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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.