Veterans Column: Health Benefits Granted by Priority; Here’s What You Need to Know
By Vince Gangi, U.S. Air Force veteran and GCVF volunteer.
Veterans Affairs operates one of the largest and most respected healthcare systems in the country. This healthcare system, and the medical benefits package that gives veterans access to it, serves as the backbone of the VA benefits program military personnel earn through their military service.
You may qualify for VA health care benefits if you served in the active military, naval or air service and were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable, including qualifying reserve and National Guard members. You must enroll in the VA system before you can receive any benefit so start by visiting www.va.gov to enroll online or call 877-222-VETS (8387).
Since the demand for health services far outweighs the funds allocated by Congress, the VA establishes priority groups to ensure that certain veterans can be enrolled before others. Priority groups are determined during enrollment.
A description of the current priority groups, as published in the “Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents, and Survivors Guide” 2020 edition, is as follows:
Priority 1: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 50% or more; veterans determined by the VA to be unemployable due to service-connected conditions; and veterans who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Priority 2: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 30 or 40%.
Priority 3: Veterans who are former prisoners of war; veterans awarded the Purple Heart medal; vterans whose discharge was for a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty; veterans with VA service-connected disabilities rated 10 or 20%; and veterans awarded special eligibility classification.
Priority 4: Veterans who receive increased compensation or pension based on their need for regular aid and attendance or by reason of being permanently housebound; and veterans determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled. Catastrophically disabled means a severe, permanent disability that requires personal or mechanical assistance to leave the bed or house.
Priority 5: Nonservice-connected veterans and non-compensable service-connected veterans rated by VA as 0% disabled and who have an annual income below the VA’s geographically adjusted income limit (based on your resident ZIP code); veterans receiving VA pension benefits; and veterans eligible for Medicaid benefits.
Priority 6: Compensable 0% service-connected veterans; veterans exposed to ionizing radiation during atmospheric testing or during the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Project 112/SHAD participants; veterans who served in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975; veterans who served in the Southwest Asia Chapter 1 Health Care 3 theater of operations from Aug. 2, 1990, through Nov. 11, 1998.
This priority also includes veterans who served in a theater of combat operations after Nov. 11, 1998, as follows: Veterans discharged from active duty on or after Jan. 28, 2003, for five years post discharge and veterans who served on active duty at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Aug.1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987.
Currently enrolled veterans and new enrollees who served in a theater of combat operations after Nov.11, 1998 and those who were discharged from active duty on or after Jan. 28, 2003, are eligible for the enhanced benefits for five years post discharge
Note: At the end of this enhanced enrollment priority group placement time period, veterans will be assigned to the highest priority group for which their status at that time qualifies.
Priority 7: Veterans with gross household income below the geographically adjusted VA income limit for their resident location and, who agree to pay copayments.
Priority 8: Veterans with gross household incomes above VA national income limit and the geographically adjusted income limit for their resident location and, who agree to pay copayments.
As with everything involving a large government agency, the enrollment process can take some time. Therefore, if you are in one or more of these categories and have not yet enrolled, I encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience.
Vince Gangi is a retired mortgage banker and a U.S. Air Force Vietnam Era veteran whose father was a World War II veteran. He currently volunteers at Gold Coast Veterans Foundation.
Source: VC Star article from June 7, 2021