The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
As a former state senator and 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army, I understand what it means to serve this country. Throughout my military career —particularly during my time in combat as a Green Beret during Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq — I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving with some of the bravest men and women I’ve ever met.
After witnessing firsthand how selflessly our troops serve and the sacrifices they make, I firmly believe that we, as a nation, owe it to our veterans to provide the highest quality care possible. That is why recent discussions surrounding health care in America have me concerned. The idea put forth by many presidential candidates and other national figures that our country would be better off under a government-run health care system is misguided at best and outright dangerous at worst.
Veterans, in particular, have an entirely unique set of health care needs compared to others, ranging from the physical impacts of war — including wound pain, amputations and hazardous materials exposure — to mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and higher rates of suicide, just to name a few.
There’s simply no way that a one-size-fits-all health insurance system—as would be the case under “Medicare for All,” a public option, or single payer — could meet the varying, complex needs facing America’s veterans today.
Many returning veterans are fortunate to have the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a health care resource. However, this system does not include all veterans, as many do not meet all eligibility factors. That is why many veterans rely on accessing health care coverage through their employer-sponsored plans. I have TRICARE, which is the military health care insurance, but because I’m retired and not on active duty, I have to buy supplemental insurance (similar to Medicare supplemental insurance) and have co-pays. Here in Arizona, fewer than one-third of veterans access health care through the VA system.
A recent study found that a public option proposal, which is essentially just a road to Medicare for All, would put roughly 55% of America’s rural hospitals “at grave risk,” including many here in Arizona. Threatening access to our nation’s rural hospitals would put many veterans at risk, particularly those who seek care outside of the VA system, which is the majority of them.
As access declines, costs and wait times will rise — and these are already major hurdles veterans face when trying to get care they need. Moreover, veterans could end up paying even more under the tax hikes that would be required to finance such a massive government program that some predict would cost more than $30 trillion over the first decade alone.
Given the already higher medical costs with which veterans must contend, it is simply unfair to push more economic burdens on the backs of the men and women who have so honorably served our country. The sad fact of the matter is more than 37,000 veterans across the country experienced homelessness last year. Forcing more veterans closer to the brink of economic ruin through higher taxes or increases in their private premiums would only serve to make this problem significantly worse.
Regardless of what politicians call it — any top-down, government-run health care insurance system would threaten access, quality, and affordability for all Americans. These impacts would just be felt more acutely by our nation’s veterans. That is hardly the thanks we should give to those who have put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms we all enjoy as Americans.
As the presidential election season continues to heat up, candidates and lawmakers alike should remain focused on strengthening health care in America, not undermining it by scrapping a system that has taken years to build in favor of one that will deliver lower-quality care, reduced access, and longer wait times — all at higher cost. Our veterans deserve better than that.