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Better Policy Starts with the Veteran's Voice
By Brett W. Copeland
Special interest groups like the Koch Brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) will spend millions of dollars trying to use veterans as a wedge issue at the ballot box this November. CVA in particular has thrown down $6 million dollars in TV ads against several lawmakers. What's missing from these relentless attack ads and tremendous amounts of money? An actual plan to tackle the real problems veterans face.
Political rhetoric usually turns into bad policy. And despite all that political cash flying around, the voices of real veterans is rarely put front-and-center. That's why a group of veterans and their caregivers, health care experts, and journalists founded our think tank, the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute (VHPI) at veteranspolicy.org.
At VHPI we believe that veterans deserve to be the central authority in the debate about their care. We're not satisfied with the current state of research, analysis, and discussion around healthcare. Veterans deserve evidence-based care that works. Political grandstanding isn't what solves the opioid epidemic or prevents veteran suicide. Data-driven treatment and integrated care is how we must move forward.
It wasn't politicians or pundits who identified health problems in Blue Water Veterans that resulted from the use of Agent Orange. It was groups like VVAW. Likewise, Vietnam Veterans suffering from PTSD were largely discounted after their return from war. And today's veterans have developed chronic breathing problems as a result of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan—which they reported almost immediately but were again, silenced.
These stories were shocking when they were first revealed to the American public but they were no surprise to veterans. That's why our content, like the Veteran's Voice series, keeps veterans at the center of the story and explains healthcare through their eyes.
We don't buy the assertion that private sector healthcare can do it better than the Veterans Health Administration. This overwhelming narrative of private sector superiority is taken at face value by politicians and the mainstream media alike. But our work at VHPI regularly shows that not only is the private sector largely unprepared to meet veterans' most critical needs, it simply does not understand the experiences of veterans.
Veterans are more likely to suffer from chronic pain conditions and traumatic brain injury than the average US citizen. Aging veterans require more complex care because of these and other injuries sustained during their service.
These are the types of stories that must be told if veterans are to ever get the care they really deserve. Our weekly VHPI newsletter collects and analyzes healthcare-related stories that don't make it to the front page or websites of the mainstream media. And VHPI's policy analysis helps lawmakers use the actual experience of veterans to craft policy that's effective in the real world - not just some sterile laboratory or written in a stale report.
Our work is funded through small donations by veterans, organizations like VVAW, health care workers, and concerned citizens. We may not be able to afford big TV buys like CVA, but as long as we have your support, we can improve the lives of veterans through real and needed changes to their healthcare.
If you'd like to subscribe to and support VHPI's work, please visit www.veteranspolicy.org/donate.
Brett W. Copeland is the executive director of The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute, a think tank that examines how to improve policy that impacts veterans.