An Interview with Nathaniel “Skip” Johnson
July 22, 2019
In Summer 2019, Nathaniel “Skip” Johnson, was appointed Director of Federal Business Operations at LifeHealth. We recently sat down with Skip—a U.S. Army veteran who retired as a colonel after 26 years of service—to better understand the challenges facing veterans when it comes to the disability claims process as well as ways healthcare providers can serve these heroes, and our nation, while simultaneously strengthening their own medical practices.
Skip, you personally have gone through the process of retiring from the Army and applying for disability benefits. Can you give us an overview of that process?
In the military, you can retire after 20 years of service. As you get closer to retirement, every service member must attend the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). This is training that helps them prepare for life after the military and is part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work and Hire Heroes Act (VOW Act) which was signed into law in 2011.
During TAP, service members learn how to submit a disability claim. This process includes obtaining your medical records yourself in order to support the claim.
What are some of the challenges you faced, and that other service members often face, when trying to obtain these medical records?
Imagine you’ve moved or been deployed 10 times during your military career. You now may have dozens of medical records you need to locate and obtain. This includes inpatient records, outpatient, dental and civilian records. But there is no central repository where you can get all of them.
Adding to this complicated process is the fact that in the early 2000s, the military began transitioning paper medical records to electronic records. That means some could still be on paper, some electronic and perhaps some still in the process of getting added to a computer system. It’s also possible that some could have become lost or misplaced during this transition.
For me personally, I started about a year before retirement to collect my records under the Benefits Delivery at Discharge Program, because I knew it would be challenging to get them all. I’ve been deployed three times and have served in Germany and Iraq. While I’m thankful I could start the process early, it was still frustrating because I could not get all my records by the time I retired.
Why is this process often stressful for retiring service members?
You can work on gathering your medical records before you retire—but you cannot actually submit your claim until you are retired. The arduous task of collecting a complete set of medical records is stressful, in itself. Consequently, this can cause a lot of anxiety on the service members’ entire family. Most veterans want to have their benefits available to them immediately upon retirement, especially if they need money while they are looking for work. In other words, it feels like the clock is always ticking.
Once the service member submits a claim, what happens?
The next step is to be seen by a medical provider who conducts a medical disability exam. The doctor is guided by a questionnaire provided by the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) and they do not offer any treatments or make any decisions regarding the benefit amount the veteran will receive. The doctor submits that information to the VA, and they determine the benefit the veteran will receive.
Unfortunately, the VA has an enormous backlog of hundreds of thousands disability claims that must be processed. Imagine how this feels to a service member who has served their country, and now is suffering with issues such as back pain, migraine headaches or other health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They have faithfully served their country for two decades or longer—and now they are told they must wait.
For those who live in rural areas or away from a Department of Defense (DoD) or VA medical facility, the wait and challenges are usually even greater.
How can medical providers help?
Medical providers can join a provider network and offer these exams. In doing so, they help these heroes will not have to wait as long to get their determination from the VA so they can move forward with their lives. Providers also are helping reduce the burden on our entire nation, by taking some of the pressure off the DoD and the Veterans Administration who simply cannot handle the volume of claims that are waiting.
Why should a provider consider joining LifeHealth’s Provider Network?
As a veteran-owned, woman-owned business, LifeHealth offers a unique and valuable perspective. Margot Langstaff, the co-owner of LifeHealth, is a veteran herself. She understands the culture of the military as well as how to best equip providers so they have all the resources they need to conduct the exams, while at the same time, strengthening their own medical practices.
There is much more I could say about our leadership, but I’ll leave it at this: LifeHealth, Margot and co-owner Elisa Hamill, are leaders with integrity, and they have received national recognition as business and industry leaders, including ranking on the Inc. 5,000.
As we move forward, I’m honored and excited to be a part of LifeHealth and its mission. I’m eager to build our resources so we can serve even more veterans and active service members who need our help.
Attention Providers: Interested in serving our nation’s heroes and truly making a difference? Contact Kris Atkins at (303) 730-1902 Ext 143 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.