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VETERANS' CORNER: Altoona to transition to Urgent Care Center

on April 06, 2014 1:45 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Veterans’ Corner, a column to inform armed-forces veterans about services and benefits available to them, appears the first Sunday of each month.

After careful review and consideration, the Altoona VA Medical Center has announced that the four-bed intensive care unit will be closing and the emergency department will transition to an Urgent Care Center open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., effective April 21.

While the level of care provided to veterans in the ICU has been excellent, the decision to transition to an Urgent Care Center was made after a three-year evaluation of demand for services and referral patterns.

This transition is part of the medical center’s shift to a progressive delivery system including enhanced access to primary care, expansion of Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) and specialty care, telehealth, outpatient rehabilitation medicine and home-based primary care. These programs are designed to prevent hospitalizations by monitoring significant changes in the veteran’s health in an outpatient setting or from his or her home.

These changes will improve veteran care and ensure services are provided in the clinical setting best equipped to meet veterans’ individual needs.

“Our goal is to ensure veterans have the appropriate delivery of critical care available to them,” said Altoona VA Medical Center Director William H. Mills. “We have high standards and believe in providing the best health care to veterans. We will continue that high quality standard with our staff and in partnership with local community hospitals to provide critical care services to local veterans.”

Based on the complexity level of the medical center, veterans with complex medical issues, such as heart attack and stroke, have been transferred for a number of years to a community hospital that offers a higher level of care. As a result, Altoona VA already has the necessary processes in place with community hospitals for the transfer and care of patients requiring critical care. Altoona VA’s inpatient Acute Care Unit will remain open.

The James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center has four locations and offers services to more than 87,000 veterans living in a 14-county area of Pennsylvania that includes Indiana, Cambria and Jefferson counties. The medical center is a member of VA Healthcare — VISN 4.

VA Eliminates Veterans’ Annual Financial Reporting Requirement (Means Test)

Description: Beginning this month, most veterans will no longer be required to complete the annual financial assessment known as a Means Test. Instead, VA will receive income information from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration (SSA), and will contact the veterans only if the information received indicates a change in their VA health benefits may be appropriate; however, veterans who are eligible for enrollment only because their income is below an established threshold will be required to complete a means test when applying for VA health care enrollment.

What is changing: VA continues to look for ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its exceptional health care service and reduce the burden on veterans. The elimination of the annual Means Test frees enrolled veterans to enjoy their VA health care benefits without worrying about completing annual income assessment forms. Under the new process, veterans will be required to have one financial assessment on file — their current file if they’re already enrolled, or the assessment they provide when they apply. That assessment will be maintained and monitored by VA and undated only as substantial income changes occur.

VA will receive income information from the IRS and SSA, and will contact the veteran only when the information received indicates a change in VA health benefits may be appropriate. Consistent with VA’s current income verification processes, no changes to the veteran’s health benefits will occur unless the review process confirms the veteran’s income exceeds applicable thresholds.

Veterans applying for enrollment for the first time are still required to submit income information.

There is no change in VA’s long-standing policy to provide no-cost care to indigent veterans, veterans with catastrophic medical conditions, veterans with a disability rating of 50 percent or higher, or for conditions that are officially rated as “service-connected.”

If at any time the veteran’s financial status changes, the veteran may submit an updated financial assessment. VA encourages veterans to continue to report changes in their income information as well as their personal information, such as address, phone numbers, dependents, next of kin, and health insurance using VA Form 1010-EZR, available online or at their local medical center or at the County Veterans Affairs Office.

Information from the VA/Chief Business Office, IB 10-603, March 2014 and VA Healthcare News Release/March 19, 2014.

If you have any questions, call Brenda Stormer at the Veterans Affairs Office, (724) 465-3815.

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