MY SAN ANTONIO

Military 
AGENT ORANGE NOW BEING CONSIDERED 
Associated Press 
 

Web Posted : 02/27/2003 12:00 AM 

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed allowing sick Vietnam veterans to sue chemical companies over Agent Orange exposure despite a 19-year-old national settlement.
More Supreme Court Coverage.

Though the Vietnam War ended 30 years ago, war-related illnesses are just being discovered, an attorney for two veterans suffering from cancer told the justices.

Companies that made the herbicide thought their liability ended with a 1984 class-action settlement.

The Supreme Court will decide before July whether the deal can be challenged.


Some justices seemed to be second-guessing the settlement.

"Why was none of the money held over for late-blooming claims?" asked Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she was concerned newspaper advertisements that ran at the time didn't reach people who could have been entitled to money.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and others, seemed worried about reopening the settlement.

"How about people who get sick in 2018?" Rehnquist asked.

Justice Stephen Breyer said large class-action lawsuits no longer would be settled, because of uncertainty.

02/27/2003


U.S. NEWSWIRE
SURVEY FINDS 
LONG WAIT FOR VETERAN CARE

March 4, 2003

Survey finds long wait for veteran care
© 2003, The Associated Press

Document Dated: Mar-04-2003

Patients in the veterans health care system wait an average of seven months to see a primary care doctor, the American Legion reported after questioning its members.

This was the first time the national veterans group surveyed its members across the country on waiting times.

The Legion did not attempt to take a scientific sample but rather sought anecdotal evidence between last November and Feb.21 to bolster a lobbying campaign for more veterans health dollars.

The results from more than 3,100 respondents were to be released today. The Legion's national commander, Ronald Conley of Pittsburgh, said the survey also found:

The average wait to see a doctor after arriving at a Veterans Affairs clinic is about 1.6 hours. 
About 58 percent of respondents had an appointment rescheduled by the VA, triggering an average wait of 2.6 months for the new appointment. 
About 11 percent of the respondents said they were denied long term care. That result was based on 2,800 responses.
However, some veterans who did get medical care gave high marks to their doctors and facilities.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, in figures supplied to the Hose Veterans Affairs Committee, showed that thousands of veterans wait more than six months for a nonemergency visit, although the situation is improving.


As posted by Grant Szabo 
Editor/Founder, Gulf War Veteran Resource Pages

http://www.quagmire.com/


Document Contributed By


FDA RULING ON PB IGNORES SCIENTIFIC FACTS
National Gulf War Resource Center
March 6, 2003


FDA RULING ON PB IGNORES SCIENTIFIC FACTS
Veterans groups, scientist and citizens outraged.

For Immediate Release Contact: Steve Robinson
February 06, 2003 (800) 882-1316, ext. 162

The National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC), the nation's leading Gulf War veterans' advocacy organization, today demanded answers from the FDA concerning approval of the Anti-Nerve Gas Pill Pyridiostigmine Bromide (PB) as a pretreatment for exposure to the nerve agent Soman.

"Gulf War veterans and scientist are justifiably distressed at the government decision to ignore the scientific evidence regarding this drug. Documents and scientific studies conducted over the last 12 years have clearly shown this drug is both experimental and harmful," said Michael Woods, President of the NGWRC.

"Citizens and soldiers alike should demand an explanation of this ruling. The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have both concluded through previous studies that PB could not be ruled out as a factor in the illnesses Gulf War veterans currently suffer from. While the drug may be approved for civilians who have the neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis, it has never been shown to be either effective or safe for the military application against Soman," said Steve Robinson, Executive Director of the NGWRC.

In fact, studies have shown that PB's effectiveness against Soman is questionable. Prescribing PB as a pretreatment is a guess and is not proven effective by scientific fact.

Second, PB's dosing for effectiveness is variable in each individual and would require individual evaluation due to the genetics and the size of the person receiving the dose.

Third, PB is known to cause muscle damage in the animal studies cited by the FDA with even one dose.

Fourth, PB may be in part responsible for Persian Gulf Illness. This fact
cannot be denied and has been emphasized by DoD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, RAND, the Institute of Medicine, the VA Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses and veterans.

Fifth, PB can increase the effect of Sarin gas on anyone exposed. Thus, in allowing this use, the FDA, DOD, Congress, the President and ICN
Pharmaceuticals are allowing a questionable protection against Soman and
also increasing the likelihood that troops will be more susceptible to Sarin
and possible complications after the war.

It is possible that those who made the decision think they have chosen the lesser of two evils with the troops protection in mind but ignoring the facts surrounding the risk of PB use is completely irresponsible behavior for all concerned. 

It is unfortunate that, on the eve of a potential war with Iraq, the FDA has approved another drug that is known to have harmed veterans of the last Gulf War.

The NGWRC will continue to support the troops of the next Gulf War by asking tough questions when they arise. We will also continue to fight for the rights, treatment and fair compensation of veterans of the last Gulf War. Soldiers will be forced to take this drug if ordered, regardless of the potential damage. 

Once again our government is putting soldiers in another type of  'Harms Way',  which could have been prevented. This ruling, in combination with equipment deficiencies, is most likely the impetus for soldiers saving their sperm prior to deployment.


The Gulf War Veteran Resource Pages were founded by Grant Szabo in 1994 and represented the first site on the World Wide Web addressing Gulf War Veteran issues. The site is completely run by volunteers and is not affiliated with any government entities. The purpose of the site is to provide pertinent content on the health effects created by the Persian Gulf War. Additionally, the site is a community center for veterans of the conflict and provides opportunity to locate comrades in arms, discuss pertinent issues, and to tell their stories. ©1994-2003, Grant Szabo


FEDERAL LINE
GOVBENIFITS GETS A FACELIFT
March 7, 2003 
 

by Marlis Majerus

The Labor Department's web portal is one of the Office of Management and Budget's e-government initiatives. It's grown from featuring about 50 federal programs to over 200.

Designed to serve citizens as a one stop resource for government benefit eligibility information, it's been updated. Actually, overhauled. From a new logo to a new Spanish Page, DOL officials say the changes are a direct response to citizen feedback.

The site also has some new benefit programs, including Tax Counseling for the Elderly from the Treasury Department, a Home Based Primary Care program from Veterans Affairs and Adjustable Rate Mortgage from Housing and Urban Development.

Check it out at GovBenefits.gov.

HOUSE LEADERS HOPE TO RESTORE BALANCED BUDGET IN 10 YEARS
March 11, 2003
By Bill Ghent, CongressDaily
 

The House and Senate Budget committees are proceeding with plans to mark up their respective fiscal 2004 budget resolutions beginning Wednesday, but budget writers have yet to make decisions about some of the key elements of their plans, as they feverishly work and rework numbers to confront the realities of a worsening budget situation.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., exiting a meeting Monday with Republican members of his committee, was tightlipped about the contents of his resolution, saying it "remains to be seen" whether it indeed will bring the budget back into balance within the expected 10-year time frame of the resolution.

But a spokesman for House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, was more optimistic, saying that despite new Congressional Budget Office estimates Friday showing the president's budget and tax proposals would produce a 10-year deficit of $1.8 trillion—or $4.4 trillion not counting extra Social Security revenues—Nussle was planning on submitting a budget "that will show balance" within 10 years.

Details remained scant Monday on how budget writers plan to do that. But it would take some type of reduction in spending assumptions, perhaps in 2004 but definitely in future years, to accomplish that if Republicans, as expected, also make room for the president's $1.5 trillion tax cut within the 10-year timeframe.

"At this point we're looking at the whole budget, with the exception of Social Security and a few other key areas," such as unemployment benefits, to control spending over the length of the budget resolution, said the committee spokesman. "The numbers are in flux."

However, the aide said Nussle's resolution would emphasize "fairness" to all parties, meaning that if appropriators are forced to accept a cut in discretionary spending, so will those who control mandatory spending.

That would be a tall order, given cries for increased defense, education, health and homeland security spending on the discretionary side of the budget equation.

Meanwhile, on the mandatory side, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and his allies have been lobbying for huge increases in highway funds, and any proposal designed to decrease the long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid would be greeted with skepticism on Capitol Hill.

Also, the president last year signed a major farm bill that greatly increased agriculture spending, and any effort to reduce those assumptions would also be a hard pill to swallow.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Monday that the Senate likely would take up the resolution approved by Nickles committee beginning next week.

Asked whether he thought the Senate would approve a budget resolution that called for the entirety of the Bush tax plan, Frist said he was "hopeful" but that his "real objective [would be] to make sure this budget process works" after the breakdown of last year.

________________________________________________________________________

March 11, 2003

House chair targets mandatory spending in fiscal 2004 budget

By Bill Ghent, CongressDaily

Plotting a tricky political course for his fellow Republicans—and turning his back on parts of the Bush administration's budget—House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, Tuesday said he intends to press forward with a fiscal 2004 budget resolution that cuts discretionary and mandatory spending below the president's assumptions in order to achieve balance by the end of a 10-year window.

The resolution would not, however, deviate from the $1.6 trillion Bush tax cut plan, said Nussle, acknowledging that it would include a reconciliation instruction to pass a $726 billion economic growth package and still allow for making the 2001 tax cut permanent, although that would not be ordered under reconciliation.

But in a bold statement, Nussle said the president's budget proposal, which the Congressional Budget Office last week said would create a $1.8 trillion deficit over 10 years, contained too much spending and that something has to give if people are serious about balancing the budget.

"I can coast along with the president's plan that doesn't balance over 10 years, or I can do something about it," said Nussle, noting that many in the Republican Conference, including himself, feel the "tax cut would only be good if we show more spending restraint." Nussle remained mum on the specifics of the size and nature of such restraint, although presumably the resolution would call for spending cuts in fiscal 2004 and beyond.

Nussle said the only programs "off-limits" from the budget axe were Social Security, unemployment benefits, defense and homeland security spending—assumptions laid out by the president's budget. That means the budget will likely call for significantly less spending on highways, farm programs, aviation programs and nondefense programs, such as education and health, than many legislators would like.

It also means that the resolution may contain calls for Medicare and Medicaid reform—a Herculean task. On Medicare, Nussle griped that the White House is still pushing for its $400 billion prescription drug proposal even though Congress enacted a $54 billion Medicare fix in the recent fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations legislation. That's a $54 billion spending increase in just a couple of months, noted Nussle, who said he has yet to hear from the administration about whether it will support something less than the $400 billion now that the added costs have to be built into the Medicare spending baseline.

"If you don't start making these small decisions now, the pain of making them later gets exponentially worse," said Nussle, who acknowledged that the "structure of Medicare is more important than a $400 billion add-on."

________________________________________________________________________

March 12, 2003

House budget chair calls for deep cuts in non-defense spending

By Bill Ghent, CongressDaily

Calling for controversial reductions in mandatory spending and putting a squeeze on nondefense-related discretionary programs, House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, revealed the details of his fiscal 2004 budget resolution Wednesday.

Nussle's resolution differs substantially from President Bush's 2004 budget submission in several respects, calling for nearly an $11 billion cut below the president's discretionary total, as well as steep cuts in mandatory programs. And while the budget still makes room for a $726 billion economic stimulus/tax cut plan, the resolution would not accommodate the entire Bush tax cut proposal over 10 years.

"I don't like deficits. I don't want deficits, and I won't pretend that deficits don't matter," said Nussle. "We can't get back on track" without tough choices.

Altogether, Nussle's budget would reach a unified balance in fiscal 2010, although the deficit over the 10-year period would still total nearly $760 billion, or $3.327 trillion not counting Social Security surpluses.

As for discretionary spending, the resolution would set a 2004 level of $775.4 billion in budget authority, which is $9.6 billion higher than the 2003 enacted level, but about $11.2 billion below the president's $786.6 billion 2004 proposal as scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

Of the specific budget functions, defense is one of the few that would get an increase over 2003, moving from $392.1 billion to a bit more than $400 billion. International affairs also would receive about a $2.4 billion increase over last year, while education would see about a $2.3 billion increase. But other government services would see actual cuts below the 2003 levels, including natural resources and environment spending (about $2.2 billion) and health (about $1.4 billion).

Appropriators are not the only ones pained by the Nussle resolution. Breaking from budgets of recent years, it also would order under reconciliation nearly $470 billion in mandatory savings from various committees. The resolution does not specify where the committees should find such cuts, but it would force a reconciliation savings package to come together by July 18.

The Ways and Means Committee would be the biggest lifter, required to find about $262 billion in savings over 10 years. The Energy and Commerce panel would be forced to save about $110 billion, followed by Government Reform at $39.5 billion, Agriculture at $19.1 billion, Veterans' Affairs at $15.1 billion and Education and the Workforce at $9.7 billion.

In addition, the resolution orders a tax reconciliation package of about $725 billion, as the president requested, to be completed by April 11. The plan makes room for $1.403 trillion in tax cuts, which is below the $1.57 trillion tax cut plan proposed by the administration. GOP staff said the resolution fully accommodates the growth package and makes the 2001 tax cut permanent, but that lower-priority items would not be allowed.

Also, the resolution includes a reserve fund for a $400 billion Medicare prescription drug proposal, as well as reserve funds for a $9 billion Medicaid modernization plan and a $3.4 billion plan to reduce biomedical threats.
 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
VETERANS GROUP OUTRAGED OVER BUDGET CUTS
March 12, 2003
 

WASHINGTON, March 12—The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) has labeled as "indefensible and callous;" a plan by the House Budget Committee to slash $470 billion from domestic spending, including health care for sick and disabled veterans. The draft budget resolution would leave the $1.6 trillion Bush tax cut plan intact and allow huge spending increases on defense and homeland security.

DAV National Commander Edward R. Heath, Sr. expressed the organization's outrage at the spending cuts proposed in a March 12 House Budget Committee hearing. "You are asking veterans to swallow a bitter pill to remedy an illness of your own making," National Commander Heath said in a letter to Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa). "Cutting already under funded veterans' programs to offset the costs of tax cuts is indefensible and callous."

National Commander Heath cited a Congressional Budget Office report that the President's tax cut plan would cause a $1.8 trillion budget deficit over the next 10 years.

"You will be cutting benefits and services for disabled veterans at a time when we have thousands of our servicemembers in harm's way fighting terrorism around the world and when we are sending thousands more of our sons and daughters to fight a war against Iraq," Commander Heath wrote.

The nearly 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit organization founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932, represents this nation's disabled veterans. It is dedicated to a single purpose: building better lives for our nation's disabled veterans and their families. For more information, visit the organization's Web site www.dav.org.


ARMED FORCES NEWS
TRICARE STANDARD ACCESS SURVEY STALLS
March 14, 2003
 

The Military Officers Association of America has been told that one of the most significant problems of Tricare health coverage is that beneficiaries under age 65 in some areas of the country have difficulty finding a civilian doctor who accepts Tricare Standard patients. To correct this, Defense and congressional leaders need to pinpoint where the problems are occurring. Accordingly, MOAA has been conducting a survey to identify the areas. To date it has received little more than a thousand responses. MOAA President, retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, Jr., said, "The more input that we get from military beneficiaries across the country, the better we can identify what and where the problems are, and the more ammunition MOAA and The Military Coalition have to fight for your benefits." The survey is open to all military beneficiaries, and not just members of MOAA. To participate, visit www.moaa.org/Legislative/TRICARESurvey2003/.
 

M E M O R A N D U M

TO: Action E-List
FROM: Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director
URGENT! IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED!
March 17, 2003


Having learned more details about the devastating effect of the budget resolution on veterans' programs, we are providing you with additional information. Included is a copy of DAV National Commander Heath's letter to Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert and a news release from Congressman Lane Evans, Ranking Democratic Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. You may send your own letter to the Speaker of the House from the DAV website at www.dav.org. Click on "Legislative Action & You," then "Advocacy in Action," then click on the alert entitled "House Budget Resolution Will Slash $9.7 Billion from Veterans Medical Care and $15 Billion from Disability Compensation and Other Benefit Programs." Enter your zip code in the box provided. It is important for you to send this message today because the entire House will likely vote on this resolution as early as Wednesday, March 19, 2003.

JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director

______________________________________________________________

March 17, 2003
VIA FACSIMILE

The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
Speaker of the House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
H-232 Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20515-6501


Dear Mr. Speaker:

I write today on behalf of the 2.3 million disabled veterans, including the more than 1.2 million members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), to communicate our deep-seated outrage regarding the fiscal year 2004 budget adopted by the House Budget Committee, which would cut veterans programs by more than $15 billion during the next 10 years.

Has Congress no shame? Is there no honor left in the hallowed halls of our government that you choose to dishonor the sacrifices of our nation's heroes and rob our programs—health care and disability compensation—to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy? You will be reducing benefits and services for disabled veterans at a time when thousands of our servicemembers are in harm’s way fighting terrorists around the world and thousands more of our sons and daughters are preparing for war against Iraq.

The budget adopted by the Committee, on a nearly party-line vote, would reduce funding for veterans health care by $844 million below the President's recommendation for next year. It also proposes to cut $463 million from benefit programs, such as disability compensation, pension, vocational rehabilitation, education and survivors' benefits, next year and $15 billion over the next 10 years. The budget proposal is in distinct contrast to the recommendations made by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs to increase discretionary programs, such as veterans health care, by $3 billion to help ensure that our nation’s sick and disabled veterans can be cared for properly.

Mr. Speaker, you are personally aware of the crisis in veterans health care and the urgent need to adequately fund the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. If you, in your leadership role in the House, allow this budget proposal to pass the House without exempting VA programs from the massive cuts, it could mean the loss of 19,000 nurses, equating to the loss of 6.6 million outpatient visits or more than three-quarters of a million hospital bed days. But that is not all of the devastation that will be caused by the proposed cuts. You will be reaching into the pockets of our nation’s service-connected veterans, including combat disabled veterans, and robbing them and their survivors of a portion of their compensation. Ninety percent of VA’s mandatory spending is from cash payments to service-connected disabled veterans, low-income wartime veterans, and their survivors.

As hundreds of thousands of America's brave young men and women await the uncertainties brought on by war, including the potential of biological and chemical attacks at the hand of a fanatical tyrant, they should not have to also be concerned about the discouraging possibilities of a Department of Veterans Affairs that cannot provide either the necessary services or benefits they have earned and might need. Nor should World War II veterans, the "Greatest Generation," now in their twilight years, who are directly responsible for the freedom and prosperity of our nation, be forced out of a system designed specifically to provide for their needs.

All eyes will be on the critical action of the House this week as you vote on the budget. With America’s sons and daughters prepared to do battle with the enemies of our country, and our veterans locked in battles over the crisis in VA health care and drastic cuts to our programs, the American public will want to know whether our government will honor its commitment to our veterans and to their children—our future veterans—serving in harm's way.

There is no question that the vote on the proposed budget is an important vote, one that will set the tone for the remainder of this Congress, and likely the next Congress.

Mr. Speaker, this budget dishonors the service of millions of service-connected disabled veterans, including combat disabled veterans, and seriously erodes the nation's commitment to care for its defenders. If this budget resolution retains provisions to cut veterans' programs, I will use all the resources at my disposal to take our case to the American people and call upon members of Congress to oppose and vote against the budget resolution. I urge you to reconsider the inequitable and ill-advised course proposed in the Committee's partisan budget proposal. I look to you, in your leadership position, to ensure that this Congress honors our government's commitment to its veterans.

Sincerely, 
EDWARD R. HEATH, SR.
National Commander

_______________________________________________________________

NEWS FROM CONGRESSMAN LANE EVANS, RANKING DEMOCRATIC MEMBER, COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Room 333 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515

FOR RELEASE: March 13, 2003

For More Information, Contact: Susan Edgerton or Mary Ellen McCarthy

(202) 225-9756

VETERANS PROGRAMS SLASHED BY HOUSE REPUBLICANS
Budget Committee Blueprint Cuts Veterans Health Care and Other Benefits by Nearly $25 Billion

Congressman Lane Evans (D-IL), the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, today said the budget adopted by the House Budget Committee would mean drastic reductions in funding for veterans' benefits and services. Evans called the budget “shameful” and pledged to fight to defeat the Republic budget blueprint. Referring to the more than a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts approved by the Budget Committee, Evans asked, "Who deserves to receive the benefits of the national treasury—America’s disabled veterans or America's millionaires?"

The Republican majority of the House Budget Committee approved a federal budget reducing funding for veterans health care and benefit programs by nearly $25 billion. The proposed budget cut $844 million from the President's request for veterans' health care next year. Over a ten-year period the GOP is proposing a cut of $9.7 billion in veterans' health care—an average of more than $900 million less than the President has proposed per year. For other veterans' benefits, including cash payments to veterans disabled by military service, the Republican budget calls for a $463 million cut during the next year and a $15 billion cut in spending from current levels during the next ten years. The House Budget Committee is chaired by Congressman Jim Nussle (R-IA).

By a nearly party-line vote of 22-19, Republicans defeated an amendment offered by Democratic Representatives Darlene Hooley, Tammy Baldwin, Dennis Moore, Chet Edwards, Bruce Scott, Lois Capps, and Artur Davis that would have restored the proposed $844 million for veterans health care and added a billion dollars to the VA's budget for discretionary programs. These cuts are made to a budget that already relies upon $1.1 billion in vaguely defined management efficiencies and $1.4 billion in mostly unpalatable legislative and policy proposals already included in the President's budget. The amendment would also have restored the Budget Committee's proposed $463 million in cuts to veterans' benefits. Only Republican Ginny Brown-Waite, a member of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, crossed party lines to vote for increased funding for veterans.

In sharp contrast to Nussle's proposal, a bipartisan recommendation from Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Democratic Ranking Member Lane Evans (D-IL) on behalf of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, would have added $3 billion next year for veteran discretionary programs including medical care and research, construction and programs that fund the administrative costs of other important benefits such as compensation, pension and education programs.

What would $1.844 billion mean to veterans health care?

Congress would have to seriously consider the new copayments and enrollment fees proposed by the Bush Administration in order to keep the system operating in the next fiscal year. This means: 
New priority 8 veterans would remain ineligible for VA services indefinitely 
Priority 7 and 8 veterans would have an annual enrollment fee in addition to increased copayments for pharmaceutical drugs and primary care 
Only veterans with highly rated service connected disabilities (greater than 70%) would be eligible for placement in VA nursing homes. This would eliminate the need for 5000 nursing home beds from the system. 
In year one VA may have to disenroll at least 168,000 veterans. 
There would be no additional funds available to implement the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act to work toward the goal of eliminating chronic homelessness in a decade. 
The current Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) exercise that VA is undertaking to assess the best use of its physical infrastructure will become a "de facto" closure commission with no ability to respond to veterans' needs for primary care, long-term care, and mental health projected by its own models. 
$1.844 billion = 
about 9,000 doctors or 19,000 nurses 
about 6.6 million outpatient visits 
870,000 hospital bed days of care 
2 million psychiatric bed days of care 
9 million nursing home bed days of care 
all of VA's top-twenty priorities major construction projects (totaling about $600 million) which include desperately needed seismic and modernization projects and projects to ensure patient and employee safety 
What would $463 million cuts in mandatory spending mean to veterans benefits?

Congress would have to seriously cut the benefits paid to men and women who are disabled as a result of military service. Cash benefits paid to veterans who have disabilities incurred or aggravated during military service comprise the vast majority of VA’s budget for mandatory programs. Ninety percent of the mandatory spending the Budget Committee proposes to cut is from cash payments to service disabled veterans, low-income wartime veterans and their survivors. 
Other programs funded with mandatory spending are the Montgomery G.I. Bill education benefits, vocational rehabilitation and independent living programs for service-disabled veterans, subsidies for VA home loans and insurance for service-disabled veterans and funds to provide headstones, markers and flags for deceased veterans. 
Even if all burial benefits, including flags and markers were eliminated to meet the Budget Committee resolution, funding for benefits for living veterans would need to be dramatically cut. 
Last year the cost-of living increase paid to service-disabled veterans was only 1.4%. In order to meet the Budget Committee criteria the House Committee on Veterans Affairs could propose a cost-of living decrease of 1.4% and no increase for FY 2004. 
As our Nation stands on the verge of war, certain to result in disability and death for young Americans, the Budget Committee's proposal requires the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to make permanent cuts in the benefits paid to those disabled by virtue of their service to our Nation. These cuts must be made, so that our government can afford to provide a tax cut which will benefit only the wealthiest Americans, many of whom have never served in the military.

In contrast, Democrats proposed to restore the "Nussle" cut for benefits and health care and add $1 billion to the VA health care budget to eliminate the need for increased copayments, assist VA in eliminating waiting times, restore VA's nursing home care mission and provide a small boost to address the queue of VA major construction projects that include seismic projects and other projects that will assure patient and employee safety.
 

M E M O R A N D U M

TO: Action E-List
FROM: Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director

BUDGET COMMITTEE VOTES
March 19, 2003
 


On March 13, 2003, the House Budget Committee voted along party line to adopt and report for a vote by the full House of Representatives an extremely radical budget resolution for fiscal year 2004, which begins October 1, 2003.

The budget resolution is the master congressional plan for generating revenues, the money the Government receives in the form of taxes and other collections, and setting overall expenditures, the money the Government provides to fund programs. The resolution limits the total amount of money the appropriators can provide to operate the Government and its programs.

When Congress wants to reduce spending on discretionary programs, such as VA medical care, for example, the budget resolution may limit the amount of money the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee has to allocate for discretionary spending. When Congress wants to reduce spending on mandatory programs, those for which permanent law requires Congress to provide the money necessary to pay benefits, such as disability compensation, the budget resolution directs the appropriate authorizing committee, e.g., the Veterans' Affairs Committee, to report legislation to change the law to reduce or eliminate entitlement to the benefit. Congress undertakes spending reductions for two purposes: to reduce deficit spending or to offset the loss of revenues from tax reductions.

The budget resolution passed and reported by the House Budget Committee on March 13, would make deep cuts in almost every agency and program of the Federal Government. To help offset the costs of the President's second massive tax cut plan costing $1.57 trillion, it would make the deepest cuts in veterans' programs that we have seen since the Great Depression. It would cut funding for veterans’ medical care, already seriously under funded, by $844 million next year alone and by $9.7 billion over the next 10 years. The budget resolution would require the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to report legislation to reduce or eliminate some entitlement to disability compensation and other benefits to save another $15 billion over the next 10 years. Together the cuts in discretionary and mandatory funding for veterans’ programs would be approximately $25 billion.

In passing this budget resolution, there were three votes in the Budget Committee that are of concern to veterans. First, Representative Darlene Hooley (D. Oreg.) offered an amendment to the resolution to increase funding for veterans’ medical care and to remove from the resolution the cuts in spending on veterans’ programs. This amendment was defeated by a vote along party lines of 23 against to 18 for the amendment. Second, Representative Chet Edwards (D. Tex.) offered an amendment to provide enough money to fully cover the costs of concurrent receipt legislation authorizing disabled military retirees to be paid both the military retired pay they earned and the disability compensation they are due for service-connected conditions. This amendment was defeated by a vote along party lines of 23 against to 18 for the amendment. Third, the vote on the resolution itself, with the cuts in veterans’ programs, passed by a vote along party lines of 24 for to 19 against the resolution.

This is how the members of the Budget Committee voted:

The 23 members who voted against the Hooley amendment to remove from the resolution cuts in veterans’ programs and to increase discretionary funding voted against veterans. They are:

Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) 202-225-2911
Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) 202-225-5541
Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) 202-225-2472
Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) 202-225-3706
Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) 202-225-6601
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) 202-225-6411
Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) 202-225-5816
Rob Portman (R-Ohio) 202-225-3164
Henry Brown (R-S.C.) 202-225-3176
Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) 202-225-2501
Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) 202-225-1252
Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) 202-225-4306
Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) 202-225-2956
Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) 202-225-7882
David Vitter (R-La.) 202-225-3015
Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) 202-225-4931
Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) 202-225-4576
Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) 202-225-4465
James Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) 202-225-5301
Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) 202-225-8171
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) 202-225-2778
Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) 202-225-3484
Virginia Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) 202-225-1002 
The 18 members who voted for the Hooley amendment and who voted for veterans are: 

John M. Spratt, Jr. (D-S.C.) 202-225-5501
James P. Moran (D-Va.) 202-225-4376
Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.) 202-225-5711
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) 202-225-2906
Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) 202-225-2865
John Lewis (D-Ga.) 202-225-3801
Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) 202-225-5601
Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) 202-225-3661
Chet Edwards (D-Texas) 202-225-6105
Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) 202-225-8351
Lois Capps (D-Calif.) 202-225-3601
Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) 202-225-3311
Brian Baird (D-Wash.) 202-225-3536
Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) 202-225-4311
Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) 202-225-4061
Artur Davis (D-Ala.) 202-225-2665
Denise Majette (D-Ga.) 202-225-1605
Ron Kind (D-Wis.) 202-225-5506 
Edward L. Schrock (R. Va.) and Harold E. Ford, Jr. (D. Tenn.) did not vote on the Hooley amendment.

The 23 members who voted against the Edwards amendment to provide money for full concurrent receipt and who voted against veterans are:

Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) 202-225-2911
Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) 202-225-5541
Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) 202-225-2472
Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) 202-225-3706
Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) 202-225-6601
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) 202-225-6411
Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) 202-225-5816
Rob Portman (R-Ohio) 202-225-3164
Edward L. Schrock (R-Va.) 202-225-4215
Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) 202-225-2501
Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) 202-225-1252
Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) 202-225-4306
Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) 202-225-2956
Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) 202-225-7882
David Vitter (R-La.) 202-225-3015
Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) 202-225-4931
Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) 202-225-4576
Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) 202-225-4465
James Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) 202-225-5301
Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) 202-225-8171
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) 202-225-2778
Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) 202-225-3484
Virginia Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) 202-225-1002 
The 18 members who voted for the Edwards amendment and who voted for veterans are:

John M. Spratt, Jr. (D-S.C.) 202-225-5501
James P. Moran (D-Va.) 202-225-4376
Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.) 202-225-5711
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) 202-225-2906
Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) 202-225-2865
John Lewis (D-Ga.) 202-225-3801
Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) 202-225-5601
Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) 202-225-3661
Chet Edwards (D-Texas) 202-225-6105
Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) 202-225-8351
Harold E. Ford, Jr. (D-Tenn.) 202-225-3625
Lois Capps (D-Calif.) 202-225-3601
Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) 202-225-3311
Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) 202-225-4311
Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) 202-225-4061
Artur Davis (D-Ala.) 202-225-2665
Denise Majette (D-Ga.) 202-225-1605
Ron Kind (D-Wis.) 202-225-5506 
Repesentatives Henry E. Brown (R. S.C.) and Brian Baird (D. Wash.) did not vote on the Edwards amendment.

The following 24 members voted for the resolution and against veterans:

Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) 202-225-2911
Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) 202-225-5541
Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) 202-225-2472
Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) 202-225-3706
Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) 202-225-6601
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) 202-225-6411
Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) 202-225-5816
Rob Portman (R-Ohio) 202-225-3164
Edward L. Schrock (R-Va.) 202-225-4215
Henry Brown (R-S.C.) 202-225-3176
Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) 202-225-2501
Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) 202-225-1252
Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) 202-225-4306
Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) 202-225-2956
Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) 202-225-7882
David Vitter (R-La.) 202-225-3015
Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) 202-225-4931
Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) 202-225-4576
Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) 202-225-4465
James Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) 202-225-5301
Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) 202-225-8171
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) 202-225-2778
Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) 202-225-3484
Virginia Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) 202-225-1002 
The 19 members who voted against the resolution and for veterans are:

John M. Spratt, Jr. (D-S.C.) 202-225-5501
James P. Moran (D-Va.) 202-225-4376
Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.) 202-225-5711
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) 202-225-2906
Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) 202-225-2865
John Lewis (D-Ga.) 202-225-3801
Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) 202-225-5601
Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) 202-225-3661
Chet Edwards (D-Texas) 202-225-6105
Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) 202-225-8351
Harold E. Ford, Jr. (D-Tenn.) 202-225-3625
Lois Capps (D-Calif.) 202-225-3601
Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) 202-225-3311
Brian Baird (D-Wash.) 202-225-3536
Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) 202-225-4311
Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) 202-225-4061
Artur Davis (D-Ala.) 202-225-2665
Denise Majette (D-Ga.) 202-225-1605
Ron Kind (D-Wis.) 202-225-5506 
The DAV encourages those of you who have members in their states that voted against veterans to let them know of your displeasure. Tell the member how deeply disappointed you are by his or her votes against our Nation’s disabled veterans. Question how the member could support a $1.57 trillion tax cut but not support paying disabled veterans who have devoted 20 or more years of their lives defending our Nation the retired pay they earned. Remind the member that, were it not for the service and sacrifices of our veterans, there would be no prosperous citizens to benefit from this tax cut. Explain that the member’s votes against veterans were all the more objectionable at a time when our Government has thousands of our sons and daughters in hostile environments fighting terrorism and enforcing our global political goals in nations around the world and at a time when thousands more are facing perhaps chemical and biological weapons and a dirty, bloody battle in Iraq. Remind them that, after politicians rightly or wrongly start wars, it is the members of our Armed Forces who must then fight and win those wars at all costs, and that it is unconscionable for the politicians to betray those “who shall have borne the battle” tomorrow when they are veterans in need of compensation and medical care. If you had a House member from your state that voted for veterans, the DAV encourages you to contact that member’s office to express your sincere appreciation for his or her steadfast support of America’s disabled veterans.

We expect a vote by the full House of Representatives as early as tomorrow. Thank you for your continued support and involvement on this crucial matter.

JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director
 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

VETS GET BIG BOOST IN LATE-NIGHT BUDGET DEAL
 March 19, 2003


The American Legion
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Disabled American Veterans


Vets Get Big Boost In Late-Night Budget Deal

WASHINGTON, March 17—The nation’s three largest veterans organizations today called on Congress to scrap proposed budget cuts in disability compensation, pensions and health care to offset the costs of tax breaks and huge spending increases on defense and homeland security.

A fiscal year 2004 budget plan approved by the House Budget Committee would slash $470 billion from domestic spending, including health care and compensation for disabled veterans provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The House budget resolution would leave intact the $1.6 trillion Bush tax cut plan and allow huge spending increases on defense and homeland security.

"Veterans' pensions and disability compensation are parts of the costs of defending freedom. Our nation cannot, in good conscience, commit men and women to battle, and reduce the meager, yet well-deserved, compensation for those who are wounded," said American Legion National Commander Ronald F. Conley. "Of all the citizens who benefit from mandatory federal funding, none are worthier than those who are disabled today because they risked all of their tomorrows fighting for freedom. This budget defies common sense. We'll fight it with all our might."

"The health care and benefits our veterans have earned are a powerful reminder that the price of war is ongoing, and that as a nation we have a commitment to ensure these costs are paid," said Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander in Chief Ray Sisk. "Reducing VA health care funding, even by the seemingly small one percent, will worsen many of VA's gravest problems. We cannot expect sick and disabled veterans to wait months for earned health care. Equally troubling is that further cuts in funding would cause VA to curb further enrollment, or to remove certain veterans from the health care system altogether. It is imperative that Congress fully fund the VA."

"Cutting already under funded veterans' programs to offset the costs of tax cuts is indefensible and callous," said Edward R. Heath Sr., National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans. "It is unconscionable to cut benefits and services for disabled veterans at a time when we have thousands of our servicemembers in harm's way fighting terrorism around the world and when we are sending thousands more of our sons and daughters to fight a war against Iraq."

"Congress must rethink drastic cuts in benefits and services for disabled veterans at a time when we have thousands of our servicemembers in harm's way fighting terrorism around the world and when we are sending thousands more of our sons and daughters to fight a war against Iraq," the veterans groups said in a letter to the congressional leadership.

 


ARMED FORCES NEWS
NEW CHAMPVA POLICY FOR SURVIVING SPOUSES
March 21, 2003
 


Surviving spouses who lost access to the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs by remarrying before Feb. 4, 2003, now can be reinstated into the program if they remarried after becoming age 55 and if they apply for reinstatement by Feb. 4, 2004. Similarly, a surviving spouse who remarried after becoming age 55 and lost access to Tricare benefits may now be eligible for CHAMPVA coverage. To be eligible for CHAMPVA, the individual must be a family member of a veteran who has a permanent and total service-connecteddisability, or who died of a service-connected condition, or who was totally disabled from a service-connected condition at the time of death. In general, CHAMPVA covers most health care services and supplies that are medically and psychologically necessary. For more information or an application contact VA's Health Administration Center at 800-733-8387.
 

M E M O R A N D U M

TO: Action E-List
FROM: Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director

UPDATE ON THE BUDGET BATTLE

THE BATTLE WAS WON—THE WAR RAGES ON
March 21, 2003


On March 21, 2003, the United States House of Representatives passed its budget resolution without cuts in veterans' medical care and mandatory programs. While Republican "holdouts," Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Representatives Michael Bilirakis (R-FL), Rick Renzi (R-AZ), Rob Simmons (R-CT), Walter Jones (R-NC), Charles Pickering (R-MS), extracted an 11th-hour promise from the House Leadership not to cut veterans’ mandatory programs such as disability compensation, and to recede to the Senate’s higher spending levels for veterans' health care programs. Although it was too late to change the language in the House Budget Resolution, H. Con. Res. 95, the Budget Committee Chairman, Jim Nussle (R-IA), provided a written promise to match the Senate's higher spending levels when the House and Senate go to conference on the budget resolution.

While this is a major victory for veterans, we must continue to keep pressure on the Senate to ensure that they pass a budget that includes increased funding for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and eliminates proposals to increase copayments for prescriptions and outpatient visits for certain veterans and charge other veterans enrollment fees. As you know, the budget resolution passed by Congress is non-binding and only provides a blueprint for spending levels. Therefore, it is also important that we contact appropriators and ask them to provide increased levels of spending for VA medical care programs above the Administration's proposed budget.

Had it not been for the efforts of DAV members, their families, and other supporters, we would not have been able to get the agreement of the House Leadership to exempt veterans from the drastic cuts proposed in the House Budget Resolution. Thanks to your efforts, Democrats such as House Budget Committee Ranking Member John Spratt (D-SC), and Committee Member Chet Edwards (D-TX) and others were able to take our case to the floor of the House during the budget debate.

I am attaching a copy of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee News Release on the budget, and the text of the letter from Chairman Nussle to Chairman Smith promising to agree to the higher Senate provisions in conference.

Again, thank you for your extraordinary efforts in letting your elected officials know how outraged you were with the proposal to cut veterans' discretionary and mandatory programs.

JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director
______________________________________________________________

March 17, 2003
VIA FACSIMILE

The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
Speaker of the House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
H-232 Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20515-6501


Dear Mr. Speaker:

I write today on behalf of the 2.3 million disabled veterans, including the more than 1.2 million members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), to communicate our deep-seated outrage regarding the fiscal year 2004 budget adopted by the House Budget Committee, which would cut veterans programs by more than $15 billion during the next 10 years.

Has Congress no shame? Is there no honor left in the hallowed halls of our government that you choose to dishonor the sacrifices of our nation's heroes and rob our programs—health care and disability compensation—to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy? You will be reducing benefits and services for disabled veterans at a time when thousands of our servicemembers are in harm’s way fighting terrorists around the world and thousands more of our sons and daughters are preparing for war against Iraq.

The budget adopted by the Committee, on a nearly party-line vote, would reduce funding for veterans health care by $844 million below the President's recommendation for next year. It also proposes to cut $463 million from benefit programs, such as disability compensation, pension, vocational rehabilitation, education and survivors' benefits, next year and $15 billion over the next 10 years. The budget proposal is in distinct contrast to the recommendations made by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs to increase discretionary programs, such as veterans health care, by $3 billion to help ensure that our nation’s sick and disabled veterans can be cared for properly.

Mr. Speaker, you are personally aware of the crisis in veterans health care and the urgent need to adequately fund the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. If you, in your leadership role in the House, allow this budget proposal to pass the House without exempting VA programs from the massive cuts, it could mean the loss of 19,000 nurses, equating to the loss of 6.6 million outpatient visits or more than three-quarters of a million hospital bed days. But that is not all of the devastation that will be caused by the proposed cuts. You will be reaching into the pockets of our nation’s service-connected veterans, including combat disabled veterans, and robbing them and their survivors of a portion of their compensation. Ninety percent of VA’s mandatory spending is from cash payments to service-connected disabled veterans, low-income wartime veterans, and their survivors.

As hundreds of thousands of America's brave young men and women await the uncertainties brought on by war, including the potential of biological and chemical attacks at the hand of a fanatical tyrant, they should not have to also be concerned about the discouraging possibilities of a Department of Veterans Affairs that cannot provide either the necessary services or benefits they have earned and might need. Nor should World War II veterans, the "Greatest Generation," now in their twilight years, who are directly responsible for the freedom and prosperity of our nation, be forced out of a system designed specifically to provide for their needs.

All eyes will be on the critical action of the House this week as you vote on the budget. With America’s sons and daughters prepared to do battle with the enemies of our country, and our veterans locked in battles over the crisis in VA health care and drastic cuts to our programs, the American public will want to know whether our government will honor its commitment to our veterans and to their children—our future veterans—serving in harm's way.

There is no question that the vote on the proposed budget is an important vote, one that will set the tone for the remainder of this Congress, and likely the next Congress.

Mr. Speaker, this budget dishonors the service of millions of service-connected disabled veterans, including combat disabled veterans, and seriously erodes the nation's commitment to care for its defenders. If this budget resolution retains provisions to cut veterans' programs, I will use all the resources at my disposal to take our case to the American people and call upon members of Congress to oppose and vote against the budget resolution. I urge you to reconsider the inequitable and ill-advised course proposed in the Committee's partisan budget proposal. I look to you, in your leadership position, to ensure that this Congress honors our government's commitment to its veterans.

Sincerely, 
EDWARD R. HEATH, SR.
National Commander

_______________________________________________________________

NEWS FROM CONGRESSMAN LANE EVANS, RANKING DEMOCRATIC MEMBER, COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Room 333 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515

FOR RELEASE: March 13, 2003

For More Information, Contact: Susan Edgerton or Mary Ellen McCarthy

(202) 225-9756

VETERANS PROGRAMS SLASHED BY HOUSE REPUBLICANS
Budget Committee Blueprint Cuts Veterans Health Care and Other Benefits by Nearly $25 Billion

Congressman Lane Evans (D-IL), the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, today said the budget adopted by the House Budget Committee would mean drastic reductions in funding for veterans' benefits and services. Evans called the budget “shameful” and pledged to fight to defeat the Republic budget blueprint. Referring to the more than a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts approved by the Budget Committee, Evans asked, "Who deserves to receive the benefits of the national treasury—America’s disabled veterans or America's millionaires?"

The Republican majority of the House Budget Committee approved a federal budget reducing funding for veterans health care and benefit programs by nearly $25 billion. The proposed budget cut $844 million from the President's request for veterans' health care next year. Over a ten-year period the GOP is proposing a cut of $9.7 billion in veterans' health care—an average of more than $900 million less than the President has proposed per year. For other veterans' benefits, including cash payments to veterans disabled by military service, the Republican budget calls for a $463 million cut during the next year and a $15 billion cut in spending from current levels during the next ten years. The House Budget Committee is chaired by Congressman Jim Nussle (R-IA).

By a nearly party-line vote of 22-19, Republicans defeated an amendment offered by Democratic Representatives Darlene Hooley, Tammy Baldwin, Dennis Moore, Chet Edwards, Bruce Scott, Lois Capps, and Artur Davis that would have restored the proposed $844 million for veterans health care and added a billion dollars to the VA's budget for discretionary programs. These cuts are made to a budget that already relies upon $1.1 billion in vaguely defined management efficiencies and $1.4 billion in mostly unpalatable legislative and policy proposals already included in the President's budget. The amendment would also have restored the Budget Committee's proposed $463 million in cuts to veterans' benefits. Only Republican Ginny Brown-Waite, a member of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, crossed party lines to vote for increased funding for veterans.

In sharp contrast to Nussle's proposal, a bipartisan recommendation from Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Democratic Ranking Member Lane Evans (D-IL) on behalf of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, would have added $3 billion next year for veteran discretionary programs including medical care and research, construction and programs that fund the administrative costs of other important benefits such as compensation, pension and education programs.

What would $1.844 billion mean to veterans health care?

Congress would have to seriously consider the new copayments and enrollment fees proposed by the Bush Administration in order to keep the system operating in the next fiscal year. This means: 
New priority 8 veterans would remain ineligible for VA services indefinitely 
Priority 7 and 8 veterans would have an annual enrollment fee in addition to increased copayments for pharmaceutical drugs and primary care 
Only veterans with highly rated service connected disabilities (greater than 70%) would be eligible for placement in VA nursing homes. This would eliminate the need for 5000 nursing home beds from the system. 
In year one VA may have to disenroll at least 168,000 veterans. 
There would be no additional funds available to implement the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act to work toward the goal of eliminating chronic homelessness in a decade. 
The current Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) exercise that VA is undertaking to assess the best use of its physical infrastructure will become a "de facto" closure commission with no ability to respond to veterans' needs for primary care, long-term care, and mental health projected by its own models. 
$1.844 billion = 
about 9,000 doctors or 19,000 nurses 
about 6.6 million outpatient visits 
870,000 hospital bed days of care 
2 million psychiatric bed days of care 
9 million nursing home bed days of care 
all of VA's top-twenty priorities major construction projects (totaling about $600 million) which include desperately needed seismic and modernization projects and projects to ensure patient and employee safety 
What would $463 million cuts in mandatory spending mean to veterans benefits?

Congress would have to seriously cut the benefits paid to men and women who are disabled as a result of military service. Cash benefits paid to veterans who have disabilities incurred or aggravated during military service comprise the vast majority of VA’s budget for mandatory programs. Ninety percent of the mandatory spending the Budget Committee proposes to cut is from cash payments to service disabled veterans, low-income wartime veterans and their survivors. 
Other programs funded with mandatory spending are the Montgomery G.I. Bill education benefits, vocational rehabilitation and independent living programs for service-disabled veterans, subsidies for VA home loans and insurance for service-disabled veterans and funds to provide headstones, markers and flags for deceased veterans. 
Even if all burial benefits, including flags and markers were eliminated to meet the Budget Committee resolution, funding for benefits for living veterans would need to be dramatically cut. 
Last year the cost-of living increase paid to service-disabled veterans was only 1.4%. In order to meet the Budget Committee criteria the House Committee on Veterans Affairs could propose a cost-of living decrease of 1.4% and no increase for FY 2004. 
As our Nation stands on the verge of war, certain to result in disability and death for young Americans, the Budget Committee's proposal requires the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to make permanent cuts in the benefits paid to those disabled by virtue of their service to our Nation. These cuts must be made, so that our government can afford to provide a tax cut which will benefit only the wealthiest Americans, many of whom have never served in the military.

In contrast, Democrats proposed to restore the "Nussle" cut for benefits and health care and add $1 billion to the VA health care budget to eliminate the need for increased copayments, assist VA in eliminating waiting times, restore VA's nursing home care mission and provide a small boost to address the queue of VA major construction projects that include seismic projects and other projects that will assure patient and employee safety.
 

PRAYER'S THE PRESCRIPTION: VETERAN'S RESEARCH CHAMPIONS THE HEALING POWER OF PRAYER
by Phyllis Ring 
March 23, 2003 

The world's foremost advocate of the role of prayer in healing, physician and author Dr. Larry Dossey, traces his own spiritual awakening back to the time he served in Vietnam. As a battalion surgeon, Dossey spent 200 hours in helicopters, much of it volunteering for combat assault missions, service that earned him the Army's Bronze Star and the Soldier's Medal for Valor. "Vietnam filled me with humility and brought me face-to-face with my own vulnerability and mortality," Dossey says. "A maturational process for me on many levels, including the spiritual, it shook me up and opened windows for exploring my own spirituality and gave me a profound understanding of what warriorship is about." It prompted him to look more deeply at himself, human nature, and the world around him, he says.

The first high school graduate in his family, Dossey earned high honors at the University of Texas at Austin, received his M.D. from Southwestern Medical School, and, following his tour of duty in Vietnam, completed his residency in internal medicine at the Veterans Administration Hospital and Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The author of numerous books, including the New York Times best-sellers Healing Words and Prayer Is Good Medicine, he most recently published Reinventing Medicine, an exploration of the role of "nonlocal" mind in health and medicine. 

"'Nonlocal' is simply a fancy word for 'infinite'," he says. "Studies about prayer's healing power reveal that we possess a quality capable of reaching out infinitely despite space or time. This suggests that we're going to have to think about consciousness in a new way, as a process not restricted to brain, body, or the present moment."


Self-described as "as conventional a doctor as you could find," Dossey found himself deeply affected by unexplained "miracle cures" he witnessed as a physician. One of the most powerful involved a patient with lung cancer who refused treatment and returned a year later with a normal chest x-ray after his church congregation had prayed for him.

"Such miracles suggest that no matter how serious an illness may be, healing is always possible and that such healing can happen for anyone, saint or sinner," Dossey says. "They remind us that there will always be phenomena we cannot explain."

As he champions the healing effects of prayer and its potential to make partners of science and spirituality, Dossey has shared his observations with many audiences, including those at the Pentagon and in Britain's Parliament. Always a man of science, the former chief of staff of Medical City Dallas Hospital aims to "anchor the so-called holistic health movement in a model that is scientifically respectable and which, at the same time, answers to our inner spiritual needs." 

Although witnessing miraculous cures affected him, it was documented studies that helped make Dossey a believer. When he discovered the existence of scientific studies showing the effects of prayer and researched the evidence, he grew convinced that this was one of medicine's best-kept secrets. 

These studies included a 1998 double-blind study by Dr. Elisabeth Targ and colleagues at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco on the effects of "distant healing," or prayer, on patients with advanced AIDS. Patients who received prayer survived in greater numbers, got sick less often, and recovered faster than those who didn't. This study made prayer look like a medical breakthrough, Dossey says. 

Dr. Randolph Byrd conducted a similar study at San Francisco General Hospital involving patients with heart attack or severe chest pain, and found that patients receiving prayer did much better clinically than those who did not. 

What makes these findings impressive, says Dossey, is that they were double-blind studies, which means no one knew who was receiving prayer and who wasn't -- including the patients. "This eliminates or reduces the placebo effect, which is the power of suggestion or positive thinking. Faith and confidence in the process certainly help promote a positive outcome, but aren't crucial for prayer's healing effectiveness." 

Still, he feels that studies supporting prayer's role in healing ought to draw religion and science closer together. "Love and compassion are central to studies on prayer, another point of contact between science, religion, and spirituality. The science behind prayer and healing shows that there's huge room for accommodation on both sides, although such dialogue should allow each to remain separate, as the two deal with different spheres."

Because Dossey's work demands that any claims about prayer be scientifically substantiated, medical schools and hospitals throughout the country trust his research and welcome his message. Before his book, Healing Words, was published in 1993, only three U.S. medical schools had courses devoted to exploring the role of religious practice and prayer in health, Now, nearly 80 medical schools have instituted such courses, many of which use Dossey's works as textbooks. 

Although studies demonstrate prayer's healing effects, the precise reason why remains unknown, Dossey says, adding that current theories lean toward new perceptions about the infinite nature of human consciousness. "Let's be pragmatic and simply use what works," he urges. "Prayer can be integrated with any other medical therapy -- surgery, drugs, or alternative techniques. We should not feel compelled to make either/or choices between spiritually and physically based techniques."

Attitude and intent play significant roles in prayer's healing success, he believes. "We need to remember that prayer ultimately is not about getting something but about connecting with the Absolute. If we can do so, prayer won't disappoint."

He cites the effectiveness of both directed and non-directed prayer. "Directed prayer asks for a specific outcome. Nondirected prayer takes the 'may the best thing happen' approach. Studies show that both work and there is no 'one right way,' no formula for prayer in healing," he says.

"The key question -- unanswerable by science, in my opinion -- is whether or not healing is a direct result of healers' intentions or whether a transcendent entity is involved in the loop," he says. "Healers differ on this matter, although most suggest they are a mere channel for a higher power."

For Dossey, such root causes and questions "will occupy me for the rest of my days. Prayer and healing will exhaust me before I exhaust them. I'm having fun, the time of my life." 

PHYLLIS EDGERLY RING writes from her New Hampshire home. Her articles have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Delicious Living, and Today's Parent. Her current book project addresses gender equality in families. For more information visit www.phyllisring.com.

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VA PREPARED FOR POST-DEPLOYMENT ERA
March 28, 2003


When troops return home from the Middle East, they will benefit from a wide array of programs and services not available to veterans of previous conflicts, according to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. We will be on the alert for environmental exposures and other unforeseen risks to the health of our service personnel, he said. He noted that since 1998 the VA has had the authority to provide free medical care for veterans newly returned from a combat zone even without a service-connected disability. That eligibility lasts for two years after a veteran leaves active duty, although anyone with medical problems related to military service can qualify for life-long VA health care. He also cited the development by VA and DoD of standardized guidelines for physicians examining military personnel after deployment and the establishment by VA of War-Related Illness Centers in Washington and East Orange, N.J.

ARMED FORCES NEWS
HOUSE NIXES HUGE BUDGET CUT PLAN
March 28, 2003


Last week, the House reinstated most of the billions of dollars in cuts in veterans and survivor benefits and Medicare and Medicaid programs for ten years that it had inserted earlier into the fiscal 2004 budget resolution. The action came on the heels of an uproar from the four largest veterans organizations -- American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and Military Officers Association of America as well as representatives of other veterans organizations and older Americans. The final resolution restored the slashes in veterans programs and might even provide for an increase in funding for VA medical care. The Senate is now working on its version.
 

MILITARY UPDATE: SURVIVOR BENEFITS PLAN REFORM HITS SETBACK; CONCURRENT RECEIPT GHOST RISES 
by Tom Philpott 
March 28, 2003 

House and Senate Budget Committees have rejected as too costly a major initiative this year to improve the military Survivor Benefits Plan. Two groups of associations, the Military Coalition and the National Military/Veterans Alliance, had sought to persuade these committees to set aside enough budget authority in 2004 budget resolutions to allow Congress to end a sharp drop in SBP annuities that occurs when survivors turn 62. The Military Officers Association of America, formerly The Retired Officers Association, led the "SBP Fix" campaign for the coalition, advising retirees and survivors to bombard budget committee members with phone calls, letters, and e-mails urging support for improved survivor benefits.

Bills to implement the SBP fix -- H.R. 548 introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and S. 451 from Olympia Snowe (R- Maine) -- are still in play, but prospects for passage this year are now dim. MOAA officials said the key to passing the proposal was to have budget committees earmark the necessary budget authority for the armed services committee to have to execute SBP reform. 

That didn't happen. On March 26, the Senate, like the House a week earlier, passed a budget blueprint with no mention of an SBP fix. Both chambers decided that the cost, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at $7.5 billion over 10 years, was too high.

Under SBP, retirees buy annuity protection for their survivors by forfeiting a portion retired pay each month in the form of premiums. Upon a retiree's death, the widow receives 55 percent of covered retired pay. At age 62, however, payments drop. The size of the drop is variable if an SBP recipient signed up under an earlier plan. But the sharpest and most common drop is from 55 percent down to 35 percent of the covered amount.

The Military Survivor Benefits Improvement Act of 2003, sponsored by Miller and Snowe, would phase out the drop in benefits, which many retirees and survivors complain they knew nothing about when they elected SBP. Effective Oct. 1, 2004, the reduction at age 62 would fall not to 35 percent but only to 40 percent. A year later it would be 45 percent, and so on, until by October 2008, SBP for all would be 55 percent of covered retired pay. The dip at age 62 would be gone. The bill would also phase out the SBP supplemental annuity. Retirees buy such coverage now at a fairly high cost to avoid the step down at 62.

Finally, the bill would allow a year-long "open season" to allow retirees who turned down coverage earlier, perhaps because of the step down in benefits, to enroll in the improved plan.

MOAA and other service associations argue that these improvements are overdue and justified by declines over the years in the government's SBP subsidy. When the program began more than 30 years ago, premiums were set so that retirees paid 60 percent of the cost and the government paid 40 percent. Because retirees are living longer, SBP payouts have been lower than expected and premiums continue years longer than actuaries estimated. That government's subsidy of 40 percent a year is down to 17 percent.

The shrunken-subsidy argument could still sway the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to act on the bills. What makes that unlikely is a requirement to stay under budget ceilings. The cost of improving SBP now would have to be paid for by offsets in spending elsewhere. The defense budget is already strapped by wars in Iraq and against worldwide terrorism.

Concurrent Receipt 

The Senate's budget resolution does hold a different surprise -- for military retirees with service-connected disabilities. It includes language from Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to phase out the ban on concurrent receipt of both military retired pay and VA disability compensation for service-related injuries or illnesses rated 60 percent or higher. The Reid initiative is identical to a partial concurrent receipt formula passed by the House last year but killed by a veto threat from President Bush. This year, senators found budget authority for partial concurrent -- $12 billion over 10 years -- from money made available after slashing in half Bush's $700 billion tax cut package.

Disabled retirees shouldn't get excited, however. The Bush administration still opposes concurrent receipt, whether it involves full repeal, as pushed by Reid last year, or the limited, phase-in plan now before the Senate.

The House budget resolution is silent on concurrent receipt. "We made considerable strides last year, with $6 billion in additional benefits over 10 years," said a committee source, referring to the new Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). "Let's wait at least a year or two to digest that, and [then] see where we are."

Defense officials expect initial payments under this program to begin July 1. Application forms should be mailed to all retirees by early May. Monthly CRSC will go to those who served 20 or more years' active service and have "combat-related" disabilities. Qualifying disabilities will be those for which members received the Purple Heart or disabilities rated 60 percent or higher by the VA and linked to combat, combat training, hazardous duty, or exposure to "instrumentalities of war," which could include Agent Orange.

CRSC is designed to replace any retired pay lost to the dollar-for-dollar offset required under the "concurrent receipt" ban when retirees begin drawing VA disability compensation. Retirees who believe they are eligible for CRSC will have to apply. An estimated 35,000 are expected to qualify. Payments will range from a few hundred dollars to more than $2000 a month.

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Syndicated columnist TOM PHILPOTThas covered military affairs for more than 25 years, including six as senior editor of Navy Times. He writes free-lance magazine articles, primarily on defense issues. His work has appeared in Washingtonian, Reader's Digest, and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazines. His book, Glory Denied, is now available in paperback. To send feedback on MILITARY UPDATE columns, e-mail Tom at milupdate@aol.com.
 
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