Doctor No's Malpractice

by Cameron Nutt '11 | 11/15/09 11:00pm

On the 11th day of the 11th month each year, the United States dedicates a day to honoring the men and women who put themselves in harm's way to uphold the values and securities we hold dear. This year, in an act of despicable politicking, one recalcitrant senator instead decided to honor our veterans by placing them in harm's way here at home.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has placed a personal hold in the Senate to prevent passage of a landmark bill called the Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, S.B. 1963, that would provide desperately needed expansion of health services for veterans and their caregivers. Despite the fact that he is the only senator opposed to the legislation, Coburn has the ability to prevent Congress from considering the bill and is thus personally responsible for the continued suffering of thousands of men and women who have stepped up over the years to answer when America called.

According to a study released by Harvard Medical School, 2,266 American veterans under the age of 65 died last year due to lack of health insurance. That's six preventable deaths every single day more than those caused by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. S.B. 1963 would seek to address this appalling statistic by targeting the root of the problem: Many veterans fall through the cracks because, while they cannot afford private insurance, they are not poor or disabled enough from combat to qualify for Veterans Affairs coverage. The bill would expand access to care for those in this category, provide assistance to caregivers of seriously wounded veterans and extend services to many underserved rural areas. Taking care of our troops entails more than thicker armor on Army Humvees.

This legislation is long overdue. According to a Veteran's Day op-ed in The New York Times, over 1,500,000 veterans are uninsured and more than 250,000 were homeless at some point in the past 12 months. The inadequate health care reform bills currently proposed by the House and Senate will do little to fix this problem.

Yet Coburn, known as "Dr. No" in the halls of the Capitol, dares to delay the passage of a bill that will have an immediate impact on the lives and welfare of these homeless, mentally ill, seriously wounded, or simply poor veterans. He dares to stand alone and say no to America's veterans because the legislation will cost $3 billion over five years less the cost of two weeks of the war in Iraq, for which Coburn has twice authorized $80 billion-plus supplements.

Coburn suggests paying for the new programs by eliminating "wasteful and obsolete" institutions as the National Institute for Literacy and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Grants program. In a recent press release, he justified his position, arguing, "If senators would just pay for this program and make a few common sense changes this bill could pass the Senate today ... If we don't start making hard choices we may not have a country left to defend."

Wait really? A United States senator is claiming that he must deny our troops and their families rights they have more than earned because paying to support them would somehow endanger national security? In the America I know and love, we do not assign monetary limits to the lives of our courageous veterans. Perhaps Coburn would prefer to spend the money he is saving to buy off the spouses of colleagues' mistresses, as he recommended that Sen. John Ensign, D-Nev., do to end a sordid affair this summer, according to Politico.

A close examination of Coburn's record quickly reveals a pattern. Dr. No adamantly opposes the idea that health care is a human right and public responsibility.

"What is not legitimate is having the government even weigh in on [health care]," Coburn said on "Meet the Press" in August. "It is intensely personal; your health care, your plans, your family. There is no role for government in that."

Coburn could not be more incorrect. As any veteran will tell you, it is the duty of the state to provide security a concept that extends far beyond protection from physical violence. The struggles of America's poor veterans are emblematic of the structural violence oppressing our working middle class, deserted between the safety nets of private insurance and Medicaid.

Coburn must stand down from this blatantly political posturing. Since Veterans Day last Wednesday, an estimated 30 veterans have died for lack of insurance perhaps we should take Coburn's own publicly funded coverage and give it to one of our brave soldiers.

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