Vets living overseas left to deal with pandemic issues without VA help
When Navy veteran Jesse Rivera moved to Mexico two years ago, he was convinced he could receive the same or better medical care doctors from Puerto Vallarta that he had back in the United States.
He was right, at least until the coronavirus pandemic.
Rivera, who suffers from back pain and sleep apnea linked to injuries from his military career, said under the Veterans Affairs Overseas Medical Program his service-related ailments are fully covered. He has had chiropractic visits and other medical appointments regularly reimbursed by departmental officials, with few complaints about the process.
But medical issues unrelated to the military are not covered by the program, even though they can pose serious threats to the health of veterans.
In the case of coronavirusThis means that veterans living outside of the United States cannot get any medical coverage for testing or treatment, although most veterans in the United States can get this assistance.
“If I get Covid I’m going to end up on a ventilator, because of my health issues,” said Rivera, 33. “But even to take a Covid test, VA tells me I should get on a plane and come back to the US for them to pay for. And there’s no way in the world I’m going back in a plane right now.
Rivera and other advocates have been pushing for months for VA to change its rules and extend pandemic medical assistance to veterans overseas for months, but to no avail so far.
“We have a large contingent of [American] veterans here in Puerto Vallarta, and a lot of them are older veterans – a high-risk group for that, ”Rivera said. “They are perhaps the ones who need the help the most.
About 55,500 veterans are currently enrolled in the foreign medical program, but VA officials said only about 4,500 were active users of the program in fiscal year 2020.
Departmental press secretary Christina Noel said under current law “VA is prohibited from covering COVID-19 testing or treatment abroad for veterans without service-related disabilities. GO. She said the onus to change this lies with Congress.
But earlier this year, lawmakers said VA could do more to help these veterans through emergency response authorities, including using some of the $ 2.1 billion in funding to combat the pandemic provided by Congress last spring.
“The VA must be prepared to respond to veterans overseas who need treatment for COVID-19, regardless of their connection to the service,” a group of senators wrote in a letter to the VA secretary , Robert Wilkie, last April.
This effort was led by Democratic Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who received a response a month later from VA leadership again stating that “VA is only allowed to reimburse veterans abroad for. COVID-19 testing and treatment only if it is reasonably found to worsen service-connected condition.
Lawmakers in recent months have been unable to reach consensus on a new pandemic support bill that could include such a change. Meanwhile, VA provides general medical information to new entrants to the overseas medical program, but has made no new efforts to educate participants about their options regarding coronavirus issues.
In a twist, Rivera’s finances could get coverage for the same coronavirus issues through the Veterans Affairs Department’s Civilian Health and Medicine Program (CHAMPVA), which covers spouses and dependents – regardless or their place of residence – for these conditions.
Rivera said he reached out to almost everyone he could think of for help on the matter: VA officials, the local US embassy, members of Congress. So far, it has received some comments from lawmakers, but any legislative solution is unlikely until the new session of Congress begins next year.
He thinks VA executives could probably find a partial solution to the problem on their own, but “we’re obviously not very high on the secretary’s priority list.”
So far, he’s found a few local doctors who can give him a coronavirus test if needed (at $ 250 a test, well above what other veterans could pay in most US cities) and took extra care to try to avoid any chance of contracting the disease. He also created a Facebook group for veterans living in the region to share their struggles and find alternatives for their health care needs.
“We have been completely left behind in this pandemic,” he said of the Puerto Vallarta veterans community. “And lives are at stake now. “