On Thursday, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, led by Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA), held a hearing to address the Administration's budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for fiscal year 2009.
"The request for veterans' funding for 2009 is simply not adequate," said Chairman Filner. "Although the request includes a 5.5 percent increase for health care, this increase barely covers the cost of medical inflation and does not keep up with the ever-increasing demand for VA health care. I believe that no veteran should have to wait for a health care appointment simply because the VA does not have the resources to care for that veteran.
"The VA must make sure that resources are in place to meet the needs of our servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the areas of mental health care services and traumatic brain injury care, and that we provide the benefits and services promised to previous generations of veterans. The service and sacrifice of our veterans is real, and the budget for the VA must provide realistic funding levels to meet these needs - and I'm afraid that the Bush budget for veterans does not make the grade."
The Administration request calls for a $2 billion increase for VA medical care, and an overall increase of $1.7 billion for VA discretionary funding. The budget, released on Monday, increases veterans' spending in FY 2009 but afterwards calls for slashing veterans' programs from 2009-2013 by $20 billion below the levels needed to maintain what the VA is doing today.
"I am concerned that this budget proposal contains only modest increases for veterans' health care while paying for this slight increase with cuts in other veterans' programs below the historic levels this Congress provided for in this fiscal year," said the Chairman. "It is hard for me to believe that the VA is serious about providing the finest health care possible to our veterans when the Bush Administration slashes funding for building new health care facilities and reduces our investment in VA medical and prosthetic research - we need to keep our promises to veterans and invest in their futures."
For the sixth year in a row, the budget proposal raises health care costs on 1.4 million veterans by proposing an enrollment fee and calling for nearly doubling the amount paid by some veterans for prescription drugs.
"This is simply the Bush Administration's attempt to raise taxes on veterans and discourage them from seeking the health care they need, and have earned," said Chairman Filner.
Filner added, "There are too many uninsured veterans who need medical care and cannot afford it. I am extremely disappointed that the VA has once again submitted a budget that assumes the continuation of the enrollment ban on Priority 8 veterans - this continued ban on an entire class of veterans is especially egregious when we look at our faltering economy. We face the very real prospect of more and more of our veterans facing economic hardships and losing access to medical care."
-Honorable James B. Peake, M.D., Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
-The Honorable Michael J. Kussman, MD, MS, MACP, Under Secretary for Health
-The Honorable Daniel L. Cooper, VADM (Ret.) , Under Secretary for Benefits
-The Honorable William F. Tuerk, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs
-The Honorable Robert T. Howard, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology
-The Honorable Robert J. Henke, Assistant Secretary for Management
-The Honorable Paul J. Hutter, General Counsel
-Carl Blake, National Legislative Director, Paralyzed Veterans of America
-Kerry Baker, Associate National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans
-Dennis M. Cullinan, Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
-Raymond C. Kelley, National Legislative Director, AMVETS
-Steve Robertson, Director, National Legislative Commission, The American Legion
-Rick Weidman, Executive Director of Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America
-Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director and Founder, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
-Paul Sullivan, Executive Director, Veterans for Common Sense
-Cheryl Beversdorf, RN MHS MA, President/CEO, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
-Rick Jones, Legislative Director, National Association for Uniformed Services
Prepared testimony for the hearing and an audio recording of the hearing is available on the internet at this link: