Establishing Emergency Medical Services for Veterans

January 2016:
I had a veteran confide in me that just made a suicide attempt. However, this is not something that is kept quiet without offering any help or support to that individual. This event took place on a weekend where Monday was a Federal Holiday, and VA hospitals that do not have Emergency Room Services would be closed. Something to note. The only VA Emergency Rooms in our state are in Brockton, West Roxbury and North Hampton.

Now, with this attempt a simple call to 911 should be first thought and reaction. However, Emergency Room trips and 911 calls are not covered by the VA; unless of course they are to a VA Emergency Room. Knowing this my immediate reaction was, ‘if this veteran doesn’t have private insurance outside of the VA would calling 911 be more hurtful then helpful? Giving a veteran that is already at their breaking point a huge medical bill from an emergency room visit that they would now need to fight the VA to cover – I couldn’t do that. And that shouldn’t be the case.

May 2016:
Following the incident in January I set out to learn more of the issue and drafting up ideas and ways for it to be corrected and fixed. This is a Federal issue, however, it’s going to be easier to address this on a state level first – then bringing the solution to the Federal Government with the support of our State elected officials and a proven plan of success.

Although May is an extremely busy time at the State House I reached out and requested a meeting with several State Representatives and State Senators. Among those invited included members of the House Ways and Means Committee and Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee as well as Representative James Kelcourse, Representative Lenny Mirra, Representative Diana DiZiglio and State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives. Although it was an extremely busy day at the State House, I had a well attended meeting and a pretty good response across the board on the issue.

Many Representatives and aides (if the Representatives themselves could not attend) were present; had to be close to 12-15 people. I had a captive audience and was able to express my concern and need for change regarding this matter. Those in attendance agreed that this is a major problem, and an aid from the Veteran Federal Affairs committee agreed that yes this is an ongoing issue amongst veterans not just here in the Commonwealth – but nationwide. This is a very complicated issue and is not going to be easy to address, that was made clear for myself and those at the meeting. The biggest question is how do we address the issue and who’s paying for the bill? I posed lots of ideas and possible solutions, including utilizing our Veteran Service Officers, and state issued ID’s. Many in that room support the idea of a ‘Veteran Emergency Care’ bill – the details of it are up for discussion.

November 2016:
After much research on selecting a State Representative to file and represent my bill I have made my selection. Methuen Representative Rep. Diana DiZiglio. Rep. DiZiglio is no stranger to fighting and addressing veteran issues here in the state. One of her most recently veteran related bills was Vehicle Excise Tax for Veterans on Active Duty Status. ( ). This bill was just signed into law this past July by Governor Charlie Baker. In addition, Rep DiZiglio was also a key player in a recent opioid bill, which is also a problem amongst our veterans ( ). Given these two bills and her support for our veteran community it seemed like a no-brainer to select her to help get this bill from a Dream to a Reality.

I have recently sat down with Rep. DiZiglio to get the heavy and much needed discussions going. I handed her a copy of my rough draft of the bill and explained my concerns and things I hope to address in the process. Those areas are: Trauma and Non-Trauma Emergency Room Visits, Mental Health and Suicide related Emergency Room Visits, Visits related to Military Sexual Trauma, Alcohol and Drug related visits and also as discussions of transportation for said Treatment.

Our local emergency rooms in the community are a first line of action for any medical emergency and veterans should be able to utilize this resource without the thought of having to face a medical bill. The ideas I have chosen to address I feel are the most serious, critical and common. With Mental Health, Sexual Trauma and Alcohol and Drug related visits I’m proposing communication between hospital staff and VA or community programs to set up continued and follow-up treatment. The idea is address and correct the problem, not just put a bandaid on it. I believe some sort of paper-trail and data needs to be on record for those veterans with trips related to drugs and alcohol. There may be an underlining issue there that needs addressing to truly fix the problem – bringing the veteran back to a sober state and then sending them out to the public is not working. They may end up dead or having another visit to the emergency room.

If this bill is to help provide emergency medical treatment, then it should also help make sure problem is addressed. The VA is swamped and getting appointments can be tough, some have to wait months for any sort of care. A mental health crisis and drug/alcohol problems in my eyes is an emergency – given the veteran suicide epidemic we have going on (20-22 a day nationally).
I will keep you more in the loop now as discussions are building and I’m building a team of supporters for this Bill. I’m reaching out at this time to gather support from Veteran Groups, Veteran Service Officers and Veterans to gather their input and support. This bill will be by veterans for the veterans. There is already an interest in a couple states that have requested a final copy of this bill from me to push in their state. Which to me is great, after all, my goal is to have this go national and be supportive for all our veterans.

Out of all my projects and accomplishments to date this will be my biggest and I feel most rewarding to date. If this goes through and becomes law it will have an impact on all of the 365k veterans and the 18k National Guard soldiers that call Massachusetts home.