Officials: DoD, VA health care safe

Numerous sources have indicated and continue to indicate that VA and DoD health care will not be affected by the health-care reform bill that is nearing close to becoming law.

Currently, veterans who receive health care can be split into three groups: those who use VA services; those who are eligible for some VA care, but also have private coverage; and those who are uninsured and not eligible to receive all necessary care from VA. Sources have promised the Legion that all three groups won't be adversely affected by health-care reform.

Chiefly, the Legion has been given verbal and written assurances that veterans and dependents who use VA or DoD health programs would see no changes in their care. VA care and TRICARE programs meet the individual responsibility requirements of the bill and therefore exempt servicemembers, military retirees and their dependents from any penalty.

Veterans who fall into the second group - those who are eligible for some VA health care but also have private coverage - are like all Americans in that they can keep their current employer-based plans. But, starting in 2014, these individuals may have the option to buy a plan through state-run insurance exchanges. Veterans who currently pay for individual insurance could keep their plans or buy into a plan offered in the exchange. American veterans, like all Americans, might be eligible for subsidized coverage in the exchange based on their income level.

The third group - uninsured veterans - would be eligible for Medicaid, which will be expanded to include all Americans who fall under the government-defined poverty level. Those with an income higher than the poverty level but without access to employer-provided coverage can obtain a health plan through one of the state-operated exchanges.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Robert Gates both gave assurances that VA and military health services wouldn't be affected by health-care reform.

"Fears that veterans' health care and TRICARE will be undermined by the health reform legislation are unfounded," Shinseki said on Sunday. "I am confident that the legislation being voted on (Sunday) will provide the protections afforded our nation's veterans and the health care they have earned through their service."

"As Secretary of Defense, the health and well-being of America's men and women in uniform is my highest priority," Gates said Sunday. "Our troops and their families can be reassured that the health-care reform legislation being passed by the Congress will not negatively impact the TRICARE medical insurance program, as it already meets the bill's quality and minimum benefit standards."

Additionally, all veterans who receive care at VA facilities for service-connected disabilities will see no change in those services, sources say. Health insurance reform will not take away existing coverage or limit eligibility under any VA or DoD program.