By Jennifer Watkins-Schoenig
Enrolling in VA healthcare can be very confusing. There are many questions like: how do I enroll, what is a means test and do I need to complete one, and what are the eligibility requirements? First of all, every veteran needs to enroll by submitting an application (10-10EZ). This can be done by making an appointment with me, submitting it online, or by hand delivering one to the closest VA hospital or clinic. In addition to general information, the veteran must also provide the gross household income and unreimbursed medical expenses for the prior calendar year. The unreimbursed medical expenses are the only allowable expenses that the VA will use to offset the veteran’s income. The income is used by the VA to determine the veteran’s priority group for copays.
In the past, the VA required veterans receiving healthcare benefits to complete a means test that updated their financial information. The VA removed that requirement last year but it is still beneficial for veterans to update their financial information by completing 10-10EZR. If this form isn’t completed the VA may begin to require the veteran to pay copays, even if they weren’t responsible to pay them in the past. Also, it is important to keep in mind that laws and income eligibility are constantly changing so a veteran may not be eligible due to income one year but could qualify the next.
How does a veteran qualify? Generally, the veteran must have served at least 24 months of active duty, or if National Guard or Reserve, must have completed the full term for which they were called to active duty (other than training), and were granted an “other than dishonorable” discharge. Also, the veteran must be below a national income threshold that changes annually. There are exceptions to this rule.
What is nonservice-connected and service-connected disability and how does that affect healthcare eligibility? Service-connected refers to a disability that a veteran has that was linked to service, acknowledged by the VA, and rated on a scale from 0-100%. Veterans rated with at least a 10% service-connected disability are automatically assigned to at least priority group 3. Nonservice-connected refers to a veteran that has a disability but the disability is not related to service. Veterans who are nonservice-connected generally fall into the lower priority groups unless they meet other criteria, such as receiving nonservice-connected pension benefits, are Purple Heart recipients, or are veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962-1975, to name a few. Service-connected veterans who are rated 50% or more disabled receive priority of hospital or outpatient medical appointments and may qualify for cost-free healthcare. There are several other groups of veterans who may be eligible for cost-free healthcare.
Finally, it is always a good idea to contact Muscatine County Veterans Affairs if you are unsure about applying for healthcare or have any questions. Jen can be reached by calling 563-262-4162.