Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Democrats Oppose Bush Cuts To Veterans, Demand Increase In Medical Care Funding

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee last week renounced attempts by the White House to raise fees for Veterans receiving medical care and recommended an increase in funding in the administration's fiscal year 2008 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs medical care allocation.

Senate Democrats rejected three Bush administration proposals designed to reduce funding requirements, through increased out-of-pocket fees for Veterans, and by deterring certain categories of Veterans from using the VA system, including the following proposed in the 2008 budget:
  • An increase in prescription drug co-payments from $8 to $15 for "middle-income" veterans.
  • An annual enrollment fee of $250 to $750 for veterans whose families make $50,000 a year or more.
  • Eliminating the practice of offsetting VA first-party co-payment debts with collections from insurance companies.
"Once again, the Administration is suggesting that we ask Veterans to pay more out of their own pockets. This is unacceptable," said Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI). "We remain committed in opposition to the policy proposals to impose higher costs on veterans."

Akaka and the Democrats countered by proposing a $2.9 billion increase in funding to care for Veterans and troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan -- all in the wake of the scandal involving treatment of Veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"We believe this is the total amount necessary to treat all eligible veterans from World War II until the present time and to maintain the quality of VA medical services through the upcoming fiscal year," said Akaka.

"This amount would also provide the VA with resources to absorb the thousands of service members presently on medical hold at Walter Reed and in other military facilities. There is no question we must ensure these brave men and women are provided the best care possible."

It will be hard for this to fall on deaf ears even in this White House with the black-eye they have taken on the treatment of troops at Walter Reed and Akaka urged his Senate colleagues "to understand that at the heart of any solution to improve care is increasing resources to match demand and to ensure the facilities themselves are up to par."

Akaka and Senate Democrats -- with support from Bernie Sanders (I-VT) -- cited specifically the need to increase funding for treatment of traumatic brain injures and VA mental health programs. The Veterans' Affairs Committee is demanding an additional $300 million for treatment of brain injuries and an increase of $693 million over the Administration's request for Veterans' mental health programs.

"Traumatic brain injuries are turning out to be the hallmark of this war. We simply must ensure that VA has the resources to do more than just keep up but to become a leader in brain injury care," said Akaka, adding that greater funding for mental health care is "…essential to guarantee timely access to mental health services for veterans of the global war on terror and prior conflicts, including the Vietnam war. We have heard too many stories already of veterans in crisis who were unable to see a mental health professional because of a lack of staff or beds at VA facilities."

Democrats also recommended additional funding for increased staffing at the Board of Veterans' Appeals for the adjudication of claims and the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service.

"I am deeply committed to having all in Congress recognize the reality that meeting the needs of veterans is truly part of the ongoing costs of war," said Akaka "I urge my fellow Senators to join us as we work to uphold our end of the bargain by giving our Nation's veterans accessible first-rate medical care. We owe it to them and they deserve it."