The whole health care debate has been completely confusing to me and a lot of the veterans and troops I talk with every day. See, for us, most of us got free, government-run health care.
First, troops in the Active Duty component and their families get TRICARE, the largest component in the military health care system, which allows them to go to military hospitals and doctors, as needed, and reimburses them for medical costs at private doctors, if they have to go there. For all intents and purposes, it's a mix of the British system (government provided health care) and the Canadian system (a single-payer government run system). The system is so good that virtually every veterans advocacy group has backed extending it fully to the National Guard and Reserve, since they are being deployed now more than ever.
Basically, it's a force readiness issue -- giving this kind of care to troops -- and why support for extending it to the Guard and Reserve is so strong. With all the added pressures from wars and increasing natural disasters, it's essential that all our service members are given preventative care, to ensure they're ready when we need them. We're simply a stronger nation when our troops are kept healthy.
For many, there's also the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is almost exactly like the British system of care. The government builds the hospitals and clinics. The government pays doctors, nurses, administrators, and others a salary. For those with service-connected injuries and disabilities sustained in war, the VA is invaluable. So much so, in fact, that every veterans group has tried to expand eligibility for VA care.
Finally, there's also what's called TRICARE For Life; basically the opportunity for many veterans to reenter the TRICARE system later on. And after you reach the Federal retirement age, that old government-run TRICARE will supplement your government-run Medicare, so you have little or no out-of-pocket expense.
So what's the point here?
Even at the worst of times, when the Bush administration underfunded the VA by billions, leading to backlogs and some real horror stories, the Veterans Health Administration, which administers care, consistently hovered at 80 percent approval among its patients, higher than those in the private system. With the funding improvements in the budget and new construction of hospitals and clinics through the stimulus program, those numbers will absolutely go higher.
TRICARE has been rated the insurance plan with the highest customer satisfaction -- better than any private plan for six years running!
Those on the Right keep harping on how they're looking to "save" the American people from the horrors and evils of government-run insurance and care. Well, troops and veterans don't want to be saved! In fact, when completely fabricated and false rumors started spreading that health reform would mean troops and veterans being tossed back into the private system, the major Veteran Service Organizations freaked out and wrote a letter to Congress demanding that they NOT be thrown back to for-profit care.
A final point: If government-run insurance and care is so evil and so horrible, then why do conservatives keep supporting leaving America's troops and veterans in that kind of system? Do conservatives hold America's warriors in such low standing that they'd subject us to a "Nazi" system, us Rush Limbaugh has called it?
You can't have it both ways. Either TRICARE and the VA are superior systems, worthy of our sacrifice, and thus a government-managed health system can be great. Or, they're terrible, scary, and Communist-Nazi schemes that have to be eliminated, leaving troops and veterans to find their own care for their lost limbs, brain injuries, and other wounds.
America's veterans and troops would say the former. It's why for years they have fought to expand the government programs, not kill them. That's why we find it so confusing that conservatives want to bar the doors and keep those Americans who want to be in a public system from even having that choice.
Follow Jon Soltz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonsoltz