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VA health care benefits outlined

SUN Columnist

Veterans Affairs operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system with more than 1,500 sites of care, including hospitals, community clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers and various other facilities. For additional information on VA health care, visit www.va.gov/health.

The enrollment of a veteran in the VA Health Care System satisfies the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Basic eligibility

A person who served in the active military, naval or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable may qualify for VA health care benefits. Reservists and National Guard members may also qualify for VA health care benefits if they were called to active duty (other than for training only) by a federal order and completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty.

Minimum duty requirements: veterans who enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980, or who entered active duty after Oct. 16, 1981, must have served 24 continuous months or the full period for which they were called to active duty in order to be eligible. This minimum duty requirement may not apply to veterans discharged for hardship, early out or a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

Enrollment

For most veterans, entry into the VA health care system begins by applying for enrollment by completing a (VA Form 1010EZ) at your local Veterans Services Office, or at any VA health care facility or VA regional benefits office. Once enrolled, veterans can receive health care at VA health care facilities anywhere in the country. Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system are afforded privacy rights under federal law.

Service-connected disabilities

Disability compensation is a monetary benefit paid to veterans who are disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service. These disabilities are considered to be service connected. For additional details on types of disability claims and how to apply, go to http://benefits.va.gov/benefits/, or contact your local Veterans Service Office for more information.

Monthly disability compensation varies with the degree of disability and the number of eligible dependents. Veterans with certain severe disabilities may be eligible for additional special monthly compensation. Disability compensation benefits are not subject to federal or state income tax.

The payment of military retirement pay, disability severance pay and separation incentive payments, known as Special Separation Benefit and Voluntary Separation Incentive, may affect the amount of VA compensation paid to disabled veterans. To be eligible for compensation, the veteran must have been separated or discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

VA pensions

Low-income wartime veterans may qualify for pension if they meet certain service, income and net worth limits set by law; are age 65 or older, permanently and totally disabled, a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, or receiving Supplemental Security Income. Generally, a veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a VA-recognized wartime period. The 90-day active service requirement does not apply to veterans discharged from the military due to a service-connected disability. (Veterans may have to meet longer minimum periods of active duty if they entered active duty on or after Sept. 8, 1980, or, if they were officers who entered active duty on or after Oct. 16, 1981.) The veteran’s discharge must have been under conditions other than dishonorable and the disability must be for reasons other than the veteran’s own willful misconduct.

Payments are made to bring the veteran’s total income, including other retirement or Social Security income, to a level set by Congress. Unreimbursed medical expenses may reduce countable income for VA purposes.

Protected Pension: Pension beneficiaries who were receiving a VA pension on Dec. 31, 1978, and do not wish to elect for the Improved Pension will continue to receive the pension rate received on that date. This rate generally continues as long as the beneficiary’s income remains within established limits, net worth does not bar payment, and the beneficiary does not lose any dependents.

Beneficiaries must continue to meet basic eligibility factors, such as permanent and total disability for veterans. VA must adjust rates for other reasons, such as a veteran’s hospitalization in a VA facility.

For further information on VA benefits, please 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 specific time in order to answer and assist each veteran in Archuleta County. Please call 264-4013 or 946-3590, fax 264-4014 or e-mail 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 applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to enroll and for filing in the Archuleta County VSO office. Always leave me a message and phone number to contact you.

This story was posted on January 23, 2014.