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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Health Care for Veterans: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Sidath Viranga Panangala
Specialist in Veterans Policy

Erin Bagalman
Analyst in Health Policy

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), operates the nation’s largest integrated health care delivery system, provides care to more than 5.5 million veteran patients, and employs more than 258,000 full-time equivalent employees. 

Eligibility and Enrollment.
Contrary to claims concerning promises of “free health care for life,” not every veteran is automatically entitled to medical care from the VA. Eligibility for VA health care is based primarily on veteran status resulting from military service. Generally, veterans must also meet minimum service requirements; however, exceptions are made for veterans discharged due to service-connected disabilities, members of the Reserve and National Guard (under certain circumstances), and returning combat veterans. The VA categorizes veterans into eight Priority Groups, based on factors such as service-connected disabilities and income (among others). Dependents, caregivers, and survivors of certain veterans are eligible for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), which reimburses non-VA providers or facilities for their medical care. 

Medical Benefits.
All enrolled veterans are offered a standard medical benefits package, which includes (but is not limited to) inpatient and outpatient medical services, pharmaceuticals, durable medical equipment, and prosthetic devices.

For female veterans, the VA provides gender-specific care, such as gynecological care, breast and reproductive oncology, infertility treatment, maternity care, and care for conditions related to military sexual trauma. Under current regulations, the VA is not authorized to provide, or cover the costs of, in vitro fertilization, abortion counseling, abortions, or medication to induce abortions.

Generally the VA provides audiology and eye care services (including preventive services and routine vision testing) for all enrolled veterans, but eyeglasses and hearing aids are provided only to veterans meeting certain criteria. Eligibility for VA dental care is limited and differs significantly from eligibility for medical care. For veterans with service-connected disabilities who meet certain criteria, the VA provides short- and long-term nursing care, respite, and end-oflife care.

Under certain circumstances, the VA may reimburse non-VA providers for health care services rendered to VA-enrolled veterans on a fee-for-service basis. Such Fee Basis Care may include outpatient care, inpatient care, emergency care, medical transportation, and dental services. 

Costs to Veterans and Insurance Collections.
While enrolled veterans do not pay premiums for VA care, some veterans are required to pay copayments for medical services and outpatient medications related to the treatment of nonservice-connected conditions. Copayment amounts vary by Priority Group and type of service (e.g., inpatient versus outpatient). The VA has the authority to bill most health care insurers for nonservice-connected care; any insurer’s payment received by the VA is used to offset ‘‘dollar for dollar’’ a veteran’s VA copayment responsibility. The VA is statutorily prohibited from receiving Medicare payments (with a narrow exception).

Date of Report: September 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: R42747
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