Breaking down benefits: VA healthcare

IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich. (WLUC) - Serving millions of veterans nationwide, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is broken down into three administrations focusing veteran’s benefits, healthcare, and the national cemetery administration.

"We want to take care of veterans from the time they leave the service through their life, until their final resting place," said Brad Nelson, the public affairs officer for the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, "We are really taking care of our veterans from start to finish."

The VA offers a medical benefits package that includes preventative care, outpatient and inpatient diagnostics/treatments along with long term care services. All available to promote, preserve or restore the veteran’s health.

"The VA is always caring about the whole person of the veteran, the well-being, the mental health the physical health, spiritual health of our veterans,” added Nelson.

The U.P. is home to the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center which provides many of these services. They say throughout the U.P., there are 40,000 vets still living and 34,000 would be eligible for VA healthcare, however only 24,000 are enrolled. Officials said one of the major reasons the remaining 10,000 veterans don't enroll is because they don’t think they are eligible.

"As many veterans, including myself, when I retired from the military, I thought service connection condition was you were shot at, you had an explosion or some type of trauma there, but actually service connection condition by definition is any medical condition acquired while serving in the military," explained Nelson. "It could be high blood pressure, sleep apnea, even twisting a knee playing basketball on base."

By having a service connection condition, a veteran not only can receive healthcare, but possible monthly compensations.

"If they are rated at 10 percent or higher they will receive a nontaxable monthly stipend," said Craig Salo, the Marquette County Veteran Service Officer.

Officials encourage veterans who think they are not eligible to apply to enroll anyway.

"We encourage veterans to not wait until they are older, thinking 'well I will wait until I retire, I have good health insurance.' One thing they may not realize is that they can have both their own health insurance and VA healthcare," said Nelson. "I am one of those and that give me more options."

The website lays out specifics on eligibility and where to find applications, along with mental health services. Officials are really pushing for healthcare enrollment because on average, 20 veterans commit suicide every day and 14 of those are not enrolled in healthcare.

"We are here to help and we do have services that are available for helping mental conditions."

And you don’t have to go through benefit application processes alone. In part two of this series, TV6 will explain how to contact and work with your local veteran service officer with federal and state services.

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