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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Worries Vets May be Denied Care Due to Deficit Cut Plan

If the President's 2007 budget is to be believed, worries are understandably mounting over the nation's ability to meet the health care needs of our returning troops over the coming years. President Bush would like to cut the federal deficit by half, and his plan to do this includes decreasing veterans healthcare spending in 2008 -- and continue the cutting in successive years. With more severely wounded veterans returning from Iraq in need of care, many are suggesting either the President's budget shouldn't be taken seriously, or the cuts would amount to draconian measures directed at the very troops our President tells us to support.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From AP:

At least tens of thousands of veterans with non-critical medical issues could suffer delayed or even denied care in coming years to enable President Bush to meet his promise of cutting the deficit in half - if the White House is serious about its proposed budget.

After an increase for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing by leaps and bounds, White House budget documents assume a cutback in 2008 and further cuts thereafter. ...

"Either the administration is proposing gutting VA health care over the next five years or it is not serious about its own budget," said Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, top Democrat on the panel overseeing the VA's budget. "If the proposals aren't serious, then that would undermine the administration's argument that they intend to reduce the deficit in half over the next several years."

In fact, the White House doesn't seem serious about the numbers. It says the long-term budget numbers don't represent actual administration policies. Similar cuts assumed in earlier budgets have been reversed. "Instead, the president's subsequent budgets have increased funding for all of these programs," said White House budget office spokesman Scott Milburn. "The country can meet the goal of cutting the deficit in half and still invest in key programs for vulnerable Americans, and claims to the contrary aren't supported by the facts of recent budget history."

So, while more veterans are returning from combat with "grievous injuries requiring costly care," the budget would reduce funding for just such care?

The administration insists it makes spending policies one year at a time and that the long-term veterans' budget figures are therefore subject to change. "We don't make multiyear discretionary funding requests," said Veterans Administration spokesman Scott Hogenson, who declined to speculate on whether long-term cuts were realistic. "We look at our needs and assess our needs on a year-to-year basis."

The rapidly growing budget for veterans' medical services, funded for the current year at $24.5 billion, would leap to $27.7 billion in 2007 under Bush's budget. But the medical services budget faces a 3 percent cut in 2008 and would hover below $27 billion for the next four years, even as increasing numbers of veterans from the Iraq war claim their benefits and the costs of providing care to elderly World War II and Korean War veterans continue to rise.

Those cuts would prove traumatic to the already troubled VA medical system, and would force staff cuts, delay investment in new medical equipment and deny care to hundreds of thousands of veterans. "The only way you can do what they want to do in terms of actually cutting the budget is to throw a lot of veterans out who are already in the system and/or redefine who is a veteran," said Rick Weidman, director of government relations for the Vietnam Veterans of America.

From the Raleigh-Durham Herald-Sun:

Rep. David Price, D-4th District, accused the Bush administration on Thursday of trying to delay medical and prosthetic research for veterans in its 2007 budget proposal by cutting funding that helps pay for a Durham rehabilitation center.

The proposal, part of President Bush's proposed Veterans Affairs budget of $80.6 billion for 2007, would cut research funding from this year's $412 million allocation to $399 million next year. Price said a $23 million increase from this year's spending is needed just to maintain current programs, according to the biomedical research and development price index, "so that means the administration's proposal is effectively a $36 million cut." ...

The Office of Independent Budget for the Department of Veteran Affairs said on its Web site that the agency would need $460 million for medical and prosthetic research in 2007. "It's really difficult to avoid the conclusion that the VA intends to slow down its research program and certainly halt any program growth in fiscal year 2007," said Price, a member of the subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs.

The proposed funding cuts for research could affect the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Durham VA Medical Center. Harold Kudler, the center's co-director, said he did not want to speculate about what possible cuts might mean, but acknowledged that the center relies entirely on federal funding and hoped it would continue. The center, which opened last year and has been receiving $2.8 million a year in federal funding, focuses on treating and assessing the "post-deployment mental health" of soldiers returning from war.

Experts in the field say a growing number of returning soldiers are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Louis Washington, director of Durham County Veterans Services, said he has seen more veterans, including some who served in the Vietnam War, filing claims for PTSD in the last few years. But Washington said being discharged from the military for PTSD is difficult because the Department of Defense views the disorder as "a way for soldiers to get out" of serving.

Everyone's vigilence on this matter is vitally important as we move forward. We must ensure that our returning troops have access to the recuperative care they deserve and need.

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