By Alex Seitz-Wald via ThinkProgress
On the eve of Veterans Day, a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School has released a study finding that an estimated 2,266 veterans under the age of 65 died last year because they did not have health insurance. That “translates to six preventable deaths per day” and more than twice the number killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.
Being uninsured raises a person’s odds of dying prematurely by 40 percent. The researchers found that 1.46 million veterans between the ages of 18 and 64 lacked insurance in 2008. While most veterans are eligible to receive excellent care from the Veterans Administration, those who were not injured in combat and whose income is above a certain threshold are often ineligible. Others are assigned low priorities, providing them with less consistent and more expensive access to care:
“Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people – too poor to afford private coverage but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School. [...]
Dr. David Himmelstein, the co-author of the analysis and associate professor of medicine at Harvard, commented, “On this Veterans Day we should not only honor the nearly 500 soldiers who have died this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the more than 2,200 veterans who were killed by our broken health insurance system. That’s six preventable deaths a day.”
Unfortunately, health insurance is just one of many serious problems vets face. Up to one-in-five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while male vets face suicide rates double the national average. And, as the VA under President Obama recognized, veterans still account for up to a quarter of all homeless.
The fact that even veterans cannot receive adequate health care demonstrates that the current system is broken and in need of dramatic overhaul. A robust public option will guarantee that vets and all working-class Americans will be able to afford quality health insurance. Still, the study’s authors warn that the health care legislation “would do virtually nothing for the uninsured until 2013” and would “leave at least 17 million uninsured over the long run when reform kicks in,” leaving many veterans without care.
Update: Politico reports, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) 'illogical' for holding up a veterans care bill Tuesday, criticizing the Oklahoma Republican for supporting war funding while blocking health care funding for veterans."