VA Secretary David Shulkin made a surprise announcement before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that should relieve some financial stress for more than 600,000 veterans.

VA Secretary David Shulkin made a surprise announcement before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that should relieve some financial stress for more than 600,000 veterans. Shulkin said he was dropping VA’s appeal of the Staab case decided last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Only last week he said Staab had been wrongly decided, exposing VA to at least $2 billion in veteran claims for outside emergency care, money VA needed to provide promised services. Pulling the appeal means VA intends to begin covering private sector emergency care for any VA-enrolled veteran, even if they have alternative health insurance that pays part of their emergency care costs.

As many as 370,000 veterans with pending claims could benefit too, explained Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who thanked Shulkin for changing his mind. Shulkin said Rounds and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) were right to sharply criticize the decision to appeal. In Staab the appeals court ruled that VA intentionally failed to implement a 2010 law expanding outside emergency care coverage. It did so by continuing to deny reimbursement for non-VA emergent care if a veteran had any sort of alternative health insurance.

Veterans with no health insurance routinely are reimbursed the full cost of outside emergency care if VA care isn’t available. Shulkin told Rounds that VA has completed draft regulations to implement the new emergency care benefit, sending them to the Office of Management and Budget. Draft regulations must clear OMB and be published in the Federal Register for comment before VA can begin reimbursements. That process could take nine months or more, Shulkin advised the committee last week. In other words, if you have reimbursement claims at the VA in Big Spring that have been denied in the passed, they may be approved sometime in the next year.

For more information, contact Sandra at the Veterans Service Office at 602 Strong Ave. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., or call 325-365-3612.