From: "Bruce K Melson" <docmelson@docmelson.com>

X-RCPT-TO: <Will@willpete.com>

 

FYI - Below are the remarks made by Senator John Kerry (of Massachusetts) on
the floor of the Senate today,  He spoke forcefully on our behalf, in strong
support of proper funding of VA medical services so that Vietnam veterans
and all other veterans can obtain the access to, and the quality of, health
care that we have earned (the hard way) and which our Nation's veterans
deserve.


 

Senator Kerry has led the way.  Please encourage the Senators and Members of
the House of Representatives in your state to follow suit, and demand proper
funding NOW.


 

**********************************************************************


 

Remarks on the Senate Floor -Senator John F. Kerry - July 31, 2002


 

    Mr KERRY.  Madam President, I thank the distinguished majority leader.
    Mr. KERRY.  Madam President, I regret to come to the floor today with
a concern that I find absolutely extraordinary - even shocking.
    This is a memorandum which represents an extraordinary broken promise
to the veterans of our country.  I want to share it with my colleagues who I
think would share with me a sense of outrage over what is contained in this
memorandum.
    This is a memorandum from Laura Miller, Under Secretary of Veterans
Affairs for Health for Operations and Management, which she circulated on
July 17.
It orders the directors of the Veterans Health Care Network in the country
to end their veterans outreach activities.
    Let me read from the memorandum.  It says specifically:
        In this environment, marketing the VA services with such activities
as health fairs, and veteran open houses to invite new veterans to the
facilities, or enrollment displays at VHA meetings are inappropriate.
Therefore, I am directing each network director to ensure that no
marketing activities to enroll new veterans occur within your networks.
    In other words, the promise made to veterans and their families that
these services will be available to them - and many of them don't know
exactly what all the services are - that is why we put into place the
outreach efforts in order to guarantee that people aren't denied those
services which they might have forthcoming.  Those services are not
going to be provided.  They are not going to be reaching out to veterans
to make them aware of them.  I find that absolutely extraordinary.
    There are approximately 70 million people who are potentially eligible
for VA benefits and services because they are veterans, and family
members or survivors of veterans.  They stand to lose those benefits
because the VA is simply going to hide or retreat from reaching out in
the way that all of us here in Congress specifically codified and put
into law that they do.


 

    I know the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is a Vietnam veteran and is a
distinguished, decorated veteran.  I absolutely can't believe that he knows
this went out.  I can't believe that it went out under his order,
particularly
when you compare it to his own statement on the VA web site.  There is
a statement by the Secretary that says:
        Our goal is to provide excellence in patient care, veterans'
benefits and customer satisfaction.  We have reformed our department
internally and are striving for high-quality, prompt and seamless service
to veterans.
    With respect to "prompt," in this memo the Deputy Under Secretary says:
        The most recent enrollment shows a 13.5 percent increase in users
this year compared to the same time last year, and a 15 percent increase in
enrollment while expenditures rose 7.8 percent.  Against the outcome of this
situation is a waiting list for patients to be seen in many clinics across
the country and general waiting times that exceed VHA's standard of
30 days.
Moreover, actuarial projections indicate a widening gap in the demand versus
resource availability.
    "Demand versus resource availability" - those of us from New England sat
with the Secretary several months ago and made it clear to the Secretary
that there is an increasing crisis in our VA system because of the lack of
resources.


 

    The "greatest generation" veterans - those of World War II- are now
demanding services of the VA in greater numbers than before.  Our military
efforts these days are increasing the awareness and the need of many people
who served for those services.  Yet here we are being told we have demand
that
is exceeding the resources.
    The resources don't have to be exceeded.  That is a matter of budgeting
priority of this administration.  There are many areas where it is obvious
that the administration has decided it is more important to put money rather
than for the veterans.  In order to keep the promise to the veterans of the
country.
    In today's Greenfield Recorder in Massachusetts, a VA spokesperson said
the reason the VA has cut these services is "because right now we can't give
them the kind of care that they deserve."
    That is an extraordinary statement in the face of the current situation
with troops in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, with the increasing
demand of our military and with potential operations in Iraq that are the
subject before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.



 

    Under Secretary Miller's memorandum notes the enrollment has
increased by some 15 percent.  So the budget ought to reflect that.
The budget ought to reflect that we need to keep the promise to
out veterans.  The fact is,  almost every single budgeting effort in the
last few years has been inadequate for the VA.  The VA has
consistently received less funding than necessary facing
this growing demand.
    In the fiscal year 2002 budget, there was initially an $80 million
shortfall for veterans' medical care in New England alone.  And
although this region has confronted the most severe shortages, the
situation throughout the country has been similarly bleak.
    This year, and in previous years, colleagues in the Senate have ought to
try to up that amount of money.  Last week, Congress passed a
supplemental bill  with some additional $417 million, but the fact is,
the increase in this year's spending is not adequate to meet the demand.
It is critical that we provide veterans services to nearly 5 million
veterans
in 2003.
    The PRESIDING OFFICER.  The Senator's time has expired.
    Mr. KERRY.  Madam President, I ask unanimous consent for an
additional 30 seconds.
    The PRESIDING OFFICER.  Without objection, it is so ordered.
    Mr. KERRY.  It is almost so obvious that it should go without saying,
but I hope this is going to be reversed immediately.  I hope the
administration
is going to keep America's promise to our veterans.  And I hope they will
plus
up that budget sufficiently to meet the demand and keep faith with the
promise
made already to the past several generations of veterans and the promise
that is
today being made to the next generation of veterans.  I yield the floor.


 

July 31, 2002


 

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500


 

Dear Mr. President:


 

    I am writing to bring to your attention a matter of greatest importance
to our veterans and their medical care.  I was deeply concerned to learn
that Laura Miller, the Deputy Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for
Health for Operations and Management, circulated a memorandum on
July 18 that orders the directors of every veterans health care network
in the country to cease their veterans outreach activities.  Essentially,
this directive requires each health care network to discontinue activities -
such as health fairs, open houses, newsletters, and public services
announcements - that are designed to make veterans aware of the services
to which they are due for their service to their country.


 

    This policy is unacceptable.  I respectfully urge you to direct the
Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately overturn the policy of
discontinuing outreach activities that was outlined in Deputy Under
Secretary Miller's memorandum.  Moreover, I must express my
extreme concern that a person at the high level of Deputy Under
Secretary of Veterans Affairs would display the profound lack of
commitment to our veterans that this memorandum indicates.
I believe that the Deputy Under Secretary or whoever is responsible
for this decision should be removed from their position -- veterans
need advocates in the V.A., not bureaucrats willing to deny them
needed healthcare.


 

    Deputy Under Secretary Miller cites the financial strain on the
veterans health system and the consequent long waiting times that
veterans often confront as her rationale for this decision.  Her
memorandum notes that enrollment in VA services increased by
15% over the past year while expenditures rose only 7.8%
and states that similar patterns are expected next year.  Undeniably,
the Department of Veterans Affairs faces a funding crisis of
monumental proportions.
 But certainly the solution to this crisis is not to deny services or hide
them from our veterans.  Mr. President, the solution is to provide the
resources necessary to meet our veterans' needs.


 

    The VA has consistently received inadequate funding to address a
rapidly growing demand for its health care services.  In the Fiscal
Year 2002 budget, there was initially an $80 million shortfall for veterans
medical care in New England alone.  Although this region has confronted
the most severe shortages, the situation throughout the country has been
similarly bleak.   This year and in previous years, my colleagues and I
have fought hard to obtain more funding to meet the health care needs of
our veterans.  Last week, Congress passed a supplemental appropriations
bill for FY 2002 that includes $417 million for veterans health care
nationwide.
This additional funding will go a long way to forestall further cutbacks at
VA
facilities throughout the country and to provide the services our veterans
have
been promised.


 

    Unfortunately, I believe the FY 2003 budget proposal for veterans health
will once again be inadequate.  Although the budget allocates $22.7 billion
for VA medical care - an increase over this year's spending - demand for
services continues to grow.  The VA expects to provide medical services to
nearly 5 million veterans in FY 2003, double the number it served just 5
years ago.
The new policy put forth by Deputy Under Secretary Miller is designed as a
response to anticipated budget shortfalls next year and thereafter.  Instead
of enacting these outrageous reforms to adjust the number of veterans we
serve to fit these harsh budget realities, we must assure that the budgets
for
next year and future years reflect our veterans' actual needs.


 

    Mr. President, we have a responsibility to provide our nation's veterans
with the best health care this country has to offer.  The VA must continue
and expand on its tradition of conducting extensive outreach to help all
veterans become aware of the benefits they deserve.  Thank you for your
immediate attention to this important matter.  I look forward to your
response.

 

Sincerely,
John F. Kerry

 

Bruce K. Melson
ICQ: 21099062
(931) 858-7190


 

So long as space remains,
So long as sentient beings remain,
I will remain,
In order to help, in order to serve,
In order to make my own contribution.
(Dalai Lama)