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Nov-15-2009 18:50printcomments

Lack of Healthcare Kills Veterans at Much Higher Rate than Combat

Harvard study shows that for every American killed in Afghanistan in 2008, 14 military veterans died because they lacked healthcare coverage.
The remains of a soldier killed in Afghanistan are watched over by friends of the deceased. photo by Tim King

(SALEM, Ore.) - A report from Agence France Presse indicates that the number of American veterans who died in 2008 because they didn't have healthcare, is 14 times higher than the military death toll in Afghanistan, for the entire year.

Two Harvard medical researchers analyzed data, comparing U.S. combat-related deaths in Afghanistan, with the number of veterans who died because they lacked the ability to seek out adequate healthcare and access medical services. All of the veterans surveyed were under the age of 65.

The study was released four days ago, designed to coincide with the Veterans Day holiday, when those who died fighting overseas are honored and recognized. It clearly indicates that in spite of care from the Veterans Administration, many American veterans remain without coverage.

The AFP report states that the analysis utilized census data to determine how many U.S. veterans lack both private health coverage and VA care.

Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, David Himmelstein, is also the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, which co-authored the study.

He said the veterans represent a group of about 1.5 million people. Along with co-author Stephanie Woolhandler, who is also a Harvard medical professor, Himmelstein compared that figure with an additional study that examined the mortality rate that accompanies a lack of health insurance.

He told AFP, "The uninsured have about a 40 percent higher risk of dying each year than otherwise comparable insured individuals."

"Putting that all together you get an estimate of almost 2,300 -- 2,266 veterans who die each year from lack of health insurance."

He cites how some veterans in the U.S. have access to medical care through the VA, but that coverage, under the current system, breaks veterans down into 8 "priority groups" and this can lead to delays in treatment.

"The priority eight group, the lowest priority, are veterans above the very poor group who have no other reason to be eligible and that group is essentially shut out of the VA," Himmelstein said.

It is not clear how the study will affect the US Senate's decision on health care reform legislation.

In the end, Himmelstein is clear that even current congressional proposals would still leave veterans out in the cold in terms of healthcare coverage. He says in the AFP article that he favors a national health care program similar to those in Britain and Canada.


Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), the first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several other awards including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
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All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied. November 17, 2009 5:02 pm (Pacific time)

Today news reports that 140 active duty Brothers and Sisters have comitted suicide as of today.Last year the total active duty suicide count was 140. As the Holiday season nears I am certain this years total will exceed last years. I would like to know if anyone knows how many of us with ptsd opted to do the same thing. The fact that even 1 vet left this earth in that manner CONFIRMS that most of the system remains seriously flawed to have this happening.And should make anyone shed 1 or more tears as it does me eaxh time it is reported. Welcome Home to all

John Shaw November 16, 2009 2:24 pm (Pacific time)

I have some good friends who live in New Jersey and another friend and his family who live less than seven miles away in Pennsylvania. The family in Pennsylvania not only get the exact same coverage as the family in New Jersey, but at an even lower premium and deductible, plus more optional coverage. So since congress has the power to regulate economic activity on a national level, possibly they can take down the different barriers each state has and let all private carriers compete freely? I must admit that the recently passed House healthcare bill makes it a possible criminal event if one does not buy insurance. I can see where the government can compell one to pay income taxes, and regulate other so-called priveleged activity, for example driving and hunting/fishing licenses, but to demand a citizen buy something or face a penalty, regardless of what it is, will surely get tested in the courts. If that does come to pass, then the government will be empowered to literally regulate anything you do. My guess if this is still in the final bill, there will be a considerable delay as it winds through the the court system. Ditto for possible paid abortion government insurance. The rubber will hit the road for a lot of issues in the coming months, should prove interesting to see exactly what kind of leadership exists in Washington DC.

Henry Ruark November 16, 2009 10:43 am (Pacific time)

Analysis here clearly shows consequence of "failed" fed funding, manipulated to keep VA-services weak,thus avoid competition vs private/profit providers, continuing "too spendy" for far too many. Further, differences via some states indicates more malign manipulation at work to keep provider private-profit proliferation at work where possible --almost surely by more use of "corporate campaign contributions" at heart of governance-failures to regulate reasonably, thus reflecting precisely what we have already experienced in other key economic areas of housing, finance and similar credit/card conflagration. Simple query: Where does the billions we know spent to keep "broken"system as-it-is come from --if not from "profits"?? Even speculators now hanging back on providing more dubious credits for key perpetrators caught in act via radical rise in rates in recent years, with profits reflecting reality, as revealed in anti-reform attack clearly on public record now. FYI, AFP has long had strong professional record for this kind of revealing report from classic sources, avoided and ignored by much of national press in the U.S.

John Shaw November 16, 2009 8:51 am (Pacific time)

I would think if this study has the kind of data that can stand up to scrutiny it will get wide media coverage. I certainly can attest to the problems at the VA and the different priority levels. The VA system was primarily set up to handle only service-connected veterans, then during the 90's the floodgates were open to treat all veterans, but the funding did not match the growing demand. Because of the growing unemployment rate this has created even more demand at VA facilities. This situation provides an example of what happens in a government healthcare program when demand outstrips resources. Congress can go give a blank check to the VA to get all the needed staff and equipment they need, but the pool of available resources is getting smaller as each day goes by. In addition I would like to see this study compared to the same population group, except none would be veterans to see how they compare. As I have been writing this I have been on hold (telephone) trying to attain the status of my medical appointment at my VA primary care. I requested this appt. over 45 days ago. I will probably go cash in some bonds and go to a "urgent care" facility. MY situation is not an emergency, but most veterans from my observation, experience considerable stress trying to get care. I am service-connected, and do not blame anyone for this mess, it is what it is. It's always been crappy. I use to always have private insurance, but like most other people it got to spendy. You know in some states it's cheaper for the same coverage, so maybe different state regulations keeps competition at bay?

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