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Stabenow Fights For Emergency Funding for Veterans' Health Care

Location: Washington, DC

Stabenow Fights For Emergency Funding for Veterans' Health Care

Calls on Congress to keep its promise to veterans by fully funding VA needs

With the Veterans Administration finally acknowledging a $1 billion shortfall in its veterans health care budget, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow today helped win Senate passage of emergency funds to assist the beleaguered agency in caring for a growing population of military veterans.

The Senate vote centered on an amendment introduced earlier this week by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to provide funds to help cover the VA's shortfall for the current fiscal year.

"Continuing shortfalls and rising costs have resulted in unprecedented waiting times for veterans seeking care," Stabenow said. "I've talked with veterans in Michigan who have to wait six months to see a doctor. This is simply not acceptable, and we have got to do better and keep our promise to those who have served our nation in the military.

"The number of veterans in the U.S. increases every day," Stabenow said "More than 360,000 have already returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 86,000 have sought health care from the VA. In fact, the number of veterans treated through the VA rose by 5.2 percent this year, an increase of 3.2 percent over their original projection.

"At the same time, VA officials say that - to cover the current costs of providing veterans care -
they are forced to use $600 million that would have been used to improve hospitals and other infrastructure and to borrow $400 million from funds committed to provide health care in the next year."

In January, Stabenow outlined her concerns over cuts for veterans in the president's proposed budget for fiscal year 2006, noting that it shifted the burden of increased costs to the backs of veterans themselves through drug co-pays and enrollment fees. A member of the Senate Banking Committee, Stabenow led the fight that defeated those cost-shifting proposals.

The budget shortfall acknowledged by the VA last week hasn't come as a surprise to many veterans. According to an "Independent Budget," developed by a coalition of leading veterans' organizations, the president's budget for fiscal year 2005 fell more than $3 billion short of the amount needed to address the current demand for veterans' health care. Stabenow has supported budgeting for veterans care according to the guidelines of the "Independent Budget."

"Passage of this amendment is a good step towards fulfilling our nation's promise to America's veterans and we applaud Senator Stabenow and its other its sponsors," said Thomas P. Cadmus, National Commander of The American Legion's 2.7 million members. "The VA does not have the adequate funding needed to provide timely, quality health care to one of America's most treasured assets ... its warriors . . . past, present and future," Cadmus said.

The 2000 census revealed that Michigan is home to more than 913,000 veterans.

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