Late Breaking News
Veterans Health Council Created to Help Those Who Served Access Beneﬁts
- Categorized in: April 2009 Issue
WASHINGTON—There are approximately 24 million veterans in the United States. But while only 5 million of those take advantage of healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs, many more are eligible to do so. And many of those may be suffering from ailments that are a result of their time spent in uniform, though they may not know it. Because of this disparity, the Vietnam Veterans of
America have joined with other nonproﬁt organizations and private companies to form the Veterans Health Council. The VHC is an alliance dedicated to providing veterans with resources to help them make their way through the red tape that can be a barrier to obtaining VA beneﬁts and healthcare. They are also providing veterans with easy access to information linking illnesses with the areas of service to which VA has attributed those conditions with the goal of drawing in veterans who are entitled to VA beneﬁts but are unaware of it.
“The mission of the Veterans Health Council is to improve the health of veterans by creating an ongoing forum for health professionals, employee representatives, advocacy organizations and healthcare ﬁrms,” explained Rick Weidman, VVA executive director for policy and government affairs, at a press conference at the National Press Club last month. “We want to inform veterans and their families about health risks related to their military service and the healthcare available to them; educate healthcare communities about the multiple health issues associated with military service; develop educational materials for medical schools, nursing schools, teaching hospitals, and related entities; and advocate on behalf of healthcare initiatives for veterans.”
VVA attributes the underutilization of VA resources partly to veterans simply not knowing that their health problems are related to their military service, and so have created a Web site, www.veteranshealth.org, to help veterans learn what diseases, conditions and maladies entitle them to compensation and medical care from VA.
“Many veterans don’t [use VA] for lots of different reasons. [Facilities] are hard to get to. They feel they have their own insurance, perhaps,” explained John Rowan, VVA national president. “They’ve lucky veterans. They walked away from the battleﬁ eld unscathed. They made it. Unfortunately, many of us really didn’t make it.”
Decades might lapse between a veteran’s service and the onset of their symptoms—a delay that might cause a veteran never to link their problems to their time spent in the military.
“Take diabetes,” Rowan said. “It’s a disease that they now presume to be related to Agent Orange [exposure]. And if you stepped foot in Vietnam, you’re entitled to care for your diabetes and anything related to it.”
A veteran going to the Web site will be able to click on which conﬂict they fought in—Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Global War on Terror—and be directed to information on conditions that have been presumed service-connected to time spent in that conﬂict. For example, clicking on Vietnam will give the veteran information on PTSD, Hepatitis, HIV, military sexual trauma and exposure to Agent Orange. Clicking on Agent Orange will provide that veteran with a laundry list of conditions attributed to exposure to the toxic defoliant, including type II diabetes, dozens of types of cancer and Spina Biﬁda in the children of Vietnam veterans.
“We exposed ourselves to things besides bullets and bombs,” Rowan declared. “Service exposed veterans to things that would cause health problems many years later.”
And if a veteran ﬁnds him or herself suffering from any of the health problems attributed to their military service, the Web site also gives links to information on how a veteran can connect with a VVA service ofﬁcer who will help them ﬁle a claim for VA beneﬁts.
According to Rowan, the VVA plans to add more features to the Web site, including possibly adding information for Korean War veterans. He noted that the information on the Web site is not just something a veteran should know, but any physician, as well. All the work to promote the use of electronic medical records nationwide will be little help if a physician neglects to connect a veterans’ condition to their military service.
“The health record is a great idea, but they need to ask the magic question: Are you a veteran?” Rowan said. “Even if wars stop, the cost of wars doesn’t stop. It continues as soon as those veterans come home.”