Photo courtesy of Hero’s Bridge
Veterans in our Community
Roy M. (name changed for privacy), a Vietnam-era vet being treated for cancer, was struggling with difficult medical treatments while working to support his family; without his income, Roy and his wife faced losing their home. A perceptive nurse navigator from Fauquier Hospital reached out to Hero’s Bridge, an organization dedicated to assisting older veterans. According to the nurse, Roy had contacted the Veterans Administration (V.A.) years earlier, planning to enroll in their health care system, but had become so frustrated at the red tape that he gave up; this experience had left him soured on the V.A.
Dave Benhoff of Hero’s Bridge worked with Roy to see what could be done. Dave knew, as a veteran himself and having talked with hundreds of other vets, that Roy’s story was not uncommon; only 35 percent of those with military service are enrolled in the V.A. Dave convinced Roy to contact the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, whose staff assists in screening and applying for V.A. benefits. Within two months, Roy qualified for a 100 percent disability rating. He was able to stop working, focus on his health, and spend time with his wife.
Veterans over 65 are at greater risk for a host of illnesses as a direct result of their service, including cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Veterans are also more likely to have PTSD, depression, loneliness, and fractured family relationships, all of which can increase in severity with age. For Vietnam-era vets alone there are fourteen medical conditions related to Agent Orange exposure that automatically qualify them for benefits with documentation of at least one day of service in that war. So, with so many service-related health problems affecting veterans, why are only 35 percent of them enrolled in the V.A. and receiving benefits? The answers are varied.
- Those with military service often don’t know what benefits are available. Men and women currently in the military are required to attend a briefing on benefits; this was not the case until recently.
- Veterans as a group are proud, often too proud to ask for help. Or they may believe that the funds that could go towards their care should be used for someone “more deserving.”
- Veterans and/or their family members often delay accessing benefits. Processing times are often long and applications can be kicked back, resulting in even longer waits. Dave Benhoff recommends that vets apply for a disability rating as early as possible, if not for themselves, then for their spouse’s future benefit.
- Some veterans have trouble navigating the V.A. System. Hal Halevy of Veterans Health and Benefits Management, a non-profit agency dedicated to aiding veterans, explains that the V.A. has three administrative departments: the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA). When veterans look for health care or want to file for a disability they are often unaware that within the VHA alone there are three different departments: compensation, health care, and pensions. These departments do not communicate unless the veteran supplies permission with the proper forms.
Roy M. enlisted in the Army and served the USA bravely and honorably; he now is receiving the care and benefits he was promised and deserves. There are approximately 3,800 Fauquier County veterans ages 55 and older, and hundreds are living without accessing available V.A. resources or care. Let’s help the older veterans in our community by talking with them about connecting with DVS or one of the non-profit assistance organizations available to them in our region that can help them navigate the system and help with other life obstacles.
VA Department of Veterans Services office serving Fauquier County
9300 West Courthouse Road, Suite 305, Manassas, Virginia 20110, (703) 479-7437. A representative from DVS is also available every fourth Thursday of each month from 8:30 a.m. to 3 pm. at the Culpeper Career Resource Center, 219 E. Davis St., #100 (basement level); no appointment necessary.
William “Hal” Halevy, Veterans Health and Benefits Management
herosbridge.org, Dave Benhoff, 540-717-9687
Other resources for Special Health Issues
Gulf War/Agent Orange/Project Shad/Mustard Agents and Lewisite/Ionizing Radiation 800-749-8387
Agent Orange exposure: publichealth.va.gov/exposures
PULLER VETERANS CARE CENTER COMING TO VINT HILL
The Puller VCC will be an inpatient residential care facility offering skilled nursing (long-term), a secure Alzheimer’s/dementia wing (long-term) and rehab (short-term). Care will be delivered in a home-like environment with 128 private rooms organized into eight 16-bed “households” with a living room, activity space, and dining room where meals will be served family-style. It will also feature outdoor courtyards and walking trails, a barber/beauty shop, and more. The project is funded by a mix of Federal and State monies; application for admission will be accepted in early 2021 and opening is scheduled for mid-2021.