Let's get right down to it.
First off some good news for our troops: if the President has his way, they'll be getting a 2.2% raise. That translates to $1,188 per year for an Army captain. It doesn't quite keep up with inflation, but an increase is an increase.
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Although the President's $2.77 trillion budget (VA portion: $80.6 billion) would add about $3 billion in real appropriations for veterans health care over that of last year's, it "relies on $1.1 billion in cost-saving 'efficiencies' -- the subject of a Government Accountability Office report released earlier in the month that criticized past VA health-care projections from the president's Office of Management and Budget."
With projections of 109,000 new VA patients entering the system (from the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters), the American Legion says the current budget is more realistic than that seen in 2005:
"The under-estimated number of VA patients from the ongoing war contributed mightily to the $1.5 billion budget shortfall for VA health care in 2005," [National Commander Thomas L.] Bock said. "This appears to address that." He also applauded a requested increase in mental-health-care funding, from $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion.
So, the news within the budget's 2,400 pages isn't entirely bad.
But with veterans returning suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], an increase in mental health funding is required and is better than what we find in the rest of Bush's budget plans.
The President wishes to:
- Drive out 1.2 million veterans from the VA system (created specifically for them).
- Continue to turn middle-income veterans away from receiving care at VA hospital and clinics.
- Increase veteran fees for medical care by $6.8 billion.
- Introduce a new $250-per-year enrollment fee for VA care, and increase $8 prescription drug co-payment to $15.
- Force nearly half a million Minnesota veterans to pay more for health care.
- Cause 800,000 Illinois veterans to lose their health care.
- Grant $52 million to acquire land for Colorado VA hospital, but doesn't include the $539 million in funds necessary to build it.
- Leave funding out entirely for a veteran's medical center in Las Vegas that is scheduled to break ground this year. (Nevada has the fastest growing veteran population in the nation.)
- Refuse to add to the 500,000 active-duty Army, although some in Congress believe the Army is overstressed and think we should be adding another 30,000 to 100,000 troops to the Iraq theater.
- Draw down troops to 2002 levels (to below 100,000 in Iraq by year's end).
- Cut full-time Air Force personnel by 40,000.
- Shift some Guard brigades from combat roles to support units (6 of the current 34). Heavy armored units in Idaho, Louisiana, North Carolina, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee and Washington are the likely targets.
- Reduce funding to Army and Air National Guard forces. 75 Senators have signed a letter urging the Pentagon to back off the proposal (Congress had already approved pay for 205,000; the Pentagon only wants to pay for 188,000.)
- Force reductions in the National Guard. All 50 governors have signed a letter last week urging Bush to reconsider.
- Decrease New Jersey National Guard troop strength by 500 (to 5,400). (Isn't New Jersey near New York?)
- Leave CARES (Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services) underfunded (again).
- Take a $13 million bite out of VA research.
- Fail to provide sufficient funds for staffing and training the Veterans Benefits Administration to address a claims backlog fast approaching one million. Yes, one million.
We'll have to keep our attention on this as it moves forward. Let's make sure our returning troops and veterans have the resources they need.
- President Orders Military Hospital Review, Addresses Veterans' Healthcare Issues Tomorrow
- Sen Patty Murray: Bush Gets an 'F' on Veterans Healthcare Leadership
- Early Reaction to President's 2008 VA Budget
- Bush Budget Fight: Senate Not Likely to Raise Vet Fees
- Morning Sentinel: Wrong to Cut Veterans Health Care
- Appleton Post-Crescent: President's Vet Health Budget a Shame or Sham?
- House Reps, Dems Demand More for VA than Bush Budgets
- House Reps, Dems Push Bush Admin to Increase VA Staffing
- American Legion: VA Needs Full Funding
- Worries Vets May be Denied Care Due to Deficit Cut Plan
- Senate Republicans Vote Down $1.5B in Veterans Health Care