January 27, 2003
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to ask that you demonstrate the leadership and initiative this country needs as it prepares for the possibility of war and for a new generation of veterans that will come from this action.
As you are aware, veterans are facing outrageously long waiting times for medical appointments. Currently, over 230,000 veterans have been waiting over six months to get an appointment. VA has also decided not to open any new medical clinics. Your recent decision to end new enrollment of priority 8 veterans in the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) health care system further undermines the commitment the United States has made to its veterans.
Cutting off enrollment to veterans of modest income - on average, $24,000 a year - at a time when more veterans than ever are seeking health care from VA does not solve the Department's problems, two of which are the chronic under-funding of VA and the lack of a meaningful Medicare prescription drug benefit for all seniors.
Systemic VA funding shortfalls have been exacerbated by your decision not to spend the full $417 million in supplemental funding approved by Congress last fiscal year, given that VA was already operating under a $400 million deficit in fiscal year 2002.
The decision to close VA's doors to priority 8 veterans denies them the ability to acquire affordable prescription drugs and access to necessary preventive care. For example, in Florida an estimated 44,000 veterans have been waiting for six months or longer to see a VA doctor - more than two-thirds of these veterans are seeking treatment that includes prescription drugs.
VA can alleviate this demand by seeking comprehensive and creative solutions, such as allowing these veterans to fill prescriptions prescribed by non-VA physicians. VA's policy of requiring veterans to see a VA doctor prior to filling prescriptions has helped to overburden a strained health care system. In addition, this policy requires the federal government to pay twice for a doctor's visit if the veteran is covered under Medicare - an unnecessary waste of federal dollars in a system already strapped for cash.
Mr. President, we ask that you seek out other solutions to help VA deal with the unprecedented demand for health care services that it is facing. Simply blocking certain veterans' access to the system will not reduce the backlog or ensure that VA has sufficient health care professionals and resources to meet enrolled veterans' needs. VA health care must be high on the list of the nation's priorities - fully funded and supported not only in the future, but right now.
We hope that you can find other ways to enable VA to continue providing quality health care and affordable prescription drugs to the men and women who have served this nation.
Senator Bob Graham, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Byron Dorgan, Senator Kent Conrad, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator Tom Daschle, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Senator Jack Reed, Senator Tim Johnson, Senator John Breaux, Senator Carl Levin, Senator Harry Reid, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Mark Dayton, Senator John Kerry, Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Joe Biden, Senator Paul Sarbanes, Senator Jim Jeffords, Senator John Corzine, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Dick Durbin