April 2, 2004
HOUSTON, TX - The Houston VA Regional Office (VARO) and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MEDVAMC) have a special message for a unique group of veterans - America's former prisoners of war (POW). "We're telling former POWs to check their VA benefits eligibility now and make sure they're receiving the benefits they've earned," said Bob Manchester, VARO Houston POW coordinator. "Former POWs are eligible for special compensation and health care benefits many may not know about."
The VARO will have an information booth at the American Ex-POW Program honoring our nation's former prisoners of war on Friday, April 9, 2004 at 10 a.m. in the MEDVAMC gymnasium. The event's guest speaker will be Ken Wallingford, a former POW in Vietnam. Weather and logistics permitting, the Texas Army National Guard, 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment will land an AH-64 "Apache" Helicopter at 9:15 a.m. next to the MEDVAMC gymnasium. The program also features special guest speaker, famed medical innovator and surgeon, Michael E. DeBakey, M.D.; an oration by Caleb Edwards, a high school senior whose father is a U.S. Navy veteran; and a POW table ceremony performed by the Texas United Veterans Association. This event is free and open to the public.
More than 1,100 former POWs living in Texas already receive compensation from VA. This year, VA mailed information about benefits to another 4,700 known ex-POWs across the country not on its rolls. However, VA estimates there could be as many as 11,000 more POWs for whom it does not have an address.
Manchester said former POWs not receiving VA benefits should call the department at 1-800-827-1000 or check with a local county or veterans service organization benefits counselor.
Manchester explained that VA has expanded policies to cover increasing numbers of former POWs as new illnesses have been found related to wartime captivity. Even former POWs already receiving compensation from VA may be eligible for additional benefits. He said VA is particularly concerned about World War II and Korean War former POWs now in their eighties.
"This may be their last chance to ensure they and their spouses are receiving the benefits they have earned," Manchester said.
Nine out of ten former POWs are veterans of World War II whose service predates the use of Social Security numbers as a military identification number. That, coupled with the decades since their service, makes it difficult for VA to track down those who have not opened a file with VA in recent years.
"We are asking veterans and all Americans who know of a former POW to help spread the word that benefits and services may be just a phone call away," Manchester said.
The most recent expansion of VA benefits for former POWs was the addition of cirrhosis of the liver to the list of diseases to which entitlement to disability compensation is presumed for former POWs. Similar policies making it easier for former POWs to obtain compensation have been enacted for POWs who develop other specific illnesses. While most of these diseases have a 30-day minimum captivity requirement, Congress has eliminated the requirement for cold injury, traumatic arthritis, and certain mental illnesses
Former POWs have special eligibility for enrollment in VA medical care and are exempt from making co-payments for inpatient and outpatient services. They are also exempt from co-payments for medications. Free VA dental treatment is also available to former POWs.
More information about VA services for former POWs is available at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Benefits/POW/ or call 1-800-827-1000.
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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs04/07/04 07:16