- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

One of our fellow disabled veterans, Stephen B of Illinois, was severely injured in a motor vehicle accident in 2007. The good news is that Stephen has recovered, but he was left with an unpaid private hospital bill of $100,000.

Stephen is an enrolled veteran in the Veterans Affairs health care system, is rated 60 percent service-connected disabled and has no private health insurance. He receives all of his health care from VA.

VA is authorized by federal law to reimburse private, emergency health care costs of its enrolled veterans if certain conditions are met. Stephen’s situation met all of VA’s criteria for emergency care reimbursement but one: His state-mandated vehicle collision insurance policy included a small (required) health care “rider.”

VA denied Stephen’s claim for reimbursement because, according to VA, he was “covered” by some form of health insurance, even though it didn’t come remotely close to paying the cost of his care. VA could not be the payer of last resort if there was an existing policy of any kind covering his care in the private sector.

Stephen appealed VA’s decision, and then he appealed to you to intervene on his behalf.

Because of your dedication to disabled veterans and your personal advocacy for them and with the strong backing of veterans service organizations, especially the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization, Congress is poised to enact into law legislation that was sponsored by the chairmen of both veterans committees. When enacted, this bill will cover Stephen’s specific situation retroactively and also help other disabled veterans who may be similarly affected in the future.

Many thanks to Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat and chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and particularly to the old Marine Corps Sarge for another great service you have rendered to America’s disabled veterans.

John B.


Dear John

I have been assured that the emergency care provision is in bill S. 801. The Senate committee is finishing its report on the legislation, and Mr. Akaka will seek Senate floor action on S. 801 when Congress returns this month. A final compromise with the House is expected in the fall. Thanks for your help in eliminating this inappropriate treatment of disabled veterans.

Shaft notes

The Sarge joins the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in its recent praise of the House of Representatives for standing up for disabled veterans and their family caregivers by overwhelmingly approving the Caregiver Assistance and Resource Enhancement Act.

The measure, H.R. 3155, would greatly expand the level of support services provided to family and non-family caregivers of severely wounded and disabled veterans, including specialized training and monthly cash stipends to eligible family caregivers. The bill also would provide one-stop access to support services via the Internet and make counseling, mental health services and medical care available to family and non-family caregivers of veterans.

“The types of injuries that veterans sustain, particularly those from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are in many cases so severe that family members put their lives on hold to care for their loved ones,” said DAV National Commander Raymond E. Dempsey. “As a result, the families of severely injured servicemembers often face extreme financial and emotional hardships as they help their wounded sons, daughters, husbands and wives. We owe these families the support they need to care for our disabled veterans, which means increased federal assistance, including direct financial support.”

Sponsored by Rep. Michael H. Michaud, Maine Democrat, with bipartisan support, H.R. 3155 addresses one of the most pressing problems faced by those caring for loved ones injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once a disabled veteran returns home, a family member often provides crucial support, often at the expense of his or her own education, job and health. It is widely recognized that informal caregiving can enhance the quality of life of the recipient and delay or prevent a veteran from being institutionalized. These caregivers take on the responsibilities of caring for our nation’s disabled veterans that otherwise would fall to the federal government.

“Unfortunately, family caregivers today do not receive sufficient support services or any direct financial assistance from the government. What is needed is an array of support services such as respite care; financial compensation; vocational counseling; basic health care; relationship, marriage and family counseling; and mental health care. All of these services are essential to equip caregivers with the tools they need to help care for disabled veterans,” said Mr. Dempsey of the DAV.

Earlier this year, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved S. 801, which would provide caregivers with expanded assistance, including direct financial support. Importantly, the Senate caregiver legislation also contains language that could open the door to providing expanded caregiver services to all veterans, whereas the House bill is limited to those injured on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Both the House and Senate have taken historic steps to help solve the problems faced by caregivers of disabled veterans,” Mr. Dempsey said. “Now it is time for Congress to stand up for veterans by working out the differences in their caregiver bills and sending a final version of the legislation to President Obama to sign this year.”

c Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

Family caregivers take on the responsibilities of caring for our nation’s disabled veterans that otherwise would fall to the federal government.

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