Veterans Die from Lack of Health Insurance

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From the web site of Physicians for a National Health Plan comes this summary of a new study on American veterans’ limited access to health care. These figures as an estimate, extrapolated from an earlier study–but if they are right, they dwarf the number of deaths from combat, and rival the suicide figures I wrote about earlier today.

A research team at Harvard Medical School estimates 2,266 U.S. military veterans under the age of 65 died last year because they lacked health insurance and thus had reduced access to care. That figure is more than 14 times the number of deaths (155) suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died (911 as of Oct. 31) since the war began in 2001.

The researchers, who released their analysis today [Tuesday], pointedly say the health reform legislation pending in the House and Senate will not significantly affect this grim picture.

The Harvard group analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2009 Current Population Survey, which surveyed Americans about their insurance coverage and veteran status, and found that 1,461,615 veterans between the ages of 18 and 64 were uninsured in 2008. Veterans were only classified as uninsured if they neither had health insurance nor received ongoing care at Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals or clinics.

Using their recently published findings in the American Journal of Public Health that show being uninsured raises an individual’s odds of dying by 40 percent (causing 44,798 deaths in the United States annually among those aged 17 to 64), they arrived at their estimate of 2,266 preventable deaths of non-elderly veterans in 2008.

 

As the PNHP piece points out, many veterans do not have free access to government-funded health care through the VA system:

While many Americans believe that all veterans can get care from the VA, even combat veterans may not be able to obtain VA care, Woolhandler said. As a rule, VA facilities provide care for any veteran who is disabled by a condition connected to his or her military service and care for specific medical conditions acquired during military service.

Woolhandler said veterans who pass a means test are eligible for care in VA facilities, but have lower priority status…Veterans with higher incomes are classified in the lowest priority group and are not eligible for VA enrollment.

So after these men and women risk their lives in the military, we throw them on the mercy of the private system of medicine-for-profit, which is touted as a cherished part of the American way of life. It all gives a whole new meaning to dying for your country.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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