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
"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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
been howling mad about that," Fuller told UPI.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
have to be aware that only 50 Democrats voted to stop
the bill with the inadequate funding," Dickerson
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.
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.
VA became a good deal," Fuller pointed out.
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.
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
are being broken," Violante said, adding that
veterans are dying from a lack of care. "Vets are
not a top priority."
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
are only a year and a half away," Violante said.