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.



Veterans Affairs Focuses Outreach on Facebook, YouTube

From VAntage Point Blog, a soldier putting down the sword for a pen in a writing program that is part of a holistic treatment approach to post-traumatic stress and TBI.

The VA currently has more than 345,000 combined Facebook  “fans” and is looking for more. As of this week, each of the 152 VA Medical Centers has its own page.

“This event marks an important milestone in the overall effort to transform how VA communicates with Veterans and provide them the health care and benefits they have earned,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in a Department of Veterans Affairs media release.

VA now has over 150 Facebook pages, 64 Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, a Flickr page, and the VAntage Point blog.

“Veterans of all eras are depending on us to get the right information to the right person at the right time,” said Brandon Friedman, VA’s director of online communications, and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A geographic directory for the VA Medical Center Facebook pages is available HERE. In Florida, the Facebook pages are:

The Department plans to continue expanding its Facebook presence while also focusing on bringing Twitter to every VA medical center as well.

Below is a sample of the VA YouTube Channel, a piece prepared for Veterans Day 2011.

Tampa VA Polytrauma Patients Get New Rooms, Showers

VA nurse manager Marti Veneman shows off the private, wheelchair accessible showers available in every Polytrauma Unit room.

Overcoming multiple combat wounds is tough enough, but imagine sharing a shower with eight other patients while you do it. That’s what combat veterans were doing at Polytrauma Unit at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital prior to renovations.

Monday the VA staff cut the yellow ribbon to unveil the renovated Polytrauma unit designed to speed the recovery of the most severely injured and disabled combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Haley is one of four VA hospitals with a Polytrauma Unit in the U.S.  Marti Veneman is nurse manager of the unit and can’t wait to move into the updated wing.

“We have ceiling lifts throughout so that no nurse has to lift a patient and so patients can be safe,” Veneman said. “They won’t fall and we can take them from the bed into the shower. Every room has its own beautiful shower.”

Marti Veneman shows off the ceiling patient lift available in all the Polytrauma Unit rooms.

Right now the Polytrauma unit has two showers shared by as many as 18 patients. Veneman says scheduling showers was tricky and now will be no problem.

The renovated wing, known as 5-West, is bright, airy and with plenty of space so wheelchairs can move easily. The private rooms are equipped with special glass that goes opaque and provides privacy with a flip of the switch.

Army Sgt. Amber Greer, 22, is recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury suffered during a car accident. She says pleasant, calm surroundings help patients heal more quickly.

“This is such a nice wing that they’ve opened here,” Greer said. “It’s so comfortable, so homey and to me that comfortablity it is so important to your recovery.”

Before the patients were moved in, the public was invited to check out the 14 private rooms. The renovation to the Polytrauma unit is a stop-gap. The Haley VA has a 50-bed Polytrauma unit under construction.

One-Stop Videos for Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans

I am not a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, so I can only listen to those who have been there and share what they find is helpful for transitioning home. Several such voices can be heard on videos at My Reboot Camp .  For instance in the video above, veterans talk about their struggles to get over “the hump” in returning to civilian life.

Returning veterans struggle with a sense of guilt when they leave the military because others have stayed. Many go through multiple tours and upon returning to civilian life find few are aware of their sacrifice.

The website gives individuals a chance to explore those and other feelings, but it also offers suggestions on how to move forward. Veterans, family and friends can self-navigate through the support page with topics ranging from finding your learning style to finding your education benefits. There also is a resources page. The My Reboot Camp website is funded by a grant from the Florida BRAIVE Fund and Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice.

I encourage you  to explore the videos, listen to the stories. Even if you do not know an Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran, as a citizen it is important to understand their experiences and sacrifices. “It’s a shock to kind of go back to your life … my life was a time warp … you stand there with your bags and say okay what do I do now?”

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