Bill Harding, Veterans Service Officer

Bill Harding, Veterans Service Officer

Bill Harding: Department of Veterans Affairs releases health care enrollment updates

Bill Harding, Veterans Hotline

Bill Harding's "Veterans Hotline" column appears in the Craig Daily Press .

The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced plans to re-open enrollment in its health care system by July to about 265,000 veterans, whose incomes exceed current limits.

"We're pleased to be able to offer what has been called 'the best care anywhere' to many more new veterans," said Dr. James B. Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. "We'll be able to provide these newly enrolled veterans with the kind of timely, high-quality health care veterans who already use our system are accustomed to."

The change affects veterans whose incomes exceed the current VA means test, and geographic means test income thresholds, by 10 percent or less.

Congress provided funds in the VA 2009 fiscal year budget to support the new enrollment.

In 1996, Congress established a priority-based enrollment system for VA and a uniform package of medical benefits for all enrollees. The legislation opened enrollment in VA's health care system to all eligible veterans and required that each year the Secretary of Veterans Affairs assess veterans' demand for services and determine if the necessary resources are available to provide timely, quality care to all enrollees.

Enrollment for the lowest priority of the eight groups - veterans who are not being compensated for a military-related disability and who have incomes above a set threshold - was suspended in January 2003, although veterans in that priority group who were already enrolled for care were permitted to remain enrolled.

VA originally suspended enrollment for Priority 8 veterans because it was unable to provide all enrolled veterans with timely access to its health care because of a tremendous growth in the number of veterans then seeking enrollment.

VA now plans to reopen enrollment for a portion of these veterans without compromising the department's ability to provide high-quality health care services to all enrolled veterans who are eligible for care.

VA's computer systems are being modified to accommodate the changes, and the Department is preparing communication and education materials to ensure that Congress, veterans' service organizations, and the public are aware of the coming changes.

"The rule will take effect by June 30, 2009, if the regulatory process proceeds smoothly," Peake said. "We look forward to welcoming these newly eligible veterans into the VA system. VA will continue to monitor wait times to ensure the quality of care is not adversely affected."

All local veterans not currently enrolled but have been waiting for this new enrollment policy to take effect should come in and see me by June 30 this year with your 2008 IRS 1040 Income tax statement, 2008 out of pocket medical expenses, and cash asset information.

Secretary of Veteran Affairs confirmed

WASHINGTON (Jan. 21, 2009) - Retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki took the oath of office today as the Nation's seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs, assuming the leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs after Tuesday's confirmation by the Senate.

"The overriding challenge I am addressing from my first day in office is to make the Department of Veterans Affairs a 21st century organization focused on the Nation's Veterans as its clients," Shinseki said.

Shinseki plans to develop a 2010 budget within his first 90 days that realizes the vision of President Barack Obama to transform VA into an organization that is people-centric, results-driven and forward-thinking. Key issues on his agenda include smooth activation of an enhanced GI Bill education benefit that eligible Veterans can begin using next fall, streamlining the disability claims system, leveraging information technology to accelerate and modernize services, and opening VA's health care system to Veterans previously unable to enroll in it, while facilitating access for returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.

Shinseki, a former Army Chief of Staff, takes the reins of a 284,000-employee organization delivering health care and financial benefits to millions of Veterans and survivors under a $98 billion budget authorized this year through networks of regional benefits offices and health care facilities from coast to coast.

Born in 1942 on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, Shinseki graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1965. He served two combat tours and was wounded in action in Vietnam. He served with distinction in Europe, the Pacific and stateside, eventually becoming the Army's senior leader from June 1999 to June 2003.

Retired from military service in August 2003, Shinseki's military decorations include three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. Shinseki succeeds Dr. James B. Peake as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Girl Scouts cookies not affected by peanut butter recall

Local Girl Scouts leaders have called the National organization and verified that the peanut butter used in their GSA products does not come from the source of the peanut butter salmonella that currently is making national news and forcing product recall/pull-off from grocery stores and vending machines.

Washington, D.C. trip for WWII veterans

I am still looking for WWII veterans to go to Washington, D.C. this spring. Also looking for sponsors to help defray the costs of this program out of Grand Junction's airport. If you have questions, or need an application, call my office 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday thru Thursday.

Veteran flu shots

Flu shot walk-ins are still going on at the Craig VA Telehealth Clinic. Call, stop in and visit with April Branstetter and Robbie Fentress. Vets must be currently enrolled in the VAMC healthcare system in order to get these shots. Questions?? Call 824-6721.

For information on these programs and/or other veterans' benefits, call or stop in the Moffat County VSO office at 480 Barclay St. (west of the Bank of Colorado parking lot).

Call 970-824-3246 or use the fax 970-824-7108. Our e-mail address is veterans@moffatcounty.net. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Other times can be arranged by appointment only.

Bring a copy of your separation papers (DD-214) for application for VA programs and for filing at our office.

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