WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 29, 2008) - Military veterans who served in combat are now eligible for five years of free medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The announcement this week increased a two-year care limit that had been in effect nearly a decade.

"By their service and their sacrifice, America's newest combat veterans have earned this special eligibility period for VA's world-class health care," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake Feb. 26.

The five-year deadline has no effect upon veterans with medical conditions related to their military service, VA officials said. They said v eterans may apply at any time after their discharge from the military -- even decades later -- for medical care for service-connected health problems.

The new provision, part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 signed by President Bush on Jan. 28, 2008, applies to care in a VA hospital, outpatient clinic or nursing home. It also extends VA dental benefits -- previously limited to 90 days after discharge for most veterans -- to 180 days.

Combat veterans who were discharged between Nov. 11, 1998 and Jan. 16, 2003, and who never took advantage of VA's health care system, have until Jan. 27, 2011 to qualify for free VA health care under the provision.

The five-year window is also open to activated Army Reserve and National Guard members, if they served in a theater of combat operations after Nov. 11, 1998 and were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.

Veterans who take advantage of this five-year window to receive VA health care can continue to receive care after five years, although they may have to pay copayments for medical problems unrelated to their military service, VA officials said. Copayments range from $8 for a 30-day supply of prescription medicine to $1,024 for the first 90 days of inpatient care each year.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16