Veteran health care program aims to raise awareness

Posted at 10:56 PM, Mar 30, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich -- John Hedrick was a ship navigator in the Navy during the Korean War, but today he is stuck in a hospital bed.

At 85, he suffers from chest pains and shortness of breath. But he says he's thankful, that he has great healthcare coverage through the Veterans Administration health care system.

Hedrick worries, though, that other veterans aren't getting the same treatment.

"I’ve encouraged so many people who have gone into the service to stay in the reserves; you get marvelous benefits," Hedrick said.

Spectrum Health tells FOX 17 more than 20% of their patients are veterans, many of whom aren't aware of the benefits they're entitled to. According to the VA, only 35% of veterans in Michigan are enrolled in the VA health care system.

So, Spectrum Health's Veteran Service program is working to aid those unserved veterans.

"A regular old veteran is not necessarily going to know where to get those benefits,"said Danielle Montag, a veteran herself and a veteran support services coordinator at Spectrum Health.

She served in the Air Force for eight years before retiring in 2011 due to health issues.

"I found that it was really difficult for me to find the proper resources," Montag said. "I never thought this was something I would be doing when I got out of the Air Force."

Montag helps other veterans navigate the federal, state, and local benefits and resources available to all armed forces veterans and family members.

She says she hears a lot of questions about obtaining compensations, pensions, burial benefits, and long-term care. Veterans in hospitals are also provided with visits from therapy dogs to help brighten their stay.

Many coordinators are also veterans who around thanking veteran patients for their service. "A lot of them might not have family, so just having that conversation is making their day," Montag said. "If you can just say, 'Thank you for your service,' that makes a world of difference to our veterans."

For veterans who need specialty care, the VA will cover the cost of the visit with Spectrum Health if the veteran lives more than 50 miles away.

Spectrum's Veteran Support Services includes volunteers who spend time with veterans throughout the day. You don't need to be a veteran to sign up. If interested, call 616-391-2624 or email" target="_blank">According to the VA

, only 35% of veterans in Michigan are enrolled in the VA health care system.

For veterans who aren’t admitted into a Spectrum hospital, but still want to discuss the benefits they may be eligible for, Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) is available. Their toll-free number is (800-MICH-VET). Like Montag, many of the MVAA staff who run 800-MICH-VET are veterans and have experience transitioning from military to civilian life.