Military health care a casualty of war.

One casualty of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that largely has been overlooked is the system of delivering health care to active duty and retired members of our military.  That system consists of military facilities intended primarily to serve the active duty forces; Tricare, a health insurance program that serves active duty dependents, retirees, and certain members of the Guard and Reserve; and the facilities of the Veterans Administration.

A proposal by the Bush administration to cut Tricare reimbursements for physician services by 5.1% will take effect in 2007.  The Republican-controlled Congress shows no inclination to halt the cuts, which inevitably will result in reduced access to and a decline in the quality of health care.  Every major organization representing active and retired members of the military has urged the Bush administration to derail the proposal, without success.  In the meantime, fees charged for dependents and retirees to participate in Tricare have dramatically increased.

Military installation and organizational commanders in the United States have been warned to expect sharply-decreased funding for the construction and repair of facilities of all types, including medical facilities, as belts are tightened to help pay for the costs of the wars.  Chronic under-funding of the Veterans Administration already has reached crisis proportions.

At the same time that they demand sacrifices by the military and their families, the Republic administration and Congress seek a repeal of the federal estate tax and reduction of other taxes that will benefit only the wealthiest among us.  The disparity is obscene.  It is as if members of the military and their families are being asked to pay for their “own” wars, so that the rich can be made even richer.

Republicans long have used flag-waving rhetoric to appeal to military voters, while supporting measures that erode military benefits.  That cynical exploitation of the people that we send to fight our wars could have a steep cost, not only to Republican candidates, but more importantly to our ability to recruit and retain an effective military force.

October 8, 2006