Advocates for veterans decry VA fee hike
More than half of Colorado’s 430,000 veterans would pay double for prescription drugs plus a $250 fee to access their medical care under President Bush’s proposed 2006 budget.
The $71.3 billion requested for the Department of Veterans Affairs includes a slight increase in overall funding to Colorado veterans’ benefits programs, such as life insurance, GI Bill education and medical programs. But for the second year in a row, funding of medical care will increase just 1.2 percent, far less than is needed to keep up with demand, according to veterans advocates.
“The budget is not adequate for veterans that have earned benefits by virtue of their service,” said Bob Clements, state commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Clements said he and other veterans groups plan to fight the proposed enrollment fee and increase in drug co-payments, which would require veterans in higher-income groups to pay $15 for a 30-day supply instead of $7.
Nationally, the Bush budget calls for a 2.7 percent funding increase for veterans programs.
Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said he worries that’s not enough to cover both older veterans and what he predicts will be an onslaught of new veterans seeking care.
Another matter of concern for Colorado veterans is that a replacement for Denver’s cramped and aging VA Medical Center is not on the agency’s list of construction projects.
The VA expects to spend $750 million on several new hospitals nationwide in 2006, but that does not include specific funds for a proposed VA hospital at the University of Colorado’s Fitzsimons campus.
Those plans recently halted after VA officials backed out of a shared hospital with CU and requested a larger, stand-alone facility.
It is not clear how the VA’s proposed budget would affect the project. Colorado VA officials declined to comment.
U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democratic member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, criticized the proposal, as did U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
“It is wrong for the president to hike health care fees for veterans to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy we cannot afford,” DeGette said through spokesman Josh Freed. “This does not reflect the real priorities and values of our nation.”
Staff writer Marsha Austin can be reached at 303-820-1242 or firstname.lastname@example.org