Medical alert systems can be lifesavers for seniors who live on their own. Having a tool nearby that connects to a help network and activates emergency response at the push of a button can shave minutes off of the typical response time for ambulance, fire and other rescue services. Veterans often have a special need for medical alert systems, since many have a combination of service-related disabilities and a strong desire to remain as independent as possible.
The VA offers senior veterans several types of medical alert systems. Veterans can choose between some fairly basic systems that the VA can provide for free through its partners, or they can ask for help paying for medical alert systems with more features.
This guide explains what a senior veteran’s options are for getting a medical alert system through the VA. It goes over which systems are available free of charge, what they offer and how to upgrade systems at a discount using VA benefits.
The VA helps veterans obtain basic medical alert systems free of charge through two private sector partners, LiveLife and MedEquip Alert. As with everything else about the VA, there is a specific process to go through to get either of these devices.
LiveLife offers a special medical alert system for veterans, which is available through the VA. This system’s hardware includes a lightweight, waterproof call button that sends a text message to up to five numbers when activated. Wearers can activate the pendant by pressing the button, and the system also includes automatic fall detection. The LiveLife system does not connect with a response center, but one of the five designated numbers can be 911.
When activated, the device’s built-in GPS unit sends the wearer’s exact coordinates, via Google Earth, to whichever party is the first to answer. It also opens a speakerphone line with the party called. The open line allows emergency personnel at 911, or the caregiver or loved one whose number has been called, to verify that the senior needs help and that it isn’t a false alarm.
MedEquip Alert offers a system that is in many ways similar to LiveLife, but it connects to a 24-hour monitoring center when activated. The MedEquip Alert pendant, when activated, calls the company’s U.S.-based call center, which is staffed by certified emergency medical dispatchers. The responders on the line can verify the nature of the call, use GPS coordinates to summon the appropriate assistance and talk the senior through the emergency while waiting for help through the two-way speaker.
The easiest way to get a free medical alert system through the VA is to schedule a visit with a VA doctor. During the visit, the senior veteran or caregiver can ask the doctor for a recommendation for either the LiveLife or MedEquip Alert devices. If asking for the LiveLife device, it may be helpful to express concern about falls, which the VA considers justification for the automatic fall detection system built into the LiveLife pendant. Seniors who would prefer to connect with a live operator can specifically ask for the MedEquip Alert system, which the VA tracks as device number GSA# GS-35F-202GA.
If the doctor agrees that a medical alert system can help the senior stay safe at home, the request may be submitted through the usual channels for durable medical devices. After final approval from the VA, the order is sent to whichever of the two partner companies is providing the hardware, which then arrives in the mail. MedEquip Alert may request personal information for the senior’s profile, such as an address, medical conditions, and current prescriptions that need to be passed to emergency responders.
Senior veterans are not restricted to the two partner companies when shopping around for a medical alert system. The VA also chips in to pay for many of the costs of more complex systems, although the veteran may have to pay a monthly fee for these. Many providers offer medical alert systems that include both fall detection and 24-hour human monitoring, along with a suite of features not available from the other two systems.
Extra features a senior veteran may want to consider paying for include:
Veterans who have opted for TriCare for Life as an element in their Medicare Part C coverage may have extra options for paying the cost of a medical alert system. Depending on the details of their specific plan, some veterans’ Medicare supplements may pay some or all of the cost of a call system from a private provider. This potentially opens up a wide range of companies, service plans and hardware profiles that senior veterans can choose from, and it may not be necessary to get a physician’s approval before choosing a system.
Even if the VA does not offer full or partial coverage of a medical alert system, that doesn’t mean a senior with an honorable service record needs to pay full price. Many medical alert system providers offer steep discounts to veterans through special programs they offer. Not every company advertises its veterans’ specials, however, so it might be worth having a look at the AARP or USAA websites to find out if a company offers such a program. Many providers also offer discounts to AARP and USAA members, regardless of their veterans’ status.