2002-02-27 / Seniors

Hail New Law Improving Vets’ Health Benefits

By John Toscano

Veterans’ healthcare benefits will get a boost under a new law signed recently by President George W. Bush, which includes a provision that modifies the Veterans Administration system of determining the ability of non-service-connected veterans’ ability to pay for VA health care services.

The new law, signed by the president recently, but scheduled to take effect next October, will take into account the cost of living of where the vet resides and will require some individuals to pay only 20 percent of the co-payment for hospital care.

This provision will benefit some not-so-well-off vets residing in New York City, which has the highest cost of living in the country, as well as other cities and states where the cost of living is high.

The Eastern Paralysed Veterans Association (EPVA), one of the leading veterans’ advocacy groups in the country, had pushed hard for the new law, specifically the provisions dealing with lowering hospital co-payments.

The associate director of the EPVA government relations department, Jeremy Chwat, says, "EPVA has long believed that the single national income threshold employed by the VA to determine a veteran’s priority group does not adequately address the costs in a high cost-of-living area of the country.

"For example, the cost of living in New York is certainly higher than the cost of living in Arkansas, yet the VA does not acknowledge this when determining a veteran’s ability to pay. This bill finally addresses this regional differential to help veterans (who were considered within the income level to pay deductibles, but who are barely making it financially in more pricey parts of the country) by reducing their co-payments by 80 percent."

Chwat said the VA had not issued the new regulations spelling out how the "enrollment criteria" are to be implemented but the stipulations are expected to come out shortly.

Chwat said the new law addresses many key issues that the EPVA has been advocating. These include VA nurse recruitment and retention, the maintenance of VA capacity to offer specialty care services and service days to service-connected veterans with spinal cord dysfunction and the highlight of the new law, changing the method of determining cost of living as it relates to hospital co-payments.

In regard to this, the new law will create a new standard to reflect "near poor" status for veterans, which will be different for each one, depending on the cost-of-living where the veteran resides.

RENEWED REPUBLICAN PUSH ON S.S.: In an effort to establish a position on Social Security reform that they will be able to use in this year’s elections, Republicans in Congress have announced they will shortly introduce legislation calling to permit workers to invest part of their Social Security benefits in the stock market.

The highly controversial and radical change in the system has been attacked as too risky and possibly causing cuts in other Social Security members’ benefits.

To eliminate this criticism, the Republicans for the first time are expected to enact a guarantee that the benefits of current Social Security members would not be cut. Another bill in the reform package would call for increases in women’s benefits.

Democrats are reportedly welcoming the GOP plans, feeling they have an upper hand on the issue and can benefit from it in the elections, which will include all Congressional seats and a third of Senate seats.

Among the weapons the Dems are planning on using to show the perils of investing in the stock market is the Enron collapse and the resulting loss of lifetime investment savings by thousands of employees. The Democrats will also point to how Bush wiped out the nation’s huge surplus with his tax cutting plan.

The tax cuts, they have said, dissipated trillions of dollars that could have been used for Social Security and Medicare reform, including giving prescription drug coverage to seniors enrolled in Medicare.

The Republicans’ plans on Social Security legislation were announced about two weeks ago by their top man in the House, Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

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