Medicine: Doctoring for Vets

One out of every eight Americans is a war veteran; by law, he or she is entitled to free medical care under certain conditions. The U.S. Veterans Administration runs the world's biggest hospital system: 172 hospitals, 105 out-patient clinics (for dental, orthopedic and neuropsychiatric patients) and 17 "domiciliaries" (old soldiers' homes), with a total annual in-and out-patient load of 2,100,000. Estimated 1956 cost to the taxpayer: $770 million.

Key to the VA medical program's size and cost is a controversial law, first laid down by Congress in 1924: although applicants for treatment with...

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