Whether you’re a senior veteran or a non-active military member, transitioning back to everyday life after serving can be difficult. You have to get acclimated to the new world around you including finding a new home, job, and even obtaining new health insurance.
For some, making these transitions is seamless. However, not everyone has it easy. In regards to establishing medical care, where some veterans may struggle the most is understanding what services their VA medical insurance will cover (for example emergency expenses and prescriptions) and what must be paid out of pocket.
Because the specifics of VA medical insurance can be confusing, it may lead to veterans racking up more medical expenses than they can afford. Unfortunately, medical debt is a serious issue that many veterans face. In fact, research shows that 1.3 million uninsured U.S. veterans have out-of-pocket medical expenses exceeding their disposable incomes.
Medical debt tends to be momentous. Luckily there are multiple financial assistance programs and resources for veterans who need help paying off their medical debts.
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VA Payment Plans and Financial Assistance
The VA is a resource for veterans and their health needs. Though the VA’s intent is to help pay for many medical necessities, there are situations in which medical debt may accumulate. For that reason, there are government programs associated with the VA, as well as each military branch, to help provide financial assistance for veterans in need.
- VA repayment plan: A VA repayment plan requires VA Form 1100 and establishes a VA copay repayment plan based on your debt and ability to pay. However, this repayment plan cannot go beyond three years.
- VA waiver of existing debt: The VA waiver of existing debt requires VA Form 5655 and is used to request a waiver of part or all of your debt. Your explanation on the form should include your reasoning for being unable to pay your debt.
- Financial aid based on each military branch: The Air Force Aid Society, Army Emergency Relief, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society are all programs designed to help vets and soldiers with emergency financial relief. These programs help with medical bills and, in some cases, medical debt.
- VA hardship determination: The VA hardship determination requires VA Form 10-10HS and is used to evaluate whether a copayment exemption based on changes in your financial situation is warranted.
Inquiring about a repayment plan is a great option for those who aren’t able to pay the balance in one lump sum but still want to attempt to pay off their debts. However, if you aren’t able to set up a repayment plan, then you may want to consider looking into nonprofit organizations that help individuals in financial need.
Nonprofit Organizations that Provide Aid to Veterans
In addition to government programs designed to help military veterans and their families, there are also nonprofits that help tackle the debt that many veterans have as a result of accumulated and overwhelming medical expenses. These programs are created to pick up where government programs leave off and provide more aid to an even larger population of veterans in need.
- VFW Unmet Needs program: The VFW Unmet Needs program is there to help veterans and their families in case of financial hardship for a variety of reasons including medical bills and debt. They offer a grant of up to $5,000.
- American Red Cross emergency financial assistance for military families: The Red Cross works with a variety of aid societies to help veterans and active military members with financial hardship. They recommend you contact them for more information.
- Rebuild Hope: Rebuild Hope is a nonprofit program designed to aid military vets and active service members who are in financial peril. They offer goods, services, and assistance to those in debt for medical reasons.
- USA Cares: A foundation for post-9/11 military members and their families, USA Cares offers financial support for military families by paying portions of medical bills.
- The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes: The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes is a program for veterans wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Individuals who qualify may be eligible for financial assistance as a result of medical debt associated with their injuries.
- Operation Family Fund: Operation Family Fund is for veterans who were severely wounded as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Veterans who are eligible may receive grants to help with medical bills and debt.
- Operation First Response: Operation First Response is designed to help military vets and their families with living expenses that may be hard to pay as a result of medical debt, as well as assistance with transportation to and from medical facilities.
These organizations were founded in hopes of helping individuals in need. Never be ashamed if you have to reach out to one of these organizations for financial assistance. They’re there to help and will do the most they can to help you get out of financial hardship due to medical debt.
Grants are extremely helpful for anyone facing financial hardship because they do not have to be paid back. Whereas loans, while still helpful, must be paid back — oftentimes with interest.
Let’s take a look at a few grants, loans, and other programs that veterans should consider when seeking assistance to help pay off or down their medical debts.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): It’s one thing to worry about your own medical expenses, but it’s another to worry about yours and your childs. CHIP is a government program that “provides health coverage to eligible children, through both Medicaid and separate CHIP programs.”
- Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA): EMTALA helps to ensure that individuals will have public access to emergency services despite their ability to pay.
- Medicaid for adults: Medicaid is an assistance program that provides health care coverage for eligible adults.
There are specific requirements for each assistance program. Be sure to verify whether you’re qualified before applying.
Ways to Prevent Medical Debt in the Future
It’s no secret that having an accumulation of medical debt is a situation that you don’t wish to repeat in the future. This is why it’s important to educate yourself on ways to prevent falling into financial distress later down the road. Let’s take a look at ways to help ensure you don’t rack up medical debt:
- Get help with prescription drugs. This may include contacting pharmaceutical companies to inquire about assistance programs, using generic brands, and finding local health services that provide assistance for individuals who need help paying for prescriptions;
- Create a budget that you can stick to;
- Apply for a health savings account;
- If it’s an emergency, pull money from your savings account/emergency fund or make a withdrawal from your retirement fund to help pay bills before they go into collections.
- Ask about a payment plan as soon as you get your bill — the sooner, the better;
- Call the hospital and ask for a copy of an itemized bill. This way you can double check to make sure you aren’t being charged/overcharged for services you did not receive.
Being overwhelmed with medical bills and debt can have a lasting effect on many veterans. Credit, loan qualification, and retirement accounts suffer while medical debt goes unpaid or goes to collections.
Thankfully, there are some government programs and nonprofits, like the ones mentioned above, who are dedicated to helping veterans struggling with medical expenses meet their needs.
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