Veterans Health Care Would Suffer Under Bush Budget, Says Legion Chief

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Subject: Veterans Health Care Would Suffer Under Bush Budget, Says Legion Chief
Date: Tue, 8 May 2001 17:10:47 -0500
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Veterans Health Care Would Suffer Under Bush Budget, Says Legion Chief

May 4, 2001
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor


 

 

The administration's proposed budget falls short of the American Legion's fiscal 2002 spending recommendation for the VA by $400 million, Ray G. Smith, national commander of the 2.8-million member organization, said May 1, and he is concerned about the VA's ability to provide needed health care.

The White House plan would shift $235 million from VA health care to Defense Department health care, Smith noted.

"[T]he fund that treats veterans who are poor or who suffer from disabilities related to their military service would be drained based on an 'estimate'--an assumption--that 65,000 military retirees on Tricare [the DoD's health care contractor] who currently use the VA will instead seek treatment in private facilities," said Smith.

He said the $235 million "was not DoD's money before those 65,000 Tricare recipients sought access to VA healthcare, and it should not be DoD's money now."

 

 

 

VA's workforce is already so undersized that wards are closed and veterans with service-connected disabilities wait weeks, sometimes months, to receive a medical appointment.

 

- Smith

 

 

 

 


Smith maintained that Bush's spending plan also would cut 2,200 full-time VA personnel. "VA's workforce is already so undersized that wards are closed and veterans with service-connected disabilities wait weeks, sometimes months, to receive a medical appointment," he said. "Further, a claim for benefits can take months, even years, to be processed, due to a shortage of claims handlers."

But VA Secretary Anthony Principi praised Bush's VA budget proposal in recent remarks before the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) in Washington, D.C., saying, "It reaffirms our commitment to quality health care for low-income veterans and for those with service-connected disabilities."

Principi Says Budget OK

Principi said the $1.96 trillion White House budget for fiscal 2002 includes more than $51 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs and grants the VA $23.4 billion in discretionary spending authority, a 4.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The remaining amount would go to entitlements such as disability compensation.

Responding to criticism that the VA health care system has not been aggressive in expanding certain services, Principi said that the agency's "finite health care system" was funded by a "finite budget."

"If you have an entitlement, you don't have anything to worry about because Congress has to write a check," said Principi. But he added that many discretionary programs are limited by the money that legislators are willing to allocate.

According to Smith, the White House budget calls for legislation that would force 700,000 military retirees who are currently eligible for medical treatment in both the VA and DoD health care systems to make a choice between the two.

"Already," said Smith, "a half-million military retirees with service-connected disabilities sacrifice a portion of their retired pay equal to their VA disability compensation. If they choose Tricare, but the nearby military base where they seek treatment and prescriptions is closed, then what?

"If they choose VA, and the law continues to prohibit VA from receiving Medicare payments for the treatment of their non-service-connected conditions, then they will need a more costly private doctor, who can accept Medicare payments, for some of their ailments."

'Must Not Be Privatized'

Smith also said that the administration assumes that a slight increase in VA co-payments will force nearly 100,000 higher-income, non-disabled veterans to leave the VA system. "That's an unbelievably pessimistic estimate," he said. "And it's one of the stanchions of a weak VA budget."

Smith offered an example: "A medical clinic in Salem, Ore., decided recently to stop treating about 1,000 military retirees on Tricare. The decision could force these military retirees and their family members to drive about 40 miles to Portland to see a doctor. Military retirees have told me this sort of thing has happened in other communities.

"If nothing else, such occurrences illustrate why health care for veterans must not be privatized. The government, not the private sector, is constitutionally obligated to defend the nation, and that obligation includes caring for those who would lay down their lives for our freedom."

 

 

"From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day".

 

 

From Henry V by William Shakespeare

 

Bruce "Doc". Melson

http://www.docmelson.com