A lot has
happened in Congress since VVA's
National Convention that is relevant to veterans and their
families. Unfortunately, not a lot of this is good.
made a persuasive case that the medical operations of the VA
are woefully underfunded. Had the mandates of Public Law
104-262, the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of
1996, been followed, and had funding not been flat-lined in
the mid-1990s, the debate in Congress would be over a level of
funding $10 billion greater than what was proposed in the
budget. ( See the White Paper on health-care funding on the
VVA Web site,
system needs more money to care adequately for the veterans it
is charged with serving is a point of agreement for all the
organizations. Intense lobbying throughout the spring led to
the addition of $1.8 billion above the President's
budget request in both the House and Senate budget
committees. But the appropriations committees in the House
did not see fit to endorse the wisdom of their colleagues. In
the House, the $1.8 billion disappeared from the budget
language, a casualty of pressure from the White House. The
Senate Appropriations Committee was a bit more deceptive,
adding only $250 million in appropriated dollars and an
additional $1.3 billion in contingency emergency
funding--meaning this sum can become real only if the
President declares an emergency. Nobody is overjoyed at this
compromise because no one believes that the President will
declare an "emergency"
and release this $1.3 billion.
language in the Senate's
appropriation bill authorized $183 million for the CARES
process - and grants the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the
discretion to take an additional $400 million for CARES from
the VA's budget for
As this issue
went to press, Senators Bond, Mikulski, Byrd and others were
attempting to insert the $1.3 billion into the Supplemental
Appropriations Bill for Operation Iraqi Freedom. While this
does not address the structural funding problem of veterans
health care, VVA applauds these efforts.
behind CARES - Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services
- is a good one: Eliminate waste and dispose of antiquated,
unusable buildings and other real estate to help free up
resources that will enhance medical care for veterans.
Commission held hearings from mid-August through early October
in each VISN to solicit oral and written testimony about its
plans. Although VVA believes this data-driven process is
elementally flawed, we've
worked with local and regional VVA leaders to craft testimony
about the impact that planned changes in their VISNs would
have on service delivery. VVA will continue to work with the
distinguished chair of the CARES Commission, the Honorable
Everett Alvarez, and with VA officials to try to limit the
damage this process - along with a desperate shortage of
funds, is doing to the VA health care system.
THE GOOD FIGHT"
In the wake
of the vote in the House of Representatives that eliminated
the $1.8 billion, the House Republican Conference published
something called "Fighting the Good Fight."
This document strained the truth. Perhaps its most egregious
statement: "What Congress is unable to provide one year is
placed on high priority for the following year."
Really? This has not happened yet, and the VA health care
system falls into further disrepair as resources do not match
amounted to a thinly veiled defense of what VVA considers to
be an indefensible position: Congress patting itself on its
collective back with one hand while cutting funding that is
barely adequate to begin with, with the other.
When it comes
time to be counted, not with promises but with votes, many in
Congress simply are not true to their word. H.R. 303, the
bill introduced by Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-Fla.) to eliminate
what is, in effect, a 100 percent tax on the pensions of
career military personnel who also receive VA disability
benefits, has approximately 370 co-sponsors. Yet few of these
co-sponsors on one side of the aisle have had the courage of
their convictions, it seems.
funding of this initiative is estimated to cost between $51
and $68 billion over ten years - an excessive estimate in our
view - many in Congress are leery of endorsing what the
Democrats and most VSOs are now calling the Disabled Veterans
Tax. They cite their concern over the rapidly increasing
deficit. This skirts the fundamental unfairness of the law as
is an issue that won't
quietly go away, some attempted to work what they called a
compromise: Setting up a commission in January that would
study the issue with a report due in six months or so, and
herald this solution at a press conference. While some
military associations saw this as progress, the VSOs weren't
As this issue
went to press, the congressional leadership and the White
House came to what they consider a solution. We don't. Please
www.vva.org/PressReleases/2003/pr03-41.htm for an update.
Duty Service Connection
meeting in Rep. Bilirakis'
office, the issue of who ought to be eligible reared its
head. This led to a brief discussion of the definition of
"line of duty"
service connection. In a seeming attempt to restrict
eligibility, proposed language in the House version of the
Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 would limit
service-connected disability compensation to those veterans
whose diseases or injuries were sustained while actually
performing their military job. Specifically, the proposal
would limit payment of compensation for disabilities that are
the "direct result of the performance of duty."
language, should it be enacted into law, would be an
unprecedented and unconscionable breach of America's
covenant to care for those who have borne the battle. Delayed
onset of disabilities incurred as a consequence of military
service is responsible for thousands of inappropriately denied
claims for compensation, even under current law. Should the
proposed standard become law, it will likely prove impossible
for tens of thousands of deserving veterans who may have
become ill or injured during their active-duty service,
regardless of whether such illness or injury is the proximate
result of the performance of their official duties or under a
direct order. For instance, no claims would be allowed for
sexual traumas, Agent Orange and other toxic exposures, or
other maladies and diseases that originated in military
can claim to support our troops and advance such a proposal is
beyond our comprehension. VVA testified as such in a hearing
of the Senate Appropriations Committee on September 23.
potentially scary note was sounded in the House by the
Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is pushing legislation
- the Project Bioshield Act of 2003 - that would reduce the
obligation to inform soldiers about the health risks of
unlicensed biological defense drugs and vaccines they might be
required to receive in an emergency.
proposed changes to the law, according to a report from the
Global Security Newswire, the President could waive the
requirement to notify troops that they may refuse a drug,
although they must be informed of a drug's unapproved status
and potential side effects.
note, the House incorporated the essence of a bill introduced
in June by Rep. Ciro Rodriquez (D-Tex.) that would authorize
the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans who
participated in certain chemical and biological warfare
testing - Project 112/SHAD - with health care for illness
without a requirement of proof of service-connection.
into law, a veteran who participated in a test conducted by
the Department of Defense's
Deseret Test Center as part of a program for chemical and
biological warfare testing from 1962 through 1973 will be
eligible to receive hospital care, medical services, and
nursing home care for any illness, notwithstanding any
insufficient medical evidence to conclude that such illness
was attributable to such testing.
The DoD has
identified some 5,800 veterans who participated, most of them
unwittingly, in these tests. VVA's
Project 112/SHAD Task Force will be revving up to see if the
tests already acknowledged by DoD are all that were conducted
or if they represent only the tip of the iceberg. Stay
C AND HOMELESS VETERANS
issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
featured an article on the "Prevalence of Hepatitis C Virus
Infection in a Sample of Homeless Veterans."
The study measured the prevalence of hepatitis C infection in
some 418 homeless veterans treated in a domiciliary care
program in Massachusetts over a five-year period.
rate of infection was 44.02 percent, a rate more than ten
times higher than the national rate for men aged 20-59 and
more than twice as high as other VA patient samples.
Adjusting for age, significant risk factors in the sample
included a history of substance abuse and service during the
systems of care, including the VA, should expect increasing
costs of care related to HCV infection as prevalent cases
develop serious medical sequelae of HCV infection,"
the authors of the study concluded.
Members of the Team
native Eddie Gleason, a service-disabled Air Force veteran,
and Tim Redmon, a veteran of the Navy, have joined the
Government Relations staff.
signed on in September as Associate Director of Government
Relations, brings passion and dedication to the operation.
Prior to joining VVA, he was Director of Government Relations
for the Personal Communications Industry Association. In that
position, he represented the telecommunications industry
before legislators, regulators, public policy forums, and
local communities. Formerly, he served as a Government
Affairs Specialist with MCI at its headquarters in Washington,
D.C., where his responsibilities included analyzing new and
proposed federal, state, and local legislation and
had extensive experience in the health care industry, having
worked for more than two decades for a variety of health-care
associations. Most recently, he was Director of Home Health
Care Regulatory Affairs and Long-Term Care Pharmacy Services
for the National Community Pharmacists Association.
Previously he served in senior positions with the National
Home Infusion Association, the National Association of Medical
Equipment Suppliers, the American Hospital Association, and
the American Optometric Association.