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Veterans’ access to health care improves

On June 15, more than 260,000 additional veterans became eligible for health care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.The Veterans Benefits Improvements Act of 2008 included $375 million to reopen enrollment for Priority 8 veterans – low and middle-income veterans who do not have a service-connected disability. Priority 8 veterans have not been allowed to enroll for VA medical benefits since 2003.The act also increased the income threshold by 10 percent, increasing the number of eligible veterans.Tony Wolusky, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7829 in Monument, did his part on June 27 to get the word out.Wolusky organized volunteers to distribute information about the changes at three locations in Monument: the YMCA, Wal-Mart and the Farmers Market.”Most people know if they were injured in the service, they’re qualified for VA medical benefits,” Wolusky said. “But they don’t realize that if their income is below a certain level, they can also qualify for VA medical care, even if they don’t have a service-related injury.”A lot of veterans have lost their jobs and medical coverage, and they need to know they may be eligible to go the VA,” he said.Wolusky said about 200 veterans or their families were contacted through his outreach effort.According to the VA’s Web site, veterans who have a sudden and drastic drop in income could also qualify under a “hardship” enrollment, which is good for at least 12 months.Some vets say they haven’t applied for VA medical benefits because they don’t want to displace someone who has a serious problem, Wolusky said.However, the VA looks at it differently.”The majority of our funding is due to how many patients we see and what conditions we see them for,” said Charlie Brown, a supervisor at the Denver VA’s Health Information Service.Having certain medical conditions could also qualify a veteran for disability compensation.”It all depends on which war the person was in,” Brown said. “The majority of diseases considered service connected are from Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.”According to, the following conditions are presumed to be service connected for Vietnam veterans: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and AL-Amyloidosis.Chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda and acute and subacute transient peripheral neuropathy are also service connected if they occurred within one year of exposure to Agent Orange.The latest presumed service-connected disease is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Brown said.Wolusky based his outreach program on a similar effort in Grand Junction, Colo., where volunteers encouraged more veterans to sign up. The extra sign-ups provided more funding that the Grand Junction VA used to expand programs for homeless veterans.”Whatever number of veterans we have, we’re allotted the money to take care of them,” said Terry McClaren, Denver VA’s chief of Health Information Services. “We don’t want to turn anybody away. We want to make sure everybody is taken care of.”To check eligibility requirements, visit

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