Good Life

Elder Law: VA eliminates net worth as health care eligibility factor

A new standard for medical care qualification should be good news to the roughly one million veterans living in Pennsylvania, including the almost 60,000 living in central Pennsylvania. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs records, there are 10,000 veterans living in Centre County.

The VA is updating the way it determines eligibility for veterans’ health care, a change that will result in more veterans having access to the health care benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

Almost all released or discharged veterans theoretically are eligible for VA medical benefits, but since 2003, some veterans with income or net worth over certain limits were not eligible to newly enroll in the VA medical benefits system. The income and net worth requirements already have been waived for certain veterans, including for a veteran:

• discharged or separated for medical reasons, early out or hardship;

• who served in a combat operations theater within five years prior to date of application;

• who was discharged because of a disability (not pre-existing);

• who was a prisoner of war or received a Purple Heart medal; or

• who was already receiving VA pension or disability benefits or state Medicaid benefits.

Otherwise, eligibility for medical benefits depended on the veteran’s income and net worth.

Effective 2015, VA eliminated the use of net worth as a determining factor for both health care programs and copayment responsibilities. This change makes VA health care benefits more accessible to lower-income veterans and brings VA policies in line with Secretary Robert A. McDonald’s MyVA initiative, which reorients VA around veterans’ needs.

“Everything that we do and every decision we make has to be focused on the veterans we serve,” McDonald said. “We are working every day to earn their trust. Changing the way we determine eligibility to make the process easier for veterans is part of our promise to our veterans.”

Instead of combining the sum of veterans’ income with their assets to determine eligibility for medical care and copayment obligations, VA now will only consider a veteran’s gross household income and deductible expenses from the previous year. Elimination of the consideration of net worth for VA health care enrollment means that certain lower-income, non-service-connected veterans will have less out-of- pocket costs. Over a five-year period, it is estimated that 190,000 veterans will become eligible for reduced costs of their health care services.

In March 2014, VA eliminated the annual requirement for updated financial information. VA now uses information from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration to automatically match aveteran’s income information, which reduces the burden on veterans to keep their health care eligibility up to date. That change better aligned VA’s health care financial assessment program with other federal health care organizations.

Veterans who think that they may now qualify under the changed standards should contact the veterans adminitration. Local offices where they may get assistance include the Centre County Veterans Affairs office (355-6812), Congressman G. T. Thompson’s office (353-0215) or local attorneys handling elder law matters.