Fought for America? Bush Still Won’t Give You Health Care?


By Eric Haas, Rockridge Nation
Posted on November 8, 2007, Printed on November 8, 2007

Last April, President Bush told members of American Legion Post 177 that “we owe the families and the soldiers the best health care possible.”

That debt is still unpaid. According to a new report by Harvard Medical School researchers, published last week in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health, millions of veterans and their family members have not been getting the medical care they need.

People assume that veterans automatically get health care from Veterans Affairs (VA). They don’t. Despite their military service, the Bush Administration requires most veterans to pay additional money for insurance in order to get care. But many veterans don’t earn enough money to be able to buy health insurance. At the same time, they aren’t poor enough under Bush Administration guidelines to get VA care or to qualify for Medicaid. Abandoned, these veterans struggle alone to find health care. In the insurance marketplace, our veterans remain in harms way — their service, and our debt, forgotten.

Why haven’t we made good on our obligation? Our moral debt to our veterans, based on mutual need and shared responsibility, goes unpaid in the current health insurance system because it is based upon corporate self-interest. An insurance company’s responsibility is to maximize profit, even when that means denying care to veterans. Clearly, our national moral responsibility is not the same as an insurance company’s corporate fiduciary duty to maximize profits. (This concept is discussed further in our Rockridge Institute paper, The Logic of the Health Care Debate).

In fact, as the veterans’ predicament demonstrates, these obligations can be quite contradictory. A vet is a national hero. Soldiers risk their lives. Many will be injured. Some will die. In return, we promise to support our troops in whatever way possible — both on the battlefield and when (or if) they return as veterans. Certainly, our support includes medical care.

There is no price that can be put on the risks a soldier takes. Nor is there a way to estimate the care a veteran will need during their lifetime. Our mutual obligations are easily understood, but impossible to quantify.

But a health insurance company’s duty is to its shareholders. Its legal and contractual obligation is to maximize profits. Health insurance companies do that by quantifying likely health costs, and selling the policies for more than they will pay out in benefits. If you cannot afford their policies, then they will not sell you one. Simply put, a veteran is just another potential customer.

The national failure to meet our shared obligations to veterans — who risked life and limb on our behalf — is a disgrace. It betrays the moral vacuum at the center of our current health care system.

Let’s simplify to make this ugly circumstance as clear as we can. Imagine a town. Inside the town live health insurance executives and the politicians who serve their interests. Soldiers risk life and limb to protect the town. Later, a soldier gets sick. “Sorry, you don’t earn enough to afford our insurance policies. Try the next town,” say the insurance executives. Except, in America, there is no “next town.”

One way that we could meet our national obligation to support our troops is for the government to provide or guarantee medical care for all veterans. A version of this idea occurred through the Veterans’ Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-262). The Act opened VA care to all veterans, with copays for those veterans considered to be “non-poor” (generally those making $30,000 and higher). In January 2003, however, the Bush Administration ordered a halt to the enrollment of “non-poor” veterans. The VA facilities were “full.” To date, it’s no better. As a result, according to the Harvard Medical School study, millions of vets and their family members cannot afford health insurance and go everyday without needed medical care. That is tragic. Something must change.

The authors elegantly summarize the central role that veterans and health care play in our national community:

The disturbing scene of returning soldiers left without care is a stark reminder that America is a nation bound by mutual obligations and shared responsibility. We owe veterans care not because they can pay for it nor because they are heroes but — as their sacrifices remind us — because members of a society are obligated to serve and protect each other.

In America, we don’t have a health care system; we have an insurance marketplace. Until we understand the difference, no reform will work. To our low-income veterans, that is a daily hardship. We should make their hardship our problem too. One we solve together. Now. We owe that to our veterans.

Eric Haas is a senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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2 Responses

  1. I am a disabled vet rated at 100%. I receive great care at the VA Hospitals. I take great offense at people who think everyone should just get everything for free. I worked most of my life and paid for my own health care by working JOBS. As I got older I found myself unable to work and the VA honored my service connected disability and is taking good care of me.
    Where do you you think the government gets the money it spends? I will tell you. Look at your pay stub. Its called taxes. The only money the government has is what it takes in the form of TAXES. If everyone was a recipient then who would work and pay taxes and where would the money come from? Think about it. There is only a finite amount amount of taxes the government has to do things with. We, as citizens, must learn to take care of ourselves and not to be constantly asking our neighbors to pay for things.

  2. The VA has a long history of ignoring those of whom they were created to serve. They have a myriad of rules and regulations to disqualify those that are qualified for treatment. They have ignored issues and are just now getting around to admitting that 30 years later agent orange does cause cancer, that gulf war syndrome does exist, that there is a homeless veteran care shortage, that there is suicide problems amongst veterans, but gee they have ignored issues so long they just have no idea where to start!

    Actually it was not President Bush that started the problem though, these issues started way back at the end of WWI and the government turning its back on those veterans. Our nation has made a career of turning its back on its warriors. Look recently even with the democrats foiling a recent veterans funding bill prior to Veterans Day. The problems lie deep in this country with all politicians treat its veterans.


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