Tester pushes VA to drop restrictions and expand care to Priority 8 veterans
‘VA should have the capacity and resources to serve every veteran,’ Tester tells Secretary
(U.S. SENATE) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester wants the Department of Veterans Affairs to enroll all Priority 8 veterans into the VA healthcare system.
Priority 8 veterans are veterans without service-connected disabilities and who earn over a certain annual income.
The VA announced in 2003 that it would temporarily stop enrolling Priority 8 veterans because their income level exceeded the VA’s thresholds for health benefits. Under current restrictions, a veteran making as little as $35,577 per year can be denied VA benefits.
In 2009, Congress set aside funds to allow enrollment for certain Priority 8 veterans.
“All of the men and women who put their lives on the line for this country deserve the best health care possible,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This country is facing some tough decisions when it comes to the budget, but I won’t allow us to deny needed care to Montana veterans who have served this country honorably.”
Tester this month wrote Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki pushing him to grow Priority 8 enrollment, saying the VA “should have the capacity and resources to serve every veteran.”
“Under your leadership, the VA successfully implemented the expanded enrollments and demonstrated the capacity of the VA health care system to accommodate these veterans,” Tester wrote. “This experience leads us to believe that further steps can now be taken.”
Tester’s letter notes that during the first half of 2011, nearly 47,000 veterans applied for VA enrollment, but were denied health care due to the means test threshold.
Tester’s letter appears below and HERE.
Dear Secretary Shinseki,
As you work to develop the next budget proposal for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), we respectfully request that due consideration be given to expediting the return of Priority Group 8 veterans into the VA healthcare system.
Public Law 110-329 provided additional funding to allow expanded enrollment opportunities for certain Priority Group 8 veterans, who were previously denied enrollment in the VA's health care system because their income exceeded the VA's income thresholds. Bringing additional veterans into the system helps sustain a full continuum of care for all users. Under your leadership, the VA successfully implemented the expanded enrollments and demonstrated the capacity of the VA health care system to accommodate these veterans. This experience leads us to believe that further steps can now be taken toward the goal of relaxing income restrictions on enrollment to allow veterans seeking medical assistance to be welcomed by the VA health care system.
More than eight years have passed since the Secretary of Veterans Affairs announced on January 17, 2003 that the VA would temporarily suspend enrolling Priority Group 8 veterans. Under the existing restrictions, a veteran making as little as $35,577 or a family of five making a household income of $50,025 can be denied health benefits. During the first half of this year alone, 46,704 veterans applied for enrollment, but were denied due to the means test threshold. It is unclear exactly how many middle-income veterans lie outside of the defined thresholds, but a 2008 estimate by the VA puts the figure around 1.5 million. We would like the VA to conduct another survey of veterans without access to health care and report back to us on how you plan to end the temporary suspension.
The VA should have the capacity and resources to serve every veteran – especially since those currently excluded are, thankfully, often in good health and may be able to afford copayments for care. Mr. Secretary, we urge you to harness the resources at your disposal to meet the needs of all veterans-including those hard-working and forgotten Priority Group 8 veterans. Please let us know how we may help you meet our obligations to the men and women who have served our nation.
Jon Tester et al