By Richard Eckert
Many veterans and/or their dependents view the Veterans Affairs as medical care. While the VA medical facilities are the most obvious portion of the VA, there are three distinct VA elements.
First and foremost is VA health care which has the medical facilities and resources to provide medical care to our veterans. The second facet of the VA is benefits and compensation, which provides compensation for service connected disability and benefits for veterans and/or their families. The third aspect of the VA is cemeteries and burial benefits for our veterans.
There is some confusion about receiving health care benefits. Beginning in 2003, Congress established a “qualification” for VA health care. That qualification is effected through a means test. The means test was used to determine if a veteran had the financial means to provide his own health care.
The means test required disclosing household income (all income in a veteran’s home) minus the health care expenses. Income would be from sources such as farm income, social security, pension, IRAs, employment and businesses. Health care expenses are any “out of pocket” expenditures paid by the veteran’s household. Those medical expenses are items such as health care insurance, doctor’s visits and prescriptions.
The means test level is generally set on a county by county basis. As an example, Whitley County’s means test threshold is approximately $39,000. So if a veteran’s household income was $43,000 but paid out $6,000 for medical expenses, the net household income would be below the $39,000 and therefore qualify the veteran for some VA health care benefits. An exception to this would be that if a veteran had “boots on the ground” in a foreign conflict or war, such as Vietnam, that veteran would be exempt from the requirements of a means test.
The means test financials also included a section for net worth. This section listed items such as properties (other than the primary residence), coin collections, jewelry, car collections and bank accounts. While the net worth was generally not considered in the equation for determination of health care benefits, it was still required. Recently, the VA has decided to eliminate the net worth section in applying for health care through a means test.
An important note here is that if a veteran is receiving compensation for a service connected disability, the veteran is not required to pass a means test and will qualify for VA health care.
There are eight priority groups for health care benefits. Priority group eight has sub priority groups that also determine qualifications based on the means test. These priority groups are defined on the VA web at va.gov/healthbenefits/resources/priority_groups.asp.
Your County Veteran Service Officer is available to answer any questions or to help file forms and claims.
— Richard Eckert is Whitley County’s veteran’s services officer.