County officer details health care options for veterans

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For more information about resources for veterans in Routt County, call Mike Condie at 879-5489, e-mail him at mcondie@co.routt.... or stop by his office in the Steamboat office of the Colorado Workforce Center at Sundance Plaza off Anglers Drive, from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays through Wednesdays or 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.

On the 'Net

- Routt County Veterans Affairs: www.co.routt.co.us (click on "Veterans Affairs")

- Grand Junction VA hospital: www.grandjunction...>

- Denver regional VA office: www.vba.va.gov/ro...>

- U.S. Social Security Administration's benefits for wounded warriors: www.ssa.gov/wound...>

- American Legion: www.legion.org>

- Veterans of Foreign Wars: www.vfw.org>

— If local veterans are anything like Mike Condie, the discharge presentation they got before concluding a tour of military service likely went in one ear and out the other.

The presentation provides veterans with information about how to obtain U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care and benefits, said Condie, Routt County's veterans affairs officer. The presentation also addresses transitioning back to civilian life and offers employment assistance and information about how to apply for college scholarships through the GI Bill.

Condie said that information didn't really register for him during the presentation after his service with the Marines in the Gulf War.

"I just wanted to get home," he said. Condie suspects many other veterans felt the same way, he added.

To get health care and benefits from the VA, veterans must present their discharge papers after having served 24 consecutive months of active duty, Condie said. Condie said he would fill out the application for any veteran who visited his office in the Colorado Workforce Center at Sundance Plaza.

Paul Sweeney, a spokesman with the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction, said there are two basic ways to determine a veteran's eligibility for health care and benefits. They include sustaining a service-connected disability or earning a household income below a certain threshold determined by where the veteran lives. He added that there are some other circumstances that determine eligibility for health care and benefits.

One program made available to local veterans is transportation to VA hospitals in Grand Junction or Denver. Condie said transportation funding is provided through a state grant written by American Legion Post 44 Commander Jim Stanko.

Stanko, also a member of the Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs, said this was the third year Routt County has received the funding, used to rent cars and pay for gas to get veterans to the hospitals.

"There's a good couple dozen people that have a difficult time getting any kind of health care if this service wasn't available," he said. "It's important. It helps. It's really helped out a group of people in the Steamboat Springs-Routt County area."

Another alternative for a local veteran is the Telehealth Clinic in Craig. The clinic, operated by the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction, allows a patient and nurse practitioner to interact with a physician's assistant, doctor or specialist through a two-way television, Sweeney said.

He said the clinic helps provide health care to veterans where they live and was established to give preventative care before veterans' conditions became severe enough for hospitalization.

In its first year, after opening in September 2007, Sweeney said the clinic saw 800 patients. He said that number has more than doubled this year.

"We've found once veterans have gotten over the hesitation of coming, they're more forthcoming," he said. "There was some hesitation by some veterans, especially older veterans that first year."

Sweeney added that the Telehealth Clinic has helped increase the VA's enrollment numbers. He estimated that 11,500 veterans on the Western Slope are registered and eligible for health care. He estimated the total number of veterans on the Western Slope at about 42,000, many of whom haven't applied for health care.

Stanko said there are a number of Web sites that provide information for veterans seeking health care and benefits or other resources. He said the Colorado Legislature passed a bill this year to establish a "one-stop shop" for veterans, including a Web site and toll-free hot line that would be available to answer any question a veteran might have.

However, with the state's budget issues and the economic recession, the project has been pushed back, said Bill Conroy, director of the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs.

Conroy said indications were the "one-stop shop" would answer questions regarding health care, benefits, employment, housing assistance and suicide prevention while linking to other Web sites.

"It's way too early to know what it will look like and when it will come to fruition," he said.

Accessing resources for veterans in Routt County isn't difficult, Condie said. They just have to ask for his help, he said.

"I will do what I can to make their lives better," Condie said. "These vets have to be part of the solution. : I won't mom and dad them. They have to ask."

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