WASHINGTON – Nearly 1.7 million military veterans have no health insurance or access to government hospitals and clinics for veterans, according to a report Tuesday from a doctors' group that favors federally financed health care.
The number of uninsured veterans jumped by 235,000 since 2000, meaning they are losing health insurance at a faster rate than the general population, said Physicians for a National Health Program (search), which advocates a universal national health insurance program (search). About 45 million Americans have no health insurance, including 5 million who lost coverage during the past four years, according to the Census Bureau (search).
"We're sending men and women off to war and yet the people who fought previous wars can't get the basic things they need to go on with their lives afterward," said Dr. David Himmelstein, a Harvard Medical School (search) professor and an author of the study.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the Bush administration has opened 194 community health clinics for veterans and increased spending on medical care for veterans by 40 percent. "The president wants to make sure they get the care that they need and they deserve," Duffy said.
However, the report traced some of the increase to the Bush administration's decision last year to suspend health care services for higher-income veterans in order to reduce waiting times for doctor's appointments.
Other veterans reported that they were on waiting lists for appointments, could not afford co-payments or lived in communities with no veterans' facilities, the report said.
Like other Americans who are uninsured, most veterans have jobs. More than 85 percent worked within the past year, the report said.
Many uninsured veterans reported serious health problems, the report said. Between 20 percent and 30 percent said that they delayed or could not afford care, medications and eyeglasses.
More than 40 percent said they had no medical visits in the past year and two-thirds said they had no preventive care.
Another 3.9 million people without health insurance live in veterans' households and also are ineligible for veterans' health care, the report said.
Almost all uninsured veterans served during the Vietnam war or more recently. Those who fought in World War II (search) and the Korean War are older than 65, making them eligible for government health care through Medicare.