Michael Johnson with former Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin.
When Staff Sergeant Michael Johnson retired from active duty in 2004, he was suffering from a variety of medical conditions: back, knee, and hip pain; refractory migraines; and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These conditions were due to injuries Michael sustained during his 20 years of military service in the in Army Infantry.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or the VA, provides tax-free monetary benefits, as well as housing and insurance benefits, to veterans with disabilities resulting from diseases or injuries incurred during active military service. But to receive these benefits, veterans must file lengthy and complicated claims.
Due to long backlogs, it can take up to three years for a veteran to receive his or her benefits determination — and this interim period often results in homelessness, alcohol/chemical dependency, and even suicide.
It took nine years for Michael to receive a full evaluation of his symptoms, and, ultimately, a 100 percent disability rating. During that time, he saw how difficult it was for other veterans with health issues to submit claims and receive services if they couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket.
Unfortunately, many veterans never receive favorable responses to their disability claims. In 2017, for example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that the VA denies more than 80 percent of claims for Gulf War-associated illnesses.
“When the VA kicks back a claim, but doesn’t provide detailed information as to why the claim wasn’t awarded, this frustrates veterans,” says Michael. “A lot of vets won’t file an appeal, because the process is so strenuous; it really takes a toll. A guy with mental health issues, he has no patience for this — and he can become more prone to suicidal thoughts or actions.”
This is where Partners for Telehealth Solutions comes in — and why we are working to make a difference.
“I had to fight for it; it was definitely not easy,” Michael says of his struggle to receive his VA disability benefits. “For me, the turning point came when a Vietnam veteran named Henry Mack finally sat me down and told me exactly how to put together my claim.”
Now Michael wants to help other soldiers receive the benefits they have earned, and to which they are entitled. “What I want to do,” he says, “is help veterans help themselves. I can do this by teaching them how to do research, how to put their claim together by telling their story.”
For years, Michael has supported his fellow soldiers through his involvement with organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans Association, the Buffalo Soldiers Association, the Army Old Guard Association, Disabled American Veterans and the Virginia Rural Health Committee. Now he wants to extend that support even further.
“I’m putting this together because I know what vets go through,” says Michael, Founder of Partners for Telehealth Solutions. “And if they fought for this country, this country should support them in whatever they need.”