February 13, 2019
“My situation felt helpless until I worked with James. I can’t begin to express my gratitude and relief.”
Richard is a veteran who lives in a rural area of West Virginia with a heart condition, and while he gets health benefits from the VA, he doesn’t live close enough to one to get regular care. After a health scare with his heart, Richard was hospitalized close to home in a non-VA facility in northern West Virginia. Richard reached out to the VA about being moved, and he felt assured moving to a VA hospital would provide better coverage, with the cost of transportation being covered by his benefits. The hospital arranged Richard’s transportation with an ambulance company to a VA hospital in Pittsburgh.
Shortly after the arrangements, staff helped Richard prepare for transport. As they took him out of his room, he was surprised to find he wasn’t being transported by ambulance at all—the ambulance company had sent a helicopter to take him to Pittsburgh! Richard was surprised, but after his talk with his representative, he didn’t ask questions and appreciated the shorter ride to the VA facility.
Sometime after he was back home, Richard began receiving bills for his medical treatment, including a transportation bill for more than $45,000 for the helicopter. Richard was blindsided and felt misled, so he contacted Legal Aid of West Virginia’s veteran attorney, James, for assistance. James was able to reach a patient advocate at the Pittsburgh facility and began inquiring about reimbursement options for Richard’s expenses.
Unfortunately, the hospital’s arrangements didn’t qualify for reimbursement, so the VA couldn’t cover the cost. After exhaustive research on reimbursement policy, James told Richard it looked like he had two options: to try to settle the debt with a smaller payment or to live with the debt. Richard said he had a small sum he had received for gas rights on property he owned, so James contacted the Pittsburgh facility again to negotiate. He explained the dire circumstances Richard was facing: living on a limited income and facing an enormous debt that would likely last the rest of his life.
After several back-and-forth communications, the ambulance company finally responded that they would accept a $4,000 payment for services and discharge the remaining debt. Richard was able to save some of his gas rights money while escaping the burden of $45,000 in debt thanks to James’ persistence.