When I took office in 1999 I decided to make veterans a constituent service priority. My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II and my family has a deep respect for those who have served our country in uniform. I also know from my father's experience, how important health care benefits can be for veterans and their families.
My view is that if you have served our country and risked your life for freedom, your government owes you a debt of gratitude that includes comprehensive health care and benefits that match your sacrifice. While the current administration purports to share this view, the president's budget has not kept faith with veterans.
Earlier this year I joined my Democratic colleagues who voted against the President's spending plan. His budget for veterans includes a renewed attempt from last year to impose new fees and increase health care costs on middle-income veterans, driving hundreds of thousands of veterans out of the health care system.
To make matters worse, right now more than 30,000 veterans are waiting six months or more for an appointment at VA hospitals. Despite this backlog, the president's budget fails to provide enough to maintain current services for veterans' health care and is $3 billion short of what veterans' organizations agree is needed, despite thousands of casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those from previous conflicts, and in the face of an aging population of veterans, where specialized health care is needed.
The Bush Administration has admitted that the proposed budget is approximately $1.3 billion less than what is needed to adequately care for our veterans. This is unacceptable. I do not understand how the President and Congressional leaders can find hundreds of billions in tax breaks for the wealthiest people in America, and yet not be able to provide adequate funding for health care for the men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend this country. The simple truth is that we are the richest nation in the history of the world. We must provide our veterans with the health care and other benefits that they were promised.
It's Time to End the Disabled Veterans Tax for All Military Retirees
Approximately 33% of retired veterans in Colorado are subject to the "Disabled Veterans Tax." These veterans lose over $75 million in benefits each year as a result of this unfair tax. I have joined as a co-sponsor of H.R. 303, the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2005, which would end the Disabled Veterans Tax for any veteran with over 20 years of military service. This legislation would essentially restore full benefits to thousands of veterans in Colorado. I will continue to work with the Democratic leadership and my colleagues in the House to eliminate the Disabled Veterans Tax.
Adequate Benefits for Surviving Spouses of Military Retirees
During active duty and retirement, military retirees pay a premium so that their surviving spouses will continue to have income from the "Survivor Benefits Plan" (SBP). The plan provides monthly income upon the death of the retiree which amounts to 55% of the retiree's benefit. However, when the surviving spouse reaches age sixty two, the SBP benefit is reduced to 35% of the retiree's benefit. I believe that this penalty (based upon the age of the surviving spouse) should be eliminated and I proudly supported the discharge petition introduced by Rep. Chet Edwards to allow the House of Representatives to consider H.R. 808, which would eliminate this penalty.
Getting the Veterans Benefits For Which You're Eligible
Even though the VA is trying to scale back VA benefits, there are many Coloradans who qualify even under the more restricted guidelines. These benefits can include health care, low-cost prescription drugs, disability compensation, home-buying assistance and more. Often it is difficult at first glance for a veteran to know whether he or she is eligible. That's where my office can help. Experienced staff can help you sort through what benefits you may have earned as a result of your service. The recent cutbacks show why it is important to participate if you are eligible. Last year the administration cut off services to new "priority 8 veterans", but those enrolled before January 17, 2003 can continue to receive care. So even if you are healthy now, it is important to enroll in order to potentially preserve your right to get VA health care in the future.
I invite you to visit my office or send me a letter or e-mail if you have any questions or concerns about veteran's services and benefits. If you are a veteran, please accept my deep appreciation for your service to our country.