Considering the sorry state of his vaunted health care proposal, President Obama’s promise this week that there will be a health care overhaul by the end of this year – bipartisan support be damned – may sound like so much bluster. But there is reason to believe that the president intends to make good on his plans for a government-run health care system. Indeed, Obama is so desperate to his nationalized health system that this spring he tried to save money by having wounded veterans pay their own medical bills.
It may sound like the invention of Obama’s worst political enemies, but it is true. This March, Obama proposed that veterans’ insurance companies should be made to pay for their treatment of service-connected injuries and disabilities suffered in battle. The insurance companies then would reimburse the Veterans Administration for such costs. (Presently, veterans’ private insurance is charged only when they get VA health care for medical problems not related to war injuries.)
The plan would have put about $540 million on backs of veterans and their insurance companies, and the men courageously defending the country overseas would have been saddled with the added cost of paying for the injuries they sustained in battle.
The outrageous plan ignited an instant firestorm from veterans organizations. They pointed out, accurately, that the cost of treating expensive war injuries could raise their insurance costs. “It’s a betrayal,” Joe Violante, legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans, told one interviewer. “My insurance company didn’t send me to Vietnam, my government did. The same holds true for the men and women now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s the government’s responsibility.”
Bringing additional pressure to bear on the administration, the head of the nation’s largest veteran’s organizations, Commander David Rehbein of the American Legion, met with Obama on March 17. He said he was “deeply disappointed” after the meeting. According to Rehbein, it became apparent “that the president intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan. He refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.”
With a political storm brewing, press secretary Robert Gibbs tried to take the heat off Obama. He insisted that the president has a “deep commitment to veterans,” and that the administration was simply “seeking to maximize the resources available to veterans.” But the defense rang hollow even to the president’s liberal supporters – including television comic Jon Stewart, who bitingly lampooned the administration’s plan on “The Daily Show.” The administration ultimately announced that “consideration be dropped” for any plan to have military veterans and their insurance companies pay their medical bills.
In truth, it had little choice but to retreat. Had Obama not shifted course, his proposal would have been dead on arrival in Congress. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) used exactly that terminology when she told Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki that the controversial plan would be rejected if formally proposed to Congress. “I believe that veterans with service-connected injuries have already paid by having their lives on the line. I don’t think we should nickel and dime them for their care,” Murray added.
The good news for veterans is that their care may not be under threat in the leading health care legislation in Congress. On August 3, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a 1.2 million member non-profit organization founded in 1920, applauded two amendments attached to the nationalized health-care bill “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act,” drafted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. One amendment, offered by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, would let vets getting VA health care to also enroll in a plan through the bill’s proposed Health Insurance Exchange. The second Buyer amendment would guarantee the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs authority to operate the VA health care system without interference from any new organization or agency created by the legislation.
The United States has a long history of providing benefits for those who have served and been wounded in battle. American colonies paid benefits to injured soldiers even before the Revolutionary War. In 1636, Plymouth Colony ordered that any disabled soldier injured while serving the colony would be maintained for life by the Colony. The Continental Congress tried to raise recruitment levels by promising officers half pay for seven years after the war. Enlisted men were offered a mustering out bonus of $80 (a large wad of money back then) if they stayed the course until the war ended. Congress also paid pensions to those disabled in combat. Still others were promised land grants for their service. In the Republic’s early years, states were charged with providing disabled veterans with medical and hospital care. In the early 19th century, benefits and pensions ere extended to widows and dependents of veterans as well.
By the end of the war with Mexico in 1848, U.S. veterans numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The tragic toll taken on Americans in the North and the South during the Civil War is well known. The government founded the National Home for Disabled Veterans after that war. After World War I, 200,000 wounded returned to the U.S. Besides disability compensation, insurance was provided for veterans. The Veterans Bureau was established which became he forerunner of today’s Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 1932, 12,000 to 15,000 veterans and their families reportedly converged on Washington to demand payment of the bonus they had been promised. According to the Library of Congress, by July 1932, 25,000 vets were camped in shantytowns along the Anacostia River, making a powerful symbol of shame for the president who refused them their promised bonuses.
With his plan to make veterans bear the medical costs of serving the country, President Obama followed in this inglorious tradition. Failing in that attempt, he will have to find new ways to finance the enormous expense of socialized medicine. Disabled veterans wouldn’t accept his plan to make them pay their health bills. They may be injured, but they are not willing to take the offense lying down.