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Vets have many options for health care, eligibility

Gregory Remus

The most common question I receive from veterans is "Am I eligible for VA health care?" The answer is almost always a definite "Maybe". Prior to January 2003 all veterans were eligible for VA health care. Because of budget cuts, the VA had to shut the door on many veterans and created a priority system to determine who is eligible and who is not. With that said, I'd like to take a shot at answering the question more completely.

The VA operates the nation's largest integrated health care system with more than 1,300 sites of care, including hospitals, community clinics, nursing homes, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers, and various other facilities. The nearest facilities include the Brainerd and Bemidji Community Based Outpatient Clinics and the Fargo, Minneapolis and St Cloud VA Medical Centers.

For most veterans, entry into the VA health care system begins by sending in an application for enrollment. To apply, complete VA Form 10-10EZ, Application for Health Benefits. Once enrolled, veterans can receive services at VA facilities anywhere in the country.

You are automatically eligible if you fall into one of these categories:

1. Veterans with a service-connected disability of 50 percent or more.

2. Veterans seeking care for a disability the military determined was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, but which VA has not yet rated, within 12 months of discharge.

3. Veterans seeking care for a service-connected disability only.

4. Veterans who served in combat locations during active military service after Nov. 11, 1998, are eligible for free health care services for conditions potentially related to combat service for five years following separation from active duty.

For all other veterans the VA will assign you to a priority group. The priority groups are listed below. You are eligible to enroll in VA health care if you fall into the top 7 priority groups. You are not eligible if you are assigned to priority group 8 unless you enrolled prior to January 2003.

I have used the VA Health Care System for the past 5 years and it works. The physicians and staff are professionals and the volunteers are friendly and helpful. The majority of veterans who use the system come away with positive impressions. If you are a veteran I encourage you to make application to use the VA Health Care System. We have the VA Fm 10-10EZ at our Office.

Group 1: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 50 percent or more and/or veterans determined by VA to be unemployable due to service-connected conditions.

Group 2: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 30 or 40 percent.

Group 3: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 10 and 20 percent, veterans who are former Prisoners of War (POW) or were awarded a Purple Heart, veterans awarded special eligibility for disabilities incurred in treatment or participation in a VA Vocational Rehabilitation program, and veterans whose discharge was for a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

Group 4: Veterans receiving aid and attendance or housebound benefits and/or veterans determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled. Some veterans in this group may be responsible for co-pays.

Group 5: Veterans receiving VA pension benefits or eligible for Medicaid programs, and non service-connected veterans and non compensable, zero percent service-connected veterans whose annual income and net worth are below the established VA means test thresholds.

Group 6: Veterans of the Mexican border period or World War I; veterans seeking care solely for certain conditions associated with exposure to radiation or exposure to herbicides while serving in Vietnam; for any illness associated with combat service in a war after the Gulf War or during a period of hostility after Nov. 11, 1998; for any illness associated with participation in tests conducted by the Defense Department as part of Project 112/Project SHAD; and veterans with zero percent service-connected disabilities who are receiving disability compensation benefits.

Group 7: Non service-connected veterans and non-compensable, zero percent service-connected veterans with income above VA's national means test threshold and below VA's geographic means test threshold, or with income below both the VA national threshold and the VA geographically based threshold, but whose net worth exceeds VA's ceiling (currently $80,000) who agree to pay co-pays.

Group 8: All other non service-connected veterans and zero percent, non-compensable service-connected veterans who agree to pay co-pays.

The purpose of the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office is to provide assistance and support to eligible veterans, their dependents and survivors in obtaining benefits through the State and Federal Departments of Veterans Affairs, and to provide benefit counseling, claims service, referral and assistance in a variety of other programs. You can contact me at the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office at 201 Fair Ave, Park Rapids, (218) 732-3561. Have a great day!