Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you tell me about health care benefits for veterans? A friend of mine recently enrolled his 79-year-old father and, much to his surprise, got all his medications paid for. I am currently 59 and served in the Army Reserve many years ago and would like to find out what VA assistance I might be eligible for. This is something I never thought about. Can you help me?
Forgotten Reservist,
Dear Forgotten,
A lot of people are surprised to learn that the Department of Veteran Affairs runs the largest health care system in the United States. It operates 158 hospitals, over 850 clinics and a comprehensive prescription drug plan. But in addition to health care, the VA also offers disability compensation, rehabilitation training, pensions, home-loan guarantees, educational benefits, maintains military cemeteries and runs the seventh largest insurance program in the U.S.
Here’s the basics on how the VA health care system works. Eligibility – the primary factor in determining a veteran’s eligibility to receive health care benefits is “veteran status,” which is established by active duty service in the military, naval, or air service. You must have: Been discharged from active military service under honorable conditions. Served a minimum of two years if discharged after September 7, 1980 (prior to this date there is no time limit).  
If a National Guardsman or Reservist, served the entire period for which you were called to active duty other than for training purposes.
Benefits – Veterans eligible for VA health care will receive needed inpatient and outpatient services, including preventative and primary care. These include: Diagnostic and treatment services. Rehabilitative services. Mental health, substance abuse and home health. Respite and hospice care. Drugs in conjunction with VA treatment.
Hearing aids and eyeglasses are provided only in special circumstances or if you have a service-connected disability rating of at least 10 percent. Dental benefits also are limited to those who have a service-connected dental condition or a 100 percent service-connected disability rating.
Priority and Payments – Once you apply for VA health care benefits, your eligibility will be verified and you will be assigned a 1-8 priority ranking, with the highest priority going to veterans with service-connected disabilities. The VA also charges copayments for health care services that includes $15 for a primary care visit, $50 for a specialty care and $7 for a 30-day or less supply of medicine. Copayments may be waived to low income veterans or those with a service-connected disability.
Enrollment – Veterans are required to enroll for health care services. You can apply by completing VA Form 10-10EZ. You can get this form by calling 1-877-222-8387, or by visiting or writing any VA health care facility or veterans’ benefits office. You can also access the form on the Internet at Veterans needing treatment for a service-connected disability rated 50 percent or more, or released from active duty within the previous 12 months for a disability incurred in the line of duty, do not need to apply.
Stretched Thin – You also need to know that while the health care benefits provided by the VA are excellent, they are overextended. In 1998 congress made 25 million vets eligible for VA health care, creating a financial and operational quagmire. The number of vets enrolled in the health care program jumped from 2.9 million to 7 million which has created a host of problems like long waiting lists and rationed services. 
Savvy Resource –
Department of Veteran Affairs: Offers a comprehensive Web site that provides information on all aspects of VA benefits and services. For more information or to find a VA facility near you visit or call 1-877-222-8387.
Dear Savvy Senior,
A local ophthalmologist recently told my mother that she has macular degeneration. He also told her there isn’t a cure for it so she should get prepared for the inevitable. Can you tell me about this disease and is there anything at all we can do to help prevent her loss of vision? 
Sandy See
Dear Sandy,
Your ophthalmologist is right. There is currently no cure, but there may be some things you can do to slow down its progression. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans over the age of 55, affecting nearly two million people. It’s a disease that blurs the central vision you need for straight-ahead activities like reading, driving or watching television. Here are some things to know.
AMD – There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), wet and dry. Ninety percent of all people with AMD have the dry form while 10 percent have the wet form. The symptoms will vary depending on the type of macular degeneration you develop, but AMD usually develops gradually and painlessly.
Risk Factors – The greatest risk factor for macular degeneration is age. Studies show that people over age 60 are clearly a greater risk than any other age group. Other risk factors include: Smoking, AMD is two to three times as frequent among smokers. Obesity, a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet can increase the risk of AMD.
Family history: First-degree relatives of people with wet AMD may have three times the risk of developing the disease. Race, whites are more likely to lose their vision from AMD than African Americans. Eye color, people with lighter-colored eyes are at greater risk. Gender, woman are more likely to get AMD than men.
Hypertension, can make some forms of macular degeneration worse. Sunlight, excessive exposure to sunlight, is a risk factor. Sunglasses and hats should be worn as protection.
Detection – Early detection is key, because someone destined to develop AMD can sometimes be treated before symptoms appear, which may delay or reduce the severity of the disease. If you are over 50 years of age and have begun noticing a hazy gray spot in the middle of your vision, develop trouble reading the newspaper, or if television doesn’t seem as clear or colorful as it once did, Go Get Checked Out! You may be experiencing early signs of AMD.
Treatment and Prevention – currently, there is no known way to prevent AMD. In some cases, this disease may be active and then slow down, or even stop progressing for years. Today, there are several ways to work with macular degeneration, depending on the type and the degree of the condition. Here’s what you should know: Dry AMD: There are currently no treatments or preventative measures for dry AMD, however low vision aids and rehabilitation are available to assist patients in coping with vision loss.
Wet AMD: There are two treatments for wet AMD including laser surgery and photodynamic therapy. These treatments will not restore vision already lost from the disease, but may slow the rate of decline or stop further vision loss.
Diet: Studies suggest that eating fresh fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale and collard greens) may delay or reduce the severity of AMD.
Vitamins: The ARED study done by the National Eye Institute indicates that taking high levels of antioxidants like Vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene, as well as zinc, may also slow down the progression of AMD. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you start taking any new vitamin supplements.
Savvy Resources
EyeCare America: A medical eye care program that helps seniors reduce visual impairment and blindness by providing access to free eye care. Call 1-800-222-3937 or visit American Foundation for the Blind: For information about low vision services and programs visit or call 1-800-232-5463