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Veterans View: Help for veterans to navigate the COVID-19 crisis

The impact of COVID-19 restrictions impacts everyone. The Veterans Administration is no exception. This piece is focused on sharing important information as it relates to veterans and access to compensation and pension benefits, medical benefits and burial benefits.

The Baltimore and D.C. regional benefits offices are on maximum telework. The buildings are closed to the public, but the benefits staff is operational. Due to issues with fraud, the VA disabilities questionnaire was pulled from VA website. Documentation of a current diagnosis for compensation claims purposes will be accomplished through the provision of medical records through and by the Veteran to Veteran Services Officers. Educational benefits continue and stimulus checks do not affect VA compensation and pension. Monies received through the stimulus will not count as income when assessing eligibility for pension benefits. The collection of all veteran debt through the Department of Treasury is temporarily suspended. Appeals for veterans testing positive for COVID 19 may be expedited if requested by the Veteran.

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All community based outpatient clinics (CBOC) affiliated with the Baltimore Medical Center are closed. CBOCs for the Martinsburg Medical Center are closed except for urgent appointments, as determined by the veteran’s primary care doctor. Oncology, Radiation Oncology and other clinics determined to be urgent, are still operating. Lab work, such as blood work, is being completed in a tent on the compound but not in the hospital. As of April 6, universal masking procedures went into effect for staff and visiting patients. Medications through the pharmacy are by mail order only.  The exception is patients discharged from VA in-patient care. Call the regional prescription refill line at 800-865-2441 (VA Maryland Healthcare System) or 800-817-3807 (Martinsburg VA Medical System), send a reorder form by mail or go on MyHealtheVet at www.myhealth.va.gov to fill or refill prescriptions.

Veterans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should call their VA primary care doctor or the Carroll County COVID-19 Call Center at 410-876-4848 for questions and guidance. Veterans should not go to a VA emergency room unless they have an emergency medical condition that needs immediate attention. COVID-19 testing follows the following priorities: those who are admitted as inpatients with COVID-19 like symptoms, VA community living centers (nursing homes), and health care staff. Patients well enough to convalesce at home are not being tested. If you have symptoms, call your primary care or care line.

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Visitors are currently not permitted in VA hospitals or community living centers except for the following instances: end of life patients may have two visitors who must pass a screening and wear personal protective equipment (PPE). COVID 19 patients may not have visitors. Veterans going to oncology or chemotherapy may have one visitor. Lastly, one visitor can come to pick-up a discharged patient.

All Department of Veterans Affairs’ national cemeteries remain open and continue to provide interment for Veterans and eligible individuals during this health crisis. Questions about burial benefits can be directed to the Veteran Services Program of Carroll County at 410-386-3800. Additional information about the VA’s National Cemetery Administration and directives about cemetery operations, please visit www.cem.va.gov.

The Carroll County Veterans Shuttle continues to operate, but on a limited basis, due to the current operations of the VA Medical Facilities. Questions about the Veterans Shuttle Transportation Program can be directed to the Carroll County Bureau of Aging & Disabilities at 410-386-3800.

The Carroll County Veterans Program staff is teleworking with the exception of staff handling claims which require access to the Veterans Benefits Services Management Program. For this reason, response times have been lengthened. Veterans requiring assistance should call 410-386-3600. The phone is manned during normal business hours and messages for assistance will be relayed to a Veteran Services Officer. The program staff wishes the Carroll County Veteran community safety and good health.

Submitted by the Veteran Services Program of Carroll County.

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