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VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System director: Vets, take advantage of benefits

| Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Carnegie Elementary School sixth-graders Emma Bailey (in gray shirt), Amani Smith (middle) and their classmates cheer and chant 'USA!' as buses carrying 197 World War II and Korean War veterans move along Lydia Street in Carnegie on their way to Cefalo's Banquet & Event Center for lunch Monday, May 22, 2017. The  group was on their way from Beloit, Wis., to Washington, D.C., to tour war memorials. The Illinois-based nonprofit VetsRoll.org provided the trip at no cost to the veterans. (Trib photo)
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Carnegie Elementary School sixth-graders Emma Bailey (in gray shirt), Amani Smith (middle) and their classmates cheer and chant 'USA!' as buses carrying 197 World War II and Korean War veterans move along Lydia Street in Carnegie on their way to Cefalo's Banquet & Event Center for lunch Monday, May 22, 2017. The group was on their way from Beloit, Wis., to Washington, D.C., to tour war memorials. The Illinois-based nonprofit VetsRoll.org provided the trip at no cost to the veterans. (Trib photo)

On Veterans Day, Americans pause to thank the men and women who have served our country in times of war and peace.

From the American Revolution to the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are forever indebted to all who have placed themselves in harm's way to preserve and protect our freedoms and way of life.

Many of us attend parades or other community observances on Veterans Day as a sign of respect. Others reach out to friends, co-workers and neighbors who are veterans to offer personal words of gratitude.

Another way to thank our 20 million living veterans is to remind them to take advantage of the benefits they earned.

For instance, I often hear from veterans who did not need VA health care immediately after they left the service, only to later find themselves in need of it for reasons that can include job loss or reduced income.

That is why it is so important for veterans to enroll in VA health care as soon as they exit the service, regardless of whether they intend to use it at the time of enrollment.

The time period to enroll is especially critical for combat veterans who were discharged on or after Jan. 28, 2003.

They have just five years from their date of discharge or separation from active duty to enroll under enhanced eligibility. Once enrolled under this special eligibility, these veterans will always be enrolled, regardless of income or other factors.

For veterans who wait to enroll after their enhanced eligibility period has passed, their eligibility will be subject to factors such as income and compensable service-connected disability.

Detailed information on enhanced eligibility for recently discharged combat veterans can be found online here .

I also hear from veterans who have been enrolled for decades, but forgot VA health care is available to them because they didn't need it at the time of enrollment. As their health care needs change with age, these veterans find VA services to be invaluable.

Veterans in Southwestern Pennsylvania can call 412-822-2040 to ask if they are already enrolled, or to find out how to enroll.

Composed of seven sites offering care throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System offers integrated health care that includes critical, acute, emergent, specialty, routine and preventive health-care services.

Veterans can visit www.vets.gov to learn more about all of the benefits available to them.

Beyond health care, many veterans are eligible for assistance with home loans, education, employment, housing and even burial in a national cemetery.

This Veterans Day, when you thank veterans for their service, go a step further by encouraging them to explore, use and preserve their benefits.

Your words may be just the encouragement they need to discover and begin using all of the benefits they have so justly earned.

Karin McGraw is director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

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