The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2003
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
   
 

Funding For Veterans Health Administration

BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, NATIONAL VVA GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF

VVA worked long and hard in 2002, often in close cooperation with other veterans service organizations, to secure adequate funding for veterans health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs. These efforts of national leadership and staff, as well as the all-important direct involvement of VVA State Council and Chapter leadership and many VVA members is making an impact. As of this writing, however, the government is operating on a Continuing Resolution, at the same dollar level that was available on October 1, 2001.  The House and the Senate are in conference on the Omnibus Spending bill that lumped all Appropriations bills into one huge package. 

The Senate passed its version of this package January 17.  Unfortunately, the Senate version reduced most items by 2.6 percent because of across-the-board cuts. This cut $690 million from the funds projected for veterans health care.  It is our hope that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), as well as Reps. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and David R. Obey (D-Wisc.), who are the Chairs and Ranking Democrats on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, will take steps to restore at least that $690 million. We believe that Sens. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) of the VAHUD Subcommittee of Appropriations in the Senate, and their counterparts in the House, James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.) and Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), will do the right thing. 

This is a serious situation. These funds are vitally needed now to hire additional doctors, nurses, other clinicians, and allied health care people to start restoring the capabilities of VA to serve the disabled veterans, combat wounded, and others who have illnesses and injuries as a result of military service. These veterans are the core of the VA's mission, which is to maintain a veterans' health care system, not simply a general health care system that happens to be for veterans.  

The President will apparently ask for some $28 billion in his FY2004 request for funds from Congress for veterans health care. The question remains as to how much of this will be actual appropriated dollars, as opposed to co-payments and collections from veterans or insurance companies. It is VVA's position that we need at least $28.2 billion in appropriated funds for FY2004 to deliver essential care. VVA National President Tom Corey led a delegation of leaders of the veterans community to what proved to be a very constructive meeting with Director of the Office of Management and Budget last fall to advance our case directly with the main official on funding. It is anticipated that Corey will lead another delegation soon.  It is our job to educate top officials while we strengthen and magnify the needs publicly. 

TESTIMONY 

Linda Schwartz, chair of the VVA National Healthcare Committee, testified at a very timely hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Robert R. Simmons (R-Conn.), who is a life member of VVA.  The focus was the VA's capacity to provide quality health care for America's veterans in a consistent and timely manner. This topic is of grave concern to VVA members and their families, and indeed to all veterans who look to the VA as a source of health care.  

VVA believes the capacity to provide quality, timely,  and appropriate health care is predicated upon adequate funding for this system. VVA's  No. 1 legislative priority is adequate funding for veterans enrolled in the VA Health Care system. VVA believes that the only way to do this may be mandatory funding of health care.  

Of equal importance to VVA is addressing and correcting the lack of accountability in the VA system. There is overwhelming evidence that there has not been adequate funding for VA services and programs for quite some time. There is also ample evidence that the VA does not have adequate financial tracking systems, modern management information systems, or the means for holding senior managers accountable for poor performances. 

Since 1996, the VA reports that more than 20,000 health care positions have been cut from VHA. At the same time, the number of veterans using the system has increased by 1.4 million. Lack of a consistent, reliable budget has obstructed VA's capacity to respond to the changing needs of the health care system, to grow efficiently, to acquire competent personnel, and to maintain viable services for women veterans. This practice must stop.   

The crisis in funding today is so dire that the Secretary had no choice but to impose a triage system on veterans seeking care. Our policy is adequate funding for the VA, but since we are billions shy of that mark, something needed to be done to slow the growth rate of new veterans coming into the system. Given the grave nature of this health care crisis, VVA supports the efforts of Secretary Principi to stabilize VHA by suspending enrollment of Category 8 veterans until such time as there are resources adequate to take care of service-disabled veterans, combat veterans, and indigent veterans. After the VA takes care of the core mission, then the Secretary should provide care to others.  

Congress has added very significant money to the inadequate requests from two successive administrations for the Veterans Health Administration. We hope that Congress will continue to add funds, but with troops in the field we hope the President asks for truly adequate funding.


107TH CONGRESS LEGISLATION

The 107th Congress during its first and second session enacted several pieces of key legislation for veterans. Below is a summary of legislation passed. For a complete update on veterans legislation, visit "VVA Legislation Action Center" on the VVA web site, www.vva.org  and click on "Government Relations."

H.R. 3447, Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001. Expands existing health care programs for veterans by $1.4 billion. Signed by President Bush January 23, 2002 (P.L. 107-135).

H.R. 4085, Veterans' and Survivors' Benefits Expansion Act of 2002. An act to increase, effective December 1, 2002, the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans. Signed by President Bush October 23, 2002 (P.L. 107-247).

S. 1339, Persian Gulf War POW/MIA Accountability Act of 2002. A bill to amend the Bring Them Home Alive Act of 2000 to provide an asylum program for American Persian Gulf War POW/MIAs. Signed by President Bush October 29, 2002 (P.L 107-258).

H.R. 3253, Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Preparedness Act of 2002. Expands VA's role in homeland security, creating new research centers to counter biological, chemical, and radiological terrorism. Signed by President Bush November 7, 2002 (P.L. 107-287).

H.R. 4015, Jobs for Veterans Act. Reform veterans' job training and placement programs in the Department of Labor through a new system of incentives and accountability. Signed by President Bush November 7, 2002 (P.L. 107-288).

H.R. 4546, FY03 Defense Authorization. Contains special compensation language for military retirees. Signed by President Bush December 2, 2002 (P.L. 107-314).

S. 1226, POW/MIA Memorial Flag Act of 2002. A bill to require the display of the POW/MIA flag at the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Signed by President Bush December 4, 2002 (P.L.107-323).

S. 2237, Veterans Benefits Improvements Act of 2002. Expands benefits and compensation for veterans and their surviving spouses. Signed by President Bush December 6, 2002.

H.R. 1696, Expediting Construction of the World War II Memorial. Removed additional delays in the construction of the World War II Memorial. Signed by President Bush May 28, 2001 (P.L. 107-11).

H.R. 801, Veterans' Survivor Benefits Improvements Act of 2001. Adds $100 million in new health care benefits for surviving spouses of veterans, and extends life insurance coverage to spouses and children of servicemembers. Signed by President Bush June 5, 2001 (P.L. 107-14).

H.R. 2716, Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001. Authorizes $1 billion to aid homeless veterans and prevent veterans from becoming homeless.  Signed by President Bush December 21, 2001 (P.L. 107-95).

H.R. 2540, Veterans' Compensation Rate Amendments of 2001. Provides cost-of-living increases for disability compensation payments, increasing total payments by $2.5 billion over five years. Signed by President Bush December 21, 2001 (P.L. 107-94).

H.R. 1291, Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001. Authorizes $3.1 billion over five years to expand and increase educational, housing, burial, and disability benefits, including a 46 percent increase in education and training benefits. Signed by President Bush December 27, 2001 (P.L. 107-103).  

   

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