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VA denies $22,000 medical air flight for Gulf War veteran

Posted at 10:14 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 23:11:26-04

JONESVILLE, Mich. — A veteran was shocked to learn he has to foot a close-to $23,000 bill for a medical air flight when he was told Veterans Affairs would not cover the expense.

Steve Miller served in the Navy. He spent a total of nine years in total active duty and three more years in the reserves.

"I just liked the camaraderie of all the people that were around me," said Miller. "It was just exciting to me."

In October 2019, Miller was mowing his lawn when he started to feel unwell. He had just put away the lawnmower into the shed when he started to feel what he described as a weird pressure that he felt on his chest.

He believed he just needed some rest but soon fell to all fours on the ground.

"Finally it hurt so bad that I said, 'Nope, we are going,'" said Miller.

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Miller's girlfriend first took him to Hillsdale Hospital roughly 15 minutes from his home. The small, rural hospital could not meet his medical needs and suggested that he be transported to another health system.

He was then airlifted to Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, where he underwent emergency surgery.

"The next day the doctor said I had a massive heart attack; had I gone by ambulance, I probably would not have made it, so you know that is an emergency.

About one month later, he received his bills in the mail. The VA covered almost entirely all of his costs to stay at the hospital. He then received a bill from Michigan Medicine for the air flight, which was over $23,000 when he originally received the bill.

He requested that the five-figure bill be submitted to the VA. He never received another bill or any kind of correspondence regarding the expense until over a year later when he received another bill stating the VA had denied any cost.

"I was really floored when I first opened it up and I saw this bill, and I was like, 'Wait a minute. It’s been over a year,'" said Miller.

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The second bill he received was $22,613.00.

He called the VA to see if there was some kind of mistake, but he was informed that he was ineligible for the cost to be covered. VA staffers explained to him that he did not qualify because he did not take off from a VA facility and because it was not related to combat-related injuries, among other reasons.

"That’s not acceptable. No vet wants to hear that you don’t qualify to live. That’s basically what I heard," said Miller.

We followed up with the VA to ask who does qualify and why Miller's expenses were denied. The Ann Arbor VA provided the following statement:

“We understand how concerning this must be for this Veteran. VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System has been in touch with him and is seeking ways to assist with his billing issue.
Regrettably, the law regarding emergency transportation only grants service-connected Veterans or Veterans who meet low-income thresholds eligibility to receive transportation benefits.”

Because he doesn't qualify, Miller says he has to find a way to pay the bill himself. If he pays it off in increments, he expects it could take roughly 15 years based on what he can afford.

"It’s just a surprise that they will cover everything that’s medical but they won’t cover a ride. Well, how does a person get to these emergency surgeries without a ride?"

Like the VA, most private insurance companies also do not cover medical flights. So even if Miller had a private insurance company as his primary, the flight probably would not have been covered through that avenue either.

Steve started a GoFundMe to help pay for his medical costs, as well as to create a bucket for other veterans who need these similar costs covered. If you would like to donate, you can click HERE.

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