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Saturday, January 6th 2007

The Iraq War & The VA Hospital System

Hat tip to The Health Care Blog. A short LA Times piece looks at what the future complications and disabilities from Iraq’s 50,000 injured servicemen means for the VA health system,

So far, more than 200,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated at VA medical facilities — three times what the VA projected, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis. More than one-third of them have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, acute depression and substance abuse. Thousands more have crippling disabilities such as brain or spinal injuries. In each of the last two years, the VA has underestimated the number of veterans who would seek help and the cost of treating them — forcing it to go cap in hand to Congress for billions of dollars in emergency funding.

The VA system has a reputation for high-quality care, but waiting lists to see a doctor at some facilities now run as long as several months. Shortages are particularly acute in mental health care.

The situation is about to go from bad to worse. Of the 1.4 million service members involved in the war effort from the beginning, 900,000 are still deployed on active duty. Once they are discharged, the demands for medical care and counseling will skyrocket, as will the number of benefit claims. The Veterans for America organization projects that VA medical centers may need to treat up to 750,000 more returning Iraq and Afghan war veterans and that half a million veterans may visit the Vet Centers.

And then there is the cost. After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, half of all veterans sought VA medical care, and 44% filed disability claims. Assuming that this pattern is repeated, the lifetime cost of providing disability payments and healthcare to Iraq and Afghan war veterans will likely cost U.S. taxpayers between $300 billion and $600 billion, depending on how long the war lasts.

It has some suggestions when for when the disability claims start rolling in. And while I know little (nay, nothing) about the process they seem like good ideas. For instance, in order to provide more timely care and to cut down on administrative costs accept all claims and then review only a select few as an auditing process (like the IRS looks through tax returns).