VA facing huge future costs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2008

With soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with wounds, it is putting a strain of the government and its ability to pay for their care.

According to a report by The Associated Press, there is an overall decline in total veterans as soldiers from the World War II and Korean Conflict era pass. However, the wounded from the current conflicts have worse injuries so the government expects the health costs to raise to $59 billion by 2033, up from today’s $29 billion.

“Today’s veterans - disabled or not - number nearly 24 million. That population is projected by the VA to fall under 15 million by 2033, mostly because of dying World War II and Korean War vets. But costs are expected to rise,” The Associated Press wrote, adding inflation accounts for a big chunk of the increase. But even when the VA factors out inflation, the compensation for disabled veterans would still grow from $29 billion to $33 billion in today’s dollars - a more than 10 percent increase. And the department acknowledges the estimate could rise by 30 percent.”

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Locally, veterans who qualify for care go to Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Huntington, W.Va., which currently serves approximately 30,000 veterans

Pamela Smith, the assistant to the center’s director, said that of that number approximately 1,400 are Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

She said the VA treats veterans from a wide spectrum of medical needs, from physical care, surgery, mental care and medicine.

One area that the Huntington VA and all VA hospitals are dealing with is the multiple types of injuries soldiers coming back from a war zone could have.

“We provide comprehensive care and have enhanced services offered to include a designated polytrauma team that is linked with a national network of VA polytrauma centers,” Smith said. “Those patients who are most severely ill are transferred to a VA regional polytrauma center with the expectation of ultimately returning home and having further care provided by VAMC Huntington.”

She said polytrauma is a different type of injuries that is much more prevalent among soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq because of the improvised explosive devices that insurgents are using against them.

The center has boosted individual care for soldiers.

“We have also instituted a Seamless Transition Team designed to provide personalized services to returning OEF/OIF veterans including case management for the seriously ill,” Smith said.

She added that as well as diagnoses of polytrauma, there is an increase in mental health diagnoses.

The VAMC Huntington currently offers comprehensive outpatient mental health services at the main Medical Center campus in Huntington as well as in its four community-based outpatient clinics located in Charleston, W.Va. Logan, W.Va and Williamson, W.Va and in Prestonsburg, Ky. Plans are in the development stage to expand those services by adding residential beds primarily designed to provide treatment to veterans suffering from substance use disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Center is located at 3135 16th Street Road, Suite 11, Huntington, W.Va. Their phone number is (304)-523-8387.