AMVETS National Commander Edward Kemp today urged Congress to create mandatory funding for veterans’ health care services, which he said should be considered an ongoing cost of war.
“Frankly,” Kemp told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, “the current system of funding veterans’ health care is broken. It doesn’t work.”
To underscore his point, Kemp noted that nearly half of the military servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan will require health care services for the physical and psychological traumas of war, yet Congress has yet to take action on a projected $1 billion shortfall in VA healthcare funding for fiscal 2007.
The shortfall stems from the way veterans health care is funded. “Under the current process,” Kemp said, “VA health care competes with non-veterans priorities for adequate appropriations.” This system often results in insufficient funding for veterans health care and puts veterans organizations in the position of having to lobby for funding to address projected shortfalls each year.
AMVETS believes that veterans healthcare funding should be guaranteed as a cost of war. After all, Kemp said, military servicemen and women have put their lives on the line for this country.
“We are spending $6.8 billion a month for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet trying to nickel and dime veterans’ health care here at home,” Kemp said. “This year alone, the president is expected to request an additional $92.2 billion for the war. If Congress can find nearly a hundred billion more for these operations, I believe it should be able to come up with enough money to totally care for those charged with carrying them out.”
The estimated $1 billion shortfall in VA funding is based on the latest estimates from THE INDEPENDENT BUDGET, which has been endorsed by more than 60 veteran, military and medical service organizations. The Independent Budget estimated a $1 billion shortfall in VA funding last year as well, which Congress addressed in an eleventh hour appropriations bill. But Congress has yet to take similar action this year.
Kemp urged members of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to fund veterans’ health care with the same level of care that they use to protect their own benefits. “As members of the United States Senate,” he said, “you are provided with certain benefits – paid for at taxpayer expense – that you earn as representatives of the people. I would imagine that you would never vote for any proposal or initiative that would undermine or undercut the integrity of that delivery system. We ask that you do the same for veterans.”
While Kemp was vocal in calling for reforms, he said AMVETS is willing to work with Congress to help modernize the veterans’ benefit system, which remains largely unchanged since World War II. He noted that AMVETS is organizing a national Symposium to specifically address needs of young veterans. The Symposium, to be held in October in Chicago, will bring together a diverse array of veterans and speakers, including former VA Secretary Anthony Principi and former Gen. Tommy Franks.
In the meantime, Kemp called on Congress to address a broad range of AMVETS priorities, which include:
•Countering a Department of Defense (DoD) proposal to double or triple TRICARE fees paid by retired uniformed services beneficiaries: DoD believes the fee increases will save money by shifting 14 percent of users away from retail outlets and cause 600,000 current enrollees to exit TRICARE by 2011. “While we understand that health care costs are on the rise,” Kemp said, “DoD healthcare programs are part of the ongoing cost of war. Our nation’s military retirees have given so much to this country and deserve fair treatment.”
•Requiring returning troops to attend Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) training to help ease their transition back into the civilian workforce: “The Department of Defense estimates that 68 percent of separating service members attend the full TAP seminars, but only 35 percent of the Reserve Components attend,” Kemp said. “AMVETS encourages you to make TAP participation mandatory for active duty military as well as for those in the Guard and Reserves.”
• Safeguarding funding for veterans employment services, including the Department of Labor’s Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) and the Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVER) Program: “We firmly believe that these types of veteran-oriented programs should remain separate and distinct to ensure that these brave men and women are given the assistance their country owes them for their military service,” Kemp said.
• Supporting a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. Flag: “AMVETS will not waiver in its efforts to protect the flag from being dishonored,” Kemp said, adding, “All 50 state legislatures have passed resolutions asking Congress to submit the flag amendment for ratification.
• Creating a Cold War Victory Medal: “We are disappointed that the Cold War Service Medal did not survive the House-Senate conference on the FY06 National Defense Authorization Act. By creating the Cold War Victory Medal,” Kemp said, “this nation would certainly demonstrate its great respect and appreciation for the men and women who carried the burden of this policy.”
• Supporting legislation to provide veterans with compensation for exposure to depleted uranium: “AMVETS understands many Gulf War and younger veterans are reporting illnesses stemming from weapons containing depleted uranium,” Kemp said. AMVETS encourages Congress to pass H.R. 4183 and H.R. 4184, which would require the Department of Justice Civil Division to locate and advise these veterans, widows and orphans of the compensation that is due to them, and help them file a claim.
A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s Armed Forces, AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements as well as community services that enhance veterans’ quality of life.