January 17, 2008 – WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush on Thursday released $3.7 billion in emergency money that Congress requested to care for veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush released the emergency funds even though he said he thought the money should have been considered as part of the normal appropriations process. The emergency money was tucked in a $550 billion government spending measure that Congress passed last month before leaving for the holidays.
“While I believe that these funds should have been considered as regular appropriations, the men and women who have sacrificed for our country should not be held hostage to budgetary wrangling in Washington,” Bush said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the emergency funds were needed because the veterans budget proposed by the president would have underfunded the Veterans Affairs Department at a time when there was a need to expand mental health care, improve treatment for traumatic brain injuries and reverse a claims backlog.
“This could not be allowed to happen,” said Akaka, who wrote to the president urging him to release the extra money. “I am relieved that he has seen fit to do so.”
Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, also applauded the president’s action.
Edwards said the added funding will help pay for more qualified doctors and nurses to improve medical services for veterans.
“For the 400,000 veterans, including combat wounded vets, who are having to wait too long to have their benefits cases reviewed, this bill means over 1,800 new VA case workers to reduce the unacceptable delays in receiving earned benefits,” he said. “For veterans with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health care issues, and lost limbs, this bill means renewed hope to rebuild their lives. For many of the 200,000 homeless veterans in America, it means the dignity of not having to sleep on the streets and hope for a better future.”