Many Val­ley vet­er­ans not us­ing VA health care

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Morn­ing Call colum­nist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or [email protected]

It’s rarely good to be in last place. That’s where Le­high County stands com­pared with all of Penn­syl­va­nia’s 67 coun­ties in the rate of vet­er­ans en­rolled in VA health care. That means vet­er­ans are miss­ing out on free or low-cost care.

Maybe they don’t trust the gov­ern­ment. Maybe they con­sider clinic lo­ca­tions in­con­ve­nient. Maybe they are too proud to ac­cept what they con­sider a hand­out. Maybe they don’t know they’re el­i­gi­ble.

The Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans

Af­fairs rec­og­nizes it has work to do. So it’s try­ing some­thing new lo­cally to boost par­tic­i­pa­tion — an en­roll­ment fair where vet­er­ans can ap­ply and see a physi­cian the same day.

The event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 24 at the VA out­pa­tient clinic at 3110 Hamil­ton Blvd. in Al­len­town.

Staff should be able to de­ter­mine el­i­gi­bil­ity on the spot in most cases, said Bill Klaips, spokesman for the VA med­i­cal cen­ter in Wilkes-Barre, which runs the Al­len­town clinic and is hold­ing the event.

“If you’re el­i­gi­ble, you’re go­ing to get en­rolled and you’re go­ing to be seen the same night,” he said. “We’ll get you in the sys­tem, we’ll get you seen, which will get you flagged for fol­low-up ap­point­ments.”

Staff will be avail­able to dis­cuss dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits, which is a sep­a­rate sys­tem not re­lated to health care that is han­dled by an­other part of the VA. Vet­er­ans don’t have to re­ceive dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits to re­ceive VA health care. Con­fu­sion about that could be an­other rea­son that vet­er­ans don’t ap­ply.

Cen­sus data show there are roughly 20,000 vet­er­ans in Le­high County. The VA es­ti­mates that just shy of 46% of them are en­rolled in health care. Vi­sion and den­tal care are some­times in­cluded.

Northamp­ton County isn’t much bet­ter, with an es­ti­mated en­roll­ment rate of about 51%. The state’s high­est rate is 82% in For­est County. Le­banon, Blair, Clar­ion and Erie all top 70%.

Not all vet­er­ans are el­i­gi­ble, but most who have served on ac­tive duty, in­clud­ing with the Re­serves and Na­tional Guard, are el­i­gi­ble for some level of care.

El­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria in­clude dates and length of ser­vice, and dis­charge sta­tus. (More de­tails are at the end of this col­umn.)

Qual­i­fy­ing vet­er­ans are placed in one of eight “pri­or­ity groups” that de­ter­mine what, if any­thing, they pay, and what ser­vices they are el­i­gi­ble for.

Not ev­ery­one gets free care. Fac­tors in­clude ser­vice his­tory, ser­vice-re­lated dis­abil­i­ties, in­come and re­ceipt of Med­i­caid or other ben­e­fits such as a VA pen­sion.

Sta­tus can change over time, so vet­er­ans who were re­jected pre­vi­ously may now qual­ify if they’ve had changes in health or in­come.

Vet­er­ans may be el­i­gi­ble even if they have other health cov­er­age. Those who en­roll may be able to see pri­vate physi­cians and spe­cial­ists through the VA’s com­mu­nity care pro­gram, which re­cently ex­panded.

Those at­tend­ing the en­roll­ment fair in Al­len­town are en­cour­aged to bring their DD214 and proof of in­come, though those records are not re­quired. Fu­ture en­roll­ment fairs are planned at other fa­cil­i­ties that are part of the Wilkes-Barre med­i­cal cen­ter sys­tem.

New Al­len­town di­rec­tor

Vet­er­ans who seek care at the Al­len­town clinic may see some dif­fer­ences soon.

The clinic has a new chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, Dr. Aparna Ta­maskar, whose goals in­clude ex­pand­ing ser­vices.

She joined the VA about three years ago, as a pri­mary care physi­cian at the clinic in Wash­ing­ton Town­ship, Northamp­ton County. She took over lead­er­ship of the Al­len­town clinic about three months ago after the pre­vi­ous chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, Dr. Jay Kloin, re­tired.

Ta­maskar said she wants to make sure vet­er­ans “have faith in the sys­tem.”

She pre­vi­ously worked at Le­high Val­ley Health Net­work, where she was di­rec­tor of pri­mary care for in­ter­nal and fam­ily medicine and chair of the physi­cian coun­cil for LVHN-Po­cono. She worked at the West End Health­care Cen­ter in Brod­headsville.

Ta­maskar took a pay cut to join the VA. She knew the work would be dif­fer­ent and liked the chal­lenge of car­ing for vet­er­ans.

“Here, VA takes care of ev­ery sin­gle as­pect of their life,” she said.

Ta­maskar will see pa­tients two days a week and spend the rest of her time on ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties.

One of her goals is to in­crease the ser­vices that are of­fered in Al­len­town. She told me ul­tra­sound ser­vices will be pro­vided soon. A car­di­ol­o­gist will be join­ing the staff. So will a po­di­a­trist — ad­dress­ing a fre­quent com­plaint from Al­len­town area vet­er­ans, who now have to drive to the Wilkes-Barre med­i­cal cen­ter for po­di­a­try care.

“My goal is to have ev­ery­thing un­der this roof,” Ta­maskar said.

Vet­er­ans health care el­i­gi­bil­ity

Those who en­listed after Sept. 7, 1980, or who en­tered ac­tive duty after Oct. 16, 1981, must have served 24 con­tin­u­ous months, or for the full pe­riod they were called for ac­tive duty.

The min­i­mum duty re­quire­ment may not ap­ply to those dis­charged for hard­ship; early out; a dis­abil­ity in­curred or ag­gra­vated while serv­ing; and for those who served prior to Sept. 7, 1980.

Cur­rent and for­mer mem­bers of the Re­serves and Na­tional Guard must have been called to ac­tive duty by a fed­eral or­der. Calls to ac­tive-duty sta­tus for train­ing pur­poses only don’t qual­ify.

Vet­er­ans with dis­hon­or­able dis­charges are in­el­i­gi­ble.

More in­for­ma­tion: va.gov/health­care/el­i­gi­bil­ity.

Vet­er­ans: Why don’t you use VA health care?

If you’re a vet­eran who doesn’t use VA health care, I’d like to talk to you about why so I can ex­plore that is­sue fur­ther. My con­tact in­for­ma­tion is be­low.

PAUL MUSCHICK/THE MORN­ING CALL

Dr. Aparna Ta­maskar is the new chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Al­len­town vet­er­ans clinic.

Paul Muschick

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.