Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Verizon committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace. Verizon is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn More.

Verizon values leadership, motivation, self-discipline, and hard work — all characteristics that veterans bring to the table. Sometimes, however, veterans struggle with the transition back into the civilian workplace. They may need guidance on interview skills and resume writing, for example.

By participating in the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program and developing internal programs to help veterans find their place, Verizon continues its support of the military community and produces exceptional leaders.

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It's no surprise that anytime we hear the words "VA" and "process" in the same sentence, our initial thoughts are of skepticism. We can picture the already long wait times growing longer than the seemingly endless spools of red tape that wrap the bureaucracy up like a Christmas present.

But, we are optimists, too. Might be why we're still in Afghanistan 17 years later, but that's a whole different conversation. So, is the VA's AMA process actually going to help?


Well, first, what is it? When the VA announced their Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 would be implemented in February 2019, the entire military community breathed a collective "finally." The process has long been broken and in desperate need of an overhaul. Baby steps have been taken in the past, such as the "claims tracker" akin to watching the Domino's Pizza tracker. Sure, there are minor differences, like Joe puts your pizza in seven minutes after you order, and it might be seven months before anyone looks at your disability claim. But again, baby steps.

The transparency is greatly appreciated, and if nothing else, it sure beats calling that giant grey building and being transferred 19 times before Milton in the basement with his Swingline stapler tells you he can't find your file.

AOJ lanes

But what about the other, bigger changes? The AMA created a new decision review process with three Agencies of Original Jurisdiction (AOJ) lanes. The "Supplemental Claim" lane is an opportunity to submit additional evidence. In this case, the Duty to Assist applies and VA will help you gather the evidence. A new decision will be made by looking at the new evidence submitted. On average this takes around 125 days, the VA said. The "Higher-Level Review" lane allows for a new review of the claim by an experienced adjudicator. If you don't have new evidence to introduce but think a mistake was made, this is the path for you. A higher-trained AOJ reviewer will review your claim and make a new decision without adding any evidence, said the VA. This also takes around 125 days. Finally, the "Appeal" is a review by the Board of Veterans' Appeals.

Board docket

So, you've picked your AOJ lane. Congrats! Now you have to pick your board docket. This is about as exciting as registering for wedding china, except with 1000x more things on the line, like your health and family's financial standing. There are three options: direct, evidence and hearing. They all sound like good choices but they mean vastly different things. Pick the direct docket if you think a mistake was made. Evidence is aptly named for a time when you have new evidence to consider, and hearing if you want a hearing before a judge.

According to the VA, in a direct docket, the Judge will review the same record and make a decision. No new evidence will be added. This takes about 365 days. That's right, Rent listeners, 525,600 minutes: how do you measure a year? In how long it takes for a direct or evidence docket. Womp. If you go the evidence docket route, you will have 90 days from your Notice of Disagreement (NOD) to submit new evidence.

The Judge will make a decision considering the evidence you provided, said the VA. And if your claim goes the hearing docket route, according to the VA you will be placed on a list for a hearing before a Judge by video conference (or in DC). After your hearing, you will have 90 days to submit new evidence. The Judge will make a decision considering the hearing and the evidence you provided. How long does that take? Well, according to the VA, it's based on availability. Currently the Board has 98 Judges. There are approximately 67,000 Veterans waiting for hearings. So, there's that.

Will these changes actually help? We hope the transparency into the process will, but we're calling it "too soon to tell" on the new system. But, regardless of what processes or procedures the VA implements, you do have the right to appeal and to have your appeal heard. And when the system fails you, which can happen, you do have the right to an attorney. John Berry, Sr., acclaimed attorney and founder of Berry Law is a Vietnam Veteran and Bronze Star recipient. His son, John Berry Jr., served as a company commander in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and as a platoon leader in Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia.

From their website: "Too often the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denies claims because it misses the link between a veteran's current disability and past military service. We work with you to gather and present the evidence and legal arguments needed for the VA to make the correct decision." One of their areas of expertise is in helping veterans file appeals. This is one battle you don't have to face alone. Contact Berry Law Firm today if you need help appealing your rating decision.

This post is sponsored by Berry Law Firm.

Sure, you know drones can drop bombs and wipe out small towns and gather intel, to include whether your neighbor is laying out on the deck again. Beyond that, drones have largely just been a killer Christmas gift. But rest assured, young gamer, there is real and practical application for your drone habit outside of the defense world, and it could just land you a job.

In a study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International, the unmanned aircraft systems industry is forecast to create more than 600 jobs and nearly $500 million in economic impact in Arkansas alone in the next 10 years. But howwwwww?

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Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at The Home Depot committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace. The Home Depot is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn More.

In 2004, Charles Segel was sitting at a park contemplating his future when a Marine Corps recruiter approached and asked if he needed a job. Segel was immediately interested – he had left high school early to start working but was ready for an exciting change. Three months later, he was in boot camp, training to be an infantry machine gunner. And almost three years later, the most memorable day of his service arrived without warning.

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Stephanie Wade/U.S. Transportation Command

In military life, there is really nothing more stressful than a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Deployments are a close second, but a PCS takes the cake. Combine a PCS with a deployment and not only do you want to eat all of the proverbial cake, you want to guzzle copious amounts of wine, too. We see you. Cheers.

One company, PCSgrades, is trying to make the PCS process feel more like a three-letter acronym than a four-letter expletive. Founded by veteran Todd Ernst, PCSgrades is the epitome of the military community taking care of its own. "PCSing has an emotional connotation," said Ernst. "We use it as an adverb, adjective, a noun and even as a cuss word."

Ernst started PCSgrades in 2015 after seeing friends struggle with unethical real estate agents and being taken advantage of by moving companies who knew DoD would be a paying customer no matter how poorly the companies treated their clients - us.

Here are 4 resources PCSgrades provides that you need to make moving easier:

1. Housing reviews

Does it get any more stressful than finding out where you're going to be stationed, Googling base housing at that station and getting results from 15 years ago (if you find anything, at all)? Nope, no it doesn't.

PCSgrades is changing the game on that by having military families who live in an area provide honest, candid reviews of their housing so incoming families can benefit. With reviews of both on and off base locations, families can finally get the truth about housing, whether it has black mold or the best views in town.

2. Moving company reviews

Great, you've figured out where to live; that's half the battle. The other, larger, more complex half? Figuring out how your stuff is going to get there. Knowing someone else will be handling your personal property and driving away with it for the foreseeable future is stressful enough. But not knowing what that company's background is, well that's a whole different ball game.

PCSgrades has countless reviews of moving companies provided by military families who have used them. Let's be honest: You wouldn't try a new Chinese delivery place without looking at reviews … why should picking a moving company be any different?

3. Area guides

The giant Google machine can only get you so far in life when you're researching your new duty station. We know you're busy and you want one-stop shopping on the interwebs. What you really need is aggregate data of things like schools to attend, restaurants to try, day trips to take and neighborhoods to avoid.

Introducing Area Guides, which offer exactly that: a holistic view of where you're moving and what to do once you get there. The best part? These are written by military families who have done it, for military families who are doing it.

4. Network of realtors and resources

PCSgrades has a nationwide network of A-graded realtors who know and understand the military and veteran lifestyle. Many of the realtors are veterans or spouses themselves, which takes the empathy to a whole new level. Having a realtor who gets the pressures of PCSing and the challenges of a military move is key to finding the right home for your family.

"I have friends who are hundreds of thousands of dollars upside down after bad home choices," Ernst said. "Housing choices can be pretty limited. Our moves are way more expensive than the typical civilian move." This is why Ernst created a way to alleviate the pain points for military families through PCSgrades.

In addition to a network of realtors, PCSgrades partners with "HomeScout," which allows you to search up-to-date home listings nationwide. Simply create an account with PCSgrades and the realty world is your oyster.

Whether you're looking for a new neighborhood, trying to find a vetted realtor, need a PCS checklist (let's be honest, is it on your radar to look at the expiration date of your military ID card two months before you PCS? Yeah, we know the truth; download the checklists here), or you're just wanting to know more about where you're heading, PCSgrades is making moving easier for every military family. Pay it forward by leaving reviews and be sure to take advantage of their excellent resources, today.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

Kristie Wooddell (Courtesy photos)

Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Lowe's committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace. Lowe's is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn More.

Kristie Wooddell exemplifies the best qualities of a military spouse: She's driven, adaptable, and creative. After giving up her own profession to support her husband's military career, she sought other avenues to job success. Her path has culminated in a thriving career at Lowe's.

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