Bill Harding: Combat veteran health care eligibility

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— On Jan. 28, "Public Law 110-Enhanced Eligibility for Health Care Benefits181" titled the "National Defense Authorization Act of 2008" was signed into law.

Section 1707 amended Title 38, United States Code, Section 1710(e)(3), extending the period of eligibility for health care for veterans who served in a theater of combat operations after Nov. 11, 1998 - commonly referred to as combat veterans or OEF/OIF veterans.

Under the "Combat Veteran" authority, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides free health care services and nursing home care for conditions possibly related to military service and enrollment in Priority Group 6, unless eligible for enrollment in a higher priority to:

• Currently enrolled veterans and new enrollees who were discharged from active duty on or after Jan. 28, 2003, are eligible for the enhanced benefits, for five years post discharge.

• Veterans discharged from active duty before Jan. 28, 2003,who apply for enrollment on or after Jan. 28, 2008, are eligible for the enhanced benefit until Jan. 27, 2011.

Combat veterans, while not required to disclose their income information, may do so to determine their eligibility for a higher priority status, beneficiary travel benefits and exemption of co-pays for care unrelated to their military service.

Who's eligible: Veterans, including activated Reservists and members of the National Guard, are eligible if they served on active duty in a theater of combat operations after Nov. 11, 1998, and have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.

Documentation used to determine service in a theater of combat operations:

• Military service documentation that reflects service in a combat theater, or

• receipt of combat service medals and/or,

• receipt of imminent danger or hostile fire pay or tax benefits.

Health benefits under the "Combat Veteran" authority:

• Cost-free care and medications provided for conditions potentially related to combat service.

• Enrollment in Priority Group 6 unless eligible for enrollment in a higher priority group.

• Full access to VA's Medical Benefits Package.

What happens after the enhanced eligibility period expires: Veterans who enroll with VA under this authority will continue to be enrolled even after their enhanced eligibility period ends. At the end of their enhanced eligibility period, veterans enrolled in Priority Group 6 may be shifted to Priority Group 7 or 8, depending on their income level, and required to make applicable co-pays.

What about combat veterans who do not enroll during their enhanced authority period: For those veterans who do not enroll during their enhanced eligibility period, eligibility for enrollment and subsequent care is based on other factors such as: a compensable service-connected disability, VA pension status, catastrophic disability determination, or the veteran's financial circumstances. For this reason, combat veterans are strongly encouraged to apply for enrollment within their enhanced eligibility period, even if no medical care is currently needed.

Co-pays: Veterans who qualify under this special eligibility are not subject to co-pays for conditions potentially related to their combat service. However, unless otherwise exempted, combat veterans must either disclose their prior year gross household income or decline to provide their financial information and agree to make applicable co-pays for care or services VA determines are clearly unrelated to their military service.

Note: While income disclosure by a recently discharged combat veteran is not a requirement, this disclosure may provide additional benefits such as eligibility for travel reimbursement, cost-free medication and/or medical care for services unrelated to combat.

Dental Care: Eligibility for VA dental benefits is based on very specific guidelines and differs significantly from eligibility requirements for medical care. Combat veterans may be authorized dental treatment as reasonably necessary for the one-time correction of dental conditions if:

•They served on active duty and were discharged or released from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable from a period of service not less than 90 days and

• The certificate of discharge or release does not bear a certification that the veteran was provided, within the 90-day period immediately before the date of such discharge or release, a complete dental examination (including dental X-rays) and all appropriate dental service and treatment indicated by the examination to be needed and

• Application for VA dental treatment is made within 180 days of discharge or release

Additional information is available at the nearest VA medical facility. VA facilities listing and telephone numbers can be found on the Internet at www.va.gov/directory, or in the local telephone directory under the "U.S. Government" listings. Veterans also can call the Health Benefit Service Center toll free at 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or visit the VA health eligibility website at www.va.gov/healtheligibility.

Thank you Rotary Club

Downtown Craig looked great Presidents Day. The new flags on the poles the Rotary Club put up really looked sharp. U.S. vets appreciate your efforts to acknowledge the major holidays that flags are to be displayed. Keep up the good work.

Moving Wall scholarship

This scholarship is available for seniors and/or juniors this spring. The scholarship will be awarded by winning the essay contest, 500 words, on "What the Moving Wall means to me."

The Moffat County High School English Department, through Sylvia Duncan, will administer the program at the school. A team of teachers will select finalists from all the entries submitted. The deadline for submission is March 31.

Those finalists will present their entry at the American Legion and VFW meetings in April. Those service organizations will select the winner based on their written and oral presentations. The scholarship will be presented at the May Awards Night. The winning essay will then be submitted to the Colorado Veteran and American Legion The Observer along with pictures. The recipient also will be asked to be the featured speaker at the Memorial Day services at the Craig cemetery Monday May 26.

Huck Finn Days

The VFW Post has started its annual support drive to provide the prizes for the Huck Finn Day fishing contest. The event will be held June 7.

Office closed

The office will be closed March 13 through March 24. It will reopen March 25. Dick Maxson still will be providing shuttle service but on a reduced schedule from the VA.

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