Guest opinion: Medicaid expansion would protect vets who protected us

2013-09-13T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Medicaid expansion would protect vets who protected usBy ED CROUCHER and JAMES W. HIGGINS The Billings Gazette
September 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In Montana, we take care of our veterans — the men and women who were willing to give so much for us. The sad truth is that many veterans in Montana don’t have access to the health care they need. Montana has the highest percentage of veterans without health insurance in the nation.

All of the men and women who have served our country deserve access to health care. Medicaid expansion would allow almost 7,000 Montana veterans and 3,000 of their family members to gain access to quality, affordable care coverage.

Many people assume that all of the nation’s 12.5 million nonelderly veterans receive health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. But in reality, one in 10 veterans neither has health insurance nor is able to use the VA for care. Expanding Medicaid would give these men and women an opportunity to receive the care they need.

7,000 would benefit

In Montana, approximately 7,000 veterans would benefit from Medicaid expansion. Despite serving our country, many veterans do not meet the length of service time, income or disability requirements necessary to qualify for VA service.

For example, members of the Montana National Guard or the military services’ reserves who were not called up for federal active duty may fall into this category. These men and women completed the necessary training, spent months away from their families and homes, received proper discharges, and always stood ready to answer the call to serve their country. These veterans who were willing to give everything they had to protect our liberties should be able to access the health care they need.

Approximately 2,600 of these veterans do qualify for VA coverage, yet still lack access to health care. With only one VA hospital in the state and a limited number of outpatient clinics, many VA-eligible veterans simply live too far away to receive care. Medicaid expansion would allow these veterans who served on the other side of the world to go to the doctor next door.

We now have an opportunity to help thousands of these veterans gain access to health care. We shouldn’t turn our back on them.

Medicaid expansion would provide vital health care coverage to childless adults under the age of 65, as well as to uninsured families near the poverty line, making lifesaving health services, including mental health care, available to those veterans who may need it the most.

3,000 family members

In addition to the veterans, nearly 3,000 spouses and family members who also made sacrifices for their country would also gain coverage.

Despite these well-deserved benefits for veterans, there are those who are fighting against expanding Medicaid. The 2013 Legislature failed to accept federal funds to provide this critical care, instead sending it to cover veterans and other citizens in states like California and New Jersey. Despite knowing the benefits of expansion — and the costs to our families, communities and economy if we fail to expand — the Legislature simply said “no.”

We ask that the Montana Legislature reconsider its position. Come back to Helena and take advantage of this opportunity to say “thank you” to the men and women who once wore our nation’s uniform. Let’s protect those who so proudly protected us.

Ed Croucher of Eureka is commander, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Department of Montana. James W. Higgins, a retired brigadier general in Libby, is president of the board of directors for the Montana National Guard Association.

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