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Legion Decries Congressional Shell Game With VA Budget.

INDIANAPOLIS, July 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Amidst the great debate on what to do with a trillion dollar budget surplus, the leader of the nation's largest veterans organization characterized yesterday's action by the House Appropriations Subcommittee to provide only another $825 million for the VA budget as 'that old shell game.'

"First, VA medical care funding was reduced by $2 billion. Then the Subcommittee restored $3 billion in 'emergency' spending. But the VA needs at least $1.9 billion to keep its head above water. This is clearly the old shell game," said Butch Miller, national commander of the 2.8 million-member American Legion.

"Except this time, veterans have kept their eye on the pea. We all balance our own checkbooks and it doesn't take a genius to clearly see that unless Congress adds an additional $1.1 billion to maintain the VA's current services, VA leaders will be forced to implement personnel cuts, terminate services and programs and ration health care," Miller said.

The veterans' health care system is a true national resource, which Congress cannot stand by and allow to implode. In addition to adequate funding, the Legion urges Congress and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to quickly implement the GI Bill of Health, which would open up VA health care facilities to military retirees, their families and veterans over age 65 receiving Medicare. Use of patient TriCare, Champus, Medicare and personal insurance would ensure a healthy fiscal operation of the VA system.

"For our nation's military retirees and elderly veterans, the future of their health care delivery system is questionable," Miller said. "Where will they turn for the quality of health care they now receive? For many of them, VA is their life-support system.

"Over a trillion dollars generated from the peace dividend played a large part in producing this budget. During the last decade, over 35 percent of DoD's military medical facilities have been closed and tens of thousands of former active-duty service members are now veterans. The GI Bill of Health can restore the promise so sadly broken."

"I strongly urge Congress to add another $1.1 billion to at least sustain the current level of VA health care given to those who served America with honor," Miller added. "If an inadequate VA budget is left to stand, the actions that will have to be taken will leave many veterans with nowhere else to go -- except home to die."

For information on the GI Bill of Health, visit The American Legion Web site at www.legion.org.
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Jul 28, 1999
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