Posted on October 31, 2007

1.8 Million Veterans Lack Health Coverage


Embargoed Until:
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
4:00 p.m. Eastern

Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH
Jeffrey Scavron, MD
Ida Hellander, MD (312) 782-6006

Harvard Study Finds Sharp Increase Since 2000

Nearly 6 Million Uninsured Americans are Veterans or their Families

Click here to read the study.

Of the 47 million uninsured Americans, one in every eight (12.2 percent) is a veteran or member of a veteran’s household, according to a study by Harvard Medical School researchers published in the December, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. 1.8 million Veterans (12.7 percent of non-elderly veterans) were uninsured in 2004, up 290,000 since 2000, the study found. An addition 3.8 million members of their households were also uninsured and ineligible for VA care.

The study is based on detailed analyses of government surveys released between 1988 and 2005. Veterans were only classified as uninsured if they neither had health insurance nor received ongoing care at Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals or clinics. A preliminary review by the study’s authors of 2006 data released last month (while this study was in press) shows little change in the number of uninsured veterans since 2004.

“Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people - too poor to afford private coverage but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School who testified before Congress about the problem earlier this year. “As a result, veterans and their family members delay or forgo needed health care every day in the U.S. It’s a disgrace.”

Other findings of the study include:

  • The number of uninsured veterans has increased by 290,000 since 2000, when 9.9% of non-elderly veterans were uninsured, a figure which rose to 12.7% in 2004.
  • Of the 1.768 million uninsured, 645,628 were Vietnam-era veterans while 1,105,891 were veterans who served during “other eras” (including the Iraq and Gulf Wars)
  • Of uninsured veterans, 56.5% were older than 44.
  • Uninsured veterans had as much trouble getting medical care as other uninsured persons. 26.5% of uninsured veterans reported that they had failed to get needed care due to costs; 31.2% had delayed care due to costs; 49.1% had not seen a doctor within the past year; and two-thirds failed to receive preventive care
  • Nearly two-thirds of uninsured veterans were employed.

Many uninsured veterans are barred from VA care because of a 2003 Bush Administration order that halted enrollment of most middle income veterans. Others are unable to obtain VA care due to waiting lists at some VA facilities, unaffordable co-payments for VA specialty care, or the lack of VA facilities in their communities.

“Since President Bush took office the number of uninsured vets has skyrocketed, and he’s cut eligibility, barring hundreds of thousands of veterans from care. This administration has put troops in harm’s way overseas and abandoned them and their families once they got home,” said Dr. David Himmelstein, co-author of the study and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. “We need a solution that works for veterans, their families, and all Americans - single payer national health insurance.”

“I see uninsured vets in my clinic every week,” said Dr. Jeffrey Scavron, a former Navy physician now practicing in Springfield, Massachusetts. “In many cases, they’re too sick to work, but not yet sick enough for full disability which would qualify them for Medicare. Only the government can put men and woman into military service and only the government can guarantee that they are covered after they serve.” Dr. Scavron is a founding member and former president of Physicians for a National Health Program.


Physicians for a National Health Program is a national organization with 14,000 physician members that supports single payer national health insurance. PNHP has chapters and spokespeople across the U.S. For local contact information, write or call 312-782-6006.

Himmelstein, Woolhandler et al. “Lack of Health Insurance Coverage Among U.S. Veterans from 1987 to 2004” American Journal of Public Health, December 2007.