CHICAGO—Nearly 1.7 million veterans lack health care, according to a national study released today by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and Dr. Quentin Young—a nationally recognized public health advocate. The release was part of a simultaneous nationwide press conference today to discuss the shocking number of veterans without health insurance.
Dr. Young—a physician for more than 50 years whose patients have included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—is Past President of the American Public Health Association and longtime community health expert.
“Throughout our history, brave men and women have sacrificed everything for our safety,” Quinn said. “Yet despite that sacrifice, they return from war only to face another battle at home—the battle for proper health coverage.”
Quinn and Dr. Young detailed “America’s Neglected Veterans”, a national study by the Harvard/Cambridge Hospital Study Group, showing that 1.7 million veterans neither had health insurance nor received ongoing care at VA hospitals or clinics in 2003. An additional 3.9 million members of veterans’ households were also uninsured and ineligible for VA care.
“Our military men and women don’t just need our support while they serve abroad,” Quinn said. “When they return home and begin the readjustment to civilian life, their stress should not be compounded by whether or not they will be able to afford a doctor’s care.”
According to the study, the number of uninsured veterans has increased by a quarter-million since 2000. In addition, many had major health problems. Less than one-quarter indicated they were in excellent health and 15.6% had a disabling chronic illness. Furthermore, 42.1% of uninsured veterans had not seen a doctor within the past year, and two-thirds failed to receive preventive care.
“This is a public health crisis that affects every single patient,” Young said.
Quinn noted more than two-thirds of uninsured veterans were employed. “These are hard-working vets who, having dutifully served their country, return to work without access to even the most basic health care. They deserve at least as much health care coverage as elected officials enjoy,” Quinn said.
The study found that the number of uninsured was highest among veterans of recent wars. For example, of the 7.85 million Vietnam veterans, 681,808 lacked health coverage and of
the 8.27 million veterans of other military conflicts, including the Gulf War, 999,548 were uninsured.
The study also found that more than one in three veterans under age 25 lacked any health coverage at all.
“This is not just an issue for older vets. Thousands of young men and women join the military, not just to better their lives, but to express their patriotism,” Quinn said. “President Abraham Lincoln noted our duty as citizens to ‘…care for them who have borne the battle.’”