, Salem, MA


August 22, 2013

Column: Pay for veterans' care now, or pay more later


Our quick response depends heavily on programs that help civilian physicians treat, or at least recognize, service-related issues within their own communities. Military and VA facilities are the most evident care facilities, but it is common for Reservists and National Guardsmen to live outside these facilities’ coverage areas. A McClatchy investigation in March found a population of 675,000 Reservists or National Guardsmen that have concluded their service and therefore have no routine interaction with the military.

The Pentagon and VA either will have to expand their infrastructure dramatically to care for those that live outside of health-care coverage areas, or they’ll have to partner with civilian providers.

Enter a Chapel Hill, N.C.,-based initiative called the Citizen-Soldier Support Program. This program trains civilian providers in topics related to traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. It likewise provides service-members with online resources to locate appropriate care.

In October of last year it lost federal funding. Since then CSSP has continued supporting U.S. veterans’ health care as fully as possible using private resources. The reasons for this loss boil down to a typical government problem: the inability of two bureaucracies, the Pentagon and the VA, to get along. Neither wants to admit to a gap in coverage or to cede turf to the other, so both just ignore the problem.

CSSP is not the victim here, of course. Veterans that live outside military and VA coverage areas suffer most. And, down the line, so too will American taxpayers that are missing out on a chance to control these costs now as part of doing the right thing.

There is no way to estimate the way costs will grow as we postpone them, but today’s fiscal circumstances are very clear. Austerity is the new norm. Congress and the White House agreed in August 2011 to the Budget Control Act, which cut $900 billion from the federal departments immediately and an additional $1.2 trillion from them over the following decade. The VA is exempt from these calculations, but growth in its accounts doesn’t change the overall savings target.

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