January 22, 2004
The Honorable Anthony J. Principi
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Principi:
On October 21, 2003, I wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld regarding reports of poor living-conditions and back-logged medical care for military personnel at Fort Stewart, Georgia. I received a reply recently from Acting-Army Secretary R. L. Brownlee. A copy of his letter is attached, but in it he refers to Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities:
The rapid call-up of Reserve Component Soldiers to support the Nation's tactical and strategic missions resulted in an unanticipated back-log of Soldiers in a medical hold status at major installations throughout the Army. . . . Our medical infrastructure has been augmented through increased use of medical support units, case managers, contract civilian medical support, and alternate Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities [emphasis added].
Less than a year after you took the drastic action of excluding veterans from the VA healthcare system, nearly two years after you suspended outreach activities to others, and while tens-of-thousands of veterans wait for care in the VA system, I am gravely concerned that the dearth of capacity in the Defense Department's healthcare system and the VA's traditional role in supporting DOD's medical mission may impinge further on the ability of the VA to meet its mission to care for all of America's veterans.
Secretary Brownlee's correspondence raises the following questions:
How have VA medical facilities been used by the DOD? How many DOD patients has the VA treated? What metrics has the VA developed to measure the affect this use is having on its ability to care for other veterans? What do these metrics indicate about impact on the VA's core missions? How much will it cost the VA to provide these services to DOD? What mechanisms are in place for the VA to recoup these costs from DOD? What budgetary impact do you expect this mission will have on VA healthcare in the current fiscal year as well as FY05?
Every American who returns from Iraq, Afghanistan, or any deployment deserves the best care this country can provide. But we must not care for one generation of veterans at the expense of another. I am very concerned about the capacity of the Defense Department's healthcare system to meet the demands of the current conflict. But I am equally concerned that the VA may be asked to further stretch its limited resources, further complicating a bad situation. Please give your personal attention to this issue of basic welfare for our troops and our veterans. I look forward to your reply.
John F. Kerry