Additional reporting by Katherine Lewin
The U.S. veterans’ health care system is the the largest and only publicly-funded, fully integrated system of its kind in a country that has historically struggled to provide quality healthcare to all citizens. And the current environment could negatively impact care particularly for veterans, according to a recent analysis by the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute.
The institute found that “corporate donations to committee members, an intense increase in corporate lobbying on veterans’ issues, and the influence of right-wing groups” could significantly slow the work of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees.
Veterans face several other challenges in the realm of healthcare, and advocates are pushing for efforts to make changes that would serve their needs. For example, a recent mental health bill called the Improve Well-Being for Veterans Act was introduced to put money toward advocacy of suicide prevention.
However, healthcare facility professionals and the veterans they serve have grappled with the added issue of COVID-19-related closures, and populations have been greatly impacted by the increasing influence of tech giants like Apple, T-Mobile, and Cerner in the sector could lead to these corporations using veterans’ healthcare data and profiting.
Also, though a 2019 report by the Mesothelioma Center shows most Americans believe veterans deserve better healthcare, most don’t want to pay for it. The survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with three statements: whether veterans need better healthcare, whether that healthcare should be paid for and whether taxes should be raised to cover it. For the statement and question “U.S. veterans need better healthcare options” and “Do you think all veterans healthcare should be paid for?” most respondents were in support of better healthcare for veterans.
Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed responded “agree” or “strongly agree” to U.S. veterans deserving better healthcare options. Fifty percent strongly agreed, 29% agreed, 14% were neutral, 2% disagreed and 5% strongly disagreed. The survey found that there was a slight correlation between age and likelihood of agreeing: Seventy-one percent of those aged 18-34 agreed, while 85% of those aged 55 and older agreed.
Furthermore, 81% of respondents said they believe all veterans’ healthcare should be paid for. Eighty-five percent of women respondents answered affirmatively, while 77% of men did.
However, people were much less likely to agree that taxes should be raised to pay for these costs. While 8 in 10 agreed healthcare should be paid for, 23% — about 2 in 10 — agreed with raising taxes to cover it. Forty-one percent preferred not to answer, and 36% said no.
A sizeable sum of federal tax dollars already goes to veteran care. According to the Office of Management and Budget, 8% of tax dollars were designated for veterans benefits and services as well as retirement and disability benefits for federal employees in 2017. To compare, 3% went toward education, 2% went toward transportation infrastructure and 2% went toward scientific and medical research.
Because of the conditions they have been exposed to, veterans have high risks of cancer. The Veterans Affairs Central Cancer Registry (VACCR) reports that there are about 50,000 cancer cases in veterans each year. The veteran population also is aging. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, more than one-third of the 18.2 million veterans in the U.S. are over 65.
Mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, also is common among veterans, according to Asbestos.com. Veterans file nearly 30% of all asbestos lawsuits in the U.S. Asbestos was common in military buildings and equipment until it was phased out in the 1980s, the report says.
Cancer care also is expensive. Agents used for cancer care can cost $10,000 a month, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides healthcare to many veterans, but according to RAND Corporation assessments conducted under the Veterans Choice Act, less than half of veterans eligible for this coverage take advantage of it. Those who do mainly use it for prescription drugs and inpatient services.