Early reaction to President Bush's $87 billion fiscal 2008 Department of Veterans Affairs budget, which arrived earlier this week, is a mixed bag. While money provided for hospital construction projects and mental healthcare get two thumbs up, other items do not.
Paul Morin, national commander of the American Legion, said the administration’s proposal to almost double prescription drug co-payments and then charge enrollment fees of up to $750 for priority category 7 and 8 veterans “is an insult to veterans turning to VA for promised care.”
“The president’s co-payment and enrollment fee proposals are deliberately designed to force thousands of veterans out of the VA health care system,” said Bradley Barton, national commander of Disabled American Veterans. “Because of chronic funding shortfalls, many veterans wait longer for medical appointments, and VA hospitals are prevented from hiring additional nurses and other health care professionals to meet the growing demand for services and are forced to ration care.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) agrees.
Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...
Other VFW concerns:
Veterans' advocates say the Bush administration's proposed 2008 Veterans' Affairs budget is underfunded because they believe it underestimates the projected number of veterans who will likely enter the VA health-care system next year. ...
Veterans for America claimed Thursday that the VA's estimate to have treated 263,000 veterans by the end of 2008 should be much higher. Steve Robinson, director of government relations for Veterans for America, said the VA health-care system, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) should expect to have treated at least 300,000 returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by the end of that year.
Robinson said the VA had failed to account for, among several factors, the expected deployment of 21,000 additional troops to Iraq and the surging number of returning soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have chimed in with the following:
Specifically, the President's budget would:
* Nearly double the prescription drug co-payment for approximately two million middle-income veterans who suffer from non-service-related disabilities (Priority 7 and 8 veterans), which would increase the cost of prescriptions for these veterans from $8 to $15 per month.
* Impose a new enrollment fee on Priority 7 and 8 veterans, on a graduated scale of $250-$750 per year, based on veterans' family income level. While the Bush administration claims the enrollment fee and co-payment increase would apply only to middle and upper-income veterans, the reality is that they would apply to Priority 7 and 8 veterans whose annual income is as low as $27,790. Further, for the first time, this year's proposal would use family income -- rather than individual income -- as the basis for calculating these fees. As a result of the enrollment fee and co-payment increase, the VA estimates that nearly 110,000 veterans would be driven away from the VA system.
* Provide minimal funds for enhancements in specialized VA health care programs, including mental health/substance abuse treatment, rehabilitative care for critically wounded service members, and readjustment counseling.
* Redirect revenues -- an estimated $492 million -- generated from increased prescription drug co-pay and enrollment fees to the U.S. Treasury, rather than reinvest in VA services, as proposed in past years. This transfer of funds appears to be an effort to help balance the overall budget.
* Underestimate the needs of veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). While the president's request of $752 million to provide health care services for returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans represents an increase over current spending levels for these veterans, it is projected that this allocation will fall significantly short of real demand. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Majority staff estimates that VA projections that anticipate it will service only an additional 54,000 OIF/OEF veterans during Fiscal Year 2008 could be 50,000 patients short of actual demand. (Veterans' Affairs Committee Staff, 2/05/07)
* Reduce the VA research budget by $2.7 million, to provide a total funding level of $411 million for medical and prosthetic research. The VA research program provides important contributions to the larger medical community and is one of the department's key recruitment and retention tools.
* Fall short of estimates provided by veterans' service organizations in their Fiscal Year 2008 Independent Budget.
* Continue a ban on new "middle-income" veterans enrolling for care. Since the ban was enacted in Fiscal Year 2003, as many as one million veterans have been turned away from VA hospitals and clinics. (Veterans Health Administration, Office of the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health).
* Charge co-payments to veterans who already pay co-payments through third-party insurers, which would in effect force these veterans to pay twice for the same coverage. The Bush budget fails to provide a plan or sufficient resources for the VA to overcome its caseload backlog and mitigate the effects of anticipated baby boom retirees from the federal service. The president's budget would:
* Fail to provide sufficient funds for staffing and training in the Veterans Benefits Administration to address a claims backlog that is quickly approaching one million. (Veterans of Foreign Wars press release, February 5, 2007)
* Potentially underestimate the number of claims that will be filed in Fiscal Year 2008, due to the rising numbers of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the pending outcome of the Haas case (concerning Agent Orange claims from Navy personnel in Viet Nam). VA has stated that if that case is not overturned, there will likely be 200,000 new claims filed.
* Fail to provide sufficient funding for the recruiting, hiring, and training of VA staff to replace baby-boomer generation retirees from the federal service over the next five years, which will impact the efficiency and quality of claims decisions. The Bush budget fails to provide adequate resources to train those who work with veterans to secure employment, or to help veterans to become employed. The president's budget for the Department of Labor would:
* Freeze funding for the National Veterans' Training Institute, which provides specialized training and professional skills development to federal and state veterans' service providers' staff.
* Virtually flatline the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, which provides grants to operate employment programs to reach out to homeless veterans and help them become employed.
* Decrease funding for the Veterans Workforce Investment Program, which provides competitive grants for training programs and employment opportunities for veterans in high-skill occupations.
Fail, freeze, flatline, decrease. Not the kind of words that bring much comfort. Hopefully, the budget can be improved as it makes its way through Congress.
- Senate to Pass Strong -- and Rich -- Veterans' Bill
- President Bush Threatens to Veto VA Funding Bill
- Military Funding, Mental Health Provider Shortfalls Causing Long-Term Morale Problems
- $3.5 Billion More for Veterans Care Over Bush Budget in Controversial House Bill
- President Orders Military Hospital Review, Addresses Veterans' Healthcare Issues Tomorrow
- 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
- The President's Budget: Through the Veteran Lens
- 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