D.C. ) – “We recognize that the budget recommendation VVA is making this year – an increase of $6.9 billion over the expected fiscal year 2007 appropriation for veterans’ health care – is extraordinary,” John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America said in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs this morning.
“But with troops in the field, years of under-funding of health care organizational capacity, renovation of an archaic and dilapidated infrastructure, updating capital equipment, continued underestimation of usage by veterans, particularly returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan, and several cohorts of war veterans reaching ages of peak health care utilization, these are extraordinary times,” Rowan said. “It’s past time to meet these needs.
“The $2 billion increase the Administration has requested for medical care may almost keep pace with medical inflation,” Rowan said in testimony submitted for the record. “But it will not allow VA to enhance its health care or mental health care services for returning veterans, restore diminished staff in key disciplines, restore needed long-term care programs for aging veterans, or allow working-class veterans to return to their health care system.
“VVA’s recommendation does accommodate these goals, in addition to restoring eligibility to veterans exposed to Agent Orange for the care of their related conditions,” Rowan said.
Rowan cited the imperative for the VA to have the resources necessary “to bolster the mental health programs that should be readily available to serve our young veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.” The Department of Defense estimates that as many as 17 percent of those serving in Iraq “will have issues requiring them to seek post-deployment mental health services,” Rowan said, “and recent studies have shown that four out of five of the veterans who may need post-deployment care are not properly referred to such care.”
In the benefits realm, Rowan said, there is the need for additional vocational rehabilitation specialists to work with returning service members who are disabled to help them find and succeed in meaningful work at a living wage, as well as well-trained and properly supervised adjudicators, or raters, if the Veterans Benefits Administration is to have any realistic hope of cutting into the backlog of cases awaiting adjudication. There simply must be much more real accountability demanded from VA.