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Oct. 19, 2004


Harvard/Public Citizen Study Finds Sharp Increase Since 2000

1.694 million American veterans were uninsured in 2003, according to a study by Harvard Medical School researchers released today. Of the 1.694 million uninsured, 681,808 were Vietnam-era veterans while 999,548 were veterans who served during “other eras” (including the Persian Gulf War).

The study was based on analyses of government surveys.  Veterans were only classified as uninsured if they neither had health insurance nor received ongoing care at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals or clinics.  Many of the 1.694 million uninsured veterans in 2003 were barred from VHA care because of a 2003 Bush Administration order that halted enrollment of most middle income veterans.  Others were unable to obtain VHA care due to waiting lists at some VHA facilities, unaffordable co-payments for VHA specialty care, or the lack of VHA facilities in their communities.   An additional 3.90 million members of veterans’ households were also uninsured and ineligible for VHA care.  Other findings of the study include:

  • The number of uninsured veterans has increased by 235,159 since 2000, when 9.9% of non-elderly veterans were uninsured, a figure which rose to 11.9% in 2003.
  • More than one in three veterans under age 25 lacked health coverage, as did one in seven veterans age 25 to 44 and one in ten veterans age 45 to 65.
  • Many uninsured veterans had major health problems.Less than one-quarter indicated that they were in excellent health; 15.6% had a disabling chronic illness.
  • Uninsured veterans had as much trouble getting medical care as other uninsured persons.26.1% of uninsured veterans reported that they had failed to get needed care due to costs; 29.0% had delayed care due to costs; 42.1% had not seen a doctor within the past year; and two-thirds failed to receive preventive care
  • More than two-thirds of uninsured veterans were employed and 86.4% had worked within the past year; 7% of the uninsured vets worked at two or more jobs.

David U. Himmelstein, M.D., study author and Harvard Medical School Associate Professor, commented: “This administration professes great concern for veterans, but it’s all talk and no action.  Since President Bush took office the number of uninsured vets has skyrocketed, and he’s cut VA eligibility, barring hundreds of thousands of veterans from care.  Our president has put troops in harm’s way overseas and abandons them and their families once they get home.

“Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people.  And uninsured veterans are denied the care they need – turned away because they can’t pay,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a study author and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.  “We need a solution that works for veterans, and for all Americans – national health insurance.”

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D., study author and Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group said, “The armed services are aggressive in encouraging people to join the military to serve their country and to ‘be all you can be’. But after leaving the service, almost 1.7 million veterans do not have the right to health care, in a way, being discarded by the government after serving their country. Without access to health care, no one can be all that they can be.”

Physicians for a National Health Program is a national organization with more than 12,000 physician members that advocates for national health. Public Citizen is a national non-profit organization with 150,000 members that engages in research and advocacy to protect health, safety and democracy.