That is a benchmark that nonprofits are judged by. That is a high mark for the Green Beret Foundation. Why is it important to maintain that and put so much money back into the programs?

We will always respect our donors and their donor dollar because that is a hard-earned dollar that they are willing and graciously willing to give to GBF in support of the mission. Whenever we have any dollar that comes through here, we want to ensure we are creating the greatest impact in programs and services with that dollar. We wouldn’t be here now, the organization that we are, and continue to succeed in being if we weren’t hitting that metric.

Over $17 million has been put through the program since 2009. It is about 5,000 families per year. We mentioned the nine scholarships per year. There is a new President coming into the Green Beret Foundation, Charles Iacono, coming from the USO. Talk a little bit about what his focus is going to be. He might not even know what it is yet, but we are going to tell him.

I’m excited to have Charlie come on board. We have been talking almost every single day. We are ecstatic to see how we are going to grow the organization into the future because, as we know, we have expanded our programs and services to pre-9/11 Green Berets and families. We are still continuing to support our post-9/11 Green Berets and families.

We know that there is a future. We know that given the geopolitical climate of what is happening out there around the world, it is not in the news, but we know where our Green Berets are. They’re operating, training, and getting ready for the next fight. Eventually, there is going to be a new era. GBF, every day, continues to research and figure out what those needs are. What are going to be the future needs of our families and Green Berets? At any moment, something can pop off. I’m sure you all, as Green Berets, hope it does. For us, at that moment, if and when it does, we will be prepared. We are now to meet the current needs. We are working towards ensuring that we continue to meet the future needs that are coming down the pike.

One of the most important parts of the Green Beret Foundation, from a personal perspective, is how welcoming the organization has been. I mean that genuinely. There were no veteran service officers when I left the 10th Group in 2016. They had no idea who the Green Beret Foundation was, what they were doing, and what had been around.

I went to a dinner in New York City. It was 2017 or 2016. I saw Jason McCarthy there. We caught up. We had known each other loosely in the 10th Group. I lost touch with the organization over the last several years since I started The Jedburgh Podcast. Brent and I met at the GORUCK Games and Sandlot JAX in 2022, as we have come together closely with the Green Beret Foundation and The Jedburgh Podcast in 2022.

The way in which every person within the organization has welcomed me has been a special moment. It is something that I cherish. I say that because it is important that all Green Berets out there understand a couple of things. The organization exists for every generation. It doesn’t matter. If you are never spoken to anybody in the organization, reach out. Make contact with somebody. Start talking to them because you are going to know someone who is involved in the organization.

I know almost everybody on the board because they are from our 10th Group of folks. I have served with them. You see, and you are like, “I know these people.” My friends are involved in the organization. We talked about Kevin Edison. Kevin’s son is here doing this whole thing. He did an awesome job. That is the welcoming nature of this.EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

The broader point is that this organization survives on the donations of benevolent folks who are willing to give back to the organization. Our service as Green Berets does not end when we take that Green Beret off. It sits on your mantle or bookcase, and you look at it every day like I do. I wish I could put it back on and go do the things I used to do.

We have a duty to support and give back to this organization because we took an oath to each other. We went to selection. We were selected. We went to the Q Course. We showed up every day in the regiment and dawned the Green Beret. We wore it with honor and pride. We talk about the community, brotherhood, and the originals from the 10th Group. Now, we have to give back to each other, and the method and venue to do that is the Green Beret Foundation

I appreciate you saying that because if there is one thing that I have always stressed to staff and to those who are close to the organization is that if you are a Green Beret, you have been assessed and selected. Your DD214 or ERB/ORB says that your 18th Series, you are family. Your family is family. All of us understand the life of being in the military. Sometimes, it is easy, but more often, it is not. It is difficult, especially because of the community, temple, and lifestyle of this community.

All of us understand the life of being in the military. Sometimes, it is easy, but more often, it is not. Share on X

The dedication from Green Berets who are willing to give back to the organization that is devoted to ensuring that they and their family members continue to have the tools, resources, and assistance needed when it is needed goes a long way, especially from the Special Forces mission. As we understand in the Special Forces mission, Green Berets will go into countries and train indigenous forces. You are sharing that knowledge with a force that may have never been exposed to that before.

The same applies to sharing the knowledge you know about what we do here at the Green Beret Foundation with your brothers because they may not know that we exist. They may not be on social media. They may have never come around or heard about us before. The opportunities are there to give back to each other through the organization, mentorship, or opening up a network for a Green Beret in some small town out in the middle of Idaho because they want to go live out there but don’t know where to find a job there.

Reach out to your networks. That is why we love having the partnership we do with Special Forces Association because they are global. We know that we can always tie back to a green entity anywhere in the world. When something happens anywhere in the world, we will utilize the network like you do when you are in service and operating. We utilize that same network to ensure that Green Berets have the access, knowledge, and tools that they need.

That is the call to action. Get involved.

We have many various awesome ways to do it. It doesn’t always have to be a donor dollar. You don’t have to give money. Do you know what is valuable that we know about? It is time. We know that time goes by. Time is incredibly important. One particular thing that I do want to bring up, which I emphasize whenever I’m visiting the groups or if I’m with a group of spouses, is stopping and taking the time to think about what is life after the military, whether you are separating or retiring.

One of the unfortunate realities that we have seen here in our time and our existence as an organization, and it is not uncommon because it’s a common issue within society, is not taking the time to understand what your affairs are. Do you have life insurance? Does your spouse have access to your bank accounts? Does your spouse know what their benefits and entitlements are at the point of separation, retirement, or being killed in training or a combat operation?

Stopping, slowing down, and learning about those things are important. Sharing that knowledge within the team rooms, friends, and other little networks. If there is one thing I tell Green Berets when they are starting to get skittish about asking for help, I remind them, “It is not about you because I know that you have been married several years. You got two kids getting ready to go to college. If you die of a heart attack tomorrow, what is the plan?” That is where we step in and say, “We will provide you the tools that you need to ensure that you have that plan. You can sit down and have that conversation with your spouse.”

Everything will tie back to you somehow because of your VA rating and service. Depending on what awards you have been awarded, there are additional entitlements that come from that and benefits. What happens when you are gone because your family is left behind, and they won’t know? That is also why we were so adamant about ensuring that we got our programs and services to our pre-9/11 community. Some of our Green Berets, who are pre-9/11 from Vietnam and may be married now, but their spouse wasn’t with them when they were at Green Beret. They don’t know what benefits and entitlements are even remotely available to them.

When the Green Berets pass away, we get the phone call. We step in, answer those questions and provide them with the guidance they need. What is important is understanding that the dynamic changes after life in the military where you are no longer on the team. It may not be the eleven other guys that are on your team, but your next team is your family because you have to be ensuring that they know what is available to them. If you don’t, reach out. That is what we are here for. We will be there every step of the way.

What is important is understanding that the dynamic changes after life in the military where you are no longer on the team. Share on X

We got to remind everybody that rule one will still exist. You can ask for help and still look cool. No one is going to judge you. What is the biggest opportunity you see for the Green Beret Foundation?

What I have envisioned and have been sharing with Charlie because he will be coming on board here soon is we are going to continue to expand our reach into the regiment. We have Green Berets, spouses, or family members who are willing to reach out and be a part of GBF, not necessarily asking for assistance or anything but wanting to be able to give back or be involved. It is growing our reach. It is easier when you have a hot handoff or one point of contact you can reach out to, be able to talk to you, and get the information you are looking for but expanding our reach within the groups.

We are ensuring that our guard groups don’t feel like they are forgotten because we sure don’t forget them. Guard groups have also sustained many sacrifices and their families. Even though the guard units have their own intricacies, given that they are state units, we will always be there for active duty units and deactivated units.

We are growing the organization to a point where we have the staff to continue to meet the needs of the community while also growing our revenue to meet those needs because they are going to continue to grow year over year. The two programs where we invest the most funding are health and wellness and family support. That is going to continue to grow. As the needs grow, the requirement for us to continue to raise the revenue and funding for that is going to need to be met. Charlie and I are ready for that challenge. We are going to continue to make sure that we meet that.

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

Trust, strength, and direction. What do those three mean?

Think about it in terms of a process. You can trust us here at the Green Beret Foundation. Our tools and resources will give you the strength to find the direction in which to take those tools and resources to find success, whether it’s through rehabilitation, recovery, or transition out of the military. That is why we’re here. We can be a North Star. You can always come back to us and ask. We will always lead you in the right direction.

I don’t know how to sum it up better than that. What I know is that being a Green Beret and serving in the Special Forces regiment was the highlight of my life. Everybody else who has worn that Green Beret and earned that Special Forces tab they wore on their shoulder will feel the same way.

Even though the description of you all isn’t this but I still use it because I love it. I’m also a history nerd. I have a 2,000-book collection in my house. A lot of it is on intelligence, community, espionage, and the Cold War. I’m a very big fan of Donovan in his quote about you guys, the Jedburgh. The PhDs who can win in a bar fight are you guys.

That is why I am passionate to see you PhDs go out there into the world after military service and see what you are doing. You are a great example of that. It is awesome to see where you take your knowledge, experience, and skill to create cool new things. Podcasts are now the cool thing. Your podcast is one of the top ones that I have to listen to now. It is not because you are a Green Beret but because I love your content. You also have a cool logo too.

I know that this annoys you, and it bugs us too. It is a great educational moment. Are Green Berets Navy SEALs? No, it is cooler. They have unique skills. The unique skill has made you all into some incredible people out in the world, building the things that you have with your lives after service. It is cool to see that and how that also translates into your home life. I have seen incredible stories of spouses that have gone on with their careers that are mind-blowing. It is awesome to see that. I love seeing that. Those are awesome stories.

We got to continue to tell them. Thank you so much.

John, thanks for sitting down with me for a few minutes.

You are welcome.

You have been involved with Green Beret Foundation for quite a bit. I want to talk about your background, not only as a Green Beret. I want to also talk about your background at the VA as a rating specialist because many of the things you did at the VA, in understanding the process, you have been able to translate over into the Green Beret Foundation. That has been impactful to the entire organization.

You spent time in the 1st Group and 5th Group. I won’t hold it against you because I’m a 10th Group guy. You retired in 2001 as a master sergeant. You were an 18 Delta, 18 Fox, and 18 Zulu. You saw all aspects of what it was like to serve within the regiment. You have transitioned that service now into the service of those other operators. Talk for a minute about what it means to be a Green Beret.EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

It is a dynamic that you don’t get in the conventional military. You have the ability to think in multiple echelons and responsibility way outside of what somebody that would occupy your rank would have in a conventional force. You get an opportunity to work in austere environments on your own, away from a lot of the encumbrances that conventional forces have, and work closely with indigenous personnel and different cultures. That was where it was at. Not working in first squads or second platoons with the constraints on conventional infantry or combat arms units.

You served two at a time. That is important, especially now as we look at where we are going as a country. The military, in a lot of respects, has fallen below the fold. We are out of a declared war. We could argue all day long. I’m sure we would agree that we are still at war. We like to say publicly that we are not anyone who thinks that we are not at war needs to get with the program. This time period prior to 2011, and 9/11, the time period we are entering now, is where Special Forces units and Special Operators do some of their best work.

The bottom line is the regiment has been engaged since the ‘50s when it was stood up and inception. It has never become disengaged. When I was in, we were constantly deploying, whether it was 1, 3, or 6 months deployments. You were out and doing what you needed to do. It is developing the relationships with the partner forces during the supposed peacetime period that pays off when you have to go shoot people in the face.

Here is one of the things that I have managed to see. I was old enough to remember the Fall of Saigon. Asia, especially Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, were taboo and off-limits. The next thing I knew was, as a Special Forces Medic, I was being deployed in a joint task force full accounting when President Reagan said, “We want the fullest possible accounting for Southeast Asia.” I was in Vietnam doing one of those operations. I remember watching counter-narcotics missions going on and doing operations. The 1st Group, in the near future or soon, is going to be in Southeast Asia again. Things come full circle.

People forget about that. They think that we only deploy forces in these declared conflicts. Much work is done. I think about Ukraine. We had people in Afghanistan and Iraq. We were in these wars, but we also had people in Ukraine, setting the conditions for what we have seen transpire over the last few years.

The 10th Group rebuilt the Ukrainian Army, and look how effective they are. That is a hat’s off to the originals on that one.

We got to keep that in mind. We think about an organization like the Green Beret Foundation, where so much of what the organization does is in support of those active duties and those veterans who have served in the regiment. Prior to a couple of years ago, Green Beret Foundation was focused on the post-9/11 generation. They have since opened up support to Green Berets of all generations. Why has that been so important for Green Beret Foundation and the level of support that they are able to give?

It shows that we are financially healthy, and there was a little bit of a stigma attached to that. There was a need for the post-9/11 because the guys were falling through the cracks because of Tricare VA, who were wounded. With the decrease in casualties, we are able to expand our resources and capacity as such that we can handle that and take care of everyone. We owe a debt to our legacy holders, and now it is time to pay that debt.

We owe a debt to our legacy holders, and now it is time to pay that debt. Share on X

Before I came out here to meet with everybody, I spoke with Ken Tovo, a retired Lieutenant General, former USASOC Commander, and the Chairman of the Green Beret Foundation. He called you the architect of the Next Ridgeline Transition Support Program. This program has been talked about a lot over the last few years because it has changed the direction that Green Beret Foundation has gone with respect to the support they can give to disability and benefits claims as a VA. You spent time prior to coming to Green Beret Foundation as a VA rating specialist. Can you talk about the Next Ridgeline Transition Support Program, what it is, and why it has been so impactful to the Green Beret Foundation?

We wrote the package to get requested or the package to become accredited in 2018. It took a while in late 2018. We submitted it in 2019. We got accredited in November 2020. That was huge in that we are now able to file claims on behalf of veterans to represent them all the way up to the Board of Veterans Appeals with appellate actions. We are able to access their VA claim files.EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

In a lot of cases, they don’t know what the VA did. They don’t have copies of their decisions. In the cases of our pre-9/11 guys, they don’t know. By us being accredited, we can execute a power of attorney on those individuals and look at what their VA claim file has. We are able to conduct an analysis of those previous decisions and determine what the best course of action there is for the veteran. The file is claimed.

You are talking about accreditation. How difficult is it to be accredited?

When I was doing the research on it, the VA had not accredited a new organization in several years. They have only accredited three in the last several. One of the last ones was the Wounded Warrior Project. It was about 2010. It doesn’t happen often.

Is that because they want to keep it in-house? The VA itself is the one who wants to be the advocate.

To master the assets and the skill, you have to put some time and effort into that. The job was being done by the traditional service organizations, DAV, VFW, and American Legion. Those organizations are starting to get a little stale. I hope I’m not offending anyone in those organizations. They get harder to find veteran service officers within those organizations.

Additionally, we have some unique individuals who have unique skill sets and have been through some unique experiences. Sometimes that perspective is important. We have guys that have been injured by barometric trauma during a halo operation or because of a hypoxic brain injury doing scuba operations. It is the same with the SEALs. That knowledge base doesn’t exist in those other organizations. We are uniquely positioned as members of the community to assist our community members.

I understand the client. You think about all of the unique types of operations, whether it be halo or scuba, where the traditional Army, the infantry, and traditional conventional forces don’t execute those types of missions. There is also another piece of this when we look at how we recruit, assess, and select our special operators.

One of the things we often pride ourselves on is we are selecting some of the most thick-headed people that exist on the face of the earth, who are not going to be the ones who are going to come in and say to you, “My leg, back hurts, and head hurts. I got knocked out on that jump, but I’m going to get up and put my weapon in operation, my night vision down and drive on.”

It starts in jump school. I’m not going to go through the ground week again. I’m going to drive on with this sprained ankle. I don’t have tower week anymore through jump week. When I graduate, I will find somebody and have them look at my ankle.

When you graduate, you go to your unit.

They go into it, whether it be Ranger School. I’m not going to get recycled in your ranger school unless I have to, and I’m going to push through selection and assessment. I remember we had a guy who broke his leg. They pulled him out because he injured himself on the last road march. This is the mentality. When you get onto an A-Team, the last thing you want, you are going to get treated by your medic. I was a medic for several years. I didn’t put a lot of stuff in the medical records. I’m surprised that nobody comes by and shoots my porch lights out on me. A lot of times, that documentation simply isn’t there. On the other hand, we know how to fix that in a lot of cases for guys as they are getting out.

I had a stroke in my eye as a detachment commander in Iraq. I was medevac from Basrah to Balad. I was told that I was going to be sent to Germany and convinced the doctor there to send me back to my team. I only went to Germany about a few weeks later when I didn’t get on the two scheduled flights that I was told to get on. The battalion commander called me and direct ordered me to go to Germany. I spent 48 hours and immediately returned back to Iraq. I still live with that now.

I had the same thing. I’m a left-handed shooter. It is interesting watching my head trying to acquire the pistol sights.

Our Special Operators who endure many of these injuries are looking at transition because, eventually, it doesn’t matter how great of an operator you are. Your day is going to come. It is time to move on and do something else. You, as the Veteran Services Director, Beth, and the others as Veteran Service Officers, are there to sit down with operators and Green Berets and say, “This is a place where you are going to have an opportunity to tell me about these unique challenges you face and all those times where you didn’t say anything to anyone because we got to capture it now.”

The good part is the program has expanded to where we have a full-time person at each active duty Special Forces group. They are accredited veteran service officers. They are trained and stand by everybody. ETSs retire out of that group to do their VA claims. That is the point at which we catch where that non-documentation comes out. We can get it and fix it.

Putting the veteran service officer into the active duty units and co-locating them has been one of the single most important factors of this program and the success of this program. I got out in 2016. I had no idea until about 2 or 3 days before ETS that there were any healthcare programs for veterans when they got out because there was no education around.

They put you in these briefings. They say, “Go to the VA. Talk to the VA.” It wasn’t until I went into the DAV office because you had to get a signature from them. Someone said, “Did you sign up for healthcare?” I was like, “No, why would I sign up for healthcare? I have been stressing about healthcare for the last several months and getting ready to get out.” He said, “You are post-9/11. You get five years of healthcare through the VA. Until you get your disability claim, and depending on that, you can have it for life.” That blew my mind.

What they don’t tell you is you still have to pay for it, but it is a copay. The amount of claims we have seen has bloomed exponentially since the addition of those folks. We doubled, tripled, and quadrupled our demand for services. We are at the point now where we have to match capacity with demand. That will be a challenge, but it is something that we are going to overcome.

How did your experience as a VA rating specialist prepare you to come into this organization and champion this program?

What I saw was that soft guys, in general, were being under-evaluated because of a lack of documentation in the records and a lack of understanding of how the system works. I used to write the decisions for the Medal of Honor recipients for the State of Washington and the XPOWs for a while. I also helped stand up the high desks integrated disability evaluation system, and those guys that were getting the med boards were getting out. There are a lot of resources available to those folks. What we didn’t have was for soft guys who were getting a short end of the stick based on their injuries and their chronic conditions.

I started an organization called Oasis Group, which was successful, and it was designed to help all soft. The problem was we couldn’t crack the code on funding. We were about ready to stand it down. Because of that, the VA requires you to have full-time people before they would accredit you. We were going it stands it down. We couldn’t crack the funding code.

GBF offered to absorb Oasis Group. Both boards voted on that. They hired me to stand up for the organization and get it accredited by the VA. That is what I did. I moved down here from Washington State. We got accredited in November 2020. That allowed me to start to put the pieces in place. Now that we are able to get all eras, we are able to touch all of those guys. The government tries the best they can. Sometimes they don’t get it completely right. That is where we come in.

A lot of Green Berets and special operators during their transition almost have an aversion to the VA rating process. I have talked to many guys. My team sergeant was the most broken guy I knew and adamantly refused, “I will not get a disability rating. This was my job. My job was to put my body through this.” What do we tell those guys?

We had a case where I had to tell somebody to jump in the car, drive out to where so-and-so was and punch him in the face because he was an idiot. The guy didn’t do that, but he did manage to call him up on the phone and chew his butt until the other guy relented. It is understandable, but that is the mindset that makes the unit successful on the one hand.

On the other hand, this is the guy that you are trying to help several years down the road and trying to get squared away because he needs to take care of his spouse. We were like, “It may not be for you, but let’s try to take care of mama. Statistics show that you are going to pass away before she is. What steps have you taken to ensure that she is going to be taken care of? You need to think about that.”

In the seminars that we do a couple of times a year for each group, that is one of the things that we bring up, “If you are not walking out of this thing with a civilian life insurance policy, you better start thinking about converting your SGLI to VGLI. You better think about the SBP because when you die, your retirement pay and VA pay stop. The only thing your spouse is going to get is Tricare. We have had that situation happen. That is a conversation that you don’t want to have. I don’t like telling the spouse that. You got to think.” That is how we put it to our beloved knuckle dragger.

How do we demystify the process and ask that question because it often is a convoluted process? The rating scheme itself is not linear. 20 plus 20 doesn’t equal 40. It could equal ten.

What we try to do is education. One is if anybody says anything to you, immediately run away from them because they don’t know shit. Every possible misinformation, disinformation, outright lie, and falsehood in the world out there, the biggest thing that we try to do is this whole process is based on evidence and law. I don’t care if you told your medic five times that your feet hurt. If it is not written down in the records, there is no evidence of this condition.

Two, it is based on a current chronic condition. If you don’t go to the VA exam, but you filed a claim. That thing doesn’t exist until one of those people diagnoses it or says it is still there. It is a case of evidence in law. It is objective. It is not subjective for the most part. If your knee has a problem and it can’t completely extend all the way, they have specific criteria in the law to award a certain percentage for that.

That is how it works. If you think that your knee has gotten worse, it has to have gotten worse according to what the law says before they can grant it, not because it hurts worse. That is where we try to educate the guys. It may sound mysterious, but you need to try to wrap your head around why they say what they say.

What is your message to transitioning Green Berets?

File a claim. If, for some reason, you don’t have time to get it filed with us, find somebody else. Get a claim filed. The longer you wait after you get out, the harder it is to get these things service-connected.

Why is that?

Most of the time, people don’t like to go to the Doctor. The VA requires continuity of treatment. If you got out several years ago, your knees bothered you, and you are not seeing the doctor because you have been doing contract work for the last several years, there is a gap between when you were last treated and now. The VA is going to go, “There is no continuity of treatment here.”

What is the biggest challenge that you have in this role?

Managing expectations. Not everybody is going to be 100% when they get out. That usually takes time, old age, and falling apart. You try to manage expectations with this is what the regulations and the law says. Understand that you may not be there yet with your back to get a higher evaluation requires greater functional impairment. This is how the VA defines functional impairment.

Not everybody is going to be 100% when they get out. That usually takes time, old age, and falling apart. Share on X

You talk about managing expectations. There is a big piece of it where you have people who believe that, and their interpretation of what they would receive in terms of compensation or their rating is greater than what the VA’s scale says too.

We can only advise them. We can’t make them think that, at some point, you have the irresistible force, meaning the immovable object. A lot of times, there is an, “I told you so,” there. There is an old Grateful Dead Lyric. You don’t know what you don’t want to learn. That is sometimes the challenge.

What is the best part of the job?

When I get a chance to make a phone call and call somebody up and say, “They approved your disability evaluation, and the percentage is a little bit higher than we thought it was. They have found you to be disabled.” That is usually the best part of the job. Scott Hickerson got a chance to make a phone call and tell a guy that he got quite a significant retro check. That is always helpful.

Can you share a story or vignette of one of our pre-9/11 operators who has been helped by this program?

We had a guy who didn’t want anything to do with the VA. He denied a bunch of stuff. He got some bad advice. This guy was a highly decorated individual. We got a hold of his claim. We were able to get him a significant increase in his compensation. There are echelons above 100%. You don’t ever want to be in that position. This guy was confined to a wheelchair, but we were able to get him service-connected at 100% for coronary artery disease by itself.

We were able to do that. That was a significant change to his income, which allowed some betterment of his quality of life. Unfortunately, he passed away. We know that because of the condition that we got service connected, his wife will be entitled to dependence indemnity compensation. That will take care of her. He got a lot of bad advice. That is the problem. There are a lot of geniuses out there. We don’t profess to BG. We are amateurs. We try to keep on learning.

What motivates you every morning when you wake up to get in your car and drive down here to the Green Beret Foundation besides being happy to be alive?

I got a lot out of my time on active duty. I met some rather extraordinary humans. The ability to give back and contribute to the regimen is what motivates me to keep doing this.

Thank you.

Beth, thanks for sitting down with me.

Thanks, Fran.

Thanks for coming to San Antonio all the way from North Carolina. I came from Connecticut.

We both came from the East Coast to be here.

We don’t live that far from each other, but we both came to San Antonio to the Green Beret headquarters.

It made sense to be here.

We have been planning this for some time, but we have been connected and talking for a while. It is an honor to finally sit down with you and meet you in person. I feel like I have known you well, but this is the first time we got to meet in person.

I feel the same way.

How did we come to be, if somebody would ask? How did that happen? In 2022, at GORUCK Games and Sandlot JAX, I sat down and had the chance on The Jedburgh Podcast to interview Brent Cooper, former Executive Director of Green Beret Foundation. He talked all about this program that had been started where the Green Beret Foundation was accredited as an organization that can advocate and support Green Berets in their disability and benefits claim for the VA. I looked at him and said, “I need that because I have been working on my claim since 2016. Wounded Warrior Project had done a great job of getting me from 40% to 80%. We were at the hump at 90%. We weren’t getting anywhere.”

There were some challenges that I have struggled with over the last couple of years. We talk a lot about the broken folks and the ones who you look at them. You are like, “They got a problem.” It is identifiable. You can see it. There are many of us who struggle with issues that are not seen, whether that be my eyes, brain injuries, or constant head trauma.

Those are things that Green Berets are in a unique position and experience, unique things that others don’t have. This organization has been diligent in creating this program to be able to address those things. We were connected. You have worked with me over the last year to get me to that 100%. Before we get into it, thank you.

You are welcome.

It is a big intro to say thank you, Beth. That is how I feel. You have been involved with the Green Beret Foundation since 2021. Your first husband, Greg Trent, was Green Beret in the 3rd Special Forces Group. We, unfortunately, lost him in Afghanistan. Talk about that experience and why his service as a Green Beret was important to you and your daughter Gwen, the mission that we have as Green Berets to protect our nation and those who give the ultimate sacrifice.

Becoming a Green Beret was important to Greg. I called him Trent when we met many years ago. I looked over and thought he was cute. I waved him over. He introduced himself as Trent. During his Army career, he started in artillery. He wanted to be and do more. He settled on becoming a Green Beret. He was proud of that. He was well accomplished.

Out of all the options to bring to gold and all the different programs you could do and ways you could change your MOS, Green Beret was the thing that you walked around. Everybody knows you are well respected. You don’t have to prove it by doing anything other than putting on that Green Beret. Everybody knows that you have earned that.

It is qualified by many different factors because you are intelligent, you speak different languages, and you are capable of doing all these difficult physical things. Having the Green Beret is what Trent wanted. He passed at the top of his class. He was proud of that. I was proud of him. When he decided that he was going to go for the Green Beret, I was like, “Why wouldn’t you?” He was like, “I thought you were going to say no.” I was like, “Why wouldn’t I say no?” I have this thing in my head for statistics. I was like, “You are statistically more likely to survive any injuries.” Ultimately, that didn’t work out. I was excited that he would have access to better resources.

When we PCS to North Carolina, and he got through the Q Course, I started working for USASOC. I worked at the 528th. We were in the community. This community was fantastic. He was shot in Afghanistan in 2012. From the moment he was shot, he didn’t die right away. The community embraced our family, the 3rd Group, 528th, the whole family. They took great care of us. As we journeyed through, our family was there for us.

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“It’s very hard to fight for your benefits. You shouldn’t have to fight for your benefits. You fought for your country.”

At some point, I wanted to give back and find ways to do that. Several years later, there was an opportunity through the Green Beret Foundation. One of Trent’s friends heard we were struggling with our VA claim for our daughter. I had remarried. The VA was giving us a difficult time. It is hard to fight for your benefits. You should have to fight for your benefits. You fought for your country. You have lost so much. I lost my husband, dreams, and future. I thought, “Why is this hard? It shouldn’t be hard.”

John, now my boss, trained me and saw to it that I got accredited with the VA. I learned how to help other people. Green Beret Foundation helped me with my claim. I want to do that for my Green Beret family. I help other people with their claims. There are a lot of widows out there with the same problems that I have. There are a lot of Green Berets that are stubborn or have a hard time verbalizing the issues they have. You are proud and strong. You have worked hard to earn that Green Beret. You have to find a way to communicate that you are not as strong as you used to be. We like to try to help you do that.

Let’s break a few of these down. One of the programs that you are in a unique position to support is the Gold Star Spouse Program and the Gold Star Family Program. We have had a chance to sit down with Frances to talk about that. This is a title that nobody wants. Talk about how the experiences that you have had have benefited you in supporting those who are unfortunately put into this category.

You have to be able to grow through your trauma. Post-traumatic growth is not something that we focus on in this community. The experiences I have had were in FRG situations. Commands lean heavily on resilience and self-reliance. That moment comes, and we get that knock on the door or a phone call. It is our time to shine with our resilience. We should be practicing that.

You, as soldiers, practice for battle. You practice and train to go to war. We should be practicing resiliency and self-alliance. When it was my turn, I was doing those things. Trent prepared me well. Every single time he deployed, we filled out the forms, did the notarizations, and did the will. I was the guy that needed every single piece of paper because he was in a coma. We had to do the powers of attorney, live and will, and the disposition of remains. We had to use every single piece of paper that Jag always encourages you to use. We used them.

The whole death and dying process in the military is quick because the Army wants to take care of you and make sure you can pay your bills. You know what the next step is and what is coming. It is quick for a reason. You don’t have to wonder how you are going to feed your kids or pay your mortgage. I still try to take that information forward and train spouses because we have training accidents. We still have casualties. We still try to prepare spouses and ease them through that. When we work on VA claims, we have DIC. We prepare spouses for that and try to empower them because the more you are prepared for an incident, the more likely you are to thrive afterward because we are likely to survive.

The term survivor seems a little weird to me because I’m not the one who was shot, but I have to thrive. In our culture, we rely heavily on Steven Pressfield’s Warrior Ethos. In that Warrior Ethos, he writes that King Leonidas chose those 300 for the strength of the women because they were going to rebuild Sparta. That is what our culture is. We are not going to fall into our grief. We are going to rebuild Sparta.

When you are prepared for the worst, hopefully, it never happens, but you are going to rebuild your lives, and we can show people that they can rebuild. It is a gut punch, and there is a lot of grief involved, but we have to rebuild. I know Trent would want Gwen, our daughter, to be happy. He would want her to be loved and be greatly successful. He loved her more than anything. My job would be to carry that on. She is his legacy. He loved me. He would want me to be happy.

Widows do this all the time. They were like, “What would my dead spouse want?” Trent always used to say, “If I were dead, it wouldn’t matter.” Sometimes I use it. Widows say all kinds of crazy things. That is another thing when you have a widow as a mentor that can say, “Don’t you know my husband is dead?” I was like, “Yes, I know mine is too. Let me help you because I know this is a rough process. We can help each other and grow together.” We have a unique community where we are not all grieving together. We are helping each other.

We talk about bounce back. Bounceback is a term that is evaluated in the Special Forces qualification course. Throughout your entire career in Special Operations, we talk about bounce back because you are not going to get every day right. There are going to be those failures. Our ability to be resilient is critical. You talked about Leonidas and his surrounding himself, but great special operators do that. Many will cite the strength of their spouses. For me is the same way with my wife. Even now, we got out in 2016, but she still carries the water at home. She is at home now with three kids cursing me because I’m not there for a couple of days.

That strength that we know as operators that exists at home because of our spouses. Because of those, we have surrounded ourselves with that strength that is inevitably built in our children helps us to become better warriors, soldiers, and operators because we know that they have that piece of our life under control. It allows us to go out and do our job the way that job has to be focused on and done because there are only such a small number of people who do this job.

You mentioned, “They are thickheaded.” I have said a couple of times now in a few conversations, “We recruit, assess and select our special operators for some specific character traits, which often create these super type-A personalities who do not like to be told what to do, do not admit when they are hurt, and don’t admit when they are in pain.”

They will lose half a finger and have it sewn on by a medic or have a significant injury that should be documented in a medical record and never is because it is handled by their team or local PA, and they get back into the fight. That compounds over a 10, 15, 20, 30-year career. All of us come to the point in our careers where we have to leave the regiment. The Army says, “You got to go for whatever reason.” We look at our medical records and realize, “All these things I had are not here.”

I was running and gunning through Afghanistan, and I lost my left toe. There is no documentation.

In your role as a veteran service officer, you are in this unique position where your job is to work with these operators on their benefit and disability claims. Talk for a minute about the uniqueness of that role, what you are seeing out of the special operators in the Green Berets who are transitioning now, and how you are coaching and guiding them through that process.

All the guys come with the same thing, like, “There is nothing in my medical record.” There is no record of anything that happened wherever they were, Syria, Afghanistan, or any of the countries they have been in. Trent was in a coma. There is no record of it. He had a claim denied for it. How do you prove any of it happened?

With these guys, if it is of record at any point, we can make it happen. If it is not of record, we will walk you through the process because everything we do is legal and ethical in accordance with 38CFR. There are some people or organizations that will charge you for their services. We don’t. Anyone who is accredited by the VA will not charge you to go through the legal and ethical process. That is how it should be done.

The organization will help you with your cost to go to these appointments.

If something doesn’t exist in your medical record, the VA already expects that probably a thing for you. We will talk you through the steps of how you can document the fact that this incident happened legally with VA law. We will start there but talk to a VSO. We expect that there may be no proof as far as you are concerned, but the VA knows, and we know how the VA is going to gather that information. You got to lean into the trust a little bit and allow us to help. I had a guy ask me. He was like, “There is no record that I have ever been to this place. There is a record somewhere.” In your military record, and the VA can access that, you have been at this latitude and longitude. It is in your record. They will know that you were there. It is a service record.

How do you demystify the process? From the outside, it is nebulous. People throw around, “The VA.” It is the term, “They did it.” Who are they? Who is the VA? Who is the person who is making these decisions? What is the department? What does the process look like? It becomes this mythical place where you fill out all this paperwork. You go to these 14 or 15 appointments. It goes into some nebulous. You wait for somebody to tell you some information and get a letter in the mail. How do you demystify that process for the Green Beret who is trying to navigate those waters?

With every client that comes in, whether you got my phone number or Scott’s phone number or Brian’s phone number, you have to go through the email or the support chain first through the link, GreenBeretFoundation.org. You will be assigned to VSO for your area. That VSO is going to contact you, introduce themselves, and set up a call with you. You can get introduced and run down the process, step-by-step, what is next, and what to expect when you are expecting a VA claim.

We can tell you the entire process. We need a power of attorney to work with the VA legally. What does that power of attorney mean? Can I get a Corvette and a bank account in your name and go speeding around town? Not. That limited power of attorney, what does it do? What is the difference between the VBA and VHA? If you have been seen by a Health Administration, how come you are not rated at the VBA? What does all that mean? We will explain everything to you succinctly. If not, in a long, convoluted way. You will understand at the end of the conversation the difference between a claim and being seen.

When you file a claim, what is going to happen next? Who makes that appointment for the exam? Does the VA do it? Do you do it? The VA does it. We will explain to you the step-by-step process so you understand what is going on. What if something horrible happens? What if my claim gets lost? Worst case scenario, we can step in and intervene on your behalf with the VA to get things moving again.

Where did things go? Where did that evidence go? What matters? What you care about is the fact that you have either lost a loved one, you need a DIC claim, your husband died, and the VA isn’t giving you benefits. Why not? The VA doesn’t care about your feelings. They care about their law. Where is the evidence that your husband died? The VA doesn’t care that you have a TBI and your eyes are all wonky. They want to know where the evidence is.

How do you gather the evidence? We will help you understand everything that you need for the VA to get through the process. We are a little bit of a buffer because every time you call the VA, you get somebody on the phone. Everybody has a different answer. It is a little confusing. When you talk to us, that saves you that process. The VA is not an evil organization. It is a large organization with a lot of people working for it. Everybody is calling them up every day. Everybody is angry at them.

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“We’ll help you understand everything that you need for the VA to get through the process.”

Everybody believes that their case is the most important case. The person who has answered the phone is the person who is denying or preventing their ability to get what they want to get done.

If you are talking to me and I’m your guy, I will run the interference. Hopefully, that takes some of the stress off you. Some send me rude texts every day. I’m like, “If that is what you got to do to get through the day, there is no skin off my nose.” I have been the guy that has been mad, like, “What is going on with my VA claim?” At least, we can see into the system and tell you, like, “I don’t have anything for you. I can tell you we are in a squat hold. Hopefully, that gives them some comfort.”

What is the most challenging part of the veteran service officer role?

It is if somebody gets denied or widows get denied, DIC, if they don’t have an entitlement to it because the law is written a certain way. When that is the case, the Green Beret Foundation does work with changing laws, and we have done that. We have sat up with congressmen to have conversations about why things need to change. It is frustrating when people don’t get what they should be entitled to because they don’t have the evidence or claims that take a long time. People are in financial hardship. You know that they are in financial hardship.

We do everything we can to help and support them, but some things are difficult. Sometimes people pass away, and we have been spending a lot of time trying to help them. I’m not saying I do not like the settled comment where it is a wrong word, but people still die. It still hits you, and that hits you in that sweet spot. I got a lot of boyfriends here. All the Vietnam-era guys are my boyfriends because you have to have a qualification. You got to be a certain age range to be my boyfriend. I lost one. His wife called me and let me know. I was like, “He kissed him and told him I loved him.”

Let’s talk about that era because one of the recent changes or focuses of the Green Beret Foundation has been this focus on Green Berets of all eras. Frances and I were discussing it, and somewhat jokingly, that the organization was created in the post-9/11 era. It started helping everybody in Iraq and Afghanistan. We woke up one day, came to work, and we were like, “Why aren’t we helping everybody else?”

We got those whole generations of Green Berets back to 1952. I would argue back to the Jedburghs because they were the first ones. We didn’t call them Green Berets then, but most of the initial Green Berets, when they dawned the Green Beret in 1952, were the Jedburghs. That goes back to 1944 and 1943 for the inception of the operation. Why has it been important to include all generations of Green Berets in the advocacy and the different programs for the Green Beret Foundation?

They have different needs. Service connecting PACT Act-related injuries and illnesses are important. A lot of those claims were previously denied by the VA. Now that the PACT Act is a thing, everybody is getting letters and emails like, “You are previously denied. How do we service to connect these injuries now?”

A lot of service members from the Vietnam era have come to us and asked, “How do we do this? I have the evidence. I was previously denied. I also don’t have proof that I was in the country. Maybe I was in this country. I know I was exposed to Agent Orange. I don’t have orders because you know the nature of special operations. How do we prove that you were exposed right before the cutoff that the Agent Orange PACT Act orders start, and there is some navigation to do?”

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“Everybody that works in this organization is familiar with the history of Special Operations.”

We understand those concerns. We know the history of special operations. That is another good unique thing about this organization. Everybody that works in this organization is familiar with the history of special operations. We have either been spouses of or have been special operators. We are not ignorant of things like, “I don’t have orders. I don’t have proof. How do we make this happen?” We don’t say, “Sorry, I can’t help you. Have you tried the VFW?” Those are unique situations that turn away.

It is changing lives. You were talking about a generation of people who have gone now for many years without addressing many of these ailments or having any relief or outlet to address many of these claims and disabilities they have had.

Their spouses, as they are planning for the end of life. I have had quite a few spouses call and say, “This is an important thing for me because I want to have service-connected DIC, and I understand that.” They find it easier sometimes to talk to me because I have already been through the DIC issue or I understand the importance of DIC. Any spouse would, but sometimes younger people don’t usually think of them. In our military community, it is part of our culture. I think they understand.

I want to ask about the process a little bit more. I want to talk about target and the answer to these questions. Let’s target the Green Beret who is on the fence. The Green Beret is sitting there and saying, “I don’t know if I want to call Green Beret Foundation. I think that my injuries are not serious. It doesn’t affect my quality of life.”

We have talked a lot about identifying those who are broken. There is an entire demographic of operator who sits out there. They say, “This was my job. My job was to go out there. They paid me to do my job. I incurred what I incurred. Now I can move on with my life.” My team sergeant was one of them, who was the most broken person I know and didn’t want to see anybody. I want to go through these questions. If we target those answers on this is the educational piece that you need, we will help. For a transitioning Green Beret, why should they use a VSO instead of going at this alone?

In my experience, if you go out alone, you don’t know the law. You don’t know that there is a huge legal piece behind this that I didn’t know. You think it is easy. You think, “I have this condition. I have neck pain. I’m going to put that. My left foot hurts. I squashed my finger at this event. I was exposed to burning trash, garbage, and all of the things that you’re exposed to in these countries.” You put those down. What the VA wants to see is a specific set of legally defined conditions that are compensable. They can rate them. They want to see the evidence that goes with them.

EP #102 - The Jedburgh Podcast: Green Beret Foundation Beth MacDonald, Veterans Service Officer, Green Beret Foundation

“The VA wants to see a very specific set of legal, legally defined conditions that are compensable.”

They have a concise way of putting those things and defining them in the 38 CFR, even if you are entitled to something like DIC or your VA claim. Whatever it is you are trying to get compensated for has to have legal evidence. If you don’t know that, you go in thinking, “I’m entitled to this. You are going to send off your stuff.” The VA is going to come back and be like, “You have 0%. You are denied.” You are like, “Why? I served. I’m entitled to this.” You are going to get angry with the VA. The VA has failed you.

This is the process that many go through. I got out. They said, “Go file your VA claim.” I didn’t know what they talked about. They said, “Enroll for healthcare at the VA.” I enrolled for healthcare at the VA in New York. I went down to the hospital there on 23rd Street. I did that. They said, “You got to file a VA claim for your disability.”

I fill out all the ailments I have ever had. They looked at it. I went to a series of doctor’s appointments. I didn’t know anything about it because they told you to show up at this time. They were like, “Can you bend over and touch your toes?” All of a sudden, I have 40%. I say, “I had a stroke in my eye. I was medevac out of Iraq. You told me I was going to lose my vision. I still can’t see straight. I have seen a specialist for the last several years. All of a sudden, you are telling me it is 0%. How are we at 0%?” I’m on eyedrops every day prescribed by the doctor at the VA, yet I’m 0%.

I come to the idea that I can use a VSO. I can use an advocate. New York State said, “You go into this office.” In the VA hospital, it is called an advocate. I did that. I filled out the paperwork, but nobody ever called me back. Somebody said, “Wounded Warrior Project does this.” I work with Wounded Warrior Project. They submit my stuff. I had never been treated for any TBI. I had never been seen for PTSD. I had never seen a slew of other things where they looked at it and immediately said, “What are you doing? You left all these things off the table.” You don’t know. It got to 90%.

There were still some of the things that we identified when we were talking that have allowed us to bring those to light. It not only helped me to get to 100% but has helped me feel better. It is not about getting the money at 100%. What it is about is, can I identify and diagnose these problems that I have and seek treatment for it?

It is about feeling better too. It is a holistic health thing. VSOs aren’t doctors. We are not medical personnel. I don’t want to put that out there like that is a thing. What we help do is map your legal way of getting compensation. Through that, you are seen by doctors. That happened. The Wounded Warrior Project found all these other different things that you didn’t know were compensable.

Coming up with the evidence for the conversation you and I had was like, “Fran, for your eyes, for you to get rated for your eyes, do you feel this?” You are like, “Beth, I can’t even barely see.” Your symptoms and medical records indicated that you had a much more severe issue than what you were rated for. I looked at it. I was like, “You don’t have the evidence. You need to get the evidence.” You did. Through that, you ended up getting more treatment.

I go to the eye doctor way more frequently now, and it is great.

Your eyes aren’t crossed anymore.

When does somebody need to start this process?

A lot of guys will tell you two years out from ETSing or retiring, you will need to start the process. A lot of guys do. They start preparing all their stuff, and they check their blocks. Some guys don’t. Some guys wait until the last minute. Whatever point you start your process, we are going to help you. If you get out of the Army and you are like, “I never filed a claim.” We will help you.

The most reasonable time to start your VA claim before you get out is at six months to file your claim. Six to three months is a window called benefits on delivery of discharge. That is a BDD claim. It is not the only claim, but at places like Fort Bragg, there is this myth that you can only file at 180 days. If you don’t do that, you are not going to get your benefits on delivery of discharge. It is a misnomer anyway because the day you get out of the army is not the day that you get your VA check. It is not going to happen for probably two months after you get out anyway because of the way the process is. The process is clogged now. The soonest you can do it is six months out, but you can file claims at any point after that.

You talked about, and we were jokingly saying, that there is a discrepancy between what people may believe their illnesses are and the extent of which they may be and what the VA says they are. There is this concept that pain is not a diagnosis, and it requires this medical evidence. How do you identify and educate the operator on the criteria that the VA needs to see so that there is no confusion on the part of the operator? They are not calling you, cushing you out, and telling you that you don’t know what you are doing, and why are they waiting?

Part of it is every operator wants to cross-train in VA when they go together. The GPF is your VA shop at some point. We do a lot of stuff. VA shop is one of them, but it is like, “I know you cross-trained as a Bravo, Charlie, and Delta at some point. There is a little bit of everything you can do on the team. You are not going to be able to wrap your head around all this VA stuff.” Don’t try because I can’t even wrap my head around all this VA stuff. At some point, you have to put your head down, sign the papers, put your social security number in here, and let us do our jobs. I give everybody the ECFR, which is the Electronic Code of Federal Regulation.

We went through a lot of training to do what we do and understand what we understand. We still have to go to the VA and say, “Can you explain this to me because I think I got this wrong.” We let the VA do their job at some point because they will determine by law what you are entitled to. If we know sure as the day is long that this is incorrect, we will go to the next step, which is a higher level review, or we will submit more evidence and go back and get more evidence if we know we need that. The VA will tell you, “You need more evidence. If you think we are wrong, go ahead and give it another shot.” We will follow the process.

I give everybody the ECFR, and I give them access to disability benefits questionnaires to open source information. You know what you are going to be asked. This is information that bugs me because people that are predatory and pension poachers, people who charge you for their services, VSOs, are all free no matter which VSO you use. Even if you aren’t a Green Beret, you have access to the VFW, the Wounded Warrior Program.

You can look this up and empower yourself with the information. The ECFR is published publicly. Parts 3 and 4 are what the VA uses for veterans. You can read the rating scheme. It helps to understand when we talk to guys. One of my favorite examples is headaches. You go into an exam, and you know you have headaches. The examiner says to you, “How frequent are your headaches?” You say infrequently because, as an operator, you are always working. You don’t have a chance to not go out there and do what you’re supposed to do.

You spend an entire career where the answer is no. “Something is wrong with you. No.”

In all the pre-deployment things, no, you are good. You are always wanting to stay in the A-Team. If you have headaches 3 to 4 days out of the week, that is infrequent for you because it is not every day. Getting you to understand what the legal necessity is for a rating versus what you think is a headache every day this week. That is infrequent. That is not the answer because after I read your records and I see how much medication you are taking. At some point, the headaches bothered you enough that you had to go see somebody for coughing.

If an operator goes to the doctor for a cough, which lung are you holding, you guys don’t go to the doctor for a cough because you all will sit at a crash site with bodies for three days. Because you were still breathing, you were going to guard the bodies waiting for somebody to come to you. We know how things go for you guys. When we read your medical records, we take that into account. If we see things like coughing and headaches, we know they were bad enough for you to be seen. We go through the records. We give you the language you need to understand what the VA wants to know from you.

When you go into that exam, you don’t say, “My back only hurts a little bit.” What I’m reading is severe osteoarthritis with severe desiccation. It is the same thing. I was like, “Have your spines gone?” We know this is emasculating for you. We know this is difficult, but this is for compensation only. This is for the VA to rate you on how much they are going to give you because the Army drove you like a rental for however long you were in the service. You are parking that rental.

The VA is walking around with a checklist. They are like, “Did we drop the transmission when we caught some air? We get some scratches and dings. What is the fender look like?” It’s only for compensation. We are not trying to determine how masculine you are. We are sure you are still operator AF. However, I want to see how much we can pay you. The rater is going to do its job. They are going to rate you according to the evidence that we give you. We are going to help you gather the evidence.

What is the difference between a non-compensable rating and a denial?

A non-compensable rating is 0%, which means for the guy who is like, “Nothing is bothering me,” if nothing is legitimately bothering you, get it service-connected, and you’ll get a 0% rating. That means you had enough evidence to say, “This messed you up.” You had your hand crushed, but you can still move your hand. You got a 0% rating.

As you age, that is service-connected. It is at 0%. The VA deemed it a fair and legal rating because you went into that exam. We were, like, “All five fingers work. They don’t hurt. I can’t even tell when it is going to rain.” Thirty years from now, you may develop arthritis from that. Thirty years from now if you have a range of motion issues, loss of use issues, and your hand starts to get a little stiff and you can tell when it is going to rain, you can go back to the VA, file another claim for an increase and say, “My left hand’s a little bit stiff, and I have some trouble gripping a jar.” At that point, the VA may say, “We will give you 10% for that.” A non-compensable rating is not a denial. It is saying, “We recognize this is service-connected. You can get an increase later. It is different paperwork.”

If the claim gets denied, what are the options?

You go to a higher-level review. If all the evidence exists and you say for headaches. You are diagnosed with headaches and service. You are on medication for headaches. We sent in a headache log. Maybe for some reason, they were like, “There is no evidence in here.” You are like, “It is all here.” Send it in for a higher-level review and ask them to recheck the records. They exist in the system. If it is denied, maybe there was no evidence. You claimed something like left knee arthritis because your knee hurt, but you have no evidence of it. We submit a new claim, show them the evidence, and that is the end of that. If it keeps getting denied, you go to appeal.

Is the goal 100%?

For most people, they want 100%. It is relative to how messed up somebody is. Have you been in for four years where you are filing paperwork, and the only Purple Heart you deserve is for a paper cut? You are not going to get 100% for that, but if you were in four years and went to Afghanistan and became Swiss cheese, you may be entitled to 100%. It depends on your injuries.

Who schedules the VA exams?

The VA. We are going to work with you to submit your initial 21-526EZ, which is your application for compensation and pension. When the VA gets that, we send in your medical records with them. The VA is going to get all the evidence that we give them. They are going to verify your service. That is taking a while because the VA is busy.

Once the VA verifies your service, they are going to verify all the records. Every contention that we put on that list is going to be verified with the medical records. The vendors that do the exams are going to get a request to schedule that exam. They are going to reach out, call you, and say, “Fran, we want to check you out. We are going to want to make schedule these exams.” You have to go to those exams. If you don’t go to those exams, you get rated on whatever the VA has. There is only the evidence that is in the record. The VA can rate that evidence, and that is not going to be in your favor.

Common question people are asking is, “How do I know what to say? How do I prepare for my exam?”

We will go through and talk with you about what is in your record. Let’s go back to the headache thing. If you have evidence of TBI, you had a brain scan, have been seen for headaches, it is diagnosed, and you have complaints of headaches. We tell you to keep a headache log. Write down all the days that you have headaches and how long they last. You are on medication for headaches. The VA looks at all of that evidence. They will take that into account. They are going to ask you, “When did your headaches start?” We are going to tell you, “You don’t have to give the VA an exact date.” You don’t have to say, “It was August 12th, 2012.”

If it happened during an event you remember, maybe it was an explosion. They started after a training event. A lot of guys remember certain events and some guys are like, “I started getting them about several years ago. They haven’t stopped since.” You were in service several years ago. That is service connection. If you say, “I don’t know,” the VA is going to be like, “How do we know this is anything to do with service?”

If you can quantify the times, the hours, and the length of your headaches, that is what the VA wants to know. They want measurements. They want to be able to qualify and quantify everything. Your EA exam is an opportunity for you to speak to the length of time that things are occurring. Any injury or illness you have, the VA wants to know how long this has been an issue. Is it connected to your service by date? How long do any incapacitating episodes last? Do you throw your back out? Are you claiming any back pain or neck pain? Does it go out? How long are you incapacitated? How many days? How many months? How often every year does this happen?

They need numbers. Without those numbers, if you go in and you are like, “I don’t know. It happens a couple of times.” The VA is going to be like, “That isn’t enough.” Give them the numbers because everybody knows how hard or how long things hurt. If you don’t know and you have a wife, she knows every time you creek, grow, complains, and get out of that Disney vacation. This is her time to shine. Ask her, “Sweetie, I need a list.” She will write it down, take her out for a nice dinner, cash in and be like, “I need you to tell me everything that is wrong with me.”

Everything hurts during the Disney visit, everything on my list, eyes, back, knees, and PTSD. Everything comes into Disney. I have heard some people who will say, “I don’t want to take anything away from other people who may have a higher degree of injuries.” We talked about visible injuries. It is important that people understand that there is no set pot of money. There are no x millions of dollars. Everybody who applies has to fall into this. If you get, someone else can’t get.

The VA is an endless pot of money, Fran. For the people that are like, “I don’t want to take something away from somebody that is more deserving.” That is one of my favorites because it is like, “You get to decide.” “No, let the VA do the VA’s job because they are going to deny you or lowball you anyway. Give yourself a shot to be rejected like the rest of us.” In all seriousness, I’m like, “I’m a Gold Star spouse. My husband is dead. I don’t think you deserve something. Don’t you think I’m going to be judgmental and look at you like, are you kidding me?”

You have a unique perspective to offer that opinion.

I don’t sit here and issue a judgment to anybody. If you fought for this country, the VA entitlement is an entitlement. If you join the service, it is an entitlement that is by law yours, like every other entitlement that is offered through the Federal government. File your claim. If you are entitled to a non-compensable rating, get your non-compensable rating because everything we have to do is fair, legal, and ethical.

I treat everybody’s claim like it is my own. I treat it with that importance. I also do not treat anybody’s claim like, “The goal is to get you everything we can because nobody is worth my accreditation. I love you guys, but not that much.” I’m going to get you what you are entitled to, but you are like, “I don’t deserve it.” I promise you. If you get something that you don’t think you are entitled to, you are going to be mad about it, and you are going to want more. That happens with everybody. Everybody that comes in with, like, “I don’t have anything in my medical folder.” They don’t go to their CNP exams, and they get that denial. Every single one of them comes back and is like, “I can’t believe I got nothing.”

You don’t have any evidence. You didn’t go to the appointments. What do you want us to tell you? You got to do something for it.

You are wasting everybody’s time, which I love. It is my favorite thing.

What we are saying is we want to remove you from having to fight for it. You have to be an active participant in the application for it.

John always tells me, “Don’t work harder than they are.” I’m like, “There is a point where I’m going to fight like hell for you, but you got to show up to your appointments and sign that paper.”

What is the difference between being rated 100% permanent and total and compensated at 100% due to approved individual unemployability?

A hundred percent permanent in total means you never have to go back and be reevaluated by the VA. They are going to be like, “You are permanent and total. We don’t have to check on your status to see if you have deteriorated or gotten better. Everything you have is static. It is degenerative. It is going to get worse. It is going to stay static. It is going to stay the same.” Rated at 100% means something in your record that there is a possibility that it could get better. Maybe you had something with your feet or hands or something that could have improved. The VA wants to reevaluate you to see if it got better. If it did, they could drop that rating.

Is there a set timeline for doing those re-evaluations?

There is a set time, and they will tell you what that timeline is. They will tell you, “We want to see you back in X amount of time to reevaluate you.” At that point, if you have been rated at five years for this one disability, it becomes permanent. With 100% compensation for individual unemployability, you can have a rating of 70%. If you apply for financial hardship and you are not compensated because of individual unemployability.

If you are rated at 70%, and you are unemployable, you can fill out an application. Your employers or previous employers can vouch for you and say, “We were unable to retain this person because X, Y, Z.” the VA will pay you at the 100% rate for unemployability, and it will be a permanent 100% rate. You don’t have to go for 100% permanent in total. You get the unemployability 100% in permanence.

Can you work if you have this unemployability?

No, odd jobs don’t count if you are a handyman that gets $10 here and there for putting some stuff together. You cannot work full-time ever again. If you do, you give up the unemployability.

If you are rated at 100% but it is not unemployability, you can work. There are no restrictions on what you are able to do.

The compensation and the pension programs are two different programs.

We better break those down. What is the difference between the pension and the compensation programs?

Let’s say I’m determined to be 100% permanent and total. I can go ahead and work. I have got a disability rating. It is not the pension program. In the pension program, I have to work at a certain and not earn a certain rate. It is like social security disability. There is a cutoff rate. You couldn’t make more than X amount of dollars per year. With 100%, I can make however much I want if I were a contractor or go overseas.

That is what everybody got upset about. If you saw the news or a little the budget thing that went out, somebody was like, “If we decide we are going to take away the VA benefit for people who are working and making this threshold of money and turn the compensation program into a pension program, people are getting mad.” That is something that comes out every couple of years. It is not in the budget. It is proposed every couple of years, but it is not. It is political suicide.

You mentioned that people are predatory. There are a lot of folks who charge for these services, but VSOs and GBF don’t charge for this service. What about people who say, “They need a lawyer?”

That is different. In the appeals process, you can be represented by a VSO or an accredited lawyer for the VA appeals process because the VA has its own legal system. A lawyer may do a pro bono, but a lot of work still has to go into an appeals case. VA lawyers are a different thing entirely.

How are VA lawyers different?

At one point, when I didn’t know that the VA process and I was going through my whole ordeal before I was introduced to the Green Beret Foundation, I spoke to a VA-accredited lawyer who was informative. She asked her boss if she could take the case pro bono. My understanding on this is limited because the VSO lane is different than the VA lane. I’m going to need a little bit of grace here.

VA lawyers exist, and by law, they are allowed to get paid because this particular person asked to take the case pro bono. Anything with the VA is carefully dictated by their own law. It is the same thing with DFAS. In DFAS law, you need lawyers for the ABCMR process because that is their own set of laws. It is different than VA law. I know, in my limited knowledge of the appeals process, that some lawyers may take the cases for free, and VSOs can represent in the appeals process. We do that for free.

How long does the claims process take?

It is Russian roulette. It should take X amount of time, but it depends on what is in the queue. If you put in a claim for financial hardship and it is verified as financial hardship, you would think it would normally take 30 days. I got two clients in a financial hardship state that is verified, and their claims have taken four months. It is not supposed to happen, but unfortunately, it is because of the workload.

I got BDD claims from September 2022 that are still not fully processed and not rated. They are not going to get rated in April 2023. I got guys checking to see when their stuff is going to get rated, and I don’t know. We have seen things go for a long time. If you put in a BDD claim and you expect that you are going to get rated in six months, you will get your rating the day after you get out of the Army. That would usually be the case. We are seeing them rated in about eight months for BDD claims. Before we had this big backlog, I saw some BDD claims rated in a year. You don’t know.

Timeline is still one of those things in that mystifying area of grayness.

I had one guy put in a claim. He was accidentally marked as homeless. It was rated in three days. This guy was like, “All my claims are going to get done in three days.” No, I don’t know.

Can Green Beret Foundation help with caregiver benefits?

For caregiver benefit claims, we can process them. For any VA claims, we can do.

The PACT Act was passed. We are talking about, with this piece of legislation, all those who have been exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, other toxins, or toxic chemicals throughout the duration of their military career. We talked about the pre-9/11 generation of Green Berets that you are working with now, primarily those exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam era. How does someone know if they were affected by any of the chemicals or toxins that are contained in the PACT Act, and if they should reach out for support?

The VA has sent letters to everybody that has been denied a claim for previous exposure. Everybody they have pulled their service records for that they know was exposed because they were in those areas. The way that it appears in the military record is your latitude and longitude. The military has documented your place of service, the time you were there, and all of the exposure possibilities for that area. What they did was they put that in everybody’s record.

If you were in that place during X time for the PACT Act, you got a letter of exposure, missed it, or threw out your VA mail, but it exists in your VA record. If you were pre-911, you called me and said, “I don’t know if I’m a PACT Act veteran. Can you check for me?” I would say, “Yes, Fran. Let me get a power of attorney from you. I will go into the system and check.” I can go into the system and check and see if the PACT Act letter was sent to them. If they are qualified, I can reassure them and tell them what the condition is because the VA lists it in their eFolder and file a claim.

If you are 100% and qualify under the PACT Act, is there anything else to get?

Yes. I got a guy, and he is 100%. He is permanent and total, but he is not service-connected for the injury illness that is PACT Act qualified. His widow will not get DIC for service connection for that injury or illness if he dies from that illness. If it is coronary artery disease and Agent Orange-related, he dies from that. He is not service-connected for it, but he is 100 permanent and total for something else. She can turn to that issue. That is why you want to go back and make sure you are service-connected for coronary artery disease. PACT Act if you have been diagnosed with it.

What if you have not necessarily been diagnosed with anything under the PACT Act, but you have been identified as being in one of these areas?

Have your doctor give you a checkup and see if you have any of these diagnoses.

Can you check my records to see if I was in any of these areas?

I can check and see if you’re PACT Act qualified.

Can Green Beret Foundation help me with my pre-discharge claim?

Yes. That is your BDD claim.

What about National Guard? Can National Guard get service-connected compensation benefits?

Yes, our National Guard guys are some of my favorites. They all know who they are because I tell them they are all my favorites, but I don’t tell them like, “You are my favorite. Don’t tell the others.”

We can’t do that. You will hurt their feeling.

All my National Guard guys are my favorites. They got this National Guard network. They are like, “My buddy told me about you.” I feel like I’m National Guard famous on the East Coast. Shout out to all my NG guys. I love them, but not in a Turkish person way. One of the hardest things for them is to make sure they have a service connection because if they are not on active duty orders, it is going to be harder to service-connect them. We understand those challenges. We work stringently with our NG guys to make sure they have what they need for their evidence.

Can Green Beret Foundation help with other VA benefits?

As long as it is covered by the 38 CFR, we help with all VA applications.

What about the GI Bill, vocational rehab, or any of that stuff?

Voc, yes. Everything that falls under VA, we help you with, or we put you to the right resource for. In the Fort Bragg region, the education benefits invoke rehab. There is a guy over there that does it way better than I do. I’m not going to waste your time. I’m going to send you to Martin Robinson and his team because they do a way better job helping you with that voc rehab application to make sure that your probability of success is way higher. We will send you to the best people that are going to make sure that you rock that.

What is the best part of this job?

You guys. The climate and the culture. You know I have a horrible mouth. It is all team room talk.

You kept it together well here.

That is only because of General Tovo. You would be embarrassed if I didn’t. It is working with you guys and helping you not have that VA burden because it is stressful. Sometimes guys don’t want to be like, “Something is wrong with me.” I get it. This is not an easy process to go through, but I will make bad jokes. I will make this as easy as I can for you because I know what it is like to be on the other side of that claim and sweat through it.

I hated it as much as you are probably going to hate it when you go through it. You have my sympathy as you go through it. I got some bad jokes. I got some ice cream recommendations. Bring it through this. I got you. Somebody had me. Let’s help each other along. You are all my brothers. You guys have had my back for as long as I can remember. I’m going to try to have yours.

Is that what motivates you?

Yes.

Now for the test question. I didn’t ask anybody else this, but I reserve the right to you, considering I’m the creator and host of the Jedburgh Podcast. It is a little tie-in to the Jedburgh podcast here. The Jedburgh of World War II had to do three things every day to be successful. They had to be able to shoot, move and communicate. If they did those three things with the utmost precision, they were their habits or foundations. They could focus their attention on more challenging things that came their way, like defeating the German army. What are the three things that you do every day in your life that set the conditions for your success?

I’m a Hobbit. I don’t share my super-secret stuff. The first thing I do every day is pray. I don’t talk about that. I have always wanted to be the first Saint Bethany. With this mouth, I’m not going to be, but I have to pray because I curse so much. I eat because I love food. I always say the worst things to myself because nobody is ever going to say anything worse to me than I say to myself.

By the time people come around with, like, “People say dumb stuff.” I’m like, “Try harder.” They were like, “I remain disappointed at some of the insults I get.” There is nothing that hits that sweet spot where I’m like, “My feelings are hurt.” I give myself a good dressing down every morning before 9:00 AM. I’m like, “I’m ready to go.”

I have done 125 episodes in The Jedburgh Podcast in several years. I have never had anybody give me the number three. I appreciate that. I like all three of those that pray, eat, and say the worst things to yourself because no one else is going to say anything worse than that. When we talk about how different people motivate themselves, how different people find that inner drive, you know how different people think about the way in which they are going to find their own path to success or overcome challenges.

You talk about resiliency. You have certainly demonstrated that in your life and the hand that you have been dealt. That is a phenomenal method. There is a number of psychologists who would disagree and argue with me at length. The majority of the time, people will say, “I have positive self-talk. I motivate myself.” Everybody is different. Some people are motivated by potentially negative talk. You are using that for the positive, and in the way that you put it that no one else is going to say those things to you, same to yourself. Are you giving yourself a dose of reality, allowing you to remain grounded?

All my coworkers know that they all get the double chin selfie every day because, at some point, I looked like a SEAL. I don’t care. I got enough self-confidence in myself. I don’t remember if you and I have ever talked about all my accomplishments, but I have hit all my major accomplishments so far. I know what I’m capable of. I can discuss the bad lapse rate, wet, dry, Celsius, and Fahrenheit, but I still get out of the car with my seatbelt on. How smart are you, dumb ass?

I know how smart I am, but I also know I’m a moron. I can’t speak with total confidence that I know everything. As a woman in a male-dominated world, and dudes say stuff, I’m like, “Cool.” I got a potty mouth and was pretty offensive to myself. Nobody is going to say anything to me that is going to bug me. I have spent about five minutes with whatever. You go out, socialize, and people are going to look you in the eye. Most of the time, they don’t even look in the eye. They are going to say something, and you are like, “If you want to look at me in the eye, say that.” “No. I already said that at 9:00.” I remained disappointed. It is what it is, but it keeps me from getting my feelings hurt.

What I usually find out is if somebody says something to me, there are ten people that are willing to defend me. That is what I find like, “I love that ten people are willing to fight for me. No need. That guy couldn’t even look me in the eye. It is not worth it.” I like my snacks. I’m old. I have lived two lives. I have lost a lot. You looked at this wall and all these people you have lost. I have lost a child and a husband. I can’t even count the number of friends that I have died. That is how life is. You have to enjoy things. You have to love more than you have lost. Snacks are delicious. I like naps.

You have to love more than you have lost. Share on X

You wake up every day, and you keep doing it.

It sounds platitudinal to say, “I thank God every day.” I do. You got to find something to thank God for because if you complain all the time, that is all you are going to do. Find more things to validate that. If I get creative with my insults, I’m having a good time.

There are a lot of Green Berets who have a lot to thank you for. It starts with me. Thanks for sitting down with me.

Thanks for asking me too.

Thank you. 

 

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