Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Staff Sergeant Donald A. Blosser, Granger, IN (Indiana National Guard Member)
Thank you Chairwoman Herseth-Sandlin, Congressman Boozman, and Congressman Donnelly for this opportunity to speak with you about my transition experience. My name is Staff Sergeant Donald A. Blosser, Indiana Army National Guard.
I served for twelve years, from 1980-1992, on active duty with the Army. I was stationed out of Ft. Lewis in Washington when I was sent to Arizona to fill a National Guard unit for deployment to what, at the time, was Operation Desert Shield. We were motor transfer operators. We deployed from Arizona to Saudi Arabia in January 1991. We returned on August 7, 1991. The call up went fine, although One Stop was not around at that time. We did not see the Veterans Affairs representatives at the time. We had general medical exams as a preliminary exercise. On the return, we did not stay in Arizona very long, perhaps one day, and then flew back to Ft. Lewis, Washington. The Army gave us leave after they shuffled units around. We did not meet representatives from supporting agencies because we were remained on active duty. I spent from September 2005 to the present with the National Guard. I went back to my civilian job driving trucks from 1992-2005. One large lure to joining the National Guard was to receive my benefits that I was not receiving due to a youthful oversight. I was put on active duty status in July 2006 and deployed to the region on October 7, 2006. I deployed with a National Guard unit out of Camp Shelby, Mississippi. There were 55 soldiers from all over the State of Indiana who joined the unit in Mississippi in order to bring it to 299 strong. There were soldiers from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan as well in order to reach this number. This was difficult at times because it brought together different mentalities from different parts of the country.
When I returned on September 25, 2007 from Iraq, I demobilized at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. I spent three days out-processing. They broke the days into four main areas: two areas were medical, one was personal, and one was for meeting representatives and getting information on Army One Stop, Veterans Administration benefits, and TRICARE. They gave us stations to visit and the whole unit had to pass through. We were issued a check-sheet that had to be initialed by each representative to assure that we covered each station. The medical area had nine substations. The benefits station had five organizations represented. Once you went to the final booth, you were cleared. The State of Indiana had representatives present and they took care of all of our reservations for travel and made sure we were taken care of. This professionalism and presence by the Indiana National Guard was consistent from the advance before deployment, when a lieutenant from joint forces and I were the advance party. We met with the commander, made arrangements, and were joined by three to four other Indiana representatives who helped transfer the weapons and equipment to Mississippi. Upon the return, there were Indiana representatives there to take care of the weapons transfer again, which meant that we did not have to worry about it. All Indiana representatives were really sharp and smooth during the process. The Kentucky representatives were sharp as well, and they had 72 people to serve. Michigan and Tennessee did not have representatives present because there were only about a dozen soldiers between the two states.
There was a true, individual concern for each soldier passing through. We were told that we would be going through this again in about 90 days at the state level. Around the middle of January, we did this at the 38th Infantry Division Headquarters Armory in Indianapolis. I completed medical questionnaires, saw a doctor, and met with representatives from the Veterans Administration, One Stop, VFW, American Legion, and other support groups. That event went very well. I am comparing this from when I came back from Desert Storm. The area that needs some improvement is TRICARE. I had a medical situation and wanted to consult my family doctor but he was not a TRICARE PPO. I have seen him for 9 years, hypertension. I went on the TRICARE website to find a PPO. One doctor was in Rochester, Indiana, approximately a one hour drive south. Another doctor was in Michigan City, Indiana, approximately a one hour drive west. If needed, I could go to a hospital in South Bend, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, which was a preferred medical facility. So I went to my doctor and paid for it myself. My story is not the only one. A lot of soldiers called me about medical issues because I was a squad leader. I had to let them know that this is the way it is and that there are not other options.
The other improvement needed is TRICARE dental. The U.S. Military demands that you have good oral health before deploying anywhere in the world. Once we return from hard areas such as Iraq, I should be entitled to have my oral health checked and brought back up to the standards they were in when I deployed. TRICARE discontinued dental coverage within five days of my return. The Army wants to maintain a standard going in, so they should maintain that standard going out.
Unfortunately, the Army passed the burden back on my civilian employment health care. I have been employed by Dayton Freight line for nine years. I put them in for an award from the state because when I told them I was leaving to serve, they wished me well, told me to be safe, and took care of my family and I while I was overseas. They did not ask any questions. I let them know that my unit was deploying, and all they asked for was something in writing. While I was gone, they sent me things, checked on my wife, and continued to provide her my profit-sharing checks. When I came back, they gave me a profit sharing check pro-rated and my medical insurance was reinstated immediately. When I had an issue arise, I called corporate and they took care of it. They even threw a party for me when I came back. I have heard horror stories about other companies but Dayton Freight is great.
To end on a positive note, overall I must say that the soldier is better informed and taken care of than after the Gulf War.
Donald A. Blosser