Gianna Carrozza and Kevin Ogletree | Health Care Wars: Keeping Veterans Off the Streets

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The war is over; one, two, or maybe even three tours in hostile territories, and the Army soldier is ready to go home, her discharge date is within sight. 

A Marine turns his service-issued gear into the quartermaster; he decides not to re-enlist and is looking forward to spending more time with his family. 

Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard members go through this process alike. Each has honorably served in the United States armed forces, each dedicating their lives to serving our country. They now face new foes, threats, and challenges in returning to a civilian lifestyle. 

For some, this will be a losing battle, one of loneliness, hopelessness and despair. These feelings are a common trend for service members after being discharged. 

The United States military is meticulous in indoctrinating their recruits, teaching discipline and survival skills to protect our nation’s interests. Unfortunately, there is a lack of interest in ensuring the veteran’s well-being once their service in uniform is complete. 

Many veterans leave their last duty station, like a baby sea turtle, breaking from its nest and heading out into the big blue sea. One of the many challenges veterans face after being discharged is their physical and mental health issues. 

There is a significantly high number of veterans with severe health issues, but the problem lies in that some of these problems may not manifest or be discovered for a long time after their discharge. It is not enough for the Veterans Administration to only cover illness or injury that are determined to be related to military service (e.g., service-connected). It should be the federal government’s responsibility to allow any veteran who has served our country a uniformed and comprehensive health care packet to prevent veterans’ most pressing issues of homelessness and suicide. 

Many veterans have trouble navigating the system independently or do not even know what resources are available to them, making getting help seem like a lost cause, which only worsens health conditions until it’s too late. 

According to the most recent National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, approximately 17 veterans commit suicide every day. In the past decade, there have been more veteran deaths by suicide than in the Vietnam war. This is a staggering statistic that could be lower with easier access to better health care. 

Since the VA does not cover all health care expenses, veterans can also be left paying for costly treatments out of pocket like many other Americans. This financial strain on top of the already stressful process of integrating back into civilian life can put veterans at higher risk of becoming homeless. 

A chronically homeless person costs the taxpayer an average of $35,578 per year. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report, on a given night in 2019, 37,085 veterans experienced homelessness in the U.S. This is 8% of all homeless adults. 

While a comprehensive health care plan for veterans might sound costly, it is more cost-efficient to provide preventative care to prevent homelessness. In order to protect the lives of the people who were willing to sacrifice theirs, we must start by providing adequate health care options for all veterans and their families, whether their ailments are service-connected or not. 

Considering some veterans negatively regard the VA in terms of accessibility, coverage and quality of care, offering health care coverage that allows receiving services through other venues would increase participation. This would ultimately lead to overall better health outcomes and a decrease in homelessness risk factors. 

As it is now, where a veteran lives is a huge determinant of whether they receive the benefits they’ve earned. A study done by NPR found a considerable variation in how much the VA spends per veteran from state to state, and even within the state. 

Suppose the federal government provided all veterans and their families with a more comprehensive health care plan that allowed them to seek out services through other hospital systems. In that case, they can easily access the resources available to them, considering that VA hospitals are not always conveniently located. 

While this would be a considerable change in the way we provide health care for our veterans, it is not entirely farfetched. 

Kevin Ogletree is a Canyon Country resident and Gianna Carrozza is a resident of Illinois. They are both graduate students at USC’s School of Social Work.

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