May 2, 2003

On April 24, Veterans Affairs secretary Principi issued a rebuttal of a rumor that Congress has slashed funding for the VA. The myth was so prevalent that even a member of Congress had written in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed of a "$28 billion cut in veterans' benefits and health care," he stated. In fact, funding for veterans programs will increase in fiscal year 2004, probably to record levels, he said. The President's fiscal 2004 budget requests a record $63.6 billion for the VA, including a nearly 8 percent increase over fiscal 2003 for discretionary funding, which mostly pays for VA's health care system, and a 32 percent increase overall. And a budget conference report raises discretionary funding by an additional $1.8 billion. The rumor may have been fueled by a House resolution for across-the-board cuts of 1 percent, but which quickly exempted the VA, said Principi.

By Scott Huddleston 
San Antonio Express-News 

Web Posted : 05/21/2003 12:00 AM 

The U.S. government is as determined as ever to help veterans, especially the ones returning from Iraq, despite a backlog of benefit claims and high demand for health care, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi said Tuesday.
"I just want veterans to be assured that we are doing as much as we can, and will continue to have challenges but will continue to press forward," Principi said at Randolph AFB. 

He later met with the Air Force Retiree Council, a 16-member panel of military retirees from across the nation who gathered there to discuss veterans issues.

Lately, against the backdrop of the war in Iraq, there has been much to discuss. On Jan. 17, the Department of Veterans Affairs closed health-care enrollment to veterans with at least medium incomes and no service-related health problems.

A law that took effect in 1998 added those "Category 8" veterans, based on income, residence and size of household, to seven higher-priority categories. 

Principi, who recommended suspending Category 8 enrollment during 2003, said he hopes to someday bring those veterans back into the system, even though the VA's patient enrollment grew from about 3 million veterans in 1996 to 7 million after the category was added.

"We could not sustain what was happening with the health-care system to the extent that we have waiting lists in some parts of the country," said Principi, whose nomination by President Bush was confirmed by the Senate in January 2001.

"Service-connected disabled veterans who may have taken a bullet in the spine in Vietnam were being put on waiting lists," he said. "I decided that the morally correct, responsible decision was to suspend enrollment for 'Priority 8s.'"

He said he wants to be sure needs of poor veterans and those with service injuries are addressed before enrollment is reinstated. Last year, before the suspension, the VA enrolled 830,000 new veterans into its health-care system.

Principi said the VA had a backlog of roughly 650,000 benefits claims, including more than 400,000 disability compensation and pension claims, in 2001. Disability and pension claims are now down to 295,000, despite the 65,000 new claims each month.

Meanwhile, at a time when talks in Washington have focused on budget cuts, Congress has expanded the overall VA budget from $48 billion to $65 billion — an unprecedented jump — since 2001. And with 667 new outpatient clinics opened in recent years, access to care for veterans is better than ever, Principi said.

But the department faces challenges, including the return of military personnel from Iraq and other nations affected by a war on terrorism. Caring for them will be a top priority, but one that will challenge the VA professionally because of "dangers of the relatively modern technological battlefield."

"We don't know what the young men and women were breathing in," Principi said. "Obviously, there were intense sandstorms, a lot of silica, (and) I don't know whether there were any pathogens in the air. Those are the kinds of issues that we have to be prepared to deal with, both from a treatment side as well as a disability compensation side, to evaluate their illnesses."


May 22, 2002

Boozman Legislation to Promote Sharing Between the VA and DOD Passes the
House Sharing agreements can improve services while saving taxpayers

WASHINGTON, DC -Legislation that grants new powers to the committee that oversees and encourages resource sharing between the Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs Department unanimously passed the House of Representatives today. Resource sharing allows the two departments to work together to provide healthcare, benefits and other services to active military personnel and veterans at a lower cost to the American taxpayers. The bill, H.R. 1911, was sponsored by Rep. John Boozman (AR-3), a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

"The two departments could save millions of taxpayer dollars while improving their services by simply sharing their resources when possible," said Boozman. "Unfortunately, regulations and information systems are a hurdle these departments have to get over to be able to efficiently work together."

The bill will grant the Joint Executive Committee the power to identify changes in policies to improve services, efficiencies and opportunities for cooperative efforts in the benefits and service distribution for both Departments. The Joint Executive Committee is made up of high-ranking officials from both Departments.

"We've seen a handful of collaborative efforts that have resulted in better services for active personnel and veterans, especially in the area of healthcare. However, we need to build on these and encourage the two departments work in a more efficient manner and we can do that by granting more power to the Joint Executive Committee," said Boozman.

Boozman spoke about the bill on the House Floor today. During his remarks he reiterated his belief that the new committee would improve services for both active military personnel and our nation's veterans.

"The Committee would also be permitted to assess policy changes in both Departments in order to advance services and opportunities for the future. As a result, a more efficient system of delivery of health care and benefits to VA and DOD beneficiaries should evolve," said Boozman.

The bill, H.R. 1911, was introduced by Boozman on May 1, 2003 and quickly passed through the Veteran's Affairs Committee.

"Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Lane Evans (D-IL) understand the potential of resource sharing and their leadership made this legislation possible. I appreciate their bipartisan efforts to help our nation's veterans."

Please visit, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.

May 22, 2002

Legislation to Boost Disability Payments for Veterans Approved in House Cost-Of-Living Adjustment for Service-Disabled Veterans Would Boost Checks $400 Million Next Year 

(Washington, DC) - More than 2.6 million disabled veterans and widows would receive a cost-of-living-adjustment in their VA disability compensation payments under legislation approved by the House of Representatives today. As a result, disability compensation and widows pensions would receive a cost-of-living increase (COLA) next year totaling $400 million, and almost $2 billion over five years.

H.R. 1683, the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2003, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and Rep. Lane Evans (IL-17), would increase the monthly benefit checks sent to 2.3 million service-disabled veterans by the same level as the Social Security COLA, expected to be approximately 2% this year. The increase would also apply to hundreds of thousands of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) recipients, consisting of widows and other qualified survivors of disabled veterans.

"Those who have served in America's armed forces and suffered injury or illness as a result deserve to be fairly compensated," said Chairman Chris Smith. "For millions of disabled veterans and widows who rely on monthly VA benefit checks, it is essential that we provide annual increases to offset the rising costs they face," he said.

"In addition to monthly compensation payments, service-connected disabled veterans are also eligible for a range of federal services and benefits, including comprehensive health care, rehabilitative and vocational training, job placement services, and special allowances for automobile and housing adaptive equipment, if appropriate," Smith said.

Chairman Smith also pointed out that the recently approved FY 2004 congressional budget (H.Con.Res. 95) boosts funding for veterans programs by a record $6.2 billion, up 10.9% from FY 2003 to $63.8 billion in FY 2004. This historic budget agreement would provide a 12.9% increase in veteran health care next year (from $23.9 billion to $27 billion), and that comes on top of a 12% increase this year.


May 23, 2003

Defense authorization bill by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that would have authorized concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The reason given was that the measure was irrelevant to the Defense budget. The provision would have provided equity to several hundred thousand military retirees who are not eligible for the new Combat Related Special Compensation, scheduled to begin this year. CRSC will be awarded only to: (1) retirees who earned a Purple Heart and have a VA disability rating of 10 percent or more for the combat injury; or (2) those with disabilities of 60 percent or more derived from combat situations, combat-oriented training, hazardous duty, or conditions simulating combat. Application procedures for CRSC are expected to be published soon. 

May 23, 2003


Veterans who suffered personal assault, rape or other sexual trauma, domestic battering or stalking while on active duty may have lingering physical, emotional or psychological symptoms, advises the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those who suffered such trauma while on active military duty, including service at one of the military academies, may be eligible for VA disability compensation, counseling and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to VA officials. Information regarding medical care and compensation for veterans is available at VA regional offices or medical centers. The telephone numbers are in local directories under the "U.S. Government" listing. In most areas, for information about disability compensation and VA pensions, callers can use the following toll-free number: 1-800-827-1000. For health care and copayment information, call 1-877-222-8387. Also visit VA's Web page,

May 30, 2003

The Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2003 has been approved by the House, priming more than 2.3 million service-disabled veterans for an increase in their monthly disability payments. The measure would increase benefit checks by the same amount as the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, which is expected to be about 2 percent this year. The increase also would apply to widows and other qualified survivors of disabled veterans who receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

May 30, 2003

Key legislation affecting military retirees and survivors took a back seat late last week due to a ruling by the Senate Parliamentarian that the issues were "not relevant." The ruling was crafted behind the scenes to avoid a spate of last-minute amendments to the fiscal 2004 defense authorization bill before the Memorial Day holiday. The Military Officers Association of America states that, although they understand the need to expedite the authorization bill, "it's just flat wrong to refuse to even let these important initiatives come to the floor for consideration." Some measures that fell victim to the "relevancy" rule are:

An amendment by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to provide concurrent-receipt equity to several hundred thousand military retirees with VA disabilities who are not eligiblefor the new Combat Related Special Compensation (however, see item about American Legion actions). 

A plan by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to extend eligibility for CRSC to certain combat-disabled Reserve Component retirees; and

A proposal by Sen Mary Landrieu, D-La., to phase out the 27 percent slash in SBP benefit payments (from 55 percent to 35 percent of the base amount) that military spouse survivors currently confront when reaching age 62.

May 30, 2003

Legion Moves to Accelerate Concurrent Receipt
National American Legion commander Ronald F. Conley is activating members nationwide to urge their representatives to sign a discharge petition filed by Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., to bring the Retired Pay Restoration Act out of the House Armed Services Committee and to the full House for a vote. It would take 218 signatures to do that, and the measure has 297 House co-sponsors, an ample pool from which to garner enough signatures. "More than a half-million military retirees with service-connected disabilities receive a cut in their retired pay equal to the amount of their disability compensation, and that's wrong," Conley said. "No other federal retiree with a disability related to his or her military service is discriminated against in this manner. It's time for members of Congress to stop this travesty the sooner the better."

May 30, 2003

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) welcomes recommendations of a special presidential task force to improve timely access to health care for our nation's sick and disabled veterans. Especially important is a recommendation to modify the federal budget and appropriations process to ensure full funding for the veterans health care system.

As the President's Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for Our Nation's Veterans noted, there is a "mismatch" between demand for health care and the resources available to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to meet that demand.

"The way to address that mismatch is to determine just how much it will cost to take care of every veteran enrolled for health care and guarantee that the full amount will be available to the VA to meet that need," said DAV National Commander Edward R. Heath, Sr. "Anything short of guaranteed full funding will only make the veterans health care crisis worse."

Legislation to close the gap between funding and demand for veterans health care has been introduced in the Senate, and similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the House soon. The Senate measure is the Veterans Health Care Funding Guarantee Act (S. 50).

"It is crucial that this legislation be enacted this year to ensure that all eligible veterans — including those injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war on terror — have access to timely, quality health care," said DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director David W. Gorman.

"Guaranteed funding would eliminate the year-to-year uncertainty about resources that has prevented the VA from being able to adequately plan for and meet the growing needs of veterans seeking treatment," Mr. Gorman said. "Contrary to what some lawmakers might say, guaranteed funding would not create an individual entitlement to health care, nor would it change the VA's current mission."

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.

Please visit, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.

May 30, 2003

VA Facilities Fall Short for Veteran Patients 
by Marlis Majerus 

America's Veterans keep getting older, but their health benefits aren't keeping up. 
The Veterans Millenium Health Care and Benefits act of '99 directed veteran medical sites to establish a number of new health services for their patients, but according to the General Accounting Office -- most vets still aren't seeing them. 

The GAO blames that on the Veterans Affairs Department, which it says failed to help facilities set up the programs -- including long-term care and off-site services. 

Three things desperately needed: Adult day care, geriatric evaluation, and respite care. 

And the report found that even places that DID provide those programs only did so in a few parts of their regions. Most didn't offer them at all. 

Worse, some offices used their own set of eligibility requirements -- that DIDN'T match the VA's. As a result, services were denied to Vets who were actually eligible under official rules. 

The GAO wants the department to lay out the services facilities must provide, in writing, and take steps to ensure they implement them.