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Vets still fighting for medical benefits

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
March 22, 2001
After fighting wars on the battlefield, military retirees are finding themselves still fighting to get the lifetime medical coverage they were promised by America, says a local veteran.
Military retirees were promised lifetime medical benefits if they served 20 years of active duty in the armed forces, but at age 65 many found themselves cut off from full coverage.
A bill signed into law in October 2000 restored at least part of the retirees' lifetime medical service by way of prescription drug coverage.
Whittington says an April 1 deadline is rapidly approaching for those who can qualify for the extended prescription drug coverage. Whittington says a race is now on as veterans groups try to get word out to retirees and dependents that the new benefits are available.
Whittington, of Laurel, says many elderly retirees or their widows would be entitled to the new benefits.
In order to receive the benefits, potential qualifiers need to follow three steps. They need to be at least 65 years old, they must have a valid military retiree card and must be enrolled in the Medicare Part B plan.
For those who have allowed their military cards to expire, beneficiaries can go to the nearest military base and update the information in the DEERS program in order to receive new cards.
The new prescription coverage plan would drastically cut the cost currently paid by most retirees for prescription drugs.
Whittington says the prescription plan is the first new benefit to be given to the retirees under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2001. Whittington said more benefits will be added in October, including reductions in the amount retirees and their dependents pay for doctor office visits.
U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss., authored the House version of the bill that enacted the new benefits for retirees after meeting in 1999 with Whittington and more than 400 other retirees in Laurel. Whittington said retiree groups also received tremendous support from 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
Although the new benefits are expected to help retirees, Whittington says various groups across the country will continue to lobby to see full medical benefits are restored to the retirees. A class-action lawsuit has already been filed in federal court by a Florida veteran.
Whittington says the retirees aren't looking for a hand-out.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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