*Update: Since this blog post was published, the proposal in question has since been completely withdrawn by the White House. Smart move. It caused an uproar.
Yesterday, leaders from various top veterans agencies met with President Obama over the matter of 3rd party billing – a White House proposal that will require private insurance companies to pay for medical treatment that is the direct cause of service connected (military related) injuries or disabilities. As is, a veteran that visits a VA medical facility will only receive free healthcare for issues directly related to service injury/disability. Everything else is fairly billed to that person’s private insurer (should they have one). But the greatest expenses – those pertaining to the service injury, are fully covered by the VA healthcare system, alleviating the veteran and their private insurer of a potentially staggering expense. But there are now drastic changes proposed to this. Simplified, the President of the United States is suggesting that the country who called, trained, armed, and sent its servicemen overseas in the interest of national defense will no longer bear the responsibility of their healthcare for any injuries or disabilities they sustained while in service to their country.
The President’s proposal is intended to not only reduce the VA operating budget, which is growing rapidly as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return to the states, but also because, “it’s time that insurers start paying their fair share.” How charging a private insurance company for health care related to military service is considered its fair share is beyond me. As Paul Rieckhoff, leader of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America bluntly put it, “the insurance companies didn’t send me to war, the US government did.” I would submit that charging a private insurer for a military service-related health issue is the US government doing LESS than their fair share, and attempting to pawn off the national responsibility on private insurance companies.
Occupationally speaking, this measure has grave repercussions. Veterans, a group which already has an unemployment rate 10% higher than the national average, will be less hirable by private businesses. Neither the employer nor their insurance providers could manage the high health costs often associated with service connected injuries. The veterans, in effect, become unemployable, since their hiring represents a far greater expense than profit. And now, even less able to find employment, these veterans become more dependent on the VA healthcare system. But furthermore, the expectation of failure in a job search discourages some of these veterans from even LOOKING for jobs. They will reach the sad conclusion that they are permanently different and less attractive as potential employees (despite millions of dollars of training and years of leadership experience). So much for reintegration.
Any veteran who has sustained some sort of serious service-connected injury that requires expensive, regular medical care will be less hireable – were it not for the VA providing both the veteran and the potential employer full assurance that this medical issue would be covered and addressed in full without financial burden to either employer or employee. An otherwise very uneven playing field has been leveled completely with the best interest of the veteran in mind. But this new measure would shatter this completely.
And in reality, the best estimates are that this entire measure would only save Veterans Affairs $540 million, a drop in the bucket compared to the VA’s new operating budget of $55 billion. But I must also ask why the most universally agreed-upon area of national budget allocation – support of veterans – is being asked to tighten its belt when the federal government is handing out BILLIONS elsewhere.
It has not been my practice to share my political views on this blog, since I think for the most part they’re irrelevant. My writing is pro-military and pro-troop, a position which is bipartisan, mostly supported regardless of political affiliation, and generally considered to be the moral obligation of the citizenry towards those men and women who have voluntarily sworn to defend them. Yet now, I am delving into politics in an area where the potential decisions of a national leader will drastically alter the services and opportunities available to the countless thousands of veterans who rely on the VA for expensive, service-connected medical care.
What concerns me most about this White House proposal is twofold. First, the direct statement that, “it’s time that insurers start paying their fair share,” suggests that the government does not consider the ongoing care of veterans to be a moral obligation, but an area of spending where corners can be cut and the responsibility passed off to others. Never mind that the nation is still fighting a two-front war against various non-state aggressors. The VA budget is going to CONTINUE to increase. We are at war.
Secondly, if ongoing care of veterans is not the moral obligation of the federal government that sent them to war, then whose is it? At the very least, it is disrespectful to the military as a whole, and outright insulting to the individual who, in service to his nation, lost various limbs and now comes home to find that he must ask an employer pay whatever medical expenses he incurs. It is discriminatory. I fear these recent statements indicate just what the highest echelon of leadership in this nation truly feels about veterans: that they and we are a financial inconvenience.
If a country is unwilling to pay the undeniably high cost of war, then that country should be more hesitant to commit her troops to conflict. It is unconscionable to renege on national obligation to ones servicemembers before such duties have ended. The servicemember shoulders great personal risk and self-sacrifice with the comfort that medical expenses are covered, a family is provide for, and that the veteran will not return home to battle a lifetime of exorbitant medical expenses should an injury be sustained. Yet now the White House is seeking to remove that assurance. Of all the areas to trim the budget, this isn’t the place for it. Many veterans are describing this as not just inappropriate, but an outright betrayal; and I agree with them. It is an unexpected sideswipe from the White House itself, and works quickly to silence whatever thank you’s we may have heard from the citizens of this country. For, if the democratically elected leaders of this nation show us no support, we question if our countrymen offer it either. If this continues, the nation will be hard pressed to find men and women who will answer the call.
I doubt that this measure will pass Congress, but the crystal clear message has already echoed deep into the hearts of millions of veterans: “the nation you swore to defend does not care.”
We are a budget constraint.
Read more about this new White House proposal from:
CNN, Fox News, PRNewswire-USNewswire
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved