HURON – A rule change that thousands of veterans have waited for since 2010 will mean they will now be paid or reimbursed for medical expenses they incurred because they had to seek emergency care at non-Veterans Administration facilities.
Hundreds of South Dakota veterans will benefit, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said Thursday, although he had no specific number during a conference call with reporters.
However, the new rule only directs the VA to pay claims filed on or after April 8, 2016, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims reversed a Board of Veterans Appeals decision, he said.
Rounds has been butting heads with the VA on the issue for more than a year.
“We thought they were wrong on it,” he said.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last June, incoming VA Secretary David Shulkin assured Rounds that the VA was withdrawing its appeal and would begin writing rules to cover the costs.
“This announcement is a significant move in the right direction,” he said.
A majority of the veterans impacted by the change are elderly, live on a fixed income and have limited resources to pay their medical bills, Rounds said.
In 2010, the Emergency Care Fairness Act directed the VA to cover veterans with private health insurance when that insurance doesn’t cover the full amount of non-VA emergency care.
A number of veterans had brought the issue to Rounds, and he talked about one of them on the Senate floor.
Had the VA been required to reimburse all of the impacted veterans back to 2010, it would have cost $6 billion.
The price tag will be significantly lower than that since the payments only have to be made as of April 2016.
“Once they determine the actual cost, there are a number of us who support an improvement in the budget package to pick up the additional cost,” Rounds said.
Meanwhile, tax reform bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump just before Christmas is already having positive effects, with businesses raising the minimum wage they pay employees and giving out bonuses, members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation said.
Rounds talked about it during his conference call, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., issued press releases on it.
“These businesses realize that this is a great opportunity for them to grow and expand their operations, and in doing that, that benefits their employees and their workers,” Thune said.
Great Western Bank, Wells Fargo and Wal-Mart were among the companies cited by the delegation.
“It is important to reward the hard work and dedication of our employees with this special bonus, the minimum wage hike and the health care enhancements,” Noem said, referring to South Dakota-based Great Western Bank’s announcement.
The average family will see a tax cut of $2,000, and there will be a lower tax rate for every income bracket, Rounds said.
The United States will go from being one of the highest taxed countries to being among the lowest, he said.
More than 100 companies have indicated they will be paying higher wages and bonuses, and the economy has responded, he said.
“We really expect more businesses, in order to compete, are going to have to be looking to do the same thing,” Rounds said.
As a pair of congressional working groups try to find common ground on immigration issues, including DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals known as “dreamers”), Rounds said there must be a plan for a border security system.
While Trump has called for a wall separating the United States and Mexico, Rounds said there are better ways of accomplishing border security through use of technology.
In the meantime, the lives of 800,000 dreamers are hanging in limbo.
“They know no other country,” Rounds said. “This is their country basically. They were brought here through no fault of their own. It was the parents who violated the law.”