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Veterans' Health Care Fiasco A Long Time Coming



  • HadIt.com Elder

fwd from Colonel Dan

Veterans' health care fiasco a long time coming

Posted by the Asbury Park Press <http://www.app.com/> on 03/11/07




Contrite, apologetic and vowing change, top Army brass came to Capitol Hill

last week promising reform in the wake of devastating reports of substandard

care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

General after general apologized profusely, while at the same time asserting

there were no warning signs about the gross mismanagement, excessive red

tape and inadequate conditions that wounded soldiers seeking outpatient care

at the hospital have been subjected to for years.

Excuse me for remaining skeptical about their contentions. The problems at

Walter Reed are a microcosm of the problems I have warned my colleagues and

the administration about for years regarding health care for our veterans

and service personnel.

The fiasco at Walter Reed was avoidable. For too long, Congress and

executive branches headed by both parties have sought ways to cut corners

and skimp on health care for our wounded servicemen and women, as well as

our nation's veterans.

Health care cannot be provided on the cheap. If you do not invest in modern

facilities, adequate staffing levels and necessary equipment, you end up

with inadequate care. In military and Department of Veterans Affairs medical

systems, that maxim is worsened by excessive bureaucratic red tape.

During my 24 years on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and my time as

chairman from 2000 to 2004, I constantly ran into barriers in my efforts to

modernize the VA health care system and ensure a seamless transition for

wounded servicemen and women as they left Department of Defense-operated

hospitals and sought continued care in VA facilities.

I worked to pass legislation to promote information sharing between the

Defense Department and VA medical systems to reduce bureaucratic delays -

just like those experienced by soldiers at Walter Reed - only to see those

programs shortchanged by congressional appropriators. I authored and saw

legislation to overhaul outdated VA facilities pass in the House in 2001,

but it died in the Senate. A similar bill I wrote finally became law two

years later, but during that two-year lag, conditions only deteriorated

further at many VA facilities.

Despite these obstacles, I led the fight that successfully increased funding

for veterans health care by 42 percent over four years. After years of

study, research and investigation, I knew that more still needed to be done

to close the gap between the health care needs of veterans and the funds

provided to properly address those needs.

When push came to shove, in July of 2003, I urged my colleagues on the

committee to dig in our heels and tried to force the leaders of Congress to

provide the necessary $1.2 billion that our research showed was necessary to

adequately fund VA health care programs. I convinced 59 of my Republican

colleagues - including five committee chairmen - and only 50 Democrats to

join me in voting against the leadership's proposed VA spending bill because

it did not include enough money to cover the shortfall.

As a result of that vote, my Republican colleagues who joined me lost

funding for their district projects, I lost my chairmanship and - worst of

all - veterans lost much-needed resources to provide essential medical care.

Within six months of losing my chairmanship, however, the Bush

administration and Congress were forced to admit that the funds provided

were short for that year - the exact amount that the VA committee under my

leadership had predicted.

My argument was - and continues to be - that the needs of veterans must come

first in the queue for funding. If you are not here for those who volunteer

to put their lives on the line for our safety and security, then you do not

belong in Congress.

Whether it be proper compensation for a service-connected injury or disease,

a lifeline to our homeless vets or cutting edge research for traumatic brain

and spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder or those in need of

world-class prosthetics, Congress has a sacred obligation to meet those


One way to meet this commitment is to reform the funding mechanisms for VA

and military health care. Medical needs comprise half of the VA budget, yet

it is this portion of the department's budget that receives discretionary

funding that has been consistently shortchanged.

Programs like the GI Bill are funded through mandatory spending mechanisms.

Education benefits from the GI Bill will be funded at up to $37,000 per

participant this year and that money will be there.

Surprisingly, the same cannot be said for crucial VA health care programs.

The funds for the health care programs are not set and are instead

politicized every year.

The amounts budgeted by the administration and Congress for veterans' health

care vary annually and the total eventually appropriated by Congress is

often radically different than the budget request. However, one thing has

remained constant in recent years - the final amount allocated to veterans'

health care has consistently been low-balled.

I will continue to work to change this inequity and ensure mandatory, full

and predictable funding for VA health care. Let's change the process. Let

the actuaries and health care professionals at VA - not the Office of

Management and Budget - tell us what is needed. That same approach should be

mandated for Defense Department health care spending. When it comes to

budgeting for health care, timeliness, predictability and delivery are as

important as funding levels.

It is time for years of unheeded recommendations to be acted on. No more

excuses. We must honor our commitment in more than words. We must honor our

obligation in deeds - and most importantly in this case - in funding.

Christopher H. Smith, a Republican, is in his 27th year representing the 4th

Congressional District, which includes parts of Monmouth and Ocean counties.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

"Keep on, Keepin' on"

Dan Cedusky, Champaign IL "Colonel Dan"

See my web site at:


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