It was a huge victory – not just for Staab, but for veterans nationwide. And it has massive financial ramifications.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. – A Minnesota veteran’s precedent-setting legal case is forcing the Department of Veterans Affairs to change course after years of denying payment of veterans' emergency medical bills.
A court ruled a VA policy violated federal law. As a result, the VA estimates it may be on the hook for billions of dollars in previously denied claims.
For several months, KARE 11’s continuing investigation – A Pattern of Denial – has exposed how veterans are being saddled with medical debt they should not owe, some of it even turned over to collection agencies after trips to the emergency room.
For St. Cloud attorney Jacqueline Schuh, KARE 11’s reporting hits close to home.
“I followed your story on the news, and I just sat there and thought, hello, this is the same thing that we’ve been tangling with.” She added, “Same identical situation, maybe slightly different facts, same set of denials.”
The story begins in 2010, when 77-year-old Richard Staab suffered a heart attack and stroke.
He was rushed to a nearby private hospital and had open-heart surgery.
Medicare covered a portion of his treatment, but Staab was ultimately left with about $48,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
A U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Korea, Staab typically relied on the VA for care. He submitted a claim for the outstanding balance to the St. Cloud VA, expecting to be reimbursed.
But his claim was denied.
As a result, Staab said he had to clean out his life savings to cover the unpaid bills.
The VA had an internal regulation saying it would only reimburse a veteran if the “veteran has no coverage under a health-plan contract for payment or reimbursement, in whole or in part, for the emergency treatment.”
Because Staab’s expenses were partially covered by Medicare, the VA denied his claim for reimbursement of the remaining amount.