A recent study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that 1 in 10 of the 12.5 million veterans in the U.S. is currently uninsured. Those veterans are more likely to be younger, less likely to be married and are less connected to the labor force—all factors that contribute to lower insurance rates.
In Illinois, 25,000 veterans, or 10.1% lack health coverage. Add to that their family members, and that’s 68,000 men, women and children in military families without adequate access to health care.
The Affordable Care Act has the potential to make a sizable dent in those numbers. Nearly half of uninsured veterans will become eligible for Medicaid under the program’s extension in 2014, when all citizens below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level will gain coverage. Another 40% of those veterans will receive subsidies to use toward purchasing insurance in state health insurance exchanges. (For more information, see the Illinois Health Matters map of where all of those who are newly eligible for Medicaid live in Illinois.)
The RWJF report also found that insurance rates among veterans were higher in states that had made more progress toward implementing health insurance exchanges, as called for by the ACA. The opposite is true for those states that have made the least progress toward implementing health reforms, which are home to 40% of uninsured veterans. Illinois has made "moderate progress" toward implementation of an exchange -- the Illinois General Assembly tabled efforts to establish an exchange earlier this month, opting to wait until the Supreme Court releases their decision on the ACA before attempting to move forward. Advocates still are urging Governor Quinn to sign an Executive Order to establish the Exchange.
Progressing forward with health reform efforts, the study claims, will be crucial to getting coverage for uninsured veterans. In addition, other barriers to health care, such as a lack of nearby health centers, or potential disruptions on coverage from public benefits, or a lack of awareness of potential benefits, need to be addressed.
At Health & Disability Advocates (HDA), we have seen firsthand that this is reality for service members in Illinois. For Veterans who are not insured it is important for them to have a good understanding of other state and local programs that could provide services for them and their families. HDA's Illinois Connections program assists veterans and military families connect to community services including health benefits. We have worked closely with the Illinois National Guard since those that have not been deployed are not eligible for veteran’s services, including health care through the federal VA system.
HDA's new volunteer veteran program, Illinois Warrior to Warrior, brings volunteers to Illinois National Guard units who are trained in community resources - including health care. This partnership with the National Guard allows trained volunteer veterans to be assigned to individual National Guard units and offer assistance to soldiers and their families in locating resources to meet their needs. This program is in a pilot stage in the Chicago area but will be expanded state-wide.
How military and veteran programs interact with civilian programs is complicated. At HDA, we provide tools and trainings to service providers in military/veteran and civilian systems. See our complete list of trainings and services here and our YouTube video of our program here. If you know of a veteran in need of health insurance or health services, have them contact HDA at 312-223-9600.
Laura Gallagher Watkins, Director
Illinois Connections: Assisting Veterans & Military Families
Health & Disability Advocates