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How the AARP ‘Veterans Health Benefits Navigator’ Would Have Helped Me

Review and obtain benefits without all the confusion and headache

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Enrolling my dad in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care benefits was a big challenge for me but I persisted until he received the critical services and support that he earned. I often advise other family caregivers to check out any VA benefits available for their loved ones or even themselves that they may be eligible for. I try to give them realistic ideas and tips about navigating the VA system — it’s not an easy task. Now AARP offers a free, newly expanded “Veterans and Military Families Health Benefits Navigator to make it easier to obtain those benefits. ​

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​My grandfather C.V. Goyer served in the Army, the Army Air Corps and the Air Force. When I cared for him in the 1980s, he was enrolled in VA health benefits, although there was much less support available for his care back then. ​

​Decades later, I cared for my dad, Robert Goyer, who was a veteran of World War II (he received the Bronze Star for fighting with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy), served in the Army Reserves and returned to active duty during the Korean War. He then left the Army and earned his doctorate, becoming a university professor. He enjoyed a long career in academia, with health care benefits included. He never availed himself of any of his hard-earned veterans benefits until he was in his late 80s and needed hearing aids. ​

​An arduous process ​​

By then, he was living with Alzheimer’s disease and I was his primary caregiver. I embarked on enrolling him in VA health care — an arduous, frustrating process, even though I’ve worked in the field of aging my entire career. ​

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​The terminology was unfamiliar to me. I had no idea what a DD-214 was — his discharge paperwork and the key document needed to enroll him in VA benefits. ​

The VA bureaucracy is complicated. I had a hard time getting my questions answered and getting his application through. It was discouraging and took a great deal of time, but I stuck with it and eventually got him enrolled. ​

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​Enrolling Dad in VA health care was one of the best things I ever accomplished as his caregiver, so I’m glad I didn’t give up. Far beyond hearing aids, he eventually received excellent home-based primary care (a game-changer in terms of caring for him at home), home health aides, medications, medical equipment, ramps, respite care, physical therapy, hospice care and more — at no cost to him. These supports were crucial for caring for him at home until his death at age 94. ​

​VA benefits are underutilized ​​

Because the VA health benefits made such a difference for us, it’s a personal mission for me to help other family caregivers and the veterans they care for to enroll and receive the health care they have earned. ​

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​It’s astounding that nearly 60 percent of all veterans are eligible for VA health care services, but fewer than half of those eligible actually use VA health benefits, according to a Rand study. Yet the quality of care delivered by the VA is generally equal to or better than care delivered in the private sector. Another study, by the VA Center for Women Veterans, found women veterans age 50-plus are the least likely group to use their earned benefits.​

That’s why AARP has created its “Veterans and Military Families Health Benefits Navigator” to help veterans and military families find their way through the maze of health care benefits. I’m excited to help spread the word about this fantastic, newly updated resource. It would have made my caregiving journey much easier, and I hope it will ease the challenges of many of my fellow caregivers.​

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What is the AARP 'Veterans and Military Families Health Benefits Navigator'?

AARP’s “Navigator” is a free one-stop resource that brings together valuable information and resources to help veterans, military families and their caregivers pursue their health care options.​

How does the AARP ‘Navigator’ help veterans and their family caregivers?

It can be overwhelming to understand the choices, eligibility qualifications and application process for VA health benefits. The “Navigator” provides critical information about health care benefits from the VA and the Department of Defense (DOD).

With it you can:​

  • Learn more about health care benefits provided through the VA and the DOD.​
  • Understand how to qualify, apply and enroll in VA health care.​
  • Understand how these health care benefits may be combined with Medicare and Medicaid to expand options.​
  • Identify how to get help from representatives who have experience and knowledge of the VA’s process for awarding benefits.​

What’s new with the latest version of the ‘Navigator’?​

The AARP “Veterans and Military Families Health Benefits Navigator” has been expanded to help veterans and their families access VA specialty care programs and services in the following areas:​

  • The Women Veterans Health Care Program​
  • The specialty emotional and mental health services​
  • The specialty dental, oral, hearing and vision services​
  • The Family Caregiver Assistance Program (which can provide crucial support for family caregivers)​​

What if I don’t know if my veteran is eligible?

I often speak with caregivers who are frustrated because they’ve been given conflicting information about a veteran’s eligibility from various sources. Check out the information in the “Navigator” about how to qualify for the various benefits. If you’re still unsure, contact one of the resources listed in the “Navigator,” such as the Veterans Health Benefits Assistance toll-free hotline (877-222-8387) or a veteran service organization (VSO). Never assume someone is or isn’t eligible until you get answers and help from those who are qualified to help you through the process.​

Where can I get a copy of the AARP’s “Veterans and Military Families Health Benefits Navigator”?

The “Navigator” is available as a free download at ​

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