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Make injured veterans use private health insurance? Proposal stirs controversy

March 18, 2009 | 10:25 am

As the country is reeling over the AIG bonus scandal, we thank "The Daily Show" for reminding us that attention must also be paid to "the smaller outrages in our world," as Jon Stewart put it last night in a new segment called "That Can't Be Right."

Stewart focused on a little-noticed budget proposal, the subject of an article in the  Kansas City Star, that would have veterans use their private medical insurance to treat injuries and illnesses suffered while serving their country:

"You know veterans?" said Stewart. "The men and women that risk their lives to defend our country? Well, when they get injured, do you know who foots the bill? YOU! The taxpayer! I know! It's incredibly ... FAIR! That is why it struck me as a little odd that one of the money-saving proposals from the Obama administration was to remove veterans with private insurance plans from the VA rolls!

"So I guess the government is saying if you still need a little rehab from when you got that leg blown off in Iraq, the government will cover you unless your wife has a little COBRA left over from her previous substitute-teaching gig."

Although the Star quoted Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington as saying the idea was "dead on arrival," Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said the plan was under consideration as a way to increase revenue.

In the broader context of healthcare reform and the woeful treatment provided to many of our wounded veterans by the government, one can imagine that private health plans might be able to raise the standard of care for veterans, but the feds must foot the bill.

Saving pennies on the backs of wounded vets while AIG executives walk away with millions in taxpayer-funded retention bonuses (which didn't even retain some of them) is no way to go.

The Huffington Post reports that some veterans groups want to know more, however, before they go to Def Con 4. HuffPo quotes Jon Soltz, executive director of left-leaning VoteVets, as saying:

"We don't know if this is going to be the proposal, or if it is a serious consideration or not, so it's premature to go to the White House with pitchforks at this point. That having been said, if it is proposed, we would be opposed, and can't imagine any veterans group that would be for it.

There's no appetite for it on the Hill, either. There are ways to eliminate waste at every level of government, though, including the VA. I think we'd all like to sit down with the administration and find areas of the VA budget that are redundant or wasteful, to make sure every dollar spent there is necessary."

Today, the Star reports that veterans' advocates, who met with President Obama on Monday, will return to the White House on Thursday to persuade Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to kill the proposal before it goes anywhere.

--Robin Abcarian

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