Time To Stop Passing
The Buck On VA Funding
BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFFF
the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy cited the
"missile gap" as evidence that the
administration of Dwight Eisenhower had allowed the United
States to fall behind the Russians. Later in that turbulent
decade, the "generation gap" garnered
a lot of media ink as many young people seemed to be breaking
away from the values and the ways of their parents.
Fast-forward to 2003. Now there is an emerging "credibility
People at the pinnacle of power speak in glowing terms about the
brave young men and women on the front lines of freedom. Yet at
the same time, despite their protestations to the contrary, they
are cutting benefits for these troops - and those who came
before them. Actions speak louder than words:
VA Health Care
that funding for veterans health care is inadequate is to
understate the situation. Funding for the VA's medical
operations is, by law, supposed to be based on the 1996 "level
If it were, the budget for the Veterans Health Administration
would be some $36 billion for Fiscal Year 2004, which begins
October 1. For the VA to serve all veterans who are eligible
and who seek care at its facilities, VA officials acknowledge
that they need $28.5 billion in appropriations from Congress in
addition to the $1.7 billion they hope to collect in third-party
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), VVA's
Legislator of the Year for 2003 who chairs the House Veterans'
Affairs Committee, fought to ensure that $1.8 billion was added
to the budget proposed by the President, and after his proposal
passed muster in all the appropriate committees, the House
leadership cut the $1.8 billion. Only 109 (59 Republicans and 50
Democrats) of the 435 members in the House had the courage to
vote against this cut and for veterans.
the battle shifted to the Senate. The Senate added only $257
million to veterans health care in appropriations to VA medical
operations. In addition, the Senate provided $1.3 billion in
emergency-contingent funds for health care. In order for these
dollars to become real, the President must declare an emergency.
When Congress provided over $300 million in appropriations 18
months ago, the president rejected the money, even though
veterans were waiting more than one year for an initial
appointment to see a doctor. The Senate also authorized
transferring up to $400 million of the money appropriated for
health care to construction under the CARES process, instead of
appropriating construction funds. The Senate did not fulfill its
promise to provide at least $1.8 billion in desperately needed
appropriated funds over the Administration request.
The Senate and
the House of Representatives will meet in conference to come up
with an identical position. The conferees can do whatever they
want, including fulfilling their promise of $1.8 billion in
appropriations for health care more thatn the administration
on VA Health Care Funds
is Congress should fulfill its promise of $1.8 billion more than
the Administration request, for a total of $27.2 billion in
appropriations. VVA also urges Congress to bar transfer of any
funds from the medical care accounts to any other purpose. If
dollars are needed for CARES-related construction, let it be
provided in emergency contingency dollars under the construction
account. VVA and other Veterans service organizations urge
Congress to appropriate and additional $1.3 billion in emergency
contingent dollars for health care, as proposed. This would
enable the president to have $28.5 billion for health care funds
so that he can reopen the VA health care system to all eligible
veterans, if he chooses to do so.
solution is to go off-budget and restore the funding for VA
health care that was eroded in the late 1990s. A four-year plan
of $3 billion the first year and $3.5 billion for each of the
three subsequent years, over and above the normal percentage
increases to VA medical operations through the ordinary
appropriations process, would restore the funding base and
enable our nation to fulfill its obligations to America's
It is of
critical importance that we continue to let our Senators and
Representatives know that the budget for veterans health care is
barely adequate, even with the increase in the President's
original budget proposal. We must act to let them know that we
are watching how they vote. How they vote will determine
whether or not they have credibility with veterans and their
give the President as much as he asks for veterans health care.
The President can solve the budget problem with a letter or
phone call to the Speaker of the House and the Majority leader
of the Senate. We urge him to begin to close his credibility gap
by making that call soon.
in credibility also continues to widen in the realm of veterans
preference and in the effort to level the playing field for
veterans, particularly disabled veterans, who own small
businesses and seek government contracts. It seems that
government gives a lot of lip service to helping disabled
veterans, yet little is done to translate words into action.
While there are set-asides for minority and women owned
businesses, for instance, there is a "goal"
for veteran-owned businesses - a goal that government agencies
do little to achieve.
If the system
is to level the playing field for veteran-owned businesses, it's
got a long way to go. And despite a lot of lip service, it's
never really demonstrated true commitment to achieving this
congressman from Georgia named Jim Marshall, a Vietnam veteran,
has been leading the charge to get a floor vote on concurrent
receipt, which he's renamed the disabled veterans tax. Rep.
Marshall is attempting to redress a century-old injustice: a
law that penalizes disabled military retirees by taxing them 100
percent for any payment received from the VA for permanent
other words," as journalist Joe Galloway has written, "if a
military retiree is judged 100 percent disabled as a consequence
of old war wounds or Agent Orange or bone damage from jumping
out of airplanes, he would draw a maximum disability payment of
$2,300 per month. His retired pay would disappear entirely,
under the law.
"Curiously, if a former soldier served only a two- or four-year
tour and was later judged disabled, he would draw full
disability payments with no reduction for any other payments he
might receive from Social Security or a government or private
is challenging those who are creating their own credibility gap
by finding it easy to vote to end the inheritance tax, the
elimination of which would benefit only the wealthiest among us,
yet who also argue that to vote in favor of eliminating the
disabled veteran tax would be a budget-buster. He began a
discharge petition to bring the bill before the House. Although
the bill, H.R. 303, has 345 co-sponsors, only one of 170
Republican co-sponsors has signed the discharge petition, which
Rep. Marshall vows he will continue to pursue.
is the discrimination inherent in the law that rankles those who
have spent a lifetime in service to the U.S. military,"
Galloway said, and who "are now punished for that service by
seeing their retired pay eaten up by a law they declare is both
unfair and discriminatory."
members who did not attend at the legislative breakfast or the
plenary session at the Convention and who therefore didn't
hear him put forth his arguments should check out his Web site,
to learn more about this issue.
article that first ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on
August 14 became a major embarrassment. The story noted that
the Pentagon, which is spending billions to wage the war and
attempt to keep the peace in Iraq, was seeking to save money by
cutting the combat pay of 148,000 troops in Iraq and 9,000 in
Afghanistan. Pleading that it cannot afford $75 a month in
"imminent danger pay"
and $150 a month in "family separation
the Defense Department intended to eliminate these "bonuses"
to troops "who are already contending with guerrilla-style
attacks, homesickness, and 120-degree-plus heat,"
reporter Edward Epstein wrote.
again, the credibility gap would have widened, but the Pentagon
did a quick reversal after an onslaught of criticism from VSOs,
elected officials, and the parents of troops deployed on the
front lines. Those who knock "the media"
whenever a story seemingly unfavorable to a war effort appears,
certainly need to applaud this one.
In his keynote
address at the Convention, Medal of Honor recipient Paul Bucha's
theme was basic and direct: Veterans and their families must
vote in general elections and in the primaries.
call, VVA will be gearing up its Veterans Vote! campaign. Former
national president George Duggins has volunteered to spearhead
this important effort.