ND Group Helps Low-Income Veterans Navigate Health Care

Mike Moen

FARGO - A North Dakota group is now working to help low-income military Veterans find their way through the complex maze of health coverage.

Health-care navigators say signing up for insurance or finding the right doctor can be intimidating for a lot of folks. But it can add even more anxiety for people struggling to get by, including former service members trying to access care and benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Stephanie Scallon, SSVF Healthcare Navigator with the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota, recently took on the new statewide role for these individuals.

"They just feel like they're stuck in this place of, like, 'I'm too old to get this, but I'm too young to do that,'" said Scallon.

Bobbie King a retired Army veteran makes his way to his volunteer position at the Nova Project in Detroit Wednesday, February 26, 2020. King, who is homeless,  suffers from diabetes, surgery-needing knees, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure and loss of hearing from operating heavy artillery while in the Army. He has also an extensive history of mental health issues, but is unable to receive health care he says he deserves.

Scallon said she offers guidance on which assistance programs a Veteran may qualify for, and dispells any misinformation. She added there are situations in which she may accompany a Veteran to an appointment.

CAP-ND serves nearly 300 Veterans experiencing homelessness each year through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Officials estimate about half will need help with health-care navigation as well.

While other states might have multiple navigators for various regions, Scallon is the only person working with the Veteran population in North Dakota. She said the state's rural backdrop can sometimes provide another barrier.

"We only have one medical center for the V.A. here in our state, and you know, we live in a rural state, so transportation will always be an issue," said Scallon.

She said another goal with the new service in North Dakota is to help former service members become better advocates for themselves in a health-care setting.

Efforts like this follow years of scrutiny for health-care under the VA system, including quality issues at facilities around the country. However, the Fargo hospital has received high performance ratings in annual evaluations.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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