Medicaid expansion would help Alabama veterans meet their health care needs

Veterans Day gives Alabama a chance to shine. Our cities and towns hold parades and ceremonies each Nov. 11 to honor service members and to burnish the state’s reputation as a great place for veterans to retire.

This year, as we celebrate those who have risked and sacrificed to defend our country, let’s remember a group too often overlooked: veterans who have low incomes and no health insurance. And let’s commit to expanding Medicaid to help them meet their health needs.

Medicaid expansion would help Alabama veterans. Thousands of Alabama veterans are living without health coverage for themselves or their family members. They don't qualify for Medicaid or VA care, and they can't afford employer-based coverage or private insurance. 5,062 Alabama veterans with low incomes have no health insurance. (1,812 women and 3,250 men.) 7,934 low-income adults who live with Alabama veterans have no health insurance. (4,703 women and 3,231 men.) Medicaid expansion would give Alabama veterans and their families the health security they need.

It’s a common misconception that people who serve in the U.S. military automatically receive lifetime eligibility for health coverage and other benefits. In reality, though, veterans’ health benefits depend on their length of service, military classification, type of discharge and other factors. Treatment for service-connected conditions has no time-of-service requirement, but other health benefits do.

Active-duty service members and their families receive health coverage through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Most also receive “bridge” health insurance coverage in the 180 days before and after their active-duty service.

But many veterans — including many National Guard and Reserve members — return home without military health care for the long term. For the 13,000 Alabama veterans and adult family members who have no military health insurance and can’t afford private plans, the consequences can be dire.

A lasting commitment to Alabama’s uninsured veterans

Returning to civilian life can be challenging enough without the added burden of being uninsured. Injuries sustained from combat, environmental hazards or physical stress can cause chronic disability or loss of function. And the mental stress of combat and separation from family also puts some veterans at risk for mental health problems and substance use disorders. The rising rate of veteran suicides is stark evidence of this troubling toll.

There’s something Alabama can do to help. If we expanded Medicaid to adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level ($29,435 a year for a family of three), nearly 13,000 uninsured veterans and family members could get the health coverage they need. Medicaid expansion would be a meaningful and lasting commitment to make life better for veterans across Alabama.