…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
If We Cannot Afford to Care for Veterans, We Cannot Afford to Be at War
Categories: Commentary, War

by Meg White

President Obama is meeting again today with top advisers to mull four choices for what to do in Afghanistan, plus the pitch for a 40,000-troop surge requested by top Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Though details are sparse, reportedly all five options entail a troop increase of some kind.

A great deal of thought is no doubt going into these deliberations, from the recent flawed elections and widespreadU.S. military flickr political corruption to the increasing instability and mounting the death toll in the country.

But another element must be considered by the president, and it is the reason you won’t be getting a visit from your U.S. postal carrier today. Obama’s decision in Afghanistan, and ultimately Iraq, should be based on the spirit of Veterans Day. Oh yes; and cold, hard cash as well.

The various arguments bouncing off the walls of the Capitol this session have centered upon funding. While many of the basic conflicts are about ideology, the easiest way to make one’s point stick in a recession and amid a rising budget deficit is to evoke the practicality of either saving or spending.

This technique is evident in the fact sheet sent out by the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday afternoon, which sought to counter some of the myths circulated by health insurance reform critics over the way the Affordable Health Care for America Act would impact veterans. The release explained that the exchange had been expanded to include veterans, should they wish to seek insurance there. The press release also worked to dispel the notion that the proposal changes would impact Veterans Administration (VA) and TRICARE benefits (for military families), and that it would mandate shared responsibility requirement taxes be paid by those who are using such services. 

But these proposed healthcare reforms come too late for the 2,266 U.S. military veterans under the age of 65 who died last year due to a lack of healthcare insurance, amounting to six preventable deaths each day in 2008.

These numbers, which came from a Harvard Medical School study released yesterday, surprised me. Like many Americans, I assumed most if not all veterans were covered by the VA. In fact, only veterans who pass a “means test” determining them to be disabled by a condition connected to their military service are able to access care for that specific disability at a VA facility. Such requirements meant that last year, 1.46 million working-age veterans went without health insurance.

Dr. David Himmelstein, co-author of the study and associate professor of medicine at Harvard, called the veterans’ deaths by uninsurance “a disgrace,” and made clear that the health insurance reform in Congress would not come close to fixing the problem:

These unnecessary deaths will continue under the legislation now before the House and Senate. Those bills would do virtually nothing for the uninsured until 2013, and leave at least 17 million uninsured over the long run. We need a solution that works for all veterans — and for all Americans: single-payer national health insurance.

Our broken system, combined with the current conflict manifests a multitude of problems for those who take care of returning veterans as well. Hoping to address this, the Senate had wanted to pass a bill this Veterans Day that would have provided funding, support and healthcare coverage for those who provide care for wounded veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also known as the Caregiver Bill.

But that is not going to happen today. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has put a hold on the bill, saying he can’t support it until the bill includes provisions that would cut spending as much as it would increase it, to make the measure budget-neutral. According to Coburn, the cost of the bill — $3.7 billion over the next 5 years — is far too steep to ignore, despite the good intentions of the legislation.

“To say that we should do nothing for these people is to make a mockery of this Veterans Day,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), noting that 6,800 veterans of the wars Iraq and Afghanistan currently need services provided by the bill.

According to National Public Radio, a vote on breaking Coburn’s hold on the bill is expected next week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he had trouble understanding how “illogical” Coburn was being by holding up this bill after refusing to oppose other war spending. I can think of another word for it: hypocritical.

However, both Coburn’s and Durbin’s arguments have merit, just as the arguments of deficit hawks and Keynesians are worthy of a listen. We are spending too much money. And our veterans are not getting the care they need.

One need look no further than the fact that a person as violent and emotionally unstable as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was about to be deployed to a combat zone — despite obvious concerns about his ability to be useful there — for evidence of dwindling military resources.

I hope that the president and his advisers will pause a moment in their discussion over how many troops to dedicate to Afghanistan and consider this thought: We are sending our citizens to fight in an unwinnable war, only to have them come home to a broken healthcare system that does not even come close to adequately dealing with their physical and mental wounds.

Instead of continuing to court the displeasure of the international community and waste untold sums of money, bring our troops home. Take all that money we’re spending to prop up a corrupt Afghan government and put it toward a single-payer healthcare system. Put it toward the VA and legislation such as the Caregiver Bill. Put it toward a new GI Bill that will allow soldiers to come home to decent, stable jobs or to be trained in emerging industries.

In other words, take care of our veterans first. Only then can you decide if we can afford the cost of war.


Image courtesy of the U.S. Army’s photostream on Flickr.

Originally published at BuzzFlash.com.

Comments are closed.