Vietnam Veterans of America
VA Policy on Priority 8 Veterans
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
United States House of Representatives
June 20, 2007
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Buyer, and members of this committee.
On behalf of the families and members of Vietnam Veterans of America
(VVA), I thank you for the invitation to testify on an issue of significant
importance to us – and to thousands of eligible veterans who
are now denied access to the VA health care system.
It is VVA’s unwavering position that the VA health care system
should be re-opened to Priority 8 veterans. The decision to close the
system to new Priority 8s in January of 2003 was supposed to be a temporary
palliative for a system that was hemorrhaging, a system that was unable
to provide, VA officials argued, high-quality health care for an influx
of new Priority 8s. But temporary quickly morphed into permanent – and
we now wonder if this was the intent of the Administration at the time – because
no VA planning document we’ve seen since accounts for new Priority
8s entering the system.
Who are these veterans? They are, as you know, individuals who have
an income in excess of just under $27,000 a year, are not afflicted
with a service-connected disability, and agree to make a co-payment
for their health care and prescription drugs. They are also veterans
who are unaware that they have a condition associated with their military
service; when this malady flares up, they may be facing imminent poverty.
Their banishment from the system not only hurts those who would choose
the VA for their health care needs, it also hurts the VA: Priority
8 and 7 veterans account for some 40 percent of third-party collections.
A little history is instructive.
Back in 1996, when Congress passed the Veterans Health Care Eligibility
Reform Act, the VA was able to implement major cornerstones of its
plan to reform the manner in which it provided health care. The rationale
behind this initiative was to ensure a patient base that would support
the infrastructure needed to develop a modern, integrated health care
system. This the VA has accomplished, and in the process has transformed
a mediocre, inefficient system into a national model that has won praise
However, the law – Public Law 104-262 – gave the Secretary
of Veterans Affairs the authority and the responsibility to determine
eligibility for enrollment based on available resources in any given
fiscal year. Although the law did not mandate a level of funding or
a standard of care, it did establish an annual enrollment process and
categorized veterans into “priority groups” to manage enrollment.
On January 17, 2003, the Secretary made the decision to “temporarily” suspend
Priority 8 veterans from enrolling. While this decision may be reconsidered
on an annual basis, every budget proposal from the Administration since
has omitted funding for Priority 8 veterans not previously enrolled
and has attempted to discourage use by and enrollment of those “higher
Priority 8 veterans are, for the most part, working- and middle-class
Americans without compensable disabilities incurred during their military
service. In its budget proposal for the current fiscal year, the VA
estimated that some 1.1 million of these “higher income” veterans
would be discouraged from using their health care system because of
an enrollment fee and increased co-pays for prescription drugs. Thankfully,
you in Congress have not let this scheme get much beyond the proposal
Still, it has been estimated that in excess of a quarter of a million
veterans who would be classified as Priority 8s have been barred from
enrolling in the system since January 2003.
Readmitting those Priority 8s who might choose to enroll in the VA
health care system if given the opportunity is yet another reason to
hold hearings and move to pass Congressman Hare’s assured funding
bill, H.R. 2514. Because, no matter how you cut it, the bottom line
is funding. And there should be enough funding in a compassionate nation
that respects the service and sacrifice made by those who don the uniform
to give this more than lip service. We can, and we should, accommodate
Priority 8s who opt to use the VA’s health care system.
We strongly urge that you truly honor the commitment we as a nation
have made that honors our veterans. Of course, we recognize that the
bottom line is funding – the funding Congress provides – to
enable the VA to accommodate those Priority 8 veterans who want to
avail themselves of the VA’s health care services. We recognize
the realities of “pay-go.” But we hope you will recognize
the inherent justice in reopening the VA health care system to those
who have earned the right to utilize it.
Thank you for considering these comments. We would be pleased to answer
any questions you might have.
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
February 20, 2007
The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit
veterans membership organization registered as a 501(c)(19) with the
Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered with
the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives
in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract,
other than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources
in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its
Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives). This is also true
of the previous two fiscal years.
For Further Information, Contact:
Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000, extension 127
John Rowan was elected National President of Vietnam Veterans of America
at VVA’s Twelfth National Convention in Reno, Nevada, in August
John enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965, two years after graduating
from high school in Queens, New York. He went to language school, where
he learned Indonesian and Vietnamese. He served with the Air Force’s
6990 Security Squadron in Vietnam and at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa
helping to direct bombing missions.
After his honorable discharge, John began college in 1969. He received
a BA in political science from Queens College and a Masters in urban
affairs at Hunter College. Following his graduation from Queens College,
John worked in the district office of Rep. Ben Rosenthal for two years.
He then worked as an investigator for the New York City Council and
recently retired from his job as an investigator with the New York
City Comptroller’s office.
Prior to his election as VVA’s National President, John served
as a VVA veterans’ service representative in New York City. John
has been one of the most active and influential members of VVA since
the organization was founded in 1978. He was a founding member and
the first president of VVA Chapter 32 in Queens. He served as the chairman
of VVA’s Conference of State Council Presidents for three terms
on the national Board of Directors, and as president of VVA’s
New York State Council.
He lives in Middle Village, New York, with his wife, Mariann.