Connecting veterans to the health care they need in Washington

Bill Allman, founder of the Washington State Veterans Benefit Enhancement Program (VBEP), works to find veterans who have fallen through the cracks in the health care system.

In 2002, Allman was working as a financial supervisor for Washington State Department of Social and Health Services when he became aware of a problem in veterans’ healthcare coverage. A wife of a veteran came to him with a bill for almost $75,000 for Medicaid repayment for her husband’s long term care. But the man and his wife were both eligible for TRICARE through the Department of Veterans Affairs, which covered all of their medical costs. Allman suspected that there were more veterans who were not receiving their eligible benefits from the VA.

Allman got the Washington State Health Care Authority and the VA to team up to identify the veterans who had fallen through the cracks. The VBEP uses the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services national database, the Public Assistance Reporting Information System or PARIS, to identify veterans who are enrolled in Medicaid.

Many veterans are simply unaware that they qualify for VA coverage. “Most people hear ‘veteran’ and think deployment or war,” Allman said. “But in reality, you only need to have two years of honorable service to receive VA benefits.”

Even when veterans receive VA benefits, it can be difficult to navigate the complexities. Benefits and eligibility can change quickly, such as if veterans need third party care or their service related disability worsens. If veterans do not send in their yearly review, they can lose their VA benefits. The VBEP also helps identify these gaps and changes in VA coverage.

The program has helped over 15,000 veterans and their families. It also saved the state more than $68 million in Medicaid costs according to an HCA report.

The VEBPwas awarded the VA’s Abraham Lincoln Pillar of Excellence Award in 2014.

The program has gained national attention and 36 states are in process of implementing the same program. California, Montana, and Colorado have already implemented the program.

“All states are capable of doing this, they all have access to PARIS,” Allman explained. “They just have to request access.”

With Washington’s Medicaid enrollment rate up 55 percent since 2013 due to the Medicaid expansion under the ACA, moving veterans from state to federal benefits can help reduce state spending while keeping veterans covered. Washington has more than 600,000 veterans but only 23 percent are currently receiving their federal benefits.

WDVA Director Alfie Alvarado-Ramos (left) and VBEP Founder Bill Allman (right) in the White House Briefing Room. Photo courtesy of Bill Allman.

In February 2014, Allman was invited to the White House to discuss bringing the VBEP nationwide, now he’s uncertain of it’s future.

With the future of healthcare so heavily debated, Allman hopes that the Trump administration will push for the VBEP to go national, continuing where the Obama administration left off. But he is also worried the VBEP will be overlooked in the transition. For Allman, a Vietnam veteran, the program isn’t all about the savings, but instead making sure veterans are taken care off.

“I guess you have to see the faces of the veterans when they finally get their benefits, it’s huge for us,” Allman said.