CRAIG WARNS FUNDING PLAN COULD HURT RETURNING TROOPS
U.S. Senator Larry Craig, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, today thanked his colleagues for their efforts to help America's warriors. But at the same time he issued a strong warning about the latest budget resolution passed today by the Senate.
"This is not about the quantity of money. This is about how they plan to spend the money that worries me," Craig said. "I am absolutely committed to providing the highest quality of care to our veterans. I've supported a 70 percent increase in VA medical care funding since President Bush took office. I've spoken frequently about not sparing any expense when it comes to getting the highest quality of care to our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and veterans with service-connected disabilities."
"But what I see in this resolution put forward by Democrats has me deeply concerned. It may harm the care provided to the very veterans who are our number one priority - our combat wounded."
Craig noted that under the budget resolution, VA's health care system will be expected to be reopened to upper income veterans - those with no service connected disabilities - at a time when veterans in serious need are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"All I've been hearing from the Democrats for the last two years is how we must not make our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wait in lines for mental health care, traumatic brain injury treatment, or other specialty care. I agree. That is why their proposal puzzles me," said Craig, the top Republican on the veterans' committee.
"Where is the sense of priority here? It's like we're trying to keep a ship afloat by pouring tons of water onto the deck. It doesn't make sense. If everyone is a priority, then no one is a priority. We must not put our war wounded in longer lines for care."
Craig noted that four years ago, just as the nation was preparing to go to war, then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi suspended enrollment to those who were financially stable and who had no disabilities caused by their military service.
"At that time the Secretary warned us that we have a responsibility to ensure we have the capacity to treat men and women who may be disabled. This resolution assumes implementation of a policy that would break the trust that needs to be there for our men and women now returning from combat," Craig said.
There are 24 million veterans alive today and of those, 5.3 million currently use the VA health care system.
"There has been zero discussion about the long-term consequences of the Democrats proposal of opening up the system to every veteran. I'm afraid veterans with service connected injuries who need VA care, as well as taxpayers, will fall victim to the law of unintended consequences if, as I suspect, millions of veterans show up for care at VA hospitals which will soon be overwhelmed by the Democrats proposal," Craig said.
Senator Craig has proposed legislation - the Veterans Health Care Empowerment Act (S. 815) - which would allow veterans with service connected disabilities to receive treatment from the hospital or medical clinic of their choice.
"We need to ensure veterans get the top health care in a timely way. If some policies assumed in this resolution are adopted, there will be an even stronger reason for passing the Veterans Health Care Empowerment Act," Craig said.
"Frankly if the Democrats don't have the courage to say who can't come in, then I believe it is necessary to say who can get out."