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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VA Bay Pines Resarch Fair and Recognition Today

Photo courtesy of Bay Pines VA.

Photo courtesy of Bay Pines VA.

Speech and hearing, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alzheimer’s Disease are three of several areas the Bay Pines VA is conducting clinical research.

Their work will be showcased today, May 13, 2013, as part of National VA Research Week. The research fair is set from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first floor of the main medical building in the JC Cobb room.

Other areas of clinical research at Bay Pines include: ; psychosocial behavioral science (sexual trauma); diseases of the heart, lung and respiratory system; infectious diseases; cancer and wound healing.

Bay Pines is located at 10000 Bay Pines Blvd N, St Petersburg, FL.

 

Military Parents Sew Pillows for Homeless Veterans

A stack of sewn, stuffed and rolled pillows waiting to be transported to the Tallahassee Stand Down for homeless veterans.

A stack of sewn, stuffed and rolled pillows waiting to be transported to the Tallahassee Stand Down for homeless veterans.

A baby pillow pattern that comforted Marines on the frontlines in Iraq is now serving to soften the lives of homeless veterans.

The handmade pillow measures 12 by 16 inches. It’s sewn from light, cotton fabric in many colors and stuffed, not too fully, so it can be rolled.

The pillow is the signature item of the Tampa Area Marine Parents Association (T.A.M.P.A.). Members have been making pillows in patriotic colors for nine years and sending them out with all their care packages for deployed military.

Cyd Deathe co-founded the support group after her son joined the Marines. That was nine years ago, and they’re still active supporting deployed military from all branches and now veterans.

Cyd Deathe stitching closed one of 200 pillows for homeless veterans.

Cyd Deathe stitching closed one of 200 pillows for homeless veterans.

More than two dozen T.A.M.P.A. members just stitched more than 200 packable pillows to be distributed this weekend at a VA Stand Down for homeless veterans in Tallahassee.

A Stand Down is a military term for men and women returning from the frontlines where they are given a chance to relax and regroup.

“We came through the whole Iraq (War). We’re going through the end in Afghanistan and now we’re phasing into the veterans,” Deathe said. “The downsizing of the military and all these guys getting out and where do they go, what do they do, what are they able to do, what’s their future?”

Originally, they requested 400 pillows for the Stand Down, Deathe said. But the time was too short to guarantee more than 200 pillows.

“My strongest passion now moving forward is our veterans,” Deathe said. “Our boys are turning into veterans and so much of our demographic here in the Tampa area are our veterans parents seeking help because of the issue their kids are going through.”

A stack of pillow casings waits for stuffing next to a pile of completed and rolled pillows.

A stack of pillow casings waits for stuffing next to a pile of completed and rolled pillows.

She said the same support she needed as a new Marine mom – military parents now need as their sons and daughters transition into civilian life and become veterans.

“Once a military mom, always a military mom cause it never stops,” Deathe said.

What has changed is that the support group welcomes families from all the service branches and is also open to people who just want to support military families and veterans.

The VA at Bay Pines in Pinellas County has also scheduled a Stand Down Saturday  9 a.m. – 1 p.m at Bay Pines VA campus, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., Bay Pines, FL. Another is set in Tallahassee.

Bay Pines to Fill Veterans’ Mental Health and Housing Needs

An artist's rendering of the new mental health care facility being built at Bay Pines VA in St. Petersburg.

Veteran visits for mental health care at Bay Pines VA in St. Petersburg jumped 18 percent last year. That means there were about 150,000 veteran visits in 2010.

And the need for mental health care visits is expected to increase as much as 42 percent in the next two decades.

“We have more and more veterans coming back from the Middle East seeking treatment for mental health conditions including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” said Faith Belcher, spokeswoman for Bay Pines VA.

To accommodate the increased demand, this week officials signed a $92 million deal to build a new, mental health facility linked to the main hospital at Bay Pines. The 156,000 square-foot building will allow the VA to expand its inpatient mental health care programs for PTSD, military sexual trauma, substance abuse and acute mental health conditions.

“We currently provide treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but this will allow us to serve more veterans and provide additional types of care including inpatient treatment programs for that diagnosis,” Belcher said.

It will take two and a half years to build. The current facilities will then be renovated and used for outpatient care.

Housing for homeless veterans is the other big news out of the Department of Veteran Affairs. It  is expanding its housing for homeless and at-risk Veterans to 34 VA locations across the country.

That will mean an additional 5,000 beds available for homeless veterans. There are currently 15,000 transitional beds available.

A recent strategic study, the Building Utilization Review and Repurposing (BURR) initiative, identified unused and underused buildings at existing VA property with the potential to develop new housing opportunities for homeless or at-risk Veterans and their families through public-private partnerships.  Additional opportunities identified through BURR will include housing for returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and their families, assisted living for elderly Veterans and continuum of living residential communities.

To expedite the project, contractors will be asked to develop multiple sites in a region. VA will hold a one-day national Industry Forum in Chicago for interested organizations on July 13, 2011.  For information regarding the forum mail to:  VA_BURR@va.gov.

Supportive housing projects are planned for homeless Veterans and their families at 23 VA sites: Tuskegee, Ala.; Long Beach and Menlo Park, Calif.; Bay Pines, Fla.; Dublin, Ga.; Hines and North Chicago, Ill.; Danville and Fort Wayne, Ind.; Leavenworth, Kan.; Perry Point, Md.; Bedford, Brockton and Northampton, Mass.; Battle Creek, Mich.; Minneapolis and St. Cloud, Minn.; Fort Harrison, Mont.; Castle Point, N.Y.; Chillicothe and Dayton, Ohio; and Spokane and Vancouver, Wash.

Under the enhanced-use lease agreements, Veterans will receive senior and non-senior independent living and assisted living at eleven VA sites: Newington, Conn.; Augusta, Ga.; Marion, Ill.; Topeka, Kan.; Togus, Maine; Grand Island, Neb.; Big Springs and Kerrville, Texas; Salem, Va.; Martinsburg, W.Va.; and Cheyenne, Wyo.

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