Wounded veteran wins health care battle after cutting through red tape

Heath Hobson served nine years in the Army National Guard.

NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) – Heath Hobson makes a living helping veterans secure their benefits, but it took much longer to help himself regain medical coverage that he says was promised to him.

The veteran of the 101st Army National Guard said his own persistence was the key in being reinstated to the military healthcare coverage known as Tricare Prime.

Hobson is relieved his issue is solved, but concerned about what he called a lack of help from Congressman Joe Kennedy’s office.

“His top aide told me that the law was working as intended,” Hobson said. “I pleaded with her to understand that [multiple federal agencies] agreed that this was an unintended consequence of the existing law.”

Kennedy spokesperson Emily Kaufman said the congressman’s office worked with Hobson over the past 14 months and made extensive inquiries to Social Security, Medicare and Tricare.

“We are grateful for Mr. Hobson’s service, glad he received the outcome he sought and happy to have worked with Medicare and Social Security for over a year on his behalf,” Kaufman said.

Until this week, Hobson felt he was stuck in a crack in the system.

“There’s no literature anywhere on what happens to a military medical retiree if they return to the workforce full time after being on social security disability,” Hobson said. “There’s nothing. Few have ever done it.”

Hobson’s injury was sustained outside Baghdad in January of 2007 after rockets were fired at his barracks.

This is the shrapnel that hit Hobson's leg.
This is the shrapnel that severed Hobson’s leg.

“A big piece of shrapnel just took me right out,” he said. “Severed my right leg in half.”

Surgeons were able to save his life and leg after 17 operations.

Hobson said he was designated as medically retired and promised Tricare Prime, which meant no premiums or deductibles for life for him and his family.

During his recovery, Hobson was given Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. That included Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B, the second of which involved a premium.

“I never intended to stay on [SSDI],” Hobson said. “The way I looked at it, it’s just a leg. My brain works. My hands work.”

After completing his college degree and rejoining the workforce, Hobson discovered the glitch in the system that would spark his long squabble with all the agencies involved.

Hobson said multiple agencies, including the Army and the Social Security Administration, told him he should stop paying his Medicare premium, with the assumption Tricare Prime would cover him.

Instead, he was left without full coverage, until this week when he was reinstated on Tricare Prime.

Hobson, who works with veterans as the Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, said he hopes his ordeal will motivate others “who have given up” to not take no for an answer when it comes to benefits they were promised.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau