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The Journal Gazette

  • Stilwell

Thursday, June 07, 2018 1:00 am

Military disservice

GOP actions limit veterans' health care access

Russ Stilwell

Russ Stilwell served in a combat infantry unit in Vietnam. He served in the Indiana House from 1996-2010, where he was House majority leader. He is a retired coal miner and former United Mine Workers of America official.

If you've ever seen the placing of flags at Arlington National Cemetery at the start of Memorial Day weekend, it's something that will stick with you long after the holiday. The sacrifices our veterans have made is awe-inspiring. It's something we Americans should never forget. And we should honor our veterans not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, but every day.

I've always appreciated the respect my fellow Hoosiers show those who have served or who are serving in the armed forces. It's what we Hoosiers do.

Wouldn't it be great if more of our federal officials felt the same way? Or at least acted as if they did?

There have long been issues over how we treat our veterans when they come home. I haven't seen much progress in that area since we decided to “Make America Great Again.” If anything, it's gotten worse.

When most Americans think of veterans' health care, they think about the Veterans Administration and VA hospitals. You may be surprised to know that many veterans either do not meet VA eligibility requirements or have health needs the VA doesn't entirely cover. Of the 20 million U.S. veterans, only slightly more than 9 million are enrolled in the VA health care system. 

Nearly one in 10 veterans uses Medicaid as their primary source of health care, and many more use Medicaid to supplement the care they receive through the VA. Up to 8 million veterans who qualify for VA health care choose not to use it as their primary source of care because of long wait times, lack of complete coverage and systemic problems at the VA.

The Affordable Care Act provided funding for states to expand Medicaid, drastically improving health care for many Americans, including veterans who rely on it. A recent study found the Medicaid expansion led to a 42 percent decrease in uninsured vets between 2013 and 2015.

But since taking office, the Trump administration, reinforced by the entire Hoosier GOP House delegation and GOP Sen. Todd Young, has relentlessly whittled away at the ACA.

Missing from that list is Sen. Joe Donnelly, who has been a consistent champion of veterans and of the need to provide affordable health care to all Americans. As such, he's become a target for elimination by those who support the MAGA agenda.

Our veterans can't afford to lose a friend like Joe Donnelly.

Here's a quick look at what he's fought against and what our GOP lawmakers have tried to do:

• Cut Medicaid funding by nearly $1 trillion, which would have affected nearly more than 75 million Americans, including 2 million veterans – 4,700 of them Hoosiers.

• Diminish a provision of the ACA that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, which many veterans experience.

• Remove the ACA requirement that all health insurance plans cover a set of essential services including surgery, rehabilitation and mental health treatment, which many veterans need.

• Allow insurance companies to once again deny someone coverage or charge them more for services that treat issues such as injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yes, the GOP Congress did its best to “repeal and replace.” But all they could muster was the repeal of the most popular aspects of the ACA, which will make life more difficult for many of our veterans and so many others across our nation. And after years of boasting and hot air, we're all still waiting for their replacement.

It's beyond me how anyone who supports taking those kinds of actions can say they support our veterans and our neighbors who need essential health care. Our veterans sacrifice so much to make our country secure. We should do our part to ensure they have the health care they were promised and deserve. Veterans have always had our backs. Whether it is the VA or the ACA, we should have theirs.

Thankfully, Donnelly doesn't need that lesson. And he doesn't deserve the target the GOP has on his back. I hope you join me in November in defending him and our veterans.