VVA Continues To Press
For VA Funding
BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFFF
The top priorities of Vietnam Veterans of America for 2003 are
securing enough funding for veterans health care at the VA and
insuring that there is much greater accountability so that those
dollars are spent as well as possible. VVA's officers and other
leaders continue to be consumed with getting the funds needed to
get the job done correctly, and to make sure that we get the best
bang for the buck for each hard won dollar.
VVA will soon issue a White Paper entitled "VVA's
Position on Full Health Care Funding for ALL Veterans.'' To
this end, leaders and staff have been gathering materials,
analyzing federal data, and developing a more effective
explanation of how much money in appropriated taxpayer dollars,
why it is needed, and to what programs it should be most
The veterans health care system at VA is in desperate
circumstances. Part of the reason is that there have been
increasingly inadequate resources provided for its medical
operations in the VA budget. Because of the flat line years of FY
1997, 1998, and 1999, the base on which percentage increases are
developed is drastically below what it ought to be for FY 2004.
Therefore, the percentage increase from FY 2002 to 2003--and
projected from FY 2003 to 2004--would be reasonable and fine if
the base were not $10 billion below where it should be.
It is VVA's position that the restoration of the base and per
capita funding must take place outside of the normal budget
process. We will never get to full restoration of the 1996 base
year medical operations funding, the minimal level of proper
funding, through the ordinary budget process. VVA continues to
push the proposal for a four-year plan to add off-budget funds to
the base, in increments over a four year period, while continuing
to secure reasonable percentage increases each year on budget. We
need that plan to call for $3 billion the first year, $3.5 billion
the second year, $3 billion the third year, and $1 billion the
fourth year, or whatever additional funds are needed to bring the
medical operations budget at VA to conform with what the figures
from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Studies at the Social
Security Administration indicate would keep pace with inflation
per capita to the rate of FY 1996.
Entwined in this issue are the twin legislative goals of
mandatory, or obligatory, funding for veterans health care, as
opposed to the current situation where funds to care for injured
and ill veterans are provided in the discretionary account. The
fact that funding for veterans health care is discretionary
results in protracted appropriations battles every year.
VVA, therefore, along with all of the other Veterans Service
Organizations, has to devote ever increasing time, resources, and
energy to fight for just enough crumbs to keep the VA medical
centers going. What we should all be doing is pending much more
time pressing for much greater accountability--real
accountability--of those charged with administering VA and other
governmental agencies. As one example, there is no standardized
financial tracking system because each hospital is allowed to have
different accounting systems and methods. VVA believes this is
outrageous. It serves no purpose except to prevent effective
financial tracking and being able to hold officials at each VA
Medical Center accountable in a rigorous and proper
manner. Other needed accountability measures are posted on the VVA
VVA strongly endorses HR 2318, the Assured Funding for Veterans
Health Care Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.).
This act will make funding for veterans health care mandatory, and
steady from year to year, with increases based on the consumer
VVA President Tom Corey noted that high praise is due to Rep.
Evans for his leadership on this, as well as so many other key
veterans' issues. VVA is concerned, but will work hard to do all
we can to assure that the base funding is at an adequate level
from the start. To accomplish this, VVA believes that the
Off-Budget Veterans Health Care funding restoration must be
accomplished simultaneously with the move from discretionary
funding to assured funding.
VVA also takes the firm position that we must demand more and
better accountability from VA managers at every level to accompany
the restoration of adequate funding, which must be a minimum of
$28.5 billion just for medical operations alone in FY2004 in order
to restore all veterans to eligibility.
You are urged to contact your Member of Congress to ensure that
they are listed as a co-sponsor of HR2318, and are actively
On June 3, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to
hear the views of the VA Inspector General (IG) on the issue of
pay to part-time physicians at VA medical centers. The Inspector
General found that there was virtually no documentation of time
spent seeing VA patients or doing any work expressly toward
accomplishing the VA mission at the hospitals audited. In fact,
the IG found that the attitude of VA officials at these sites was
to openly express the sentiment that VA saw the "pay to part-time
physicians as a program to meet the needs of the medical schools,
not the needs of ill or injured veterans.''
The findings of this report confirms what Vietnam veterans have
been saying for more than 20 years. The relationship of VA with
the medical schools has gone very wrong and needs to be revamped.
When the affiliations were done after World War II, by President
Truman and General Bradley, it made sense for veterans and for the
medical schools. However, since the 1960s the relationship has
been largely one-way, benefiting the medical schools by allowing
them to use VA as a cash cow. This was always wrong, but now in
today's dire fiscal climate it is even more outrageous and
American Forces in Iraq
VVA and others have devoted much energy over the past 18 months to
try to get the Pentagon to obey the 1998 law that directs full and
complete physicals for each service member before deployment and
within 30 days of return. These pre-deployment and post-deployment
physicals are supposed to include a complete before and after
psycho-social exam and a blood draw that preserves the whole
blood, freezing it or testing it for all exposures immediately and
then freezing the remainder.
VVA's particular concern with American forces engaged in the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they not end up sick due to
exposures there, and the government via the Department of Defense
and VA saying, "Prove it.'' The flouting by the Pentagon of the
law that mandated pre-deployment physicals and blood sampling for
all troops sent overseas will already make it harder to assess the
in-country effect on our troops of toxic exposures. But at least
the Pentagon is now offering "enhanced medical assessment" which
is more than was being done before, but which also fails to meet
the letter of the law.
VVA continues to provide leadership in regard to fostering
programs and tools that help veteran small business development
and entrepreneurship, especially for disabled veterans.
Cooperatively with the Task Force for Veterans Entrepreneurship,
which counts most of the VSOs and military service organizations
as participants, VVA has been moving forward with an aggressive
agenda to try to institute mechanisms at the highest levels of
government to insure that more veterans, particularly disabled
veterans, who are business owners get a level playing field and a
fair shot at supplying government with goods and services. For
visit www.vva.org or e-mail
Project 112/SHAD and other Toxic Exposures
On June 6, 7, 8, and the first reunion of SHAD veterans was held
in Topeka, Kansas. The event was organized by VVA members Jim
Druckmiller of Kansas and Homer Tack of Pennsylvania, with strong
help and encouragement from the VVA State Councils in Kansas,
Missouri, and Iowa.
The purpose of the meeting was to pool knowledge about the SHAD
experiments, a part of the vast Project 112 effort to test live
chemical warfare agents and live bacteria warfare agents, often
deliberately on our own military service members. A second purpose
was to share experiences as to how VA is treating veterans who
seek SHAD physicals or other health care.
All present were very pleased that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.),
and Rep. Dennis Moore and Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) came and listened to
their personal experiences during the tests and with the VA. Sen.
Brownback made several specific commitments in regard to follow-up
in the effort to seek justice for these veterans, as did Rep.
Moore. Staff from all three offices are already working in
cooperation with VVA national staff.
VA's Ron Henke, Director of the Compensation Pension, came to
listen to the veterans concerns regarding filing claims for
service connection for their disabilities. Most of the problems
the veterans reported, however, were with the VA Medical Centers.
The Veterans Health Administration apparently did not send a
physician to listen to these sick veterans because the VA General
Counsel office, acting on instructions from the Department of
Justice, instructed them not to go. VVA is hopeful that Secretary
Principi, who learned of this after the fact, will take swift
action to correct this situation.