Solid Start: Helping Veterans Transition to Civilian Life
Solid Start: Helping Veterans Transition to Civilian Life
Leaving the Army was one of the toughest moves I made as a soldier. I enlisted at 17 years old, and in my late-30s I was on my way out the door. It was my whole life, and I had no idea what to do after I retired. Lucky for me, my wife was (and is) an active duty soldier, so my ties with the service I love were not completely severed.
The Solid Start Program
In December 2019, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented the Solid Start program aimed at providing “a consistent, caring contact between service members and VA to guide them through understanding and using the benefits and resources available to them.”
A Consistent Contact
Representatives at the VA Solid Start program call newly separated Veterans three times during their first year of separation: at 90-, 180-, and 365-days after the separation date. The representative will tailor the call based on the needs of the veteran, which means you will not get information you do not need. The goal is to point new veterans towards resources, services, and benefits that they need and may not know how to access. Once the call is over, the veteran receives a follow-up email containing everything that was discussed. Particularly useful if your memory is as bad as mine!
Benefits and Services
Here are just a few of the services Solid Start representatives can assist with:
- Service member benefits – to find out which benefits you may be eligible for during service and which time-sensitive benefits to consider when separating.
- Careers and employment – Apply for vocational rehabilitation services, get support for your veteran-owned business, and other career resources.
- Health Care – Apply for VA health care, find out how to access services, and manage your health and benefits online.
- Housing assistance – Find out if you are eligible for a VA-backed home loan, or if you qualify for a housing grant to live more independently.
- Education – Apply for and manage your GI Bill and other education benefits to pay for college or other training programs.
- Disability – File a claim for disability compensation for conditions related to your military service.
- Pension – Apply for monthly payments for wartime veterans and survivors with limited or no income who meet certain age and disability requirements.
- Records – Apply for a printed veteran ID card, get your VA benefit letters and medical records, and learn how to apply for a discharge upgrade.
These are some serious benefit categories for all transitioning service members, and it is awesome that the VA has implemented a program like this. Shoot, I went four years after separating before I figured out how to get a VA card! I had no idea how to do that until a Vietnam veteran showed me.
If you don’t know, you don’t know. And that is exactly why Solid Start will make a huge, positive impact on the lives of our transitioning service members today.
How Will They Get My Number?
Great question! The VA will only call the number you have listed on your VA.gov account. So, please keep that number current so you can receive your call from one of the Solid Start representatives. The representative will only discuss topics that the veteran is comfortable with, so you won’t have to sit through a presentation.
Please be advised, the VA will NOT ask for financial information from you. So, if you get a call from someone claiming to represent the VA but they’re asking for money, hang-up.
Department of Veterans Affairs Welcome Kit
If you’re transitioning, or have already done so, please download your VA Welcome Kit. It provides invaluable information to veterans as they move through life after the service by providing important information about steps to take to access certain benefits at any stage of life.
In this 26-page booklet, you will find checklists that will guide you through the processes and decisions you may face as you navigate life after the military. From buying a home, to accessing education benefits, or applying for a disability rating, there is a checklist for you.
My favorite part is that it gives you the form number that you have to fill out for a benefit and how to submit that form. Awesome.
Other Guides and Resources
The same page that offers you a Welcome Kit will also link you to the following resources:
- Get Started with Mental Health Benefits (PDF)
- Get Started with Health Services for Women Veterans (PDF)
- Accessing Urgent Care (PDF)
- Apply for a Disability Rating (PDF)
- Apply for Education Benefits (PDF)
- Apply for Burial in a VA National Cemetery
- Understanding the Modernized Decision Review Process
For Family Members
If you have any questions or concerns, please visit the Solid Start website, or call the toll-free hotline at 1-800-827-0611, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (ET).
This is a benefit that I would have loved to have when I transitioned six years ago. Even with all the briefings and paperwork, I still left the service with more questions than answers. Today, service members will receive three calls from the VA during their first 12 months of civilian life, designed to handle any and all unresolved issues resulting from separation or retirement.
I encourage you to take advantage of this program by keeping that phone number current!
(Image courtesy of Vitaliy Vodolazskyy via www.123rf.com)
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About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.