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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Vets Upset Over Medical Care Funding
United Press International
August 23, 2003

WASHINGTON - Groups representing the nation's military veterans say they are "howling mad" that the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives backpedaled on a promise to approve $1.8 billion for healthcare funding and caused substantial delays in service personnel receiving medical treatment.

"We have a situation. The demand (for treatment) has grown enormously and the funding has not kept up for it, and as a result you have the rules being changed and people not being able to get into the system," said Richard Fuller, national legislative director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Fuller and other veterans advocacy groups say some 135,000 veterans and active-duty military personnel are waiting six months or longer to obtain medical care in government-run veterans hospitals and medical centers.

"We're having a major battle with Congress over this, so the administration has not requested sufficient funding. By our calculations the appropriation for the next fiscal year needs to be at least $1.8 billion above where it is in the administration's request," Fuller told United Press International.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, a $56 billion agency, reports that 1 million veterans received medical care in government-run hospitals, medical centers and nursing homes in 1995, the year for which the most recent data is available. That number is down from a decade earlier when 1.4 million military personnel were treated.


The VA operates 163 hospitals, 850 ambulatory care and community-based clinics and 120 national cemeteries. The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs reported medical care funding had increased 51 percent since 1996, but the number of veterans enrolled in the VA jumped 71 percent during the same period.

The dispute over funding comes as the United States has more than 368,900 Army troops deployed to 120 countries, and 12,500 Marines to Afghanistan, Iraq and the region near Liberia. Deployment figures for the Navy were not readily available.

At issue is $1.8 billion in additional funding that veterans groups say the GOP House leadership promised it would approve in order to lessen the overwhelming burden faced by VA medical facilities in recent years treating troops returning from war zones. Fuller said the leadership refused to place the money in the VA-Department of Housing and Urban Development appropriations package, which left a bitter taste with veterans' advocates.

"The House initially in the budget resolution had placed that additional $1.8 billion in there, but the Republican leadership actually refused to put it in the appropriation. (They said) 'We promise you you'll get it,' and then we got double-crossed in the House version of the appropriation," Fuller said.

"We've been howling mad about that," Fuller told UPI.

Fuller said the GOP leadership in May invited the groups in and used them as "props" during a news conference announcing at which they proudly announced the VA would receive the money. During the media event, Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio; Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J.; and Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., disputed allegations by the Democratic caucus that the funding had been cut.

"This is a great budget for America's veterans," Smith told reporters at the time. "Funding for health services alone would increase by $3.1 billion to $27 billion, more than 90 percent of which goes to service-connected disabled or poor veterans. That's a 12.9-percent increase for medical care and it comes on top of the 12-percent increase that we provided for this year."

Peter Dickinson, communications director for the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, told UPI the reason the bill did not pass was that some lawmakers believed the level of funding for healthcare was inadequate.

President Bush asked Congress to set aside $25.4 billion for veterans' medical services in the VA-HUD appropriations bill for fiscal year 2004. The House Budget Resolution provided $27.1 billion, approximately $1.8 billion over the administration request. Lawmakers voted 51-50 against final passage of the resolution.

Dickerson said the Senate bill and the conference committee would give lawmakers a second chance to increase funding. He also acknowledged that veterans groups were blaming Republicans for halting the passage of the funding package.


"They have to be aware that only 50 Democrats voted to stop the bill with the inadequate funding," Dickerson said.

A 1998 law expanded veterans' eligibility for healthcare and essentially changed how the medical system for veterans works. Under the old system, the focus was on inpatient care. For example, to receive a pair of crutches, a veteran would have to have spent time as an inpatient at a veterans' hospital.

The new system opened more than 800 outpatient medical centers throughout the United States that featured low co-payments for prescriptions. The changes made the veterans' healthcare system accessible and more affordable, Fuller said.

"The VA became a good deal," Fuller pointed out.

However Joe Violante, national legislative director for the Disabled Veterans of America, told UPI that delays in treatment have forced veterans out of the VA system and into private sector.

The lack of money, Violante maintained, resulted in a shortage of facilities as well as a shortage of doctors and nurses. He contended the situation has been years in the making, but lawmakers are breaking commitments it made to America's fighting men and women.

"Promises are being broken," Violante said, adding that veterans are dying from a lack of care. "Vets are not a top priority."

Veterans groups are turning to the Senate to fix the problem and stress that the House members have time to change their minds. If they don't, Violante said, lawmakers could expect veterans to respond at the ballot box in November 2004.

"Elections are only a year and a half away," Violante said.