The Center for Investigative Reporting released a telling infographic today that breaks down how much money veterans are eligible for based on the severity of their injuries. This chart is eye-opening and is a painful reminder of how much the US neglects wounded veterans.
|Vets deserve better|
Here are some highlights: If you lose a hand or become deaf from combat, you are eligible for a whopping $100 extra per month; if you lose both legs, you can get between $1,000 - $1,300 dollars in compensation; and if you are paralyzed, you are eligible for $2,100 in extra funds each month. These are shameful figures, but the VA system isn't to blame here. If anything, these figures point to the enormous financial strains that the VA system is under. Nevertheless, this chart should be a huge stain on our public conscience.
While reading this article, I couldn't help but think of the young men that I followed around for 2 years in Philadelphia. These men didn't suffer from lost limbs and weren't paralyzed, but faced similar kinds of physical and mental health challenges long after they had been shot. Contrary to what the average person thinks, these young men also weren't caught up in gangs, drug dealing, or running with the wrong crowd, either. The public health scholar and physician, John Rich, shows us the folly in this logic in his excellent book "Wrong Place, Wrong Time." Like Rich, my work also shows that many gunshot victims simply live in dangerous neighborhoods, where everyday activities like walking home from school or going to the market can become fatal or near fatal activities.
Some of these injuries were the kind that knocked previously able-bodied young men out of work. Others suffered from less visible, but equally frustrating injuries that disrupted their personal and social lives. One of the young men that I followed had his testicle blown off in an armed robbery. Although he was otherwise "fine," he suffered the shame of losing a testicle and feeling emasculated. And the vast majority of these men didn't have health insurance, which led some--like an informant I called "Paul"--into risky pill hustles to treat crippling pain and injuries.
To be sure, the Affordable Care Act represents a monumental move toward insuring the most vulnerable. But, early reports are showing that many of the folks who stand to gain the most from the ACA missed the March 31 deadline to enroll in a health care plan. Many didn't know about the deadline, some thought the deadline had passed, and others are saying that they'll remain uninsured even though they'll get fined in the coming tax year for non-compliance to the mandate.
All of this underscores the need to rethink political priorities in America. In most industrialized nations, health care is considered a right, much like an education. Let's hope that the ACA represents the first step in a move toward insuring and caring for all of our wounded. They all certainly deserve better.