By Craig Roberts, American Legion national organization.
American Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster is urging the organization’s members to push for congressional support of a bill that, if enacted, would allow military veterans to use their Medicare benefits at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities. The bill, H.R. 814, was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., ranking minority member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and longtime supporter of veterans.
As the law stands, the VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is prohibited from seeking third-party reimbursements from Medicare for the treatment of non-service connected medical conditions suffered by veterans, even if the appropriate treatment is routinely covered under Medicare. This means that many Medicare-enrolled veterans who wish to be treated at VA medical centers – but have their care covered by Medicare benefits – must seek treatment elsewhere. H.R. 814, called the Medicare VA Reimbursement Act of 2011, would lift that prohibition.
“Veterans, like everyone else, pay into Medicare all their working lives,” Foster said. “So why should they not be able to use Medicare benefits at the medical facilities of their choosing – namely, VA medical centers – for all medical conditions, both service connected and non-service connected? VA medical care is considered by many to be the best there is, so it should be made available to as many veterans as possible. In our opinion, that is a privilege these men and women have earned through their selfless service to our nation.
“Not only would passage of the Medicare VA Reimbursement Act correct a great inequity, but Medicare reimbursements to the VHA would help fund VA medical research, education, facilities and personnel. It should be noted that VA’s pioneering medical research and education is good not only for veterans, but for all Americans. It’s not unlike the benefits we have all derived from research and development done by NASA’s space program.”
A resolution adopted by The American Legion during its annual convention last year in Milwaukee makes those points about the VHA, its contributions, and its need for adequate funding:
• VHA continues to be the nation’s largest educator of health-care professionals through its affiliations with medical schools, academic medical centers and other search institutions.
• VHA continues to be a major national research asset conducting, clinical, epidemiological and behavioral studies across the entire spectrum of scientific discipline(s).
• VHA continues to serve as a contingency back-up to Department of Defense medical services and, during national emergencies, supports the National Disaster Medical System.
• Enrollment in VHA could be limited by the availability of existing annual federal discretionary appropriations to meet the health-care needs of enrolled veterans.
• VHA continues to seek other revenue streams to supplement limited federal discretionary appropriations and meet the growing demands for quality treatment of enrolled veterans.
“Medicare reimbursement to the VHA as provided by the Medicare VA Reimbursement Act of 2011 would provide a natural revenue stream and serve more veterans well,” Foster said. “That is why I am personally appealing to all members of The American Legion and other caring citizens to support this bill by urging their members of Congress to become co-sponsors of H.R. 814.”
Thus far, Filner’s bill has three co-sponsors in the House: Joe Baca of California, Shelley Berkley of Nevada and Madeleine Bordallo of Guam. It was recently referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Health for consideration.
Contact your members of Congress through the Legion’s Legislative Action Center.