Veteran medical coverage available in Pearl River County

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 14, 2018

For veterans needing medical care, there are options available in Pearl River County without the need to travel to a distant Veterans Affairs medical site.

According to Highland Community Hospital Executive Secretary Misty Toruno, Highland is an official VA Choice site. These sites are common in rural communities, Toruno said, since veterans often find themselves far away from Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. Toruno said the VA Choice program is similar to an insurance program. Hospital administrators saw that there was a program available that would allow the hospital to provide coverage to more people, so they contacted the Department of Veterans Affairs and applied.

“We wanted to make sure we could provide for these people,” Toruno said.

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According to information from the Department of Veterans Affairs website, veterans must meet a variety of conditions to be eligible for a VA Choice program. For instance, they must live 40 miles away from the nearest VA medical site, they can’t get an appointment at a VA site within 30 days and they find it physically difficult to travel to a VA site, among other things.

“The Veterans Choice Program is one of several programs through which a veteran can receive care from a community provider, paid for by the VA. For example, if a veteran needs an appointment for a specific type of care, and VA cannot provide the care in a timely manner or the nearest VA medical facility is too far away or too difficult to get to, then a veteran may be eligible for care through the Veterans Choice Program,” the website states.

Pearl River County VA officer Cindy Smith said VA health services are income-based, and to be eligible for the Choice program, veterans must have VA coverage and must be pre-approved to receive a Choice card. She said this card is different from a typical insurance card in that veterans cannot go to any doctor any time. Instead, they must find a provider who is contracted with the VA to provide Choice care. Once they are authorized, they will be given a certain number of medical visits each year. If they must exceed that number, their provider must call the VA center and explain the situation and request additional visits.

Solace Hospice will soon be holding a workshop to discuss organizations in the area that provide care to veterans and their families. Head of Marketing Melinda Carli said contact information, program qualifications and several other topics will be discussed during the workshop. The workshop will be held in collaboration with Smith. Carli said the point of this workshop is to raise awareness for medical care options veterans might not realize are available. She said older veterans and those on hospice often have a great deal of programs open to them, but they don’t know what their options are.

The workshop will be held Aug. 3 at 9 a.m. at Poplarville’s National Guard Armory. For more information, Carli can be contacted at 601-270-7098. Smith can be contacted at 601-403-2558 for information or to make an appointment.

According to an article by the US Census Bureau, with the help of programs such as these, the number of veterans without medical coverage has slowly been on the decline. In 2016, among veterans who were of working age, only 5.5 percent were uninsured, the article states.

“About one-third of working-age veterans used or were enrolled in the VA health care system in 2016,” the article states.