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How to obtain benefits for cold injuries

PREVIEW Columnist

Qualifying for Medicare involves how long you have worked and paid Social Security and Medicare taxes from your payroll check. One has to work only 10 years or 40 quarters to qualify for Medicare Part A at no cost. You have to enroll in Part B, which has a premium of $104.90 per month for 2014 this year.

Being a veteran and using a VA facility does not disqualify anyone from enrolling in and using Medicare. In fact, VA encourages veterans to enroll in Part B, the medical/doctor part of Medicare. Granted, you do not need Part B to receive medical care from the VA, but if you go outside of the VA for any medical treatment, you do need Part B. For example, you might be taken by ambulance to a hospital that is not a VA facility for a medical emergency or you may need to go to a cancer center like MD Anderson for treatment, where you will have to pay 100 percent of the medical charges without Part B.

For care not received at the VA, Part B covers 80 percent of the cost of all of your outpatient needs, doctor services such as office visits and even surgery, MRIs, chemotherapy and the list can go on. Without Medicare Part B, a veteran’s liability could be in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those who do not enroll in Part B when they are first eligible for Medicare and not working must pay a “late enrollment” penalty of 10 percent for each full 12-month period that they could have had Part B, but did not sign up for it. For example, if you waited 55 months, which is four full 12-month periods, then the Part B penalty is an additional 40 percent added to the current Part B premium ($164.50 monthly for 2014) for as long as you have Medicare. Not enrolling in Part D (Medicare Prescription Drug plan) is another story. Medicare considers the VA credible coverage and when you enroll in Part D at a later date, you do not get the late enrollment penalty.

How to obtain benefits for cold injuries

Some service members have been exposed to extreme cold in combat and military training missions. The major cold injuries they suffer include frostbite, non-freezing cold injuries, immersion foot (formerly called trench foot) and hypothermia. The risk of cold injury depends on several environmental conditions including temperature, wind and moisture, in combination with physical activity, the duration of exposure and amount of protection. The individual’s level of fitness and cold susceptibility also contribute to the risk. If you are concerned about health problems associated with cold injuries, talk to your health care provider or local VA environmental health coordinator who can be located at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/coordinators.asp. Veterans may have been exposed to extreme cold without adequate protection during:

• World War II: The Battle of the Bulge, fought in December 1944 through January 1945 under conditions of extreme cold.

• Korean War: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, conducted from October 1950 through December 1950 in temperatures that dropped to 50 degrees below zero, with a wind chill factor of 100 degrees below zero.

• Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and other campaigns or circumstances during military service, including training.

Cold injuries may result in long-term health problems, including the following signs and symptoms (at the site of exposure):

• Changes in muscle, skin, nails, ligaments, and bones.

• Skin cancer in frostbite scars.

• Neurologic injury with symptoms such as bouts of pain in the extremities, hot or cold tingling sensations, and numbness.

• Vascular injury with Raynaud’s Phenomenon with symptoms such as extremities becoming painful and white or discolored when cold.

VA has developed a guide for clinicians on how to diagnose and treat cold injuries. The guide is available at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/vethealthinitiative/cold_injury.asp.

VA offers a variety of healthcare benefits to eligible veterans. For additional info on this, refer to http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/benefits/health-care.asp. If you are not enrolled in the VA healthcare system, find out if you qualify for VA health care.

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to cold injuries during military service. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis.

Further information 

For further information on VA benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard.

The best way to contact me is to set up an appointment at home or in the office so I can schedule a specific time in order to answer and assist each veteran in Archuleta County.

I will be out of the office on the following days for regularly scheduled meetings:

• Vets4Vets: Tuesday mornings, 9 a.m.-noon.

• Arboles Community Center, first and third Thursdays. Back around 2 p.m.

• Pagosa Outreach Connection, 8:30-10 a.m. every Thursday.

• Home visits/Pine Ridge outreach, second and fourth Thursdays, back at 2 p.m.

The office number is 264-4013, fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590 and email is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for completing applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to, and a copy for filing in the Archuleta County VSO office. If the office is closed, I am out assisting veterans; leave me a message and phone number to contact you.

Veterans’ groups

The following veterans’ groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

• American Legion Post 108: second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

• American Legion Post 108 Ladies Auxiliary: second Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

• Veterans for Veterans: every Tuesday at 10 a.m., Quality Resort.

• Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans: every other Monday at 6 p.m., St. Patrick’s Episcopal Parish Hall, 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. Contact Charlotte: 731-1025.

• Point Man Ministries’ Breakfast for Veterans at 8:30 a.m. each Tuesday at Buffalo Inn, 164 N. Pagosa Blvd. Contact Vincent: 731-2769, vfortunato777@gmail.com.

This story was posted on April 17, 2014.