By Jack Lewis
I am a veteran and I am always pleased when people thank me for my service. It is much better now than it was when I returned from Vietnam in 1966. I was proud to serve my country and to serve in the United States Navy, but back then, those of us who returned were not greeted with waving flags and parades.
Today, we celebrate and honor our veterans and that is exactly how it should be. But there is one area where North Carolina can and must do better. More than 12,000 North Carolina veterans currently have no affordable way to get health insurance. Men and woman who risked their lives for our country don’t have access to health care. Our state has the 5th highest uninsured veteran population in the country and more tragically, one in four veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are ninsure.
These veterans fall in to what is known as the coverage gap. They are ineligible for the state’s Medicaid program, largely because they are working, but make too little to qualify for a subsidy in the private health insurance marketplace. To borrow a term from my comrades in the Army, it is an absolute “Catch-22.”
It is a common misperception that all veterans get free health care for life. But that’s not correct. Unless a member of the armed services stays in the military until retirement, there is no Tricare for Life. While it is true that many veterans do have access to the VA, treatment in those facilities is generally limited to conditions or injuries incurred while on active duty and we only have a few Veterans Administration facilities in our state.
Military service increases the risk of serious health conditions, and many of our brothers and sisters in arms are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress, substance abuse and mental health disorders. Sadly, 1 in 4 North Carolina veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan lack health insurance.
If we truly want to honor our veterans, our General Assembly needs to take action and find a solution to close this coverage gap, whether through Medicaid expansion or some other plan.
Our veterans fought for us, now it is time that we fight for them. North Carolina needs to close the coverage gap NOW!