Strategies to Reach Veteran and Military Families

By Guest Blogger

There is a common misperception that all members of the military, veterans, and their families receive health coverage as one of the benefits of their service to this country. However, many of these men and women in uniform and their family members are actually uninsured (or lack access to a Veterans Health Administration facility), and they stand to gain from the coverage expansions coming next year. As we’ve talked about on this blog before, veterans and their families will be important targets for next year’s outreach and enrollment efforts. Florida Covering Kids & Families has recently begun targeting outreach efforts to get children in military families enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. We got a chance to talk with Jodi Ray, Project Director of Florida CKF, to learn more about their work.

 

Why did you start targeting outreach efforts at military and veteran families?

We were surprised to learn that so many of these families lack coverage, but they do. Although active-duty members of the military and their families typically have health coverage through TRICARE, some members of these families may also be eligible for Medicaid if they have a very low household income or very high medical bills. Since we focus on children’s coverage, it’s important to us that those children get enrolled.

What about families transitioning out of the military?

The transition from military to civilian life can often mean a loss of health coverage. Recent veterans are more likely to be unemployed than other Americans their age, which puts them at greater risk of being uninsured as well. One in 10 of the nation’s 12.5 million nonelderly veterans report either not having health coverage or using Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. Plus, children of veterans are not typically eligible for treatment in Veterans Health Administration facilities. Again, consistent with our focus on children, we realized that it was important to make sure transitioning military families know that Florida KidCare (Medicaid and CHIP) might be a good option for their kids.

Most of us wouldn’t even know where to begin to reach this population. Did you grow up in a military family?

No, but MacDill Air Force Base is a big part of our local Tampa community. We already worked closely with business partners and other community organizations that assist military and veteran families, but we wanted to connect more directly with the base leadership, so our congresswoman, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, helped introduce us to the First Sergeant’s Council. This group serves as the liaison between the commander of the base and the enlisted members in the unit. The first sergeants work to ensure quality of life for service members and assist members as they transition back into the civilian sector. We explained to them that many of their members’ children would be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, and they made a commitment to better communicate this information to service members in their unit.

What tactics did the First Sergeant’s Council help you to identify in order to reach families on the base?

They helped us identify lots of different partners on the base, including:

  • The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) – TAP helps separating and retiring service members connect with community services that might be available to them as they re-enter civilian life. We’ve worked with TAP at MacDill to increase awareness of Medicaid and CHIP programs among the support services coordinators so that they have the information they need to connect eligible families to coverage when they leave the military.
  • The Airmen and Family Readiness Center (A&FRC) – We’ve trained them on how to provide Medicaid and CHIP application assistance. We worked with them to identify opportunities to educate active service members and those who are transitioning out of the military about health coverage options. We’ve also disseminated outreach materials through the Base Resource Center, and we have an ongoing partnership with them. As part of this partnership, we have worked with a couple of their outreach programs: the Exceptional Family Member Resource Fair and the Key Spouse Program.

The Exceptional Family Member Program is for active duty personnel who have family members with ongoing medical, mental health, or special education needs. Enrollment in this program helps to ensure that military families are located in areas where their family members’ medical and educational needs can be met. We have attended their resource fairs and support groups to provide program information to participating families on the base, and we are in continued contact with the coordinator for the program at MacDill and with coordinators at other bases around the state.

The Key Spouse Program serves as a connection between the military command and families. We’ve been in contact with the leader of the program, and we provided training on Medicaid and CHIP enrollment information, which she has forwarded on to all Key Spouse individuals.

Have other partners in the community helped you reach military and veteran families?

Other key outreach efforts include participating in Yellow Ribbon Programs, National Guard Family Service Centers, the Wounded Warrior Project, Military OneSource, and Operation Purple Camp. We have worked extensively in this area.  We work monthly with the Yellow Ribbon Program to attend events and speak with returning Guard and Reserve families about Florida KidCare.  We support the National Guard Family Service Centers and the families that they serve. Many reservists and national guardsmen return from deployment or leave active status with a very different financial situation than they had during activation. Some service members separating from the military are not aware of the financial burden associated with civilian health coverage or which assistance services are available to them after military benefits have ended. It’s important that we provide information to the service centers that deal directly with reservists and guard members.

As we look to next year, many more members of military and veteran families will be eligible for coverage through health insurance exchanges and Medicaid. Can you offer any other tips to those working on outreach strategies to target this group?

It is important to remember that while a family may be active duty and covered by TRICARE, there are situations where military families may benefit from coverage under Florida KidCare as well, but they are unaware that the program exists. This is particularly true for families with children with special health care needs. Likewise, this community stands to gain a lot from the new coverage options coming for adults next year, and we need to work hard to get the message out and provide these families with the help they’ll need to enroll. 

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