Today, about half of the 9 million veterans currently enrolled in veterans health care programs are 65 or older. Over the next decade, the number of veterans over 75 in that group is expected to approach 3 million.
“As veterans age, approximately 80 percent will develop the need for some long-term services and support,” Dr. Teresa Boyd, assistant deputy undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, told lawmakers. “The aging of the veteran population has been more rapid and represents a greater proportion of the VA patient population than in other healthcare systems.”
Many of America’s elderly veterans are finding it more difficult to find and sustain housing and health care. The fact is our older veterans often have a much more difficult time because not only are they at times unaware of resources available to them, but also because the United States simply does not allocate enough funding and care toward caring for our elderly service members.
At least 35% of veterans who are older than 55 have a disability that is related to their service, including scars from old wounds received in combat. These challenges become more restrictive as aging vets become older.
“Our societal plan for our aging population isn’t robust,” says Rebekah King, policy associate for the NHC, which completed its own survey of veterans who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and also found vets, overall, to be better off than the larger population.
Meanwhile, as Multifamily Executive reports, the U.S. “doesn’t have nearly enough programs to provide medical care at home, in assisted-living facilities, or in nursing homes for all the people who will soon need some level of care.”
“The majority of older veterans may be stable now, but their needs are going to shift,” King says.
According to Kyffin Grove, senior veterans are over 60% more likely to suffer from heart attacks and coronary heart disease, and are more likely to develop cancer than civilians of a similar demographic. Veterans are eligible for a number of health and wellness services, but face several barriers to taking advantage of those services:
- Lack of required timely health treatments
- Fragmentation in healthcare services, or lack of care coordination
- Mobility issues that impede or prevent getting to and from doctor’s appointments
- Cost of healthcare and treatments
- Geographic inaccessibility of healthcare facilities
In order to obtain VA disability benefits, veterans must first have medical evidence showing they suffer from a disability that took place during their service. In order to show the severity of their disability, the veteran will need VA treatment records, private medical records, and possibly even statements from family and friends, Hill & Pontoon reports.
Obtaining service records for elderly veterans can be especially difficult due to a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in 1973 that destroyed millions of official military service records.
The VA is required to assist veterans in obtaining their service records, but veterans must tell the VA about all potential locations of service records.
One of the most serious issues facing the elderly veteran population is the length of time it takes the VA to complete the disability claim appeal process. Claims can be expedited but the VA requires veterans to be 85 years or older to qualify for priority processing. Some VA offices are so backlogged that they can take up to 3 years for a decision.
Elderly veterans can’t always wait that long.
A 2014 study found that “approximately 3,000 veterans die each year with their disability compensation claims still mired in some stage of the agency’s adjudication process.
As Military Times reports, many veterans are now opting to remain at their own homes or with family caregivers rather than enter an institution for healthcare.
“There’s an urgent need to accelerate the increase and the availability of the services since most veterans prefer to receive care at home,” said Dr. Teresa Boyd, assistant deputy undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration. “And VA can improve quality at a lower cost.”
The bottom line is that no one who’s served in the military — especially those who are elderly — should have to worry about health care. Join us in demanding more from the VA. Our elderly veterans put their lives on the line for our freedom. They deserve it!
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