Today more veterans than ever return home facing physical and psychological challenges. According to a recent study, nearly one in five veterans suffers from stress- or depression-related disorders. Psychiatrists also project that as many as a third of U.S. soldiers will suffer from PTSD after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and this rate doubles for those who have served two tours.
Approximately 20 percent of veterans are estimated to turn to significant drug or alcohol use upon their return home, and even more troubling, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
According to the 2012 Federal Budget, of the $683.7 billion spent on the military, roughly 20 percent of this, or $129 billion, is spent on veteran affairs. This is not an insignificant amount, especially considering that this is significantly more (read: double) than the Department of Homeland Security received, and only slightly less than the Department of Agriculture received.
Why, then, do so many claim that our veterans are being neglected? It is because, as is usually the case, the government fails to allocate resources effectively. And instead of relying on the free market to increase the quality of care given to veterans, it insists on using funds to run government programs and VA hospitals, both of which are less effective than other private charities and organizations.
Despite the fact that VA hospitals are sometimes more cost effective than private hospitals, they often lack sufficient standards for cleanliness, and there are far too many instances of lack of protocol exposing patients to undue risk.
For example, over the course of the past decade, there have been numerous HIV and hepatitis scares due to improper sterilization. Over 10,000 patients have been notified of potential exposure to these diseases, and of those tested, six were infected with HIV, and another 40 with varying forms of hepatitis.
Most troubling, not one person lost his or her job over these scandals. Thus, there is little incentive to quickly resolve these endemic issues. Dissolving the VA hospital system in favor of vouchers for private care is definitely a viable option and one heavily considered in the 1990s when VA care was at its most abysmal.
While this option is economically attractive due to the added stimulus it would provide to the private health care system, this is likely to be met with near-fatal levels of resistance. At the very least the government must enforce far stricter standards on its VA hospitals in order to provide optimal care.
An even more important issue to consider is the allocation of funding to ancillary programs. The operating costs for running programs to help veterans reintegrate into society are undeniably high, and I believe the government could better address veterans’ needs by partially shifting its focus towards comprehensive programs that address long-term well-being.
The best way to invest in veterans’ futures in America would be by dissolving existing non-medical programs that have marginal rates of success in favor of private organizations that have high rates of satisfaction. One such program is The Wounded Warrior Project, a foundation that seeks to help injured veterans rehabilitate physically, adapt to an often greatly changed lifestyle and find roles within their communities.
Community service has proven to be an extremely effective way to help minimize the problems veterans often experience upon returning home. One service program, called The Mission Continues, gives fellowships to veterans to pursue six-month service projects in American communities. The program has been met with enormous success; among participants polled before and after their fellowships, depression rates dropped, job performance and family life improved, and 78 percent of veterans felt stronger attachment to their communities.
In order to address the long-term needs of veterans rather than merely addressing the symptoms of mental illness, the federal government needs to either support or develop programs like these and continue to reform the VA system. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Contact Alli Rath at [email protected]