Within a year after graduating from high school, I realized I was not ready for college. I also realized I did not want to “pound the ground” in Vietnam, so I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. I recall being briefed before discharge and they said I would have VA benefits for the rest of my life. Well I suppose I was a typical “fresh” veteran and I didn’t see any concern about VA benefits. I just assumed that VA benefits meant I could see a VA doctor if I ever needed one, but I was young and healthy so who cares.

So, fast forward several decades, I was talking with a good friend and he said he got his medications cheaper through the VA. Growing older and time taking its toll, I too was on medications. So I “applied” for VA medications but was rebuked because I made too much money. WHAT?

Well it seems along the way that the rules changed for veterans and their eligibility for VA health care. Then an acquaintance told me that the “means test” no longer applied. So once again I requested medications through the VA. Once again I was denied because I made too much money.

So I began to do a little investigating and discovered each county had a veteran service officer. I visited the Whitley County VSO, Gene Rohrer, to learn more about veterans’ benefits and why some people qualify and others don’t. (It didn’t seem far since I was told that I would have VA benefits for the rest of my life and was never informed of the rules change). As it turns out, if a veteran was already receiving VA care before the change in 2003 then that veteran would be “grandfathered in” and continue to receive benefits.

I also learned that VA was more complex and diverse. There are three VA services. VA Health Care, VA Compensation and Pension, and VA Cemetery and Burial. Generally the three are “stove piped,” so being associated with one of them does not mean that the other is aware of a veteran. A veteran could be receiving health care but not aware that he/she could qualify for compensation or pension.

I also found out that my acquaintance served in Vietnam, had boots on the ground, so he did not have to pass the means test and that he was in Group 6 in the VA Health Care System. There are eight groups and each group receives differing degrees of VA health care. And if a veteran has a service-connected disability that veteran can be placed in a different group.

As noted earlier, each county has a VSO and I encourage all veterans to call or visit the VSO to understand the VA system and determine if they qualify for VA benefits. A veteran is not required to work through their county VSO and can speak with any VSO.