HANSON — Instead of the usual program of paeans to patriotism, speakers at the annual Veterans Day Breakfast at the Hanson Multiservice Senior Center Thursday, Nov.10, focused on the future of veterans’ health. The annual program is hosted by the Friends of the Hanson Senior Center.
Home health care programs through the Brockton VA Hospital under its Community Care Program, were discused as were the Camp LeJeune Justice Act and the newly signed PACT Act.
“I thought I’d do something a little different than we have in the past,” White said about the program he planned for the event. “There have been many recent law changes and additional services that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides that are fairly new, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to inform you of [them].”
After celebrating the Nov. 10 birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, Veterans Agent Timothy White also wished a belated birthday (the U.S. Navy — founded on Oct. 18 — as well as holding a moment of silence in honor of senior volunteer and Navy Veteran Ernest Jutras, who died Oct. 17.
Jutras’ widow and daughter surprised his gathered friends among the town’s veteran community by baking patriotically decorated cupcakes and staying to attend the program, Senior Center Director Mary Collins said.
“We’re so glad that they could be with us this morning,” Collins said.
White also spoke of a Malden Army corporal, who had been taken prisoner of war around Thanksgiving in 1950, during the Korean war, and killed in February 1951. His remains had only recently been returned to his family for reburial.
He then read the Veterans Day Proclamation issued by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Brockton VA Medical Center RN Karen McCabe spoke briefly about non-institutional care, a program she coordinates at the hospital, including home care benefits, under the VA Community Care Program.
“Basically what we do is cover services that might otherwise not get covered or things like skilled or non-skilled services,” McCabe said. Skilled services include physical therapy needed following hip or knee replacement or daily wound care, and non-skilled are more along the lines of a non-health aide to assist with tasks that mobility impairments make difficult such as bathing, dressing or those involving finer motor skills such as preparing meals.
Her office processes paperwork and answers questions about co-pays, or services the VA can provide that a private insurance plan may not cover and helps contract with home health aides for non-medical assistance to patients.
“Our assessment would determine how many hours you would need per week,” she said. “That’s long-term, forever, if needed.”
Caregiver support, usually linked to a percentage of how service-related the need in, can also provide respite for a veteran’s primary caregiver.
“Respite is very important,” McCabe said. “Caregiver burnout is real and you want to see that before it gets too bad.”
Home-based primary care for “complex” cases with a service-connected need, has a waiting list at the moment, she said. Veteran do not have to change primary care physicians to take part in VA programs, and White said he could help veterans or their family members sign up for care programs.
White provided a brief overview of the Camp LeJeune Justice Act and the PACT Act.
“It adds diseases and medical complications as presumptive diseases to Agent Orange exposure,” he said. “They also added geographical locations that were not included in the past.”
Agent Orange coverage used to be limited to personnel with boots on the ground in Vietnam and had a presumptive disease linked to direct exposure to the dioxin used as a defoliant to make enemy troops more visible in jungle terrain. The list of illnesses was later expanded, and included blue water sailors in harbor waters within the path of trade winds carrying the dioxin fumes. The PACT Act expands the list of illnesses and locations further, with Guam and Enewetak — for which the act authorized a study of radiation effects for nuclear cleanup personnel where nuclear testing took place in the 1950s — among them as well as to personnel exposed to smoke and pollutants from burn pits in the Middle East.
He said he can help veterans previously denied with coverage based on the new legislation. Widows of veterans who died of presumptive diseases might be able to receive death benefits.
“My intension here is to get the word out so I can help figure out the case,” White said. “Every case is different.”
Inside the PACT Act is the Camp LeJeune Justice Act, which has been the subject of class-action lawsuits.
“Just about every other day somebody’s in my office asking about it,” White said of law firm TV commercials about the class-action lawsuit over contaminated drinking water at the Marine Corps’ Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, N.C. “Every one of you has seen one of these commercials.”
He cautioned that, before making that 1-800 phone call, veterans should know that the compensation for any settlement could be used to compensate any funds paid by the VA for past care a veteran may have received, minus a reference fee to the lawfirm advertising.
“This is going to take years if you file,” he added.
The program was followed by a performance of service anthems and other patriotic songs by the Senior Center’s chorus, The Swinging Singers.