April 1, 2008 – On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) and committee member Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) met with Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake. They discussed funding for the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a proposal to modify VA’s income threshold to make more middle-income veterans eligible for VA healthcare. Akaka, Sanders and other committee members have pressed Secretary Peake on both issues since his recent confirmation as VA Secretary.
“As we move through the final year of this Administration and this Congress, we must work together to find common ground for the sake of our veterans. I appreciate the Secretary’s willingness to work with us on these issues,” said Akaka. Secretary Peake agreed during the meeting to look more closely into the income threshold for veterans, as well as strengthening support for the National Center for PTSD.
Senators Akaka and Sanders wrote Secretary Peake on January 24, 2008, urging him to dedicate more funds to the National Center for PTSD. The Center has taken on a larger mission and workload in recent years, due in part to the increased number of veterans suffering from PSTD. Already, more than 100,000 servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have reported mental health disorders, according to the Congressional Research Service. Meanwhile, the PTSD Center’s budget, adjusted for inflation, has been flat for the past half-decade, and overall staff levels have been reduced since 1999.
The Senators and Secretary also discussed health care eligibility for middle income veterans, known as “Priority 8” by the VA. In response to a question from Chairman Akaka at a hearing on February 13, 2008, Secretary Peake stated that he was willing to work with the Committee to consider modifying the policy, adopted in 2003, that prohibits middle-income veterans from enrolling in the VA health care system. On March 14, 2008, Majority Members of both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees wrote Secretary Peake to follow up. Today in some geographical regions, veterans making as little as $28,430 are considered too wealthy to enroll for VA heath care.