Veteran registration increases

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Since U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. John Salazar came to Craig on May 5, the Moffat County Veterans Service Office has seen a steady stream of vets signing up for health care benefits.

Veterans Service Officer Tracy Carlson said since the Salazars' visit, when Ken Salazar discussed building a veterans' clinic in Craig, between 15 and 20 veterans have come to her office to sign up for health care benefits.

"It's been pretty steady," she said.

During his visit, Ken Salazar, D-Denver, and his brother, John Salazar, D-Manassa, told veterans that their best hope for getting a clinic built in Craig is for more of them to register with the Department of Veterans Affairs for health care benefits.

Without a clinic, Northwest Colorado veterans have to drive to the VA hospital in Grand Junction for care. Including time spent at the doctor's office, the trip often takes veterans an entire day.

To justify building a clinic, the VA requires 1,300 veterans in the area to be registered, said Charley Watkins, a local veteran who has been working for years to get a clinic built in Craig.

With about 7,000 veterans making their home in North--west Colorado and southern Wyoming, 1,300 appears to be an attainable number.

About 720 veterans in the area are registered with the VA, Watkins said.

Watkins and Carlson are trying to get at least 600 more veterans to sign up for care with the VA.

Carlson said registering with the VA is free.

Some veterans are worried that if they sign up for care from the VA, they won't be able to continue to use their personal insurance and visit their regular doctor, Carlson said.

But that isn't the case, she said.

If veterans register with VA, they can continue to use their insurance and see their regular doctor, Carlson said.

But registering will show the VA that there are veterans in the area who are registered for care and could need it in the future.

Another problem veterans have is that they don't know whether they qualify for care from the VA, Carlson said.

Qualification is based on a variety of criteria, including income and service, Carlson said.

If veterans aren't sure if they qualify, they should register anyway, Carlson said.

"Let the VA decide whether you qualify or not," Carlson said.

If veterans don't qualify, they should still register because down the road, if their medical condition or financial situation changes, they could qualify, Watkins said.

"Even if they're not eligible today, they might be eligible in six months," he said.

To register, veterans can go to the Veterans Service Office at the Colorado Workforce Center, 480 Barclay St., or call Watkins at 824-5493.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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