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Solve the VA funding crisis.

Veterans were once again shortchanged when Congress passed a long-delayed appropriation for veterans health care. That the VA, along with half the federal government, was four months into the 2004 fiscal year before its budget was approved is shameful. But what's worse is that the amount provided was significantly less than what the committees that oversee VA programs and services said was needed to care for the nation's sick and disabled veterans.

Early on in the budget process, the DAV fought hard for an increase in funding for VA health care:. The battle began even before President Bush sent Congress his fiscal year 2004 budget request that called for a $25.2 billion appropriation for VA medical care. Even though the President's request was $1.3 billion above the previous year's level, the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees recommended that Congress appropriate $27.4 billion for veterans health care in 2004. The Committees' recommendations, based on their intimate knowledge of the VA medical system and patient needs, were in line with funding levels the DAV and other veterans service organizations recommended in The Independent Budget.

Thanks in large part to our members' tremendous grassroots efforts, Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress supported the increased Funding with great fanfare. Even so, it was a hard fight to make sure that additional funding was included in the congressional budget blueprint.

During debate on the House: budget, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) brokered an agreement to prevent a proposed $25 billion reduction in funding for veterans programs to offset the President's proposed tax cut.

But in the end, congressional appropriators provided just $26.3 billion for veterans health care for 2004.

Part of the problem is the way Congress is set tip. Authorizing panels such as the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees write legislation creating programs and calling for certain amounts of money to fund them. And while those measures are often heralded by lawmakers and the President alike, it i5 the Appropriations Committees that decide how much money to actually spend on programs in their annual spending bills. And because the 13 Appropriations Committees each have a limited amount of funds to dole out, often the money allocated for a particular program is less than the amount promised.

Shortchanged for decades under the process, it has been impossible for the VA to provide timely, quality health care to all eligible veterans. Some veterans have been locked out of the VA health care system entirely, others wait months for an appointment.

The current discretionary appropriations system is broken, a fact acknowledged last year by the President's Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for Our Nation's Veterans. Veterans have known that for years, and the DAV believes the problem can--and must--be solved by making veterans health care funding mandatory.

In this issue of DAV Magazine is a detailed position paper on the mandatory funding proposal that all the major veterans service organizations support. (See page 6.) It is vital that disabled veterans, as well as their families and friends, contact their Senators and Representatives and urge them to support legislation that has already been ]introduced in Congress and to tell the congressional leadership to hold hearings on H.R. 2318 and S. 50 this year.

An open and vigorous debate on solving the veterans health care funding crisis i5 too important to be stonewalled by the leadership on Capitol Hill. Congress must act to reform the budget for veterans health care this year. No more excuses, no more delays. America's sick and disabled veterans deserve to be treated better.

Arthur H. Wilson, National Adjutant
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Title Annotation:political aspects of veterans health care benefits
Author:Wilson, Arthur H.
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Previous Article:Tribute to a generation.
Next Article:VA employees undeserving of criticism.

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