WASHINGTON, D.C. - May 27, 1997 - "It is very disconcerting
to learn that, even though veterans have earned their benefits through
personal sacrifice on behalf of their country, veterans are not among the
spending priorities of the Congressional leadership nor the Administration
in the recently passed budget resolution," said George C. Duggins,
national president of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). "The ultimate
effect his resolution will have on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
health-care funding will be severe," he added.
According to Duggins, the budget agreement negotiated by the Congressional
leadership and the Administration, and passed by the House and Senate,
would impact veterans as follows:
Veterans face the largest cut in program spending other than Medicare
and Medicaid -- a total of $2.092 billion in VA spending over five years.
During FY 1998 alone, the budget inflicts an actual cut in VA discretionary
spending of $273 million below the FY 1997 appropriation.
Federal funding for veterans health-care programs would be decreased
over each of the next five years -- disregarding medical inflation and
employee cost-of-living adjustments (COLA). This represents a significant
reduction in medical care services to disabled and needy veterans.
The Budget Resolution level would be achieved by permanently extending
various provisions which restrict benefits to veterans. VVA is not opposed
to a temporary extension of these authorities in the interest of balancing
the budget, but a permanent extension goes far beyond the sacrifice required
for the five-year reconciliation.
The only possible increase in veterans medical care funding during the
next five years would be a very uncertain legislative proposal to allow
VA to retain insurance monies and copayments from veterans. This proposal
offers no security whatsoever for sufficient and sustained funding because:
1. There is no guarantee that Congree wil pass this legislation; and
2. The collection targets are untested, extraordinarily optimistic,
and very tenous at best.
"Clearly, the balanced budget 'deal' presents yet another ill-conceived
budgeting ploy in which an actual significant decrease in federal funding
for VA medical care is labeled an increase for public relations purposes,"
In a letter to every member of the House and Senate on the eve of Memorial
Day, Duggins urged each member of Congress to take a stand and oppose the
budget gimmicks which aim to shirk America's responsibility to veterans
and attempt to unnecessarily balance the budget on their backs.
America's veterans have earned, need, and deserve better.