Washington, D.C. – As America honors our fallen heroes who have died defending our country this Memorial Day, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is introducing legislation to improve access to health care and other benefits for New York veterans by requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to proactively inform all new veterans of the benefits they are eligible for, and provide all necessary application materials.
“Our veterans have answered a call higher than any other, and sacrifice so much fighting for our country,” Senator Gillibrand said. “But too many of our veterans are shortchanged by our bureaucratic benefits system. They deserve better. No veteran should ever fall through the cracks. My legislation would ensure the VA and Defense Department work together to proactively align our veterans with the health care and all benefits they have earned.”
Since 9-11, more than 30,000 American troops have been wounded serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wounded veterans are entitled to and deserve our full assistance as they recover. While the VA offers a range of care services for these returning troops, navigating the complex benefits system while making the difficult transition from troop to civilian life keeps many new veterans from receiving the care and benefits that they have earned and qualify for.
Additionally, all veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are eligible for five years of free health care through the VA after they exit the military, but often don’t take advantage of this benefit. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would ensure that every exiting service member is automatically enrolled in the free health care they’ve earned and receive a VA identification card to access this benefit, ensuring that all veterans have ready access to health care services upon their return.
According to data from the VA, more than 720,000 out of the approximately 1 million veterans in New York State are not receiving health care benefits through the VA.
Click here for county by county data.
- Of the 215,641 veterans in New York City, 166,675 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 113,351 veterans in Western New York, 81,468 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 86,069 veterans in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, 63,332 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 84,121 veterans in Central New York, 60,581 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 46,141 veterans in the Southern Tier, 32,970 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 86,732 veterans in the Capital Region, 67,448 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 44,303 veterans in North Country, 32,691 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 121,073 veterans in the Hudson Valley, 94,377 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
- Of the 152,985 veterans on Long Island, 120,622 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
To ensure that returning troops have access to the care they have earned, Senator Gillibrand’s legislation, the Providing Real Outreach to Veterans (PRO-VETS) Act, would place the responsibility of informing veterans of the benefits they are eligible for in the hands of the VA, and require the VA to send all appropriate application materials to veterans. This would prevent more veterans from falling through the cracks.
Specifically, Senator Gillibrand’s bill would:
- Require the VA and Department of Defense work together to allow for an effective and seamless transfer of information between their offices. President Obama has begun the process of simplifying this process by requiring the Department of Defense to develop a universal medical record used by the Defense Department and VA, but more work needs to be done to ensure a seamless information transition. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would ensure that every veteran’s medical and other service information relevant to eligibility for veteran’s benefits is effectively transferred to the VA.
- Using the information from Defense Department, provide each exiting service member an assessment of the benefits they are likely eligible for, and a streamlined application for these benefits. This would ensure that veterans are aware of the benefits they can access, and make it quicker and easier to take advantage of them.
- Automatically enroll exiting service members in VA sponsored health care. All service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently automatically eligible for up to 5 years of free VA health care – regardless of whether they were injured – but many never claim this benefit, or only claim this when they need health care. This would ensure that every veteran is immediately able to take advantage of this important benefit.
Immediately provide exiting service members a VA identification card and information on the nearest VA facilities to make it as easy as possible to quickly access key benefits.