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Driving The Wedge Or Are You "tha Least Deserving Vet"?

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''From VA Watchdog page"

The Grinch who stole veterans' benefits is back. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, has long sought enrollment fees and higher co-pays for veterans.

Tuesday (July 18) before a Senate Subcommittee working on the 2007 appropriations bill for military and VA construction, Craig called veterans who earn $27,000 or more and have no service-connected disabilities "least deserving." ==========" (Reminds me of Rumsfeld's statement about Veterans who had been drafted: "the defense secretary's comment two weeks ago in response to a question about legislation calling for reinstituting the draft. In his remarks, Rumsfeld said he opposed the proposal, adding that draftees added "no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time."JJ)==========

Other Senators did not feel the same and blocked any increase in VA fees, and also blocked an increase in TRICARE co-pays.

Monies were diverted from military construction to accomplish this.

Craig is also holding hostage funding for VA construction.

So, all of those VA announcements about new clinics and hospital improvements mean absolutely nothing unless Craig gets some funding in the pipeline.


Senate eyes construction funds to avoid drug co-pay hikes

By Rick Maze

Times staff writer

A Senate subcommittee voted Tuesday to divert $795 million from military construction to prevent drug co-payments from increasing and enrollment fees from being charged to modest-income veterans seeking medical treatment who don’t have service-connected disabilities.

The $95 billion 2007 appropriations bill for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs and related agencies drew opposition from Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, who said the enrollment fees and higher drug pays proposed by the Bush administration were aimed at the two lowest priorities for veterans eligible for medical care — those with incomes of $27,000 or more who do not have service-connected disabilities. Craig called these the least deserving” veterans.

All that was being requested, he said, was a small enrollment fee, about $250, and increasing the co-payment for prescription drugs to $15.

Craig has been one of the few members of Congress to support the fee increases. Fees make good fiscal sense, he said, but are being rejected “for political reasons.”

‘I really do find it important as chairman of the authorizing committee to plant my feet firmly and say no,” he said.

However, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, chairman of the military construction and veterans affairs and related agencies subcommittee that passed the funding bill said she doesn’t think the Bush administration plan is reasonable. “I would never support a fee for someone making $27,000, not ever,” she said.

Hutchison called this a “back-door fee scheme” because the Bush administration cut the veterans’ health care budget on the assumption the fee increases would be approved, forcing Congress to either go along or find money to avoid the cuts. The bill will include language preventing the VA from doing the same thing again, she said.

If the Bush administration proposed applying the higher fees to someone making $100,000 or $150,000 in annual income, Hutchison said she might be willing to discuss it but “I think it is outrageous for us to ask” someone making $27,000 “to pay more.”The $795 million in diverted money comes from the account to cover costs related to base closing and realignment. Hutchison said the money was for supplies, not for construction, although Craig said any cut in the construction budget is unfair.

“We have got military members operating in condemned facilities, and we are going to allow that to continue,” he said.

The diverted money isn’t the only dispute. Craig, who also serves on the appropriations subcommittee, is in a turf war over approval of hospital construction. He agreed to include money in the funding bill for a new veterans’ hospital in New Orleans to replace the one severely damaged last year by Hurricane Katrina, but opposed other hospital projects because the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has not provided authorization.

That leaves other projects in limbo, but Craig said he is still trying to make sense out of the complicated mess of projects authorized but not funded, funded but not authorized and those fully authorized and fully funded but unbuilt because the VA has not released the money. Craig said he was “more frustrated than I have been in years for conflicts at hand and the inability to solve them.”

The bill includes $16.3 billion for construction, including about $4 billion for family housing that is equally split between new construction and operating expenses for existing housing. There is $5.4 billion for construction of active-duty projects, including $2 billion for the Army, $1.2 billion each for the Navy and Air Force and $1 billion for defense agencies. There is $1 billion for reserve components, about $215 million more than the Bush administration request.


Edited by jessejames
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