The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The VA Shortfall

As some of y'all have been following, our Republican leadership has failed to fully fund our Veteran's Affair Department to the tune of $1.3 billion this year and $1.7 billion this year. Well now we've got a Bush administration official saying that part of the problem is that we've been spending too much on Veteran's healthcare the past three years:

"The appropriations have exceeded the VA medical care needs in the preceding three years by over half a billion dollars in each of the preceding three years," Mr. Bolten said, according to Democrats on the committee, who said they were "appalled" by the statement.

Anyone know of any vet out there complaining about having too many doctors at VA hospitals and too many prescriptions being written by them? Well here's what Congressman Chet Edwards has to say about that:

"Just 15 days ago, the VA testified that $975 million would cover the VA shortfall in 2005. Senate Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House felt the real shortfall was larger, but the VA and House Republican leadership said "No".

Now the Administration has revised its numbers yet again. Congress should not wait another day to provide our veterans the health care they need now.

Even with this correction to the correction, I believe VA healthcare will be woefully under funded in 2006 because the number assumes that Congress will double prescription drug co-pays and impose a new enrollment fee on veterans making over $30,000 annually. Congress has repeatedly sent a clear message that it will not.

But the criticism surrounding the VA funding shortfall didn't have to happen. Democrats and some Republicans have warned since 2003 that increased funding was needed to address growing VA needs. Chris Smith, the Republican chairman of House VA Committee, was fired by House leadership as chairman and removed from the committee altogether for alerting the House Budget Committee of this fact in 2004.

Resistance to veterans' funding continued in 2005 when the House Budget Resolution cut VA healthcare by $14 billion over the next five years. That budget said, in effect, if you make $1 million a year in dividend income, you can keep every dime in your $220,000 a year tax cut, but if you serve our country in uniform, we will have to cut corners on your medical care," said Edwards.


"I am appalled that Mr. Bolten is so out of touch with the needs of our VA healthcare system. We are facing a VA healthcare crisis today in large part due to the under funding of this important priority over the past four years. In January 2003, the VA was so short of funds that it had to block veterans from enrolling in the VA system if they had no service connected injury and made more than $30,000.

It appears to me that Mr. Bolten is spending too much time in Washington D.C. and too little time listening to veterans and visiting veterans hospitals. Every major veterans organization including the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), American Legion, and VFW have been pleading with the White House budget office for more funding over the past several years to prevent cuts in VA healthcare services.

It is not surprising to me that Congress will have to fund $2.5 billion over the Administration's request for VA healthcare in 2005, given that the OMB director thinks we have been spending too much money on veterans healthcare. Anyone willing to visit our VA hospitals would know that there are hiring freezes, delays in veterans getting doctor's appointments, and postponement of important medical equipment purchases because VA healthcare funding has not kept up with veterans needs.

I realize it is expensive to pay for veterans healthcare during a time of war, but it is morally wrong not to do so. For the benefit of American veterans, I would urge Mr. Bolten to get out of his Washington D.C. office and make firsthand visits to VA hospitals to realize the impact of having under-funded veterans healthcare over the last four years," said Edwards.

You know if you want to send our soldiers to war, you better well be willing to step up to the plate and fund the healthcare system they will be using once they leave the military.

Kuff has much, much more.