The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
VA Secretary Stands Tall,
Acknowledges Budget Shortfall
BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF
On February 4, testifying before the House Veterans' Affairs
Committee in a packed hearing room in the Cannon House Office
Building, VA Secretary Anthony Principi was explaining the
VA'sthe administration's--budget request for the fiscal year
that begins October 1. In defending the very modest budget
increase of some 1.8 percent for his department's medical
operations, Principi noted how the VA had reduced the backlog of
veterans having to wait more than six months for primary care
and specialty clinics. With justifiable pride, he heralded his
department's decision to begin filling non-VA prescriptions for
some veterans not scheduled for care within 30 days, and for
issuing a directive requiring priority scheduling of care for
disabled, service-connected veterans.
In replying to the first question put to him by Rep. Lane Evans
(D-Ill.), ranking minority member of the committee, Principi was
forthright in acknowledging that the Office of Management and
Budget (OMB) had cut his original request to fund the
department's medical operations by $1.2 billion. He didn't dodge
the question; he didn't obfuscate. He told the truth.
Which only adds ammunition to the arsenal of arguments put forth
by the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Funding Reform:
Leaving the funding of veterans health care to the discretion of
Congress and to the machinations and manipulations of the
bean-counters at OMB shortchanges veterans.
IN UNITY THERE IS STRENGTH
It's worth restating that VVA's highest legislative priority is
the institution of a mechanism to remove veterans' health care
from the vagaries and uncertainties of the current system of
discretionary funding. We believe that the current model must be
replaced with a mandatory funding mechanism that would provide
an appropriate level of funding for the care of veterans who are
eligible and choose to use the VA to meet their medical needs.
VVA is not alone in this fight. If you read this column in the
last issue, you'll recall that VVA and eight other VSOs have
formed the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform.
To kick off this united effort, the Partnership held a press
conference February 18 at the National Press Club in Washington.
"We're here today to launch a campaign,'' VVA National President
Tom Corey said in opening the event. "The goal of this campaign
is to fix the manner in which the veterans' health care system
is funded. The current method of discretionary funding for the
medical operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs is
broken. The VA has to compete with dozens of other programs for
a sliver of a shrinking discretionary pie. This puts veterans at
risk. This is wrong.''
"We believe the VA health care system warrants a predictable
funding stream to care for those who have borne the battle. We
believe that a new model of mandatory funding, with checks and
balances to insure managerial accountability, will provide what
the system needs, and what the veterans who avail themselves of
its services, deserve.''
"Otherwise,'' Corey continued, "we will continue to be faced
every year, every budget cycle, with having to trek here to our
Nation's Capital to attempt through testimony at hearings and at
meetings with members of Congress to fight for additional funds
to meet the health-care needs of our veterans. Rather than this
'deja vu all over again,' we really need to focus our efforts to
work with the VA to improve its services, its treatment and care
for those it serves.''
Corey's sentiments were echoed by Robert W. Spanogle, National
Adjutant of the American Legion; Jim King, Executive Director of
AMVETS; Tom Miller, Executive Director of the Blinded Veterans
Association; Alan W. Bowers, National Commander, and Joe
Violante, National Legislative Director, of Disabled American
Veterans; Mike Marcus, Public Affairs Director of Jewish War
Veterans of the USA; Hershel Gober, National Legislative
Director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart; Carl Blake,
Associate Legislative Director of Paralyzed Veterans of America;
and Dennis Cullinan, National Legislative Director of Veterans
of Foreign Wars.
To help convince our legislators that they need to discuss and
debate the issue and move to enact a solution, the nine VSOs are
meeting with key members of the House and Senate, stating the
case for reform, and attempting to enlist their backing. VVA and
our colleagues also will move to make funding of the VA's
medical operations part of the upcoming presidential debate.
In a related development, according to a recent nationwide
survey commissioned by DAV and PVA, three out of four Americans
believe veterans health care should be a ``top to high funding
priority '' in the federal budget. Most Americans (87 percent)
also support making veterans' health care funding mandatory.
The survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates
International, indicated that 74 percent of Americans believe
Congress and the President have a responsibility to insure that
veterans receive their health care and other benefits following
military service. Nearly all survey respondents (95 percent)
said veterans should not have to wait to receive their benefits.
Regarding veterans' issues and this year's elections, 82 percent
of respondents stated that the care of veterans is an issue that
should be discussed by candidates to a "great to moderate
extent.'' Of the 1,000 Americans queried, 63 percent affirmed a
belief that veterans issues will play a "very big to moderate
part '' in their decision about which candidates to vote for
this fall. Interviews for this survey were conducted from
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a
policy organization working on the federal and state levels on
fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and
moderate-income families and individuals, "Funding for veterans'
health services in 2009 would fall 17 percentor $5.7
billion--below the 2004 level, adjusted for inflation.''
With a looming federal deficit that has reversed any hope of a
surplus in the foreseeable future, this projection only adds to
the litany of reasons why insuring funding for veterans' health
care be removed from the ranks of discretionary programs. If
not, the budget battles VVA and the other VSOs are now waging
will seem like children's war games.
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