Thursday, March 04, 2004

The "Do-More-With-Less" VA Budget

We've heard this line before, haven't we vets? "Yes, there's less money, but we expect to be a lot more efficient." Right.

After months of this administration's claims that it was taking care of its veterans, several veterans organizations have forced the issue of declining health care out in the open.

(John) Kerry may be getting an unintended boost from the Bush administration's proposed budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs in the next fiscal year.

After three years of mostly cordial relations with the administration, leaders of veterans' organizations and a union that represents VA workers are voicing strong criticism of Bush's fiscal 2005 budget plan. They assert that the budget would only worsen the backlog in processing disability claims, reduce the number of VA nursing home beds just as the number of veterans who need long-term care is swelling and force some veterans to pay a fee simply to gain access to the VA health care system.

In a statement issued shortly after the budget was released, Edward S. Banas Sr., commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, called the VA's health care spending proposal "a disgrace and a sham."

VA officials reply that spending for health care will increase under the budget, but that tough choices had to be made because of the soaring budget deficit and limits on spending.

According to John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the VA is calling for a reduction of 540 full-time jobs in the Veterans Benefits Administration, which handles disability, pension and other claims by

Mark Catlett, the VA's principal deputy assistant secretary for management, said ….the lower staffing levels proposed in the budget assume an increase in productivity by VA employees.

But critics in the veterans' organizations say the budget would effectively cut health care spending because about $2.4 billion of the total would not come from congressional appropriations but from fees and other charges collected from third parties and from veterans themselves.

John McNeill, deputy director of the VFW, credited the Bush administration with increasing the VA's health care budget during the last few years. But, he added, "just as they are getting close [to the needed level of spending], this proposal retrogrades everything. It doesn't even take care of the inflation factor."

Linda Bennett, AFGE's legislative director, was equally critical of the proposed cuts in nursing home care, which she said would reduce the number of full-time VA nursing home beds to 37 percent below the level set in law by Congress in 1998. She said the VA has been trying to move more veterans into state-run nursing homes and "non-institutional" settings, such as home health care programs.
"I look at it as a signal that the VA would like to get out of the business of taking care of veterans in their old age," Bennett said.

Last year, Congress rejected a similar proposal for a user fee and higher co-payments and may do so again. But the congressional debate will almost certainly become embroiled in presidential politics as Bush and his Democratic opponent vie for the allegiance of veterans.

I know there are a lot of vets out there who still refuse to believe that Mr. Bush and a Republican administration could possibly be ignoring veterans' health needs. It's time for you to objectively look at the facts - and get involved.

Posted by a Vet -- -- permanent link