Partnership has helped veterans, state for decade

It connects them to federal benefits, saving Wash. money

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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In the last decade, nearly 15,000 veterans and their dependents have been connected to Veterans Affairs benefits to which they were entitled but weren't receiving.

One tangible result of those connections? More than $35 million in health care savings for the state of Washington.

Those connections and savings are attributed to an innovative partnership between the Washington State Health Care Authority and the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs -- a partnership that celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer.

"I don't know of any partnership that's gone this long or been this successful," said Bill Allman, a project analyst for the HCA.

It all started with an idea Allman had a decade ago.

The state of Washington had started using the federal Public Assistance Reporting Information System to check Washington public assistance program records with records from other states as a way to prevent improper payments. The system was also capable of matching a state's records with records from the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. However, no state was utilizing those capabilities.

So, Allman proposed using PARIS to identify veterans who weren't taking advantage of the full benefits due to them for their service. Linking those military veterans with the federal benefits they've earned meant those veterans wouldn't need state-funded assistance programs.

So, in 2002, the state agency partnered with the VA to get those veterans their benefits. After a two-year test run in Clark County, the program went statewide.

Every quarter, Allman sends the VA a list of Medicaid members who may be eligible for an array of VA benefits. The VA then reaches out to those veterans and gets them signed up for services.

One area where the partnership benefits are evident is with long-term care recipients.

Medicaid recipients receiving long-term care are responsible for repaying all costs for their care. If the person or his or her estate can't afford to pay the tab, the state will put a lien on the person's home to recoup the costs, Allman said. People receiving VA benefits for long-term care, however, are not required to repay the federal government, he said.

The program also connects eligible veterans and their dependents to VA medical plans. In 2011, that amounted to more than 1,100 people.

None of the savings and benefits would be possible if not for the cooperation between the two agencies, Allman said.

"If not for the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs, you might as well pack it up and go back to where we were before we started," he said. "We can't do it without them."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.