Friday, July 01, 2005

Quick to War, Slow to Fund
Quick to War, Slow to Fund

In just a few days, President Bush is likely to receive a bill passed
by both houses of Congress that will provide greater funding for
veterans' health care. But the ceremony won't tell the true story of an
administration and a congressional leadership that have repeatedly stood in
the way
of providing the needed resources to those who have put their lives on
the line for our country. The political games that the right-wing has
played with veterans' issues came to an encouraging end when the Senate
voted overwhelmingly yesterday to approve $1.5 billion
in emergency funds for VA health care programs.

HOW THE CRISIS CAME ABOUT: Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson
told Congress on Tuesday that the department had vastly underestimated
the number of wounded soldiers
who would need care because it based its estimates on 2002 numbers.
Either the VA forgot about the Iraq war (which began in 2003) or simply
disregarded the growing numbers of wounded soldiers returning from the
( .
The VA estimated only 23,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and
Afghanistan would need care; the number has been revised upwards to 103,000
( , leaving a
funding gap of $2.6 billion for the next fiscal year.

(D-TX), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees
veterans funding, said, " This problem did not just crop up overnight
( . One
would have to be Rip Van Winkle to pretend there haven't been cuts in
veterans services throughout the country over the last two years." In
fact, on the Senate side, Patty Murray (D-WA) warned more than two months
ago, " There is a train wreck coming in veterans health care
( ."
Meanwhile, Secretary Nicholson said, "I can assure you that VA does not
need emergency supplemental funds.

NOBODY LISTENED TO THE EXPERTS: Some members of Congress are now
claiming they were unaware of the funding shortfall. For example, Rep. Jeb
Hensarling (R-TX) said, " The shortfall has become known to everyone in
Congress only recently.
( " Sen.
Rick Santorum (R-PA) has issued a similar excuse
( . But, in
fact, veterans groups saw the train wreck coming and repeatedly signaled
the warning bells as loudly as they could. As Rep. Edwards said, "All
[the leadership] had to do was listen to VA employees and veterans
groups." Indeed, the chorus of veterans' voices rang out in February as soon
as Bush's budget was released. John Furgess, commander in chief of
Veterans of Foreign Wars, denounced Bush's VA budget as " especially
shameful during a time of war
( ." Paralyzed
Veterans of America's Richard Fuller predicted the problems, noting, "The
proposed increase in health spending is not sufficient at a time when
the number of patients is increasing... [Bush's budget] will not cover
the need
( ."
American Legion's Thomas Cadmus said, "This is the wrong message at the
wrong time to the wrong constituency
." James Sursely of the Disabled Veterans of America warned, "With an
inadequate appropriation in the President's budget for next year, the
situation is likely to get even worse.
( " And Thomas Corey
of the Vietnam Veterans of America said the budget did "not bode well
for those returning from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
( "

SANTORUM CAN'T RESIST PLAYING POLITICS: Santorum took the lead on the
amendment which passed the Senate yesterday. To explain why he was
chosen by the leadership to lead, Santorum explained, " Since I've had a
little bit more activity in this area than anybody else, I was asked to
take it on.
" Santorum's most recent activity has been to vote against veterans
funding. On April 12th, Santorum twice
against a bill that would have addressed the funding shortfall by
providing nearly $2 billion for veterans' health care. In March, he voted
against another bill
that would have provided over $2 billion for veterans. Despite his own
questionable record, Santorum couldn't resist playing a little more
politics by calling into question another senator's respect for veterans

IT'S THE SAME OLD SONG: The Bush administration has hardly been a
friend to veterans over the past five years. It has cut approximately
170,000 middle-income veterans out of the health care system
( ,
sought to increase prescription drug costs
and impose new enrollment fees
to obtain health care, closed down hospitals
( ,
and stopped trying to market services
( to veterans.
Underfunding the VA
has been a frequent tactic of the administration. In fact, it seems to
have been a secret part of their policy agenda
for quite some time.