Idaho has the second-highest rate of uninsured veterans in the nation, Idaho KidsCount announced today, with an estimated 10,000 military veterans in the state – 15 percent – currently lacking health insurance. If Idaho opted to expand its Medicaid program at federal expense, the group estimates that 3,800 of those vets would be covered. “Many of us assume, like I did, that the men and women who serve our country are honored with the supports they need to adjust to civilian life,” said Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KidsCount. But veterans only automatically qualify for TRICARE coverage if they retire after 20 years of service. Those returning from deployment get Veterans Affairs coverage for five years; only those with documented service-connected disabilities may receive care beyond that.
The group issued a report today highlighting the gap for Idaho veterans. “This concerns us at Idaho KidsCount because we care about veterans and because we know that many veterans are also parents,” Necochea said. “We know that kids need healthy, strong parents to care for them and families need economic security to thrive. Idaho faces an untapped opportunity that could help approximately 3,800 veterans and 1,200 veteran spouses get health coverage.”
KidsCount held a news conference at the state Capitol today to release its report and push for the change. Paul Kalb said, “As a veteran, I made sacrifices and put myself in harm’s way on every deployment; there were 4 of them.” Lyle Gessford, a retired major in the U.S. Army, called the high rate of uninsured vets in Idaho “a serious and growing deficiency.” He said, “Idaho must come to the table and deal with the issues of affordable medical insurance and care for our citizens, and it is a shame that we have not already done that for our veterans.”