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Letter: Veterans should spread the word

To the Editor:

Attention all Veterans. It appears that we may be in danger of losing a very important federal benefit, one that will impact a large number of veterans in a very negative way. A large number of Vietnam Veterans are likely to lose their eligibility for VA health care, and this is a call to arms to prevent that from happening. We need your help.

Vietnam veterans as a population have been "guaranteed" enrollment to VA health care for some time now based on their presumed exposure to Agent Orange. The VA healthcare system has eight different priority levels of veteran populations, with all but Priority Group 8 currently eligible for enrollment. At the present time, Vietnam veterans are automatically considered Priority Group 6 veterans, and can be enrolled into the system regardless of their disability status or financial condition. This is based on authority given the VA which, unfortunately, expired in December 2002. While VA has seen fit to continue the enrollments regardless of the expiration, there are administrative efforts within the VA to discontinue treatment under this authority, and that looks likely to happen in the near future. The only way this can be prevented is to provide VA with new legal authority.

We need to do two things.

First, we need to get the word out to all Vietnam veterans that this is happening, and that if they are not yet enrolled in VA health care, they need to be, and quick. The window of opportunity is closing, and we need to get as many enrolled as possible before it shuts. There will be no advance warning by VA. Based on past practices, veterans already within the VA health care system will be "grandfathered" and not dropped. Vietnam veterans not yet enrolled in the VA medical system should contact their County Veterans Service Office immediately for assistance, or go to the nearest VA medical facility with DD-214 in hand for on-site enrollment.

Secondly, we need all veterans, not just Vietnam veterans, to contact their political representatives to ask their assistance in resolving this issue. It can only be corrected politically, and if enough veterans get involved, that will happen. Please contact your local Veterans Service Office for more details at 715-386-4759.

Merlin Blaisdell

St. Croix County

Veteran's Service Office