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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Veterans Face A Little Less Paperwork This Tax Year

A health card entitles a veteran to services at the VA Hospital.

For millions of American taxpayers, the federal tax return due on April 15 serves more than one purpose. In addition to tallying up what they owe - or are owed - IRS income data determine who qualifies for benefits of all kinds. This year, for the first time, the Veterans Administration will use federal tax returns as a means test, to decide whether a veteran is eligible for subsidized health care.

All military service members who get hurt or sick during active duty get free treatment for those conditions from veterans’ medical facilities.  But if they need other kinds of  health care and do not have private insurance, they may not be eligible for help from the Veterans Administration, or may at least have to pony up a co-pay. Eligibility is linked to their household income. And until this year, veterans were required to submit that income annually to the VA. Now they can just go online to verify data supplied to the VA by the Internal Revenue Service.

"One of the things that's really important to us is that veterans don't feel that there are impediments to them having access to care at the VA medical centers." - Deborah Amdur, director VA Medical Center in White River Junction.

Deborah Amdur directs the VA Hospital in White River Junction. She thinks the new system will make the process easier for veterans.

“And one of the things that’s really important to us is that veterans don’t feel that there are impediments to them having access to care at the VA medical centers,” Amdur said.

In 2003, Congress tightened health care eligibility requirements for veterans, based on their income.  The complex categories appear on a chart that the VA uses to decide who qualifies for what services, at a range of co-pays.  Camille Olmstead is Business Manager for the Hospital.

“I do have those numbers for you," she said, thumbing through a stack of documents. "I think for a single veteran with no dependents that would be $34,588,” Olmstead said.

Olmstead says a veteran in that category who makes even a penny more than that would not be eligible for any health care at the VA, unless the treatment is  related to active duty. The eligibility threshold also rises or falls according to the median income of the county the veteran lives in.  So Director Amdur admits that enrollment is still complicated, but she says it’s worth navigating the system because there are so many kinds of  services available to qualified applicants.

“I think one of the things that is unique about the VA though is that we have a lot of programs that really focus on the psychological and psycho-social wellbeing of veterans. So it’s not just about their physical health. care or even their mental health care. It’s about their lives overall,” Amdur said.  

Amdur would like more people in Vermont and New Hampshire to take advantage of all that the VA offers. Currently, she says, only about a third of eligible veterans apply for the benefits they deserve, and she hopes reducing the paperwork burden will bring a few more through the door. 

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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