Yet only 53 percent of traumatic-stress sufferers have been treated by medical professionals.
The Veterans Administration has been subjected to budget cuts and rampant outsourcing. As a result, 1.8 million veterans could not get care at a VA facility, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
This is unacceptable. After asking America's finest to risk their lives, our government should hold up its end of bargain and give every veteran world-class health care for life.
The treatment of our veterans should be an election issue that all the candidates transcend partisanship to agree on. Astonishingly, the person who should be leading the charge — a war hero who is the presidential nominee of his party — is doing the opposite.
Sen. John McCain voted against increasing funding for veterans' health care from 2004 through 2007. He voted against providing funding for veterans' health care. He has consistently supported outsourcing VA jobs — costing many veterans who work for the VA their livelihoods — and backed the outsourcing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, site of the scandalous mistreatment of injured soldiers.
The centerpiece of McCain's veterans agenda would abandon the Veterans Health Administration system for a plastic card that veterans would use to get care from private medical providers. This would lead to disaster.
Despite a recent lack of support from the White House, the Veterans Health Administration is a national model that provides better care at lower cost than any other health system in the country. Various independent reports, from the New England Journal of Medicine to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, have lauded the VHA for its unrivaled quality of care and high patient satisfaction. Yet it does this while spending $540 less per patient than the national average.
How has the VHA succeeded? By adopting electronic records, enabling veterans to access their medical files at any VA facility or even from their home computers. By using its purchasing power to negotiate low prices from prescription drug makers. By hiring first-rate doctors and nurses.
McCain would undo these gains. His card would direct veterans outside the VHA (often, into HMOs), where they will face worse care and (along with taxpayers) higher costs.
The more patients who use the card, the more pressure there will be to close VA medical facilities, sending America's most successful health care system into a death spiral — a betrayal of the young men and women fighting so bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Any candidate who is serious about supporting our veterans should build on the VHA's innovations and achievements, end underfunding and understaffing, and expand its capacity to meet the new demand.
Surely, that is the least the next president can do for those who have already sacrificed so much.
Write to John Gage at [email protected]