August 22, 2008 – The U.S. health care system remains in a state of crisis. Despite incremental efforts at reform, the number of uninsured continues to grow, the cost of care continues to rise, and the safety and quality of care are questioned. The discussions, debates, proposed resolutions, and positions has been overwhelming, but very little emphasis has been placed on the 1.8 million military veterans in the U.S. who neither have health insurance nor receive ongoing care at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Two months shy of the elections, debate on the campaign trail has heated up over health care. Presidential candidates; Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain continue to tout their position on health reform, few proposals have articulated a comprehensive solution for the health care system as it affects veterans. The United States spends more than $2 trillion a year on health care and we have some of the best medical researchers and most advanced technology in the world, but we have 47 million people without health insurance, and this is having a devastating effect on veterans and their families.
A study by Harvard Medical School and testimony given before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs by Dr. Stephanie J. Woolhandler, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Co-Founder, Physicians for a National Health Program documented the plight suffered by veterans and their families because of the health insurance crisis.
Of the 47 million people without health insurance, one out of every eight, or 12.2 percent, is a veteran or member of a veteran household. Specifically, the study said 1.8 million veterans and 3.8 million household members are uninsured.
In January 2008 the United States Department of Veteran Affairs extended its benefits to combat veterans. But of the 64.3% of uninsured veterans who were employed and the nearly nine out of ten (86.4%) that had worked within the past year did not have health coverage. Most uninsured veterans, like other uninsured Americans were in working families and many earned too little to afford health insurance, and too much to qualify for free care under Medicaid or VA means testing. One out of every four of the homeless in America is a veteran.
Going without health insurance is a huge risk for veterans, who often suffer from both physical and psychological conditions related to their time in the armed services. With a high percentage of minorities serving in the military, it also adds to the health problems in minority communities, where a disproportionate number of residents are already without access to quality health-care services.
Our health care system is a complexity, but I am hopeful in the foreseeable future our nation’s leaders will deliver a comprehensive solution to accessible, affordable, and high-quality health care for everyone including our veterans.