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Spotlighting U.S. vets’ medical care repayment woes

A pro-veterans nonprofit group has reportedly paid more than $100 million in medical bills owed by vets over the past handful of years.

That is a lot, obviously, and certainly sounds like it might have reasonably wiped out all the outstanding health care-linked exactions.

It doesn’t even come remotely close to doing so.

In fact, the publication Consumer Report states that “collectively veterans had almost a billion dollars in medical debt in 2019.”

How is that possible? Aren’t individuals who serve their country via military service eligible to receive health care essentially free from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs?

Readers anticipating an unqualified “yes” answer to that question will certainly be surprised. The above-cited CR article stresses that a veteran receiving care at a VA facility can in fact be saddled with prohibitively high costs in some instances. Personal debt can attach where a health issue “isn’t related to military service or hasn’t resulted in [a treated vet] being more than 50 percent disabled.”

And there’s this too: A vet seeking care for services not available at a VA hospital or clinic who is referred elsewhere can end up becoming personally liable for exceedingly high bills. That can especially be the case for referrals to civilian facilities and for care deemed to require emergency services.

Two bills in the U.S. Senate – one passed and the other currently being considered – spotlight the inadequacies of care for vets and call for changes. The former legislation provides for enhanced mental health care treatment options for vets in financial hardship. The other seeks to bar the VA from debt collection efforts during the present COVID-19 pandemic.

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