All World War II veterans are now eligible for no-cost health care, medical services and nursing home care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency announced Friday in advance of Veterans Day.
These veterans, who number fewer than 120,000, according to data published Thursday by the Pew Research Center, will no longer have to make copayments or pay enrollment fees or monthly premiums, regardless of their disability ratings or priority group in the VA health system.
VA officials announced several new initiatives to improve health care and expanded several programs to draw in more veterans after a record-breaking year of providing health care and benefits to veterans -- largely the result of the PACT Act, which added hundreds of thousands of new beneficiaries to VA rolls.
The VA was required by the 2022 Cleland-Dole Act to provide the no-cost care to those who served between Dec. 7, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946.
"These members of the Greatest Generation answered the call to serve when our nation -- and the world -- needed them most. Now, it's our job to serve them in every way that we can," VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement Friday.
The department plans to reach out by phone and mail to encourage WWII veterans who aren't currently enrolled in VA care to apply, officials said. According to the VA, those veterans will be able to keep any private providers, Medicare and most other insurance they have if they enroll.
Officials described VA care as "the best, most-affordable health care in America for veterans," adding that those who get their care from the department "have better health outcomes than non-enrolled veterans," based on reviews of studies published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
With those benefits in mind, the department launched a new national advertising campaign Friday that is designed to bring more veterans into its fold. The $5 million campaign, "What You Earned," will focus on the cost comparisons of VA care, education benefits, home loans and burial benefits, according to officials.
The campaign, which will go out on television, print, radio, social media, billboards and public transit advertisements, is the next step in what the department called its "aggressive efforts” to bring in new veterans.
A similar awareness campaign launched last year on the PACT Act resulted in veterans seeking appointments and applying for benefits at record numbers. In fiscal 2023, the number of appointments rose by 2.6%, while claims applications were up 39% from 2022, with 2.4 million filed.
"All too often, veterans don't know about the full scope of the health care and benefits they've earned through their service to our nation," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement Friday. "The goal of this campaign is to change that. We want to show veterans and their families -- in the most tangible terms possible -- how VA can help them afford to stay healthy, go to school, get a job, buy a home, and more."
For Veterans Day, McDonough was scheduled to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.
In other announcements, the VA expanded a program that reimburses families who lived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from 1952 to 1987 for health care expenses, to include Parkinson's disease.
During a press call with reporters Thursday, Elnahal described the absence of Parkinson's from a list of diseases that are covered by the Camp Lejeune Family Member Program as a gap that needed to be covered. Parkinson's is an illness that is presumed by the VA to be linked to the water contamination at the Marine Corps base for veterans' health services and disability compensation.
The risk of Parkinson's is 70% higher for veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune from Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987, when the water supply was contaminated with industrial solvents, dry cleaning fluid and other toxic chemicals -- the result of years of improper dumping and waste management.
"Veterans and their families deserve no-cost health care for the conditions they developed due to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune," Elnahal said in a statement.
Finally, the VA also announced a pilot medical residency program to expand health care services in rural areas, as well as reservations and other underserved areas.
Under the program, the VA will fund the salaries and benefits of at least 100 physicians who will rotate to non-VA medical facilities run by tribal organizations, the Indian Health Service, the Defense Department and other health centers.
The VA will work with academic institutions to begin offering the residencies in 2025.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on X @patriciakime.