Benjamin A. Gilman
District, New York
The 106th Congress was one of the most veteran friendly in our
nation’s history. Not only did we provide a record
amount of funding for veterans health care, we also updated
and expanded veterans health care and education benefits.
When the Balanced-Budget Act passed in 1997, many feared it
would have a severely detrimental effect on VA health care.
The fear most frequently expressed was that since veterans
discretionary funds were frozen by the BBA, VA health care
resources would eventually be stretched too thin.
The VA assured Congress in testimony that the retention
of third party insurance receipts would make up for any future
shortfalls in discretionary funding. Regrettably,
this has not been the case. The freeze in health care
spending, when coupled with rising medical inflation and
mandatory pay raises for VA employees, has resulted in a
serious decline in the ability of the VA to perform its health
The problems which we saw three years ago in New York have now
spread across the nation. In one sense, this is
positive, because it has finally garnered the attention of the
Veterans Affairs Committee.
I was pleased to see that President Bush's first proposed
budget for VA healthcare requested a $1 billion increase over
the level in the budget for Fiscal Year 2001. This
marked a refreshing change from the prior administration,
which had flat-lined health care budgets for four of the past
five years. Over the past five years, Congress has
provided $93 billion for VA health care, $16.3 billion more
than the previous five years.
While this Congressional appropriation is a positive
development, it does not necessarily help the budget of VISN 3
in New York, which continues to face shortfalls and crowding
out costs associated with the Hepatitis C vaccine, medical
inflation and labor costs. Last year I sought, and
secured, the support of Veterans Committee Chairman Bob Stump
in directing the Central VA office to divert $60 million from
the National Reserve Account to VISN 3 for the purpose of
offsetting funds lost to VERA and medical inflation.
Despite the budget problems, I am more concerned with how the
VA allocates the funds which Congress appropriates. As
many of you know, I, along with many of my colleagues from the
State of New York, was strongly opposed to the VA’s
plan of reallocating funds to the south and southwest which
had been targeted for the northeast. The model
which the VA used to determine where to shift the funds was
inherently biased against those veterans living in areas with
high costs-of-living, particularly those in the northeast.
Although the VERA program has now officially ended, its
effects still linger. As I did last year, I intend
to ensure that VA facilities in New York receive funding at
levels sufficient to provide high quality health care to our
veterans. Throughout the past two years, I have
been urging consistently reminded the top officials of the VA
that they need to remember the human side of VA health care
and that bureaucratic decisions have ways of impacting upon
thousands of lives.
Finally, the 106th Congress upgraded and improved a host of
other veterans benefit programs. These included: a major
upgrade to the Montgomery G.I. bill, sweeping claims
assistance legislation, badly needed pay raises for VA
dentists, pharmacists and nurses, and the provision of
lifetime medical care for all military retirees and their