What Americans Don’t Know About the Crisis Veterans in America Face is Killing Vets
Why I have started a Project to develop and fund a Wide-Reaching Educational Public Service Announcement on the “Veterans’ Crisis” few Americans seem to be aware of:
There’s a misconception among Americans that words can solve a crisis. “Thank you for your service” is a safe and noncommittal response frequently offered when Americans learn that they’re interacting with a veteran of the American military. It’s also the fallacy at the core of why veterans in the United States are committing suicide at a rate higher than the national average. Words are not a substitute for committed action, and there’s a “Veterans’ Crisis” happening in the United States that isn’t currently recognized.
Most Americans mistakenly think that they understand the plight of veterans “well enough.” They make lazy assumptions about what is or is not being done for veterans on their behalf. They don’t investigate. They don’t make demands. They don’t even ask veterans they meet about how they’re faring in life. In short, once a military member’s service is done, they are invisible to most Americans — outside of short platitudes. That may be in spite of the best of intentions, but it’s causing veterans great harm.
“Thank you for your service” isn’t the solution to the Veterans’ Crisis in America.
A huge chunk of the community of veterans in the United States is dying because of mass neglect. It’s happening outside of the field of view of most Americans. Few Americans have the necessary facts about “Veterans’ Issues.” They have vague understandings of a few aspects of this crisis, but no understanding of just how dire, deep, and urgent the problems are. Worse, they don’t even realize how they are contributing to those problems.
Here’s a brief list of facts* that every American should know about the Veterans’ Crisis:
- Thousands of veterans are committing suicide each year. This is significantly higher than the national average, and there was a 10% spike in suicides among the veterans between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2018. As well, since the beginning of 2019, seven veterans have violently killed themselves on Veterans’ Administration facility grounds. The level of desperation is higher than at any point in history. As the figures for death from Opioid overdose stand, a veteran is twice as likely to kill himself or herself as any American is to die from Opioid overdose. Yet, the Opioid situation is deemed a “crisis,” with millions in resources promised and stories permeating the news. Veterans’ suicides barely make the news and the promises to address the situation have been very small in scale, and largely remain as unfulfilled promises.
- More than 134,000 veterans are homeless in the United States, and at risk of dying from exposure to the weather, crime, and lack of food. The figures for veteran homelessness compared to the population as a whole are largely unreliable because of a lack of effective monitoring by relevant government agencies. The estimates vary drastically, depending on who is polled for information. The best estimates range from 9–20%, even though veterans represent about 6–8% of the total population. This number doesn’t include the number of veterans at-risk of being homeless on a daily basis, nor those whose circumstances are so tenuous as to be at-risk of dying via victimization by crime, or those who might likely die from lack of food security.
- While the exact figures are not well-established, because there is currently no conclusive method in place for establishing an exact number, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of veterans may have died since the 1990’s while waiting for care at VA healthcare facilities. The Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, was supposed to make access to healthcare for veterans ubiquitous, thereby easing the backlog of veterans waiting for healthcare. The Veteran’s Choice Program, as it is also known, has been of some use in helping to ease some of the backlog of veterans waiting for healthcare. But, healthcare providers have been increasingly opting out of the program because the contacted private insurance providers have made compensation for their services so complicated that many are never paid at all. By all indications, including the large number of veterans whose suicides may have been related to lack of access to healthcare, that the program has not solved the backlog problem. The Mission Act of 2018, went into effect on June 6th, of 2019, and is tasked with using “telemedicine” and other mobile medicine modalities as a way to “reach veterans where they need services.” Given that “telemedicine” has been a part of VA services for years, the efforts appear to be little more than a public relations campaign, existing largely on paper, rather than any serious effort to expand healthcare accessibility for veterans.
- Some estimates suggest that veterans are having their claims for service-connected disabilities denied at a record rate. This appears to be an issue impacting thousands of veterans of past wars, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is happening in spite of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. In fact, if that legislation has done anything, it has likely sped-up the rate of denial of disability claims. While the VA offers vague estimates about the actual denial rates, advocates and lawyers who assist veterans with disability claims widely suggest the denial rate for first-time claims is about 60–80%. Subsequent appeals are being denied at a rate of about 50–60%. The 2017 law also cuts off some access to subsequent appeals, ostensibly in the interest of “speeding up the process for all.” While the actual number of viable claims being denied is not fully ascertainable, advocates and lawyers have generally suggested that up 80% of claims being denied are likely viable disability claims. There are many who have accused the VA of using this as a de facto “cost cutting” method, but there are not enough collected to statistics to draw any useful conclusions about why this is happening.
- There are frequent glitches in distribution of VA Education Benefits, and the rates of compensation are not keeping pace with increasing educational costs. Veterans seeking to improve their circumstances are meeting with problems related to a largely arcane and inefficient date processing resources, and to poorly developed administrative systems that have led to educational institutions not being able navigate the VA’s reimbursement procedures. Notably, reimbursements to for-profit training facilities have met with far fewer problems, and that is a troubling situation given that those institutions largely overcharge for the low-quality educational services they provide to veterans. These disruptions in the dispersal of payments are causing veterans real-time educational and financial difficulties. Even though these disruptions made news headlines in 2018, little has been done to remedy the situation in the long-term.
- Transparency in the Veterans’ Administration is almost non-existent. The level of congressional or other oversight of the VA is sparse, on good days. The manner in which vendor and provider contacts are approved, or even how bids are solicited and accepted is not open for wide public review. In spite of recent claims that a “shadow council” of private interests have had inappropriate input into how the VA conducts its business, the problem seems to be largely continuing unexplored by lawmakers.
One of the difficulties associated with offering criticisms of the Veterans’ Administration is that such criticisms can often give “ammunition” to those looking to either privatize or abolish the VA altogether. The special interests looking to privatize the VA healthcare and benefits system are generally those whose financial interests would best be served by either privatizing the system, or abolishing it and reassigning those services to agencies already within scope of operations.
There numerous examples of why privatization or abolishing the VA would be of extreme concern to those wishing to see veterans provided with the highest quality healthcare and other services. The point of producing a far-reaching Public Service Announcement is to address the lack of awareness among average Americans of problems associated with the possibility of privatizing or abolishing the VA, as well as a lack of awareness of all the other issues I mentioned in the numbered list above. Even if the specific statistics associated with the issues are not fully established or vetted, the problems are well-defined enough to warrant that Americans should be involved in demanding better for their veterans.
I have compiled a great deal of information on the subject of this “Veterans’ Crisis,” and that information can be accessed via the Veterans Advocacy page on my website here. It is also possible to send suggestions, questions, concerns and offers of assistance via that page. For a better overall understanding of the issues veterans face in the United States, it will necessary to establish a broad database of information. There are many wonderful veterans’ advocacy and service organizations who are doing their best to address these issues, but a more centralized resource is needed. That’s part of what I would like to address via this PSA project.
It’s my sincere hope that this short essay on the PSA project has whet the reader’s appetite for more information, and inflamed their sense of indignation over how veterans are being treated in the United States. The only way forward requires broad support from the majority of American citizens. Even though other major social and political challenges abound in the news, it is not okay that Americans forget or ignore their military veterans. Please visit my Veterans’ Advocacy page to offer whatever support you can, learn more about the subject, and let others know about this issue so that we can move forward.
*More information on the “facts” use in this essay are available, upon request.