Program Vancouver man developed recognized by VA

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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A veterans-benefits program developed by Bill Allman of Vancouver received national recognition this week in a ceremony at the White House.

Eric Shinseki, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, presented the award Tuesday to officials of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Abraham Lincoln Pillar of Excellence Award recognizes the state's program for increasing access to VA benefits and services.

Allman didn't attend the White House ceremony: He works for the Washington State Health Care Authority.

But as Allman noted, "It's the project's award. Without both partners, the project wouldn't exist."

Allman piloted the use of government databases to ensure that veterans (or

their spouses) seeking state aid were aware of their federal VA benefits.

Since 2006, about 15,000 Washington veterans and their dependents have been enrolled in the VA health care system, Allman said.

The state has a stake in this because Washington has saved about $42 million in Medicaid services, Allman said.

It's not just about shifting the cost from state to federal funding, Allman stressed. VA assistance is a benefit veterans have earned.

"The federal government promised it," Allman said.

And, there can be significant out-of-pocket differences between state and VA assistance programs, Allman said.

Thirty-five other states have consulted with Allman on initiating their own programs, he said.

"California saved $15 million in two years through one aspect" of the program, he said.

Many veterans or dependents are unaware of their VA benefits, Allman said. Some think they need wartime service to be eligible for VA health benefits, but the requirement is two years of honorable service, Allman said.

"The VA is not great on outreach," Allman said. In Washington, "27 percent of veterans and their spouses who are eligible for financial assistance get it."