VA to Offer Health Care to Previously Ineligible Veterans

WASHINGTON The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today plans to re-open enrollment in its health care system by July 2009 to about 265,000 veterans whose incomes exceed current limits. 

“We’re pleased to be able to offer what has been called ‘the best care anywhere’ to many more new veterans,” said Dr. James B. Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “We’ll be able to provide these newly enrolled veterans with the kind of timely, high quality health care veterans who already use our system are accustomed to.”

The change affects veterans whose incomes exceed the current VA means test and geographic means test income thresholds by 10 percent or less. Congress provided funds in VA’s fiscal year 2009 budget to support the new enrollment. 

In 1996, Congress established a priority-based enrollment system for VA and a uniform package of medical benefits for all enrollees. The legislation opened enrollment in VA’s health care system to all eligible veterans and required that each year the Secretary of Veterans Affairs assess veterans’ demand for services and determine if the necessary resources are available to provide timely, quality care to all enrollees. 

Enrollment for the lowest priority of the eight groups—veterans who are not being compensated for a military-related disability and who have incomes above a set threshold—was suspended on January 18, 2003, although veterans in that priority group who were already enrolled for care were permitted to remain enrolled.

VA originally suspended enrollment for Priority 8 veterans because it was unable to provide all enrolled veterans with timely access to its health care due to a tremendous growth in the number of veterans then seeking enrollment. VA now plans to reopen enrollment for a portion of these veterans without compromising the Department’s ability to provide high quality health care services to all enrolled veterans who are eligible for care. 

VA’s computer systems are being modified to accommodate the changes, and the Department is preparing communication and education materials to ensure that Congress, veterans service organizations, and the public are aware of the coming changes. 

“The rule will take effect by June 30, 2009, if the regulatory process proceeds smoothly,” Peake said. “We look forward to welcoming these newly eligible veterans into the VA system. VA will continue to monitor wait times to ensure the quality of care is not adversely affected.”