Almost two million veterans lack health coverage

3 min read

Study finds sharp increase in number since 2000

One in every eight (12.2 percent) of the 47 million Americans without health insurance is a veteran or member of a veteran’s household, according to a study by Harvard Medical School researchers based at the Cambridge Health Alliance.

The study is published in the December, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. Just under two million veterans (12.7 percent of non-elderly veterans) were uninsured in 2004, up 290,000 since 2000, the study published in the December, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health found.  An additional 3.8 million members of their households were also uninsured and ineligible for VA care.

The study is based on detailed analyses of government surveys released
between 1988 and 2005.  Veterans were only classified as uninsured if
they neither had health insurance nor received ongoing care at Veterans
Health Administration
(VHA) hospitals or clinics. 

A preliminary review
by the study’s authors of 2006 data released last month (while this
study was in press) shows little change in the number of uninsured
veterans since 2004.

“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 physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and an
Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Woolhandler
testified before Congress about the problem earlier this year.  “As a
result, veterans and their family members delay or forgo needed health
care every day in the U.S.,” said Woolhandler.

Other findings of the study include:

  • The number of uninsured veterans has increased by  290,000 since 2000,
    when 9.9% of non-elderly veterans were uninsured, a  figure which rose
    to 12.7% in 2004;
  • Of the 1.768 million uninsured, 645,628 were 
    Vietnam-era veterans while 1,105,891 were veterans who served during
    “other  eras” (including the Iraq and Gulf Wars);
  • Of uninsured veterans, 56.5% were older than  44;
  • Uninsured
    veterans had as much trouble getting  medical care as other uninsured
    Americans.  26.5% of uninsured veterans  reported that they had failed
    to get needed care due to costs; 31.2% had  delayed care due to costs;
    49.1% had not seen a doctor within the past year;  and two-thirds
    failed to receive preventive care.
  •  Nearly two-thirds of uninsured veterans were  employed. Many
    uninsured veterans are barred from VA care because of a Department of
    Veterans Affairs order in early 2003 that halted enrollment of most
    middle income veterans.  Others are unable to obtain VA care due to
    waiting lists at some VA facilities, unaffordable co-payments for VA
    specialty care, or the lack of VA facilities in their communities.

number of uninsured vets has skyrocketed since 2000, and eligibility
has been cut, barring hundreds of thousands of veterans from care,”
said Dr. David Himmelstein, lead author of the study, a physician at
Cambridge Health Alliance, and Associate Professor of Medicine at
Harvard. “We need a solution that works for veterans, their families,
and all Americans – single payer national health insurance,” he said.

see uninsured vets in my clinic every week,” said Dr. Jeffrey Scavron,
a former Navy Physician in Springfield, Massachusetts. “In many cases,
they’re too sick to work, but not yet sick enough for full disability
which would qualify them for Medicare.  Only the government can put men
and woman into military service and only the government can guarantee
that they are covered after they serve.”