Looking For Vets Caught In VA “Means Test” Snafu

 

flag_homeI’m reaching out to veterans who may have experienced a lapsed VA “means test” renewal and subsequently been charged for medication or care that should have been free.

It happened at St. Petersburg’s Bay Pines Medical Center as told earlier this year. Is it happening at other VA medical centers?

Confusion over the VA “means test” started three years ago when the Department of Veterans Affairs tried to reduce paperwork. The VA eliminated the annual income verification requirement.

But there are exemptions.

And it’s those exceptions such as low-income veterans who have no co-pays that are causing confusion. Many of those veterans didn’t receive notice or ignored their renewal thinking it was a mistake.

If a low income veteran fails to certify his or her income every year, that veteran will be billed for medication and services once the “means test” lapses.

What’s worse, some may not have been unaware of the lapsed charges or thought the bills were a mistake and had money taken from their benefits checks to cover the overdue VA bills.

Veterans at Bay Pines alerted a new administrator to the bureaucratic snafu and he is credited finding a solution.

But that’s only one of more than a hundred VA Medical Centers. Have veterans elsewhere experienced a similar problem? Please contact me at bobrien@wusf.org. And thank you.

 

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St. Petersburg VA Celebrates LGBT Pride Month

Courtesy of the Miami VA

Organizers are hoping for a big turnout for a special LGBT Pride event planned Thursday,  June 15, 2017 at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System (VAHCS) in St. Petersburg, FL.

“Viva La Vida! Live the Life!” is the theme for the celebration open to all veterans and the public. The program will focus on diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity and is scheduled to start at noon at the JC Cobb room located on the first floor of the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center (building 100).

Additionally, there will be information on VA benefits and health care services that are available as well as local business offerings for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender) community.

“We take pride in serving all Veterans and strive to be a national leader in the provision of health care to LGBT Veterans while assuring care is provided in a sensitive, safe environment in all of our facilities,”  Tonya Wieck, Bay Pines Equal Opportunity Program Manager, stated in a news release.

To learn more about the Bay Pines VAHCS’s LGBT Pride Month celebration, please call 727-398-6661, extension 15086.

2017 Memorial Day Tampa Bay Observances

The Special Forces Memorial at U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

There are a variety of ways to honor the fallen this Memorial Day, several are listed below. Originally, it was called Decoration Day, named after the practice of families and citizens who “decorated” the Civil War graves of fallen troops with wreaths and flowers.

The day dedicated to remembrance was expanded to include American soldiers who died while serving in World War I and then all American conflicts. Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 and now recognizes the sacrifice of all who have lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In 2000 Congress passed additional legislation calling on all Americans to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.

To pay tribute to the men and women who served and sacrificed for the country, you can locate a VA National Cemetery nearest you that is holding a 2017 Memorial Day Ceremony HERE.

Events in the Tampa Bay region are listed below:

Monday – May 29, 2017

Carry the Load March and Rally – 8 am -2 pm – Ferg’s, 490 Channelside Drive, Tampa. The idea is to have citizens, scouts and ROTC members participate by carrying a rucksack, memento or photo to honor service members and their families for the sacrifices they make. Registration is followed by a brief ceremony, Taps and moment of silence at 8:40. The 5K walk moves down Bayshore Boulevard for 2.5 miles, does an about face, and returns to Ferg’s for a live band and Memorial Rally.

14th Annual Fallen Veterans Ride to Bushnell – 9 a.m. – Start location at the I-75 North, Interstate Rest Area, 1.5 miles north of I-275. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Defenders Law Enforcement MC is organizing the ride. Kickstands up at 9:30 a.m. to the Memorial Service at Bushnell’s Florida National Cemetery at 11 a.m.

Bradenton Memorial Day Ceremony – 9 a.m. – at Veterans’ Monument Park, directly behind the Manatee Memorial Hospital near U.S. 41 and the Bradenton Riverwalk. The guest speaker scheduled is Retired Rear Admiral Richard Buchanan, sponsored by the Manatee County Veterans’ Council.

Bay Pines National Cemetery – 10 a.m. The Bay Pines VA in Pinellas County will commemorate Memorial Day with a ceremony at the Front Committal at the Bay Pines National Cemetery, 10,000 Bay Pines Blvd. North, St. Petersburg. Keynote speaker scheduled is U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Edward W. Sandlin, Commander, Air Station Clearwater, and  U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, and local VA leaders. The ceremony will also feature musical performances by the Suncoast Symphony Orchestra and Vietnam Veterans who attend may receive a commemorative lapel of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

Sarasota Memorial Day Parade – 10 a.m. – The parade, in downtown Sarasota, starts at Main Street and Osprey Avenue and concludes at J.D. Hamel Park, at Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue. “Celebrate, Honor, Remember,” is the ceremony that will pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. Sarasota Military Academy students will lead the parade carrying an American flag flown at the Battle of Midway, followed by the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard. Keynote speaker is James D’Angelo. who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era and founded the Midway Memorial Foundation in 1992.

MathAlive and Military Family Day – 9:45 a.m. – A grand opening ceremony at the Glazer Children’s Museum, 110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa.  Free admission for active-duty military and veterans and their families for Memorial Day. Events will feature  Florida Military Youth of the Year, Gregory Davis, a robotics team demonstration, math and art exhibits and challenges.

Venice Annual Memorial Day Ceremony – 10 a.m. – Patriots Park, U.S. 41,  just north of the intersection of U.S. 41 Bypass North and U.S. 41 Business. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8118 is sponsoring the ceremony which is open to the public. The American Legion NO-VEL Post 159 host and open house immediately after the ceremony at their Post Home, 1770 E. Venice Ave., Venice.

Florida National Cemetery11 a.m. – An ceremony honoring those who have fallen is planned at the Florida National Cemetery Veterans’ Memorial assembly area, 6502 SW 102nd Avenue (Sumter County), Bushnell. For details, call (352) 793-7740 or 1074.

Avon Park Memorial Day Program – 1 p.m. – American Legion Post 69, 1301 W. Bell St., Avon Park, has planned a special program to honor the troops and service animals that have given the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. Contact the Post Service Officer for more information at 850-718-7773.

Annual Memorial Day Concert – 2-4 p.m. – Bring your lawn chairs and coolers for the concert featuring the Sarasota Concert Band at Philippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Adults $5, 12 and under are free. For details call: 941-364-2263.

Memorial Day Sunset Ceremony – 7 p.m. – Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Dr., Largo. The City of Largo is inviting the public to gather at sunset to honor those who have served and died for the country. A color guard, wreath laying and music will round out the ceremony.

Elsewhere in Florida

Barrancas National Cemetery – 9 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony is set at Shelter A, Barrancas National Cemetery at the Naval Air Station, 80 Hovey Road, Pensacola, FL. Call for details: (850) 453-4108 or 453-4846.

St. Augustine National Cemetery,  – 10 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony is scheduled at the Flag pole, St. Augustine National Cemetery, 104 Marine Street, St. Augustine, FL. For information contact: Florida National Cemetery at (904) 766-5222.

South Florida National Cemetery – 10 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony, open to the public, is planned at the Flag pole and Section 39, at the South Florida National Cemetery, 6501 South State Road 7, Lake Worth. For details, call (561) 649-6489.

WASHINGTON D.C. AREA

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery11 a.m. – The U.S. Army Military District of Washington will conduct a Presidential Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath-Laying Ceremony at 11 a.m., at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to be followed by an observance program hosted by the Department of Defense in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. A musical prelude by the United States Air Force Band will begin in the amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. All ceremonies are free and open to the public.

National Memorial Day Parade2 p.m. –  The annual parade is held to commemorate the fallen troops from the Revolutionary War through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The parade traditionally marches along Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C. Grand Marshals include Ken Burns, documentary film maker; Retired Gen. Richard Myers, 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a tribute to World War II generation.

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Future Unknown For Caregivers Of Post-9/11 Veterans

Ken and Patti Katter have learned to make adjustments to live with his memory loss due to traumatic brain injury.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drafted more than a million family members into caring for returning wounded and injured troops. They’ve been called “Hidden Heroes” – the military caregivers of Post-9/11 veterans.

They are mostly young spouses with young families or aging parents who never expected to take on the role.

Patti Katter’s world changed the night her husband returned from Iraq. Army Sergeant Ken Katter survived two roadside bombs that hit his truck in May 2007 with what were thought to be minor injuries, a concussion and ruptured eardrums. So, he remained in combat for his full 15-month deployment and didn’t come home until October 2007.

“We had dinner together and probably within an hour, he didn’t remember eating. I thought he was just very sleep deprived because he’d just gotten home. So I just kind of blew it off a bit,” Patti Katter recalled about his first night home from Iraq.

Patti Katter has ordered and managed her husband’s medications for almost 10 years and going.

But that same night, Ken Katter had a seizure while sleeping and without any time to prepare Patti Katter was thrust into the role of military caregiver.

“I really put my foot down and I said you need to go to the doctor,” she said. “He was having not only memory issues but he was in a lot of pain. He was frustrated very easily.”

Her husband saw a doctor about a week later. Over a series of months and medical appointments, Ken Katter was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, a blown disc in his neck, a back injury, hearing loss, the list goes on from complex symptoms such as seizures to simple things like he can no longer remember how to write his name in cursive.

He was medically retired from the military in 2010 after serving in the U.S. Army since 2005 and the Marines from 1990-1994.

Inside the Katter home just northeast of Sarasota, a bouquet of bright red roses sat prominently in the kitchen pass through. Patti bought them for herself.

“It’s important to love yourself,” she said. “Ken’s not, he doesn’t emotionally attach anymore. So I’ve learned. I know he loves me. I have no doubt about that, but I’ve also learned to love myself better.”

Ken Katter took up wood carving as part of his rehabilitation. His wife says his brain injury has made it more artistic.

Ken Katter’s “self portrait” carved into a walking stick.

Ken Katter’s “invisible” injuries also left him with balance problems and other medical issues that prevent him from holding down a job or doing even small household tasks like hanging ceiling fans.

But he counts himself lucky. He has all his limbs and can walk. His seizures are under control so he can drive again – even though he has a tendency to get lost, he now uses GPS to guide his travel.

For the last decade, Patti Katter has managed her husband’s medical appointments, medications and rehabilitation. She initially homeschooled their three children so it was easier to see the myriad of doctors. And she took care of the household too.

Then three years ago, the stress overwhelmed her.

“I wasn’t suicidal, but I was in a dark place. Not only was I dealing with being a caregiver, I had a mom who had cancer and my dad was unhealthy,” she said.

She learned to care for herself and found a job with a non-profit, Hope for the Warriors. She now works from home helping other military caregivers navigate the system. And she is a fellow with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation that advocates for military and veteran caregivers.

“So many of these young spouses in their 20s and 30s (are) suddenly realizing that they’re going to be caregivers probably for the next 50 years if not their entire life and no one was handing them a manual,” said Steven Schwab, executive director of the Dole Foundation.

The Dole Foundation did a scientific survey of military and veteran caregivers to find out what they needed. The Hidden Heroes Report found that respite care topped the list, followed by the need for mental health support and training.

The Katter family: Hunter, Savanna, Patti, Ken, and Ashlay.

“These caregivers – especially the Post-9/11 caregivers – are struggling from high rates of depression and anxiety. They’re incredibly isolated,” Schwab said. “They feel alone and in most cases are alone without a support system.”

That’s why former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole started the foundation. It does research and offers innovation grants to organizations, caregiver fellowships, and a national registry of more than 200 vetted caregiver resources.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also has a special program for caregivers of Post-9/11 veterans severely injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It provides financial help and other services.

“The majority of our veterans in this program do have post traumatic stress, mood disorders and TBI,” said Cynthia Fletcher, a caregiver support coordinator at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA. “So, the caregivers are struggling with those behavioral disturbances, those mood disturbances which can be very challenging.”

Fletcher said the VA also operates a caregiver support line, 1-855-260-3274, for military caregivers of veterans from all eras. She said it received more than 57,000 calls last year.

Ken Katter served four years in the Marines, and more than a decade as a police officer before rejoining the Army.

And the VA secretary asked Congress in March to expand the Post-9/11 caregivers program. Of particular concern to caregivers like Patti Katter is what happens 20 or 30 years from now should her husband’s memory problems worsen and she is unable to cope.

“Or what if something happens to me, who is going to take care of him?” Patti Katter asked. “Our kids have been very resilient. They love their father, but I don’t want that to fall on their plate.”

The VA estimated about 4,000 caregivers would qualify for its Post 9-11 program. But almost 25,000 were enrolled within four years. So, the VA has been scrambling to fill the immediate demand leaving little time to consider the long-term needs of veteran caregivers.

You can listen to their story which aired on WUSF 89.7 FM as part of the American Homefront Project.

VA Secretary Orders Review Of Caregiver Revocations

VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD photo courtesy of VA

Late Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs temporarily stopped, for three weeks, its VA medical centers from kicking family caregivers off its program that provides caregivers of Post-9/11 veterans a stipend and benefits.

NPR’s Quil Lawrence reported two weeks ago that several VA medical centers had revoked the eligibility for hundreds of caregivers’ at the same time other centers were expanding their programs.

The VA will spend the next three weeks reviewing the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) but it will continue to accept and review applications according to current eligibility criteria.

“VA is taking immediate action to review the National Caregiver Support Program to ensure we honor our commitment to enhance the health and well-being of Veterans,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “I have instructed an internal review to evaluate consistency of revocations in the program and standardize communication with Veterans and caregivers nationwide.”

There are some exceptions. Revocations will still be done at the request of the veteran or caregiver, for noncompliance, death or long-term hospitalization of the veteran or caregiver. For more on the program, go to the Caregiver Website  or call the Caregiver Support Line at  855-260-3274.

Bay Pines Stand Down for Homeless Veterans

Bay Pines VA – C.W. Bill Young Medical Center. Photo Courtesy: VA.gov

Pinellas County veterans without a place to stay or those at risk of losing their home can tap into a wide range of services and resources Saturday, April 8, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in the courtyard at the C.W. Bill Young Medical Center.

Along with housing and employment information, legal experts will be available for veterans with legal obligations or active misdemeanor cases. In 2016, more than 80 veterans were helped by the Stand Down Court.

In addition, veterans can get a medical screening, free meals, toiletries, haircuts and clothing items. Veterans are asked to bring a copy of their DD214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,” birth certificate, social security card and two documents that can verify their mailing address. Even without documentation, veterans will be assisted.

Call 727-398-6661 extension 17829 for more details or with questions about the Stand Down.

Some Military Caregivers Lose Benefits While Rolls Grow

More than a million Americans are providing care to disabled Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. About 40 percent of these caregivers are young spouses. Photo Courtesy: Department of Veterans Affairs

A report broadcast this week by National Public Radio’s Quil Lawrence found that certain VA centers were dropping caregivers of severely wounded Post 9/11 veterans from a VA support program.

The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers was created to provide additional benefits to caregivers of Afghanistan and Iraq combat veterans. The support can include health insurance, respite care and a monthly stipend. But as Lawrence found more than 20 percent of the VA centers are purging their caregiver rolls:

But the VA is infamous for lacking consistency from station to station. And while the program has added 6,300 caregivers since 2014, according to VA data, NPR discovered that 32 out of 140 VA medical centers were cutting their programs during the same period — some drastically.

That included the VA in Fayetteville, N.C., which used to send Alishia Graham a monthly stipend of about $2,000 and offer her health insurance, respite and support.

Fayetteville cut more than half of its caregivers, dropping 314 families from the rolls between May 2014 and February 2017. And while data from the VA in Washington showed seven staff at Fayetteville were coordinating caregivers (a ratio of 37/1), the Fayetteville VA shows only two staff are doing that job, meaning that each coordinator is actually overseeing more than 125 veterans.

Check out the full NPR story and the top eight VA centers that pared down their military caregiver programs and the top eight centers that increased enrollment. At the top of the growing programs is the Phoenix VA with a 208 percent jump in caregiver enrollment between 2014 and 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

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