Published – 4/12/2022
Reviewed By: Deidre Sommerer, LPN, MS, CMC, CDP

Medical alert systems are some of the most important pieces of equipment people can own if they have a health condition that threatens their independence. A typical system comes as a wearable bracelet or pendant that communicates over decent ranges with a base unit in the house. 

In the event of a medical emergency, the wearer can press a button on the pendant and immediately summon help from a dedicated response center. Even if the person can’t communicate with the operator, emergency services can be dispatched to their exact location. 

For people with limited mobility and chronic medical conditions or those who are prone to falling, this can do more than activate the emergency response team when they’re in need. By ensuring a wearer is never more than a button push away from assistance, medical alert systems give peace of mind to seniors and their families, people with disabilities and veterans with conditions that could make living alone more difficult. 

More than 1.6 million American veterans currently have a disability rating of 70% or above, and they may benefit from using a medical alert system. This guide helps veterans and their caregivers, family members and other loved ones pick the right medical alert system for them and learn how to apply for and receive a medical alert system free of charge. It includes valuable information about the types of free medical alert systems that are available to veterans through the VA, provided the veteran is an honorably discharged former service member.

Free Medical Alert Systems From the VA

VA Medical Alert Partners

The VA partners with private companies to deliver free medical alert systems to its eligible veterans. The vast majority of systems distributed through the VA come from two authorized suppliers: Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert. While both work toward the same goal, helping veterans stay safe in their homes with advanced communication systems, there are some differences between the two.

Latitude USA

Latitude USA offers its products to the general public, but it has a special medical alert system for veterans who order theirs through the VA. This system is built around a lightweight, waterproof call button that can be worn in the shower or in the rain. When activated, the system sends an automated text message to up to six preprogrammed numbers. The pendant doesn’t connect directly with a call center to summon aid, but one of the programmed numbers can be 911.

The Latitude USA system is built to be as simple as possible. Wearers can activate the alert feature by pressing the single button on the front of the pendant, and automatic fall detection is built into the device. The internal GPS reports the wearer’s exact coordinates to the first party to answer the emergency text and opens a speakerphone line. Because 911 has a generally fast response time, this is likely to be the first party contacted. Once on the line, the responding party can verify that the alert is not a false alarm.

MedEquip Alert

In many ways, the personal emergency call system provided by MedEquip Alert is similar to the one offered to veterans from Latitude USA, but it does have a few extra features some users may need. Once activated, the MedEquip system connects to a 24-hour response system where operators can start an emergency response for the user. This center is staffed by U.S.-based certified medical dispatchers who are trained in managing emergencies over an open phone line and in communicating with emergency services.

When activated, the system opens a voice phone line with an operator who can verify the nature of the emergency, forward GPS coordinates to first responders and talk the user through the emergency if they are able to communicate. Voice contact is maintained through the speaker and microphone built into the pendant.

Bear in mind that these aren’t a veteran’s only options for getting a medical alert system. While Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert are the only two providers for which the VA will cover 100% of the cost, veterans can get assistance paying for more expensive systems of their choice. The VA can contribute toward the cost of systems from non-approved vendors, though veterans who opt to go outside of the VA’s provider list may have to pay some or all of their monthly service fee.

How to Qualify for a Free VA Medical Alert System

Senior veterans can start the process of applying for a free medical alert system by asking for a pre-enrollment referral from a VA doctor. This can be done during a routine physical or by special request. During this intake exam, the doctor typically reviews the veteran’s health history and current conditions that justify the use of an alert system.

Senior veterans can ask for a specific alert system during this initial phase. If the applicant and their doctor are especially concerned about falls, they may request a Latitude USA system with automatic fall detection. If the senior prefers contact with a live operator, the VA doctor can recommend the MedEquip system instead. Once the approval is submitted, the VA begins the process of reviewing the applicant’s eligibility and approving the request for a free medical alert system.

Approving the claim generally takes as long as a request for any other piece of durable medical equipment, which is how the alert devices are classified. Once approved, the VA forwards the order for a medical alert system directly to the provider. 

After the provider receives the order, it may reach out to the program beneficiary to gather needed information. This is usually normal signup information, such as the enrollee’s name, address and contact information. Both Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert collect beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers and emergency contacts. The provider also needs to keep a current list of medications to inform emergency crews on their way to the senior’s residence. Sensitive personal and medical information is securely held in compliance with federal HIPAA laws.

Other Options for Medical Alert Systems for Veterans

If a senior veteran has needs that go beyond what either of the two VA-approved providers can offer, it’s possible to go outside of the VA’s program and sign up with a different provider. The VA doesn’t directly pay for non-approved systems, but it does offer limited reimbursement for senior veterans who have been approved for the program but opt into a private system. The approval process for reimbursement is basically similar to the application for an approved system, but instead of forwarding the approval to a provider, the VA can notify the beneficiary directly.

Once approved for reimbursement, a beneficiary can reach out to the medical alert system company of their choice and sign up like any other customer. Many providers offer discounts for veterans, and many have low-income discounts for seniors who might otherwise not be able to afford a system. Seniors with Tricare For Life or certain Medicare Part C plans may be able to get help with their portion of the monthly fee for a system through their health insurance.

Why Choose an Outside Provider?

There are several reasons for a senior veteran to opt out of the VA’s provider network and sign up with a company of their own choice. One reason could be personal preference if a beneficiary has a specific company they feel more comfortable with. Another is the list of features not available with VA-approved systems. Both Latitude USA and MedEquip Alert issue very basic systems to veterans who sign up through the VA. Features available with other systems that may only be had by going outside of the VA include:

  • Downloadable apps for caregivers
  • Wall-mounted call buttons
  • Extra pendants on the same account
  • Smartwatches and other sophisticated monitoring or call devices
  • Coverage for a spouse at no additional cost
  • Medication reminders and/or daily check-ins from provider reps
  • Fashion pendants that resemble jewelry

Not all applicants need these features, and a basic system through the VA can be perfectly adequate for many beneficiaries. Applicants who do need one or more of these nonstandard features should ask about their options during the intake consultation with their doctor at the VA to decide what type of system to choose.

Options to Pay for Medical Alert Systems for Veterans

Veterans have more than one option to pay for a medical alert system. Apart from direct VA support, senior veterans can pay for their personal emergency call systems in several ways.

State-by-State Guide for Free Medical Alert Systems

In addition to various federal and veteran-specific coverage options, senior veterans with qualifying medical or disability-related conditions might get help paying for their call system from the state where they live. The details of each program vary by state. Seniors who need state-level assistance with paying for a medical alert system for veterans should contact their local aid program to see if they qualify.