Veterans’ town hall focuses on VA health choice benefits | CraigDailyPress.com

Veterans’ town hall focuses on VA health choice benefits

Area veterans receive help with benefits and answers to questions during annual visit by VA staff

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs provide materials, answer questions and help file claims during a town hall held Wednesday at the VFW in Craig.

— Officials from two of the three offices of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were in Craig on Wednesday evening to answer questions, provide updates, advice and tchotchkes.

"It doesn't matter how long you served, or how long ago you served, there are benefits for you. You served us now it's our turn to serve you," said Denver Regional VA Benefits Manager Chuck Bruen, who attended the event in order to assist with claims processing.

Understanding the VA

In 1636 the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony passed a law that stated that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony. From those historical roots developed the modern U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs commonly called the VA.

There are three branches of the VA as described on the agency's website.

• Health Care — administers to veterans' health care needs. The VA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system, with more than 1,700 hospitals, clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers, and other facilities.

• Benefits — this branch of the VA is responsible for about 70 percent of the workload of the entire agency according to Sweeney. The regional office in Denver is in charge of claims processing for a variety of benefits and services that provide financial and other forms of assistance to service members, Veterans, their dependents and survivors.

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• Burials & Memorials — this branch of the VA provides services to veterans and their families after the death. It operates 134 national cemeteries in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Burial and memorial benefits are available for eligible service members, Veterans, and family members.

Congress determines that laws within which the agency is constrained to act, according to Sweeney. When veterans run into roadblocks Sweeney recommends they contact the office of their congressional representatives who are always available to help navigate the sometimes-complicated process of claims and appeals.

In addition to the federal VA, each state has it's own VA and in Colorado every county employs a service officer. According to their website, the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs assists veterans, their dependents, and their survivors in obtaining the State and Federal benefits for which they are qualified.

The event was hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 and American Legion Post 62, that now share the VFW facility on the corner of Victory Way and Washington Street.

"We did this a couple of years ago and it was very helpful. It served a lot of veterans who processed claims that they wouldn't have done otherwise," said VFW Quartermaster, Mark Wick.

Administering benefits to veterans is the responsibility of state and federal veteran administrations.

"We try to hold town halls in remote communities one time per year," said Paul Sweeney, public affairs officer for the Grand Junction Veterans Health Care System. "It's a chance for veterans to voice concerns and get answers.

Successes and failures of the Choice Act were the focus of the evening's question and answer session.

"The Choice Care program started as the government's response to the VA scandal. It allows veterans who are 40 miles away from a facility or more than 30 days out on the waitlist the option to go to a private vendor for care. It was designed to relieve the backlog," said Moffat County Veteran's Service Officer Ed Wilkinson. "At first there were a lot of snags. Now they have resolved a lot of the problems."

The Choice program is set to end next August, and no one knows what will replace it, Sweeney said.

In addition to using the Choice program, area veterans are also able to receive primary health care services at the TeleHealth clinic in Craig instead of having to travel to Grand Junction.

"Services are by appointment only and include primary care along with specialty services like mental health, dermatology, nutrition, wound care and more," said TeleHealth Registered Nurse April Branstetter.

Joining Sweeney were representatives from the Women Veterans Program Manager, the Acting Associate Director of the Grand Junction Veterans Health Care System, staff of the Denver regional office of VA Benefits, staff from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, local staff of the Major William Adams Veterans Telehealth Clinic and the Moffat County Veteran's Service Office.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

Understanding the VA

In 1636 the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony passed a law that stated that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony. From those historical roots developed the modern U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs commonly called the VA.

There are three branches of the VA as described on the agency’s website.

• Health Care — administers to veterans’ health care needs. The VA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system, with more than 1,700 hospitals, clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers, and other facilities.

• Benefits — this branch of the VA is responsible for about 70 percent of the workload of the entire agency according to Sweeney. The regional office in Denver is in charge of claims processing for a variety of benefits and services that provide financial and other forms of assistance to service members, Veterans, their dependents and survivors.

• Burials & Memorials — this branch of the VA provides services to veterans and their families after the death. It operates 134 national cemeteries in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Burial and memorial benefits are available for eligible service members, Veterans, and family members.

Congress determines that laws within which the agency is constrained to act, according to Sweeney. When veterans run into roadblocks Sweeney recommends they contact the office of their congressional representatives who are always available to help navigate the sometimes-complicated process of claims and appeals.

In addition to the federal VA, each state has it’s own VA and in Colorado every county employs a service officer. According to their website, the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs assists veterans, their dependents, and their survivors in obtaining the State and Federal benefits for which they are qualified.