SAVVY SENIOR
Who should be screened for lung cancer? 

 

Dec. 15, 2014

Jim Miller


Q: What can you tell me about lung cancer screenings? My husband was a long-time smoker, but quit many years ago, so I’m wondering if he should be checked out.
 

A: According to recent recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force - an independent panel of medical experts that advises the government on health policies - if your husband is between the ages of 55 and 80, is a current smoker or quit within the last 15 years, and has a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years, he’s at high risk for lung cancer and should talk to his doctor about getting screened.

Pack years are determined by multiplying the number of packs he smoked daily by the number of years he smoked.

You’ll also be happy to know that lung cancer screenings - which are recommended annually to those at risk - will be covered by all private health insurance plans starting in 2015, and Medicare is expected to begin coverage this February or March. The Medicare screening, however, will only cover high-risk beneficiaries through age 74.

Lung cancer kills around 160,000 Americans each year making it the most deadly of all possible cancers. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Lung cancer also occurs predominantly in older adults. About two out of every three people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older, and the risk of lung cancer peaks at age 71.

 

Lung cancer screening

The goal of annual screenings is to detect cancer early before symptoms appear, so it can be cured. The five-year survival rate among people with lung cancer when it’s caught in its earliest stage is 77 percent, versus only 4 to 25 percent for people whose cancer has spread.

To get screened for lung cancer, your husband will need a low-dose computed tomography (CT) chest scan, which is a painless, noninvasive test that generates detailed three-dimensional images of his lungs.

For the screening, he will be asked to lie on a table that slides through the center of a large, doughnut shaped scanner that rotates around him to take images. Each scan takes just a few seconds, during which time he’ll be asked to hold his breath, because movement can produce blurred images. The entire procedure takes only a few minutes from start to finish.

You also need to be aware that a lung CT screening has its downsides. First, it exposes you to some radiation - about the same as a mammography but more that of a chest X-ray.

Lung CT screenings aren’t foolproof either. They can produce a high rate of false-positive results, which means they frequently detect small spots (abnormalities) on the lungs that are suggestive of cancer but aren’t cancerous. These false alarms lead to more testing and sometimes lung biopsies, as well as unnecessary worry and anxiety.

 

Prevention

Because smoking causes 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancer cases, the best way to avoid lung cancer is to not smoke, and if you do smoke, quit. Even if you’ve been a smoker for a long time, quitting now still decreases your risk. Other factors that can increase the risk of lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos and other toxic chemicals or fumes.

For more information on lung cancer screenings, call the American Lung Association at 800-586-4872, or use their online tool (LungCancerScreeningSavesLives.org), which will help you determine if your husband needs to be screened.

 


 

Convenient ways to get help with your Social Security questions
Dec. 9, 2014


Q: Can you recommend some easier ways that I can get help with my Social Security questions? When I call their toll-free help line I get put on hold forever, and the wait time at my local Social Security office is over two hours.

A: It’s unfortunate, but the past few years the Social Security Administration has made some major budget and staff cuts that have greatly increased their phone service and field office wait times for their customers. With that said, here’s an alternative option and some tips that can help make your access to Social Security a little faster and easier.

 

Online services

With the evolution of the Social Security website, the quickest and most convenient way to work with Social Security these days is to do it yourself online. Depending on what you need, most tasks can be done at SocialSecurity.gov like getting your Social Security statement, estimating your future benefits, applying for retirement or disability benefits, signing up for direct deposit, replacing a Medicare card and much more. See a complete list of what you can do online at ssa.gov/onlineservices

You can also get information and answers to most of your Social Security questions at faq.ssa.gov if you’re patient enough to read through the information yourself.

But, if you need more help than their website offers, you can always call Social Security’s toll-free service line at 800-772-1213 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and ask your question over the phone, or make a scheduled appointment with your local field office. To reduce your wait time, avoid calling during their rush hour times, which are the first week of the month, and daily from about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

 

Need advice?

If you’re seeking advice on when you should start taking your Social Security benefits, you need to know that while Social Security employees do provide information on how the system works under different circumstances, they aren’t allowed to give case-specific advice on when you should start drawing your benefits.

If you want help with this, you’ll need to turn to some of the free or fee-based Social Security tools that are available online through private financial service companies or AARP.

Depending on the service, these tools take into account the different rules and claiming strategies that can affect your benefits, and some of them can crunch hundreds of calculations to compare your benefits under various scenarios and different ages to help you figure out the best time to start claiming.

Some of the best free tools are AARP’s Social Security Calculator (aarp.org/socialsecuritybenefits); SSAnalyze which is offered by Bedrock Capital Management (bedrockcapital.com/ssanalyze); and Analyze Now (analyzenow.com - click on “Computer Programs”) which offers a “Free Strategic Social Security Planner” but requires Microsoft Excel to use it.

Or, if you don’t mind spending a little money, there are higher-level services you can use like Maximize My Social Security (maximizemysocialsecurity.com), which charges $40 for their report, and takes into account the thousands of different factors and combinations to help you maximize your benefits.

And Social Security Solutions (socialsecuritysolutions.com, 866-762-7526), which offers several levels of service (ranging between $20 and $250) including their $125 “Advised” plan that runs multiple calculations and comparisons, recommends a best course of action in a detailed report, and gives you a one-on-one session with a Social Security specialist over the phone to discuss the report and ask questions.

 


 

Personal tech products designed specifically for seniors     
Dec. 9, 2014


Q: Can you recommend any tablets, smartphones or computers that are specifically designed for seniors? I would like to buy a device for my technology-challenged grandmother so she can get online and keep up with her grandkids better, but it needs to be super simplified so she can use it.
 

A: There are actually several new tech products on the market today that are designed specifically for older boomers and seniors that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology.

These devices come equipped with simplified software, big, vivid features, less clutter and better customer support packages, which makes them more appealing and much easier to use than mainstream devices. Here are several top senior-friendly options to look into.

 

Smartphone

If you’re thinking about a smartphone for your grandmother, check out the new GreatCall Touch3. Made by Samsung, this Android smartphone has a 4-inch touchscreen with an organized large icon menu list on the home screen that provides users simple access to often-used features like the phone, text messages, camera, pictures, email and Internet, along with your contacts and apps.

It also has a 5-megapixel camera, a full-size onscreen keyboard, and offers a variety of health and safety features like the 5Star app that lets you immediately speak to a certified agent 24/7 who can identify your location and get you the help you need. Urgent Care, which provides access to registered nurses and doctors for advice and diagnoses. And MedCoach, which sends medication reminders.

Available at greatcall.com or 800-918-8543, the Touch3 sells for $170 with a $20 introductory discount, plus a one-time activation fee of $35, and no-contract is required. Monthly service plans that include unlimited 5Star and Urgent Care service start at $25. And their data plans start at $2.50 per month for 20MB.

 

Tablet computer

If you’re considering a tablet, a top senior-friendly option is AARP’s new RealPad, which costs $189 at aarprealpad.org, walmart.com/realpad or Walmart stores.

Produced in partnership with Intel, the RealPad is an Android tablet with a 7.85-inch touchscreen. It provides a clutter-free simplified home page with large text icons to frequently used functions like email, social networks, weather, news, games, camera and pictures, Google, the Web, apps and more.

It also has a 2-megapixel front camera and 5-megapixel rear camera, and comes with 24/7 phone support, a bunch of tutorial videos, and a “Real QuickFix” tool that connects users to technology support agents over the Internet who can access the tablet and fix problems.

 

Desktop computer

If you think your grandmother would like a desktop computer, the Telikin (telikin.com, 800-717-7640), which has been around for three years now, is an excellent choice.

Ready to go right out of the box, this all-in-one touch-screen computer displays a big button menu on the screen at all times, providing simple access to most functions like the Internet, email, games, video chat, photo sharing, news and weather, and more.

Available in two sizes - the 18.6-inch “Telikin Touch” that costs $699, and the 22-inch “Telikin Elite II” for $1,079  - these computers come with built-in speakers, a Web camera, microphone, wired keyboard and mouse. They also offer a “tech buddy” feature so you can access your grandma’s Telikin computer remotely from your computer to help her when she needs it.

Running on Linux software instead of the standard Windows or Mac OS, the Telikin is also virus-resistant, comes with a 60-day trial period, a one-year warranty and free tech support.

It’s also worth noting that Telikin has a partnership with firstSTREET - a senior product direct marketing company - that is also selling the 22-inch Telikin for $1,079, but have rebranded it as the “WOW! Computer for Seniors.”




 

Free and Low-Cost Legal Services that Help Seniors in Need      
Nov. 18, 2014


Q: Where can seniors turn to for free or low-cost legal help? My husband and I need some professional legal assistance but don’t have a lot of money to pay a high priced lawyer. What can you tell us?

A: There are actually a number of free and low-cost legal resources available today to help seniors, but what’s available to you and your husband will depend on where you live, the type legal assistance you need and your financial situation. Here are several resources to check into.

Legal aid: Directed by the Legal Services Corporation, legal aid offers free legal assistance to low-income people of all ages. Each community program will differ slightly in the services they offer and income qualifications. See lsc.gov/find-legal-aid to locate a program in your area.

Pro bono programs: Usually sponsored by state or local bar associations, these programs help low-income people find volunteer lawyers who are willing to handle their cases for free. You can look for a pro bono program through the American Bar Association at findlegalhelp.org, or through lawhelp.org.

Senior legal hotlines: There are a number of states including the District of Columbia that offer senior legal hotlines, where all seniors over age 60 have access to free legal advice over the telephone. To find the states that offer this service and their toll free number, visit legalhotlines.org.

Senior legal services: Coordinated by the Administration on Aging, this service may offer free or low-cost legal advice, legal assistance or access to legal representation to people over the age of 60. Your Area Agency on Aging can tell you what’s available in your community. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get your local number.

National Disability Rights Network: This is a nonprofit membership organization that provides legal assistance to people with disabilities through their Protection and Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program. If you or your husband is disabled, visit ndrn.org to find help in your state.

 

Other options

If you can’t get help from one of these programs, or find that you aren’t eligible, another option is to contact your state or local bar association, which may be able to refer you to a low-fee lawyer. Or, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer for only part of the legal work and doing other parts yourself. This is known as unbundled legal services.

Many bar associations offer public service-oriented lawyer referral services that will interview clients and help identify the problems a lawyer could help them with. If a lawyer can help with your problem, the service will provide you with a referral to a lawyer. If the problem does not require a lawyer, the service will provide information on other organizations in your community that may be able to help. Most of these lawyer referral services conduct their interviews and make referrals over the phone.

To contact your state or local bar association, go to americanbar.org and type in “state and local bar associations” in the search field to find their state-by-state directory.

And finally, if you are an AARP member, one other discount resource that may be able to help you is AARP’s Legal Services Network from Allstate. This service provides members a free legal consultation (up to 45 minutes) with an attorney along with 20 percent discounts on other legal services you may need. To locate a lawyer near you, call 866-330-0753.

 






How to improve your balance as you age      
Nov. 4, 2014


Q: I’ve always been a walker, but when I fell last month my doctor suggested I start doing some balance exercises. Is this really something I need to practice? What can you tell me?
 

A: Most people don’t think much about practicing their balance, but you should, the same way that you walk to strengthen your heart, lungs and overall health, or you stretch to keep your body limber.

As we age, our balance declines - if it isn’t practiced - and can cause falls. Every year more than one in three people age 65 years or older fall, and the risk increases with age. A simple fall can cause a serious fracture of the hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand or ankle, which can lead to hospital stays, disability, loss of independence and even death.

 

How balance works

Balance is the ability to distribute your weight in a way that enables you to hold a steady position or move at will without falling. It’s determined by a complex combination of muscle strength, visual inputs, the inner ear and the work of specialized receptors in the nerves of your joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons that orient you in relation to other objects.

It’s all sorted out in the sensory cortex of your brain, which takes in the information from those sources to give you balance. But aging dulls our balance senses, and causes most seniors to gradually become less stable on their feet over time.

Poor balance can also lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity. You feel a little unsteady, so you curtail certain activities. If you’re inactive, you’re not challenging your balance systems or using your muscles. As a result, both balance and strength suffer. Simple acts like strolling through a grocery store or getting up from a chair become trickier. That shakes your confidence, so you become even less active.
 

Balance exercises

If you have a balance problem that is not tied to illness, medication or some other specific cause, simple exercises can help preserve and improve your balance. Some basic exercises you can do anytime include:

One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds, or longer, then switch to the other foot. You can do this while brushing your teeth or waiting around somewhere. In the beginning, you might want to have a wall or chair to hold on to.

Heel rises: While standing, rise up on your toes as far as you can. Then drop back to the starting position and repeat the process 10 to 20 times. You can make this more difficult by holding light hand weights.

Heel-toe walk: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead. Think of a field sobriety test.

Sit-to-stand: Without using your hands, get up from a straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times. This improves balance and leg strength.

For additional balance exercises visit go4life.nia.nih.gov, a resource created by the National Institute on Aging that offers free booklets and a DVD that provides illustrated examples of many appropriate exercises. You can order your free copies online or by calling 800-222-2225.

Some other exercises that can help improve your balance and flexibility is through tai chi and yoga. To locate a beginner’s class in your area that teaches either of these disciplines, call your local senior center, health club or wellness center, check your yellow pages or try online directory sites like americantaichi.net and yogafinder.com.

If nothing is available near you, there are DVDs and videos that offer tai chi and yoga instructions and routines for seniors that you can do at home. Some good resources for finding them are amazon.com, collagevideo.com and iefit.com, or check with your local public library.
 



A guide to finding affordable dental care     
Oct. 28, 2014


Q: I had dental insurance through my work for many years but lost it when I retired. Where can retirees find affordable dental care?

A: Finding affordable dental care can be challenging for seniors living on a tight budget. Most retirees lose their dental insurance after leaving the workplace, and original Medicare does not cover cleaning, fillings or dentures. While there’s no one solution to affordable dental care there are a number of options that can help cut your costs. Here’s where to look.

 

Medicare Advantage

While original Medicare (Part A and B) and Medicare supplemental policies do not cover routine dental care, there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans that do. Many of these plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover dental care along with eye care, hearing and prescription drugs, in addition to all of your hospital and medical insurance. If you’re eligible for Medicare, see medicare.gov/find-a-plan to look for Advantage plans in your area that covers dental care.
 

Dental discounts

Another way you can reduce your dental care expenses is to join a dental discount network. How this works is you pay an annual membership fee - around $80 to $200 a year - in exchange for 10 to 60 percent discounts on service and treatments from participating dentists. To find a network, go to DentalPlans.com (or 888-632-5353) where you can search for plans and participating dentists by zip code, as well as get a breakdown of the discounts offered.

Another option that’s currently available only in the southern California area is Brighter.com. They provide users free access to a network of dentists offering up to 50 percent discounts on all services.

 

Dental schools

Dental school clinics offer savings opportunities too. All 65 accredited dental schools in the U.S. offer affordable care provided by dental students who are overseen by their professors. You can expect to pay about half of what a traditional dentist would charge and still receive excellent, well-supervised care.

Another option is to check with local colleges that offer dental hygiene programs. For training purposes, many programs provide teeth cleanings by their students for a fraction of what you’d pay at a dentist’s office.

To search for nearby dental schools or dental hygiene programs visit ada.org/dentalschools.

 

Veterans benefits

If you’re a veteran enrolled in the VA health care program, or are a beneficiary of the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), the VA is now offering a dental insurance program that gives you the option to buy dental insurance through Delta Dental and MetLife at a reduced cost.

The VA also provides free dental care to vets who have dental problems resulting from service. To learn more about these options, visit va.gov/dental or call 877-222-8387.

 

Low income options

If you’re low income, there are various programs and clinics that provide dental care at a reduced rate or for free. To look for options in your area contact your state dental director (see astdd.org), or your state or local dental society (ebusiness.ada.org/mystate.aspx).

You may also be able to get discounted or free dental care at one of the federally funded HRSA health centers (findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov, 877-464-4772), or at a privately funded free clinic (nafcclinics.org).

Also check with the Dental Lifeline Network (dentallifeline.org, 888-471-6334) which provides free dental care for low-income elderly and disabled; Remote Area Medical (ramusa.org) which offers free health, eye and dental care to people in select locations; and Indian Health Service (ihs.gov), which provides free dental care to American Indians and Alaska Natives who are members of a federally recognized Indian tribe.

Also see toothwisdom.org, a website created by Oral Health America that will help you locate low-cost dental care.





How Medicare covers outpatient mental health services 
  
Oct. 21, 2014

Q: Does Medicare cover outpatient counseling or therapy sessions for seniors? Since retiring, my husband has really struggled with depression and needs to get some help. What can you tell us?

Inquiring Senior
 

A: Yes, Medicare recently upgraded its coverage of outpatient mental health services to help beneficiaries with depression and other needs. Here’s how it works.

If you have original Medicare, your Part B coverage will pay 80 percent (after you’ve met your $147 Part B deductible) for a variety of counseling and therapy services that are provided outside a hospital, like individual and group therapy, family counseling and more. They also cover services for treatment of beneficiaries who struggle with inappropriate alcohol and drug use.

You or your supplemental insurance is responsible for the remaining 20 percent coinsurance. 

Medicare also gives your husband the option of getting treatment through a variety of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and clinical nurse specialists.

It’s also important to understand that if your husband decides to see a non-medical doctor (such as psychologists or a clinical social worker), you’ll need to make sure that he or she is Medicare-certified and takes assignment, which means they accept Medicare’s approved amount as full payment. If they don’t, Medicare will not pay for the services.

Medicare will, however, pay for the services of Medicare-certified medical doctors (such as psychiatrists) who do not take assignment, but these doctors can charge you up to 15 percent above Medicare’s approved amount in addition to the 20 percent coinsurance, which you will be responsible for.

To locate a mental health care professional in your area that accepts Medicare assignment, use Medicare’s online Physician Compare tool. Just go to medicare.gov/physiciancompare and type in your zip code, or city and state, then type in the type of profession you want locate, like “psychiatry” or “clinical psychologist” in the “What are you searching for?” box. You can also get this information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227.

 

Medicare Advantage

If you and your husband get your Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, they too must cover the same services as original Medicare but they will likely require him to see an in-network provider. You’ll need to contact your plan directly for the details.

 

Additional coverage

In addition to the outpatient mental health services, you should also know that Medicare covers yearly depression screenings that must be done in a primary care doctor’s office or primary care clinic that can assure appropriate diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annual depression screenings are covered 100 percent.

Medicare will also cover almost all medications used to treat mental health conditions under the Part D prescription drug benefit. If your husband is prescribed an antidepressant or some other medication for his condition, and he has a Part D plan, you should call his plan to confirm coverage or you can search the plans formulary (the list of medications they cover) on their website.

For more detailed information, call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and request a copy of publication #10184 “Medicare & Your Mental Health Benefits,” or you can read it online at medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/10184.pdf.

 

 

What to consider when choosing a walk-in bathtub
Oct. 14, 2014


Q: I’m interested in getting a walk-in bathtub for my wife that’s easy for her to get into and out of, but could use some assistance. Can you offer any consumer tips?

A: A walk-in bathtub is a great option for seniors with mobility problems who have trouble getting in and out of a traditional tub. But with so many options available today, choosing one can be challenging. Here are a few tips that can help.

 

Bathtub basics

Walk-in bathtubs are specialty products that have a watertight, hinged door built into the side of the tub that provides a much lower threshold to step over (usually 3 to 7 inches) versus a standard tub that’s around 15 inches.

In addition to the low threshold, most walk-in tubs also have a built-in seat, grab bars, anti-slip floors and a handheld showerhead. And many higher-end models offer therapeutic spa-like features that are great for seniors with arthritis and other ailments.

The kind of walk-in tub you choose will depend on the size and layout of your bathroom, your wife’s needs and preferences, and your budget. Prices for a good walk-in tub typically run between $3,000 and $10,000 installed. Here are some other things you should know.

Quality check: The best walk-in bathtubs on the market today are made in the USA. Also, make sure the company you choose has a lifetime “leak-proof” door seal warranty and lengthy warranties on both the tub and the operating system.

Tub size: While walk-in bathtubs vary in shape and size, most models have high-walls (three feet or higher), are 26 to 32 inches wide, and will fit into the same 60-inch long space as your standard tub without having to reconfigure the room. If the walk-in tub doesn’t quite fit your old bathtub space, extension kits are available to ensure a good fit.

Door options: Most walk-in tubs have an inward opening door, but if your wife uses a wheelchair or is a large person, an outward opening door may be a better option because they’re easier to enter and exit. But, be aware that because these doors swing out, they require more bathroom space.

One other style to consider is the “rising-wall” bathtub made by Kohler, which sits about two feet off the ground and has a side panel that slides up and down. These tubs can be entered from a seated position, which makes it a nice option for wheelchair users.

Tub type: Most companies offer several different types of walk-in tubs. The most basic type is a soaker tub, or you can get a therapeutic tub that offers either whirlpool water jets or bubble massage air jets, or a combination of the two.

Fast fill and drain: One drawback to using a walk-in bathtub is that the bather must sit in the tub as it fills and drains, which can make for a chilly experience. To help with this, choose a tub that has fast-filling faucets and pump-assisted drainage systems, which significantly speeds up the process.

Where to shop: While there are many companies that make, sell and install walk-in bathtubs, some of the best in the industry are Safe Step (www.safesteptub.com, 800-346-6616), Premier (www.premiercarebathing.com, 800-934-7614), American Standard (www.americanstandard.com, 866-423-0800) and Jacuzzi (www.jacuzzi.com, 800-288-4002). Many big box retailers like Lowes, Home Depot and Sears sell walk-in bathtubs too.

Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover walk-in bathtubs, but many companies offer financing with monthly payment plans.

To get started, contact a few companies who will send a local dealer to your home to assess your bathroom, and give you product options and estimates for free.

 


 

How to check up on your hospital
Oct. 7, 2014


Q: What resources can you recommend for researching hospitals? I need to get a knee replacement next year, and want to find a good, safe hospital to have it done in.

A: Most people don’t give much thought when it comes to choosing a hospital, but selecting the right one can be as important as the doctor you choose. Here are some tips and resources to help you research and check up on your area hospitals.

 

Hospital shopping

While you may not always have the opportunity to choose your hospital, especially in the case of an emergency, having a planned procedure can offer you a variety of choices.

When shopping for a hospital, the most important criterion is to find one that has a strong department in your area of need. A facility that excels in coronary bypass surgery, for example, may not be the best choice for a knee replacement. Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they’re treated in hospitals that have extensive experience with their specific condition.

In order to choose a hospital that’s best for you, it is important to discuss your concerns and alternatives with the doctor who is treating you. Some doctors may be affiliated with several hospitals from which you can choose. Or, if you’ve yet to select a doctor, finding a top hospital that has expertise with your condition can help you determine which physician to actually choose.

Another important reason to do some research is the all too frequent occurrence of hospital infections, which kill around 75,000 people in the U.S. each year. So checking your hospital’s infection rates and cleanliness procedures is also a wise move.

 

Researching tools

Today, there are a number of online resources that provide hospital safety and performance data to help you research and compare facilities. Because hospitals are such complex places, it’s wise to get information from a variety of sources. Here is a summary of some top guides.

Hospital Compare (medicare.gov/hospitalcompare): Operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this free tool lets you compare general quality of care, as well as care for many medical conditions and surgical procedures in more than 4,000 U.S. hospitals.

Consumer Reports Hospital Rankings (consumerreports.org/hospitalratings): If you don’t mind spending a few dollars ($7 for one month or $30 per year), Consumer Reports ranks 4,500 hospitals in all 50 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The reliable resource provides information on up to 34 performance and safety measures.

U.S. News & World Report (usnews.com/best-hospitals): This online publishing resource identifies the best hospitals for 16 specialties, and provides rankings by metro area and by specialty for free.

Healthgrades (healthgrades.com): A private, for-profit organization, they provide free hospital ratings on patient safety and medical procedures, and scores hospitals using a 5-star scale. 

The Commonwealth Fund (whynotthebest.org): This is a private foundation that provides free performance data on all U.S. hospitals.

The Joint Commission (qualitycheck.org): This is a not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs in the U.S. Hospitals receive a checkmark for each set of measures they have met. But there’s no way to tell whether a hospital is stronger in one area over another.

Hospital Inspections (hospitalinspections.org): Established by the Association of Health Care Journalist, this focuses on violations and inspection reports.

The Leapfrog Group (hospitalsafetyscore.org): This national, not-for-profit organization grades hospitals on their overall performance in keeping patients safe. Use your city, state or ZIP code to search more than 2,500 hospitals.

VA Hospital Compare (www.hospitalcompare.va.gov): If you’re a veteran, you can research and compare VA medical centers here.

 

 

Burial and Memorial Benefits Available to Veterans
Sept. 30, 2014


Dear Savvy Senior,

Does the Veterans Administration provide any special funeral services or benefits to old veterans? My father is a 90-year-old World War II veteran with late stage Alzheimer’s, so I’m looking into funeral options and would like to know what the VA may provide.

Planning Ahead

 

Dear Planning,

Yes, the Veterans Administration offers a number of burial and memorial benefits to veterans if their discharge from the military was under conditions other than dishonorable – which will need to be verified. To do this, you’ll need a copy of your dad’s DD Form 214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,” which you can request online at archives.gov/veterans.

Here’s a rundown of some of the different benefits that are available to veterans that die a non-service related death.

 

National and State Cemetery Benefits

If your dad is eligible, and wants to be buried in one of the 131 national or 93 state VA cemeteries (see www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/listcem.asp for a list) the VA benefits provided at no cost to the family include a gravesite; opening and closing of the grave; perpetual gravesite care; a government headstone or marker; a United States burial flag that can be used to drape the casket or accompany the urn (after the funeral service, the flag is given to the next-of-kin as a keepsake); and a Presidential memorial certificate, which is an engraved paper certificate signed by the current President expressing the country’s grateful recognition of the veteran’s service.

National cemetery burial benefits are also available to spouses and dependents of veterans.

If your dad is cremated, his remains will be buried or inurned in the same manner as casketed remains.

Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are not, however, taken care of by the VA. They are the responsibility of the veteran’s family.

 

Private Cemetery Benefits

If your dad is going to be buried in a private cemetery, the benefits available include a free government headstone or marker, or a medallion that can be affixed to an existing privately purchased headstone or marker; a burial flag; and a Presidential memorial certificate.

Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are again the responsibility of the family, and there are no benefits offered to spouses and dependents that are buried in private cemeteries.

 

Military Funeral Honors

Another popular benefit available to all eligible veterans buried in either a national or private cemetery is a military funeral honors ceremony. This includes folding and presenting the U.S. burial flag to the veteran’s survivors and the playing of Taps, performed by two or more uniformed military members.

The funeral provider you choose will be able to assist you with all VA burial requests. Depending on what you want, certain forms may need to be completed which are always better to be done in advance. For a complete rundown of burial and memorial benefits, eligibility details and required forms, visit www.cem.va.gov or call 800-827-1000.

 

Burial Allowances

In addition to the many burial benefits, some veterans may also qualify for a $734 burial and funeral expense allowance (if hospitalized by VA at time of death), or $300 (if not hospitalized by VA at time of death), and a $734 plot-interment allowance to those who choose to be buried in a private cemetery. To find out if your dad is eligible, see benefits.va.gov/benefits/factsheets/burials/burial.pdf.

To apply for burial allowances, you’ll need to fill out VA Form 21-530 “Application for Burial Benefits.” You need to attach a copy of your dad’s discharge document (DD 214 or equivalent), death certificate, funeral and burial bills. They should show that you have paid them in full. You may download the form at va.gov/vaforms.

 

 

 

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