Let’s roll the clock back to May of 2000. Everyone’s Y2K hangover has worn off, people are still quoting lines from the second Austin Powers movie, and they are filming the Pearl Harbor movie (which will end up Stinking on Ice) on Oahu’s Ford Island.
I’m a young Navy Lieutenant conducting my separation physical, about to resign and leave Active Duty for the Navy Reserve. The Internet Boom is calling me to the Private Sector. I’m in the office of a Physician’s Assistant, located inside a nondescript concrete building located on the shipyard side of Naval Base Pearl Harbor.
Physician’s Assistant: “Anything medically wrong with you that we should document?”
Me: “Nope, everything is fine”.
Oops. Little did I know those 4 words would cost me up to $122,000.
At the time, “Nothing Wrong” seemed like the best answer. I was in good shape and I wanted to affiliate with the Navy Reserve after leaving Active Duty. So this seemed like a logical answer- No reason to give Uncle Sam any excuses not to let me carry out my life’s plans going forward.
Flash forward to 2016.
My oldest son is a college junior and we’re making college visits. In-State tuition at UC schools runs $15,390 per year, or $61,560 for four years (at today’s fee schedule). I’ve got another child 8 years behind him, so the GubMints family could be on the hook for $122,000 in today’s dollars- JUST FOR COLLEGE TUITION- after both boys finally earn their diplomas.
If I knew then what I know now, my answer back in May of 2000 would have been radically different. Two reasons:
- The CalVet Tuition Fee Waiver program provides free in-state college tuition for dependents of Veterans with a Service Connected Disability (See ‘Plan B’ on the CalVet Collge Fee Waiver page). Even a finding of 0 Percent Disability counts as a Service Connected Disability. [Many other states have similar programs, but you’ll have to do your own research. The NASA Veterans Benefits summary page is a good place to start. If there’s enough interest I can post state-by-state Dependent Tuition program guide here.]
- You can Affiliate and Drill with the Navy Reserve even if you have a Disability Rating. I found out about this back in 2007 when a bunch of folks in my Navy Air unit told me that they have had productive Navy Reserve careers even with a 30% Disability Rating following discharge from Active Duty.
In my case, I should have aspired to a ‘Zero Percent’ or higher Disability Rating. I SHOULD have pointed the Physician’s Assistant to all the injuries I sustained (and recovered from) during my Active Duty service, plus Tinnitus, plus anything else recommended by the local DAV/TAP class counselor.
Lesson Learned – The best answer to your Discharge Physical examiner is going to be whatever the DAV and your TAP class recommends at the time. You can ask for a free review of your Service Medical Record at the local DAV prior to your Separation Physical, and I highly recommend this. Currently you can claim Tinnitus (gets you a ‘Zero Percent’ Disability Rating) along with any injuries that are documented in your Service Medical Record. FYI, the Pearl Harbor Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class that I took back in 2000 for separating veterans did not address the Separation Physical question in any way, shape, or form. The TAP seminar also did not mention that you forfeit many in-state tuition benefits for dependents if you fail to rate at Zero Percent Disability or higher with the VA. This was a serious disservice to separating Navy Sailors and Officers.
Years later (2007), I attempted to appeal my no-disability classification with the VA. Even with the assistance of the local DAV it was No Dice. Anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that it is very difficult to ‘turn back the clock’ and request a Service Connection for any medical issues that arise after your active duty discharge.
I don’t regret the decision I made during my Separation Physical, as I was acting on a lack of knowledge I had at the time. Today, I have just about earned my Retirement in the Navy Reserve, which was the primary goal I had in mind (and did not want to risk) during my separation processing.
So now you know. Don’t use the same 4 words that I used on my Separation Physical- It could cost you $61,000 per child later on.