A New American 11/11/11 Day: The Health Care Veterans Deserve

VIDEO: Bob Doles Work With War Veterans

On this Veterans Day, our military forces are engaged in continuing conflict that has lasted longer than any war in our nation's history. As a Marine Corps veteran, I have experienced men and women who served for decades, returning home to find the country's promise of medical care for them and their families being unfulfilled.

Medical care for military personnel, military retirees, some members of reserve units and their dependents is administered through a government-created health insurance system called TRICARE. It was established in 1966 -- originally under the name CHAMPUS, short for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services -- to provide military families with healthcare from civilian practitioners. The program is managed under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson, who is a graduate of City College of New York and New York University Medical School.

The War against Terror has created a new generation of veterans who are eligible for healthcare under TRICARE. Unfortunately, that care is often unavailable. As a recalled Marine Reservist, I have personal experience with this dilemma. Immediately after 9/11, I was called to active duty in and around Ground Zero. When I would return home from time to time, to visit my newborn daughter, I would throw away my uniform because of the acrid smell and the potential for hazardous particles embedded in the fabric.

After my retirement from active duty, I resumed my civilian job as a Wall Street financial research analyst. My job is to evaluate all aspects of healthcare – new biotechnology products, new medical devices and healthcare services. When men and women with whom I served told me how difficult it is to find TRICARE coverage in New York City, I turned my analytical skills to quantifying TRICARE availability for active, reserve, or retired service members and their families within the New York City limits beginning at Ground Zero.

Using skills I learned at business school, I conducted a statistically valid survey of 100 primary care physicians in New York City. I asked their offices if they accepted TRICARE, Medicaid, or another major insurance plan. I repeated the survey with a different group of 100 primary care physicians 10 months later to ensure consistent results.

Here is what I found: 96 percent of the called offices accepted some major insurance. Medicaid was accepted by 40 percent and TRICARE accepted by only 25 percent of those surveyed. If you extrapolate the findings from these 200 practices to the possible 22,000 primary care practitioners with offices in NYC, these results suggest that you are almost twice as likely to receive medical care funded through Medicaid than TRICARE. The fact that the majority of respondents were unfamiliar with TRICARE is even more disappointing.

This weekend there will be many events celebrating our men and women in uniform. Politicians and prominent citizens will be extolling the sacrifice and courage of our military. Others will be expressing their gratitude for our service. As a group, military people have special medical needs; some serve 20 years of arduous duty that can be as physically challenging as professional sports with much lower pay. Military people carry heavy loads of up to 100 pounds over difficult terrain for days, they are exposed to noise and concussion from artillery pieces, serve in cramped and noisy spaces aboard ships and experience collisions with the ground when they jump from airplanes and helicopters.

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