UNINSURED VETERANS. Various news outlets are reporting that there are more than 1.8 million uninsured veterans, according to a study and recent testimony by Steffie Woolhandler of the Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. Technically, all veterans are eligible for enrollment in the Veterans Health Administration, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all veterans are covered.

In her illuminating testimony, Woolhandler explained that veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system on a priority basis. Top-level priorities are veterans with combat-related injuries, but "Veterans without service-connected illnesses or disabilities, and with incomes above 80 percent of the median income in their area are classified in the lowest priority group... In January 2003, President Bush's Secretary of Veterans Affairs halted enrollment of [these] veterans." Even veterans with combat-related injuries may live too far from a VA facility to receive adequate care, especially since armed services are drawing more and more heavily from rural areas that are often located far from VA facilities.

To be fair, this data was mainly taken from veterans of previous wars, and a large chunk of the data presented was from 2005 or earlier, but all the same, nearly 44 percent of the 18-44 age group are uninsured. This will be the primary age group that returns from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and if nothing changes under the current system, they will join in the ranks of these uninsured veterans from Vietnam and Gulf War I.

--Kay Steiger

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