U.S. Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) made the following statement today at a press conference at the Veterans Clinic in Rock Hill, following a visit by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.
"When I became chairman of the Budget Committee in 2007, one of my first tasks was to provide an increase in veterans' health care. We did that to meet the needs of all veterans, but above all, we were responding to the inadequate care and support for wounded warriors at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military treatment facilities.
"Since January 2007, working with veterans, we have increased funding for veterans' health care and other services by more than $23 billion.
"These increases met or exceeded the recommendations of the 'Independent Budget,' prepared by veterans service organizations.
"Veterans were crucial in making the case for these increases and for working to bring about many more changes since 2007. Here are a few:
Advance appropriations: Due to the initiative of veterans groups and Secretary Shinseki, we moved to enact funding for VA health care programs a year in advance. The wisdom of that change is already being seen in advance appropriations for 2011.
Re-opened enrollment for Priority 8 veterans (those with modest incomes): The Bush Administration stopped enrolling these veterans for medical care in 2003. Secretary Shinseki re-opened enrollment, and the VA is now serving nearly 300,000 needy veterans who had been ineligible for care.
Vital new funding for health care: The historic increases for VA health care have resulted in the VA's hiring of more than 3,000 doctors and more than 14,000 nurses, and opening some 300 new clinics, as in Rock Hill, Florence, and Sumter. In addition, we have increased funding for VA medical research by more than 40 percent since 2007, addressing problems all too common among those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as traumatic brain injury, and PTSD, and polytrauma.
Historic new GI Bill education benefits: This benefit for post-9/11 veterans and their families will provide tuition assistance, educational materials, and housing assistance for the current generation of veterans.
"Of all the promises made by government, those made to veterans should come first, for they have kept us free and secure. Among those promises, none is more important than veterans' health care, particularly for those wounded or injured in service.
"Looking ahead, problems remain, and in particular disability claims processing: It takes far too long for a veteran to get his or her claim for disability benefits processed. With new resources, the VA has added some 10,000 new processors, resulting in a 70 percent increase in claims processed since 2006. The Secretary and Congress will keep studying ways to speed up the process, without sacrificing accuracy."
At the press conference, Congressman Spratt was joined by:
*Johnny Robinson, Legislative Officer, York County Chapter 46, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and former State Commander of SC Veterans of Foreign Wars.
*Joe Medlin, member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and serving as a Battalion Command Sergeant Major in the South Carolina National Guard.
*Grady Meeks, Quarter Master of the Crawford Road Post (#3746) of the VFW.
*Cecil R. Phillips, Department Commander, South Carolina American Legion, invited but unable to attend.
*Ruskin Belk, Commander, DAV, York County Chapter 46.
*Patricia Pitman, Director, Dorn VA Medical Center, and four additional senior administrators.