Many Days Late,
Even More Dollars Short
BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF
The Omnibus FY 2005 Appropriations Bill is, as of this printing,
all but ready to go to the President for his signature. By the
time you read this, the appropriation should be law.
The bill includes $27.74 billion for the Veterans Health
Administration's (VHA) operation of the health care system, plus
$402 million for medical and prosthetics research. These figures
do not include the money collected from veterans as co-payments
for services or third-party collections from insurance companies
and other sources.
In order for the Secretary to re-open the medical care system to
so-called Category 8 veterans, VVA had estimated that
approximately $30.3 billion was needed for the fiscal year that
began October 1. VHA is more than $2.5 billion dollars short of
this bare minimum figure and more than $2 billion short of the
minimum funding level for veterans' health care recommended by our
colleagues at the Independent Budget of the Veterans Service
For the second year in a row, the VAor perhaps it was the Office
of Management and Budget (OMB)has changed the categories and the
way the figures are presented. Congress has been unhappy about
this, but VVA would not be surprised if OMB and VA change the
categories again in the FY 2006 budget request in order to keep
people confused as they try to figure out what is really happening
with the appropriation for veterans' health care.
HE WAS THERE
"Hero" is one of the most overused words in the English language,
at least here in America. One man we consider a real hero will not
be coming back to Washington, where he's served his
constituentsand all of Americawith quiet grace and good
judgment: Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Sen
Daschle introduced sensible legislation a few months ago that
would have insured at least minimally proper funding for VA health
care. To the disappointment of VVA and all veterans service
organizations, Daschle's bill was narrowly defeated along party
lines. Tom Daschle was there for veterans, particularly Vietnam
veterans, whether the issue was Agent Orange, homelessness among
veterans, or funding for VA health care. He was there when we
needed a champion.
After the election, VVA President Tom Corey sent a letter to Sen.
Daschle. "The Senate
will be less in your absence," he wrote. "In your 25 years in the
House and the Senate, you were a strong and unwavering voice on
issues that aided our fellow veterans. For this, you should always
be proud; and for this, we will be forever in your debt."
ASSESSING THE POSSIBILITIES
Now that the political election season is over, we can assess the
chances for passage of legislation beneficial to veterans
and their families, and we can look to future prospects for
initiatives and funding for issues and projects of concern to
One thing is certain: Our nation will continue to produce
veteransmany of them veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That an untold number will suffer from the psychological stresses
of combat is a foregone conclusion. Already, according to a survey
in the New England Journal of Medicine, some 17 percent of
returnees from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring
Freedom are experiencing PTSD.
Hundreds more have suffered catastrophic amputations. In previous
wars, manyif not mostwould have succumbed on the field of
battle. Now they are being saved by body armor and by immediate
care from mobile surgical teams. At Walter Reed Army Medical
Center in Washington, ground has just been broken on a $10-million
training center for amputees because of the expanding caseload.
Funding for the VA's medical operations, which is now beginning to
care for thousands of these returnees, is static. The $1.2 billion
the VA says it needs to meet its obligations to veterans is
nowhere to be seen. And things will be worse next year.
ADVICE FOR THE PRESIDENT
Corey also wrote to President Bush, "It is our hope that in your
second four years, you will champion not only the service and
successes of the men and women placed in harm's way while on
active duty, but that you will acknowledge their sacrifices after
their battles are over when they reach the status of veteran.
"It is our hope, too, that you will avoid the errors of your
predecessor who, after his election to a second term, severely
curtailed the budget for the VA's medical operations, an
unfortunate decision that has led to the current crisis situation
in regard to funding veterans' health care.
"The VA, in our estimation and that of most veterans service
organizations, is creaking along, barely able to sustain itself,
despite the increased funding provided by your administration. We
are rapidly reaching a crisis stage, which will be exacerbated if
the current budget passed by the House of Representatives is
passed in the Senate and signed by you."
The letter ended with this: "We wish you only the best as you
begin your second term. We hope that the legacy you leave will be
celebrated by the men and women who have served our nation in
Also included in the FY 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill is $224.6
million appropriated for veterans employment and training
activities at the Department of Labor. The $162 million
appropriated for veterans staff at the local level for state-run
job assistance offices is just $1 million more than last year.
This will result in fewer staff doing these activities on a
national basis, due to inflationary increases in state salaries.
It is a good thing that the National Veterans Employment and
Training Institute (NVTI), operated by the University of Colorado
at Denver, will again be funded at $2 million for another year. NVTI trains federal and state employees in the laws that mandate
their activities and teaches them how best to get the job done for
individual veterans. With the exception of HVRP, there is no wiser
use of Department of Labor funds. Some $8.5 million also was
provided for the Veterans Workforce Investment Program, an
increase of about $1 million, the first since this program was
VVA was pleased that the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP),
which helps homeless veterans become gainfully employed and earn
their way off the streets, was increased by about $2.1 million to
a total of more than $21 million. Although this is a good
improvement, we do not understand why the full $50 million
authorized for this program was not requested.
HVRP is, quite simply, the most cost-efficient program in the
Department of Labor. Rivaled only by the Readjustment Counseling
Program (Vet Center) program at VA, the HVRP is probably the most
cost-efficient, cost-effective program for veterans. VVA,
therefore, does not understand why we do not invest the full
amount in getting homeless veterans back to work through HVRP.
This program generates about the same amount in tax revenues as it
costs in the first year or two after veterans reenter the