As Americans, we feel a sense of gratitude to those who raise their hands and defend our freedoms.
But sometimes, veterans miss out on the benefits they earned, something we often see when it comes to health care and long-term care.
You might be surprised that many people who served in the military either don't consider themselves to be veterans or are too proud to ask for these benefits. This is especially true for older veterans whose military service is a distant memory, often decades old and sometimes purposefully forgotten.
For the most part, they probably got along just fine without anything from the government. But circumstances can change and sometimes extra help is necessary. Take, for example, an older couple that recently received the assistance they needed from a veterans' program. The husband, a Korean War veteran, served his country, came home, and built a family and a career. He always had enough money saved away for the emergencies that life presented. But after suffering an injury, he knew he needed extra help. His wife had been caring for him but she too was becoming frail, and he was worried that taking care of him was putting too big a burden on her.
That's when the Veterans' Affairs Aid and Attendance program proved crucial to this couple's well-being.
This federal program can help wartime veterans remain at home or assist them in paying for long-term care. It's available to lower-income veterans and their widows, who also qualify for VA pension benefits.
A large number of veterans across the country who qualify for this aid, however, somehow are slipping through the cracks. It leads to this very serious question: How do we connect veterans who are in need and who are eligible to this benefit?
Thanks to the creative thinking of employees at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, we have found an answer.
In 2003, our agencies joined forces and started a pilot project to match federal VA data with the Public Assistance Reporting Information System. PARIS, as it's known, shows us who has applied for Medicaid benefits. When we match that information against the Federal VA’s data, we can identify eligible veterans or their widows, and help them apply for VA Pension and Aid and Attendance. So far, we have helped connect more than 3,300 veterans or their widows to these programs and their benefits.
It's one of those rare situations where everyone wins. Veterans receive monthly payments that can be used for in-home care or long-term care, and our state saves millions of dollars with fewer people using the Medicaid program. Veterans also are able to utilize a benefit they earned through their military service, which, unlike Medicaid benefits, do not have to be re-paid.
There is nothing more satisfying than pioneering ways to help deserving people and we continue to be amazed at how much this partnership has done to help Washington's veterans.
At WDVA, our goal is to help veterans and their families get connected with everything they earned, and we're always looking for innovative ways to reach them.
If you know a veteran or family member in Washington State who needs our help, please let us know how we can reach them. Call us at 1-800-562-2308 or visit us online at www.dva.wa.gov. To find another State's Department of Veterans Affairs visit http://www.nasdva.net/.
Alex Deluao is the manager of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Olympia Service Center.