VA chief: Older vets can get local services, avoid trips

Kennedy

Otsego County’s older veterans have been taking advantage of the Mission Act, which allows them to seek local medical services nearby if they live a long distance from Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

At the county’s Board of Representatives meeting Wednesday, Aug. 5, Vice Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Berlin, told the board the county had saved money this summer from a lower number of van or bus runs to Albany Stratton Medical Center.

Acting Director of Veterans Affairs Sid Loeffler told The Daily Star during a phone conversation Thursday, Aug. 6, that the service has been helping his older clients, especially Vietnam-era veterans, get health services closer to home during the coronavirus pandemic. Originally approved in 2018 and refined this year, the act allows older veterans who live more than 40 miles away from a federal VA hospital to seek local care, he said.

“I just turned 65, so I am a Vietnam-era veteran and if I could get services at Bassett or make a trip 140 miles round trip every time I needed to be seen, I would take Bassett every time,” Loeffler said.

Loeffler said the county did not run any vans to Albany in April, May and June, at the height of the pandemic in New York. A small number of runs were made in July, but the numbers have been so low that the county is seeking a partnership with Schoharie on shared rides, he said.

A van purchase that was approved for this year but paused during the county’s attempts to address budget woes is now probably unneeded, Loeffler said.

In February, the Board of Representatives approved the department’s purchase of VetraSpec, a veteran claims management software to help with processing claims. The software, Vetpro, cost $1,000 to $1,200 with an annual cost of $400 to $500 for maintenance and upkeep.

Loeffler said Thursday the state will provide its software and website to county veterans agencies at no cost.

“I am trying to save the county money,” he said. “If we can’t purchase a van and if we can get the software for free, then that is going to help us with the budget.”

Loeffler said the software will make it much easier for him to file claims for the county’s veterans.

“For me to be sending claims in, in a big manila envelope to New York City is not the best way to do it,” he said.

The county’s VA office at the Meadows Complex is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday by appointment. Appointments can be scheduled at loefflers@otsegocounty.com or 607-547-4224.

Loeffler said he also conducts home visits, if needed.

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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