In a startling, unprecedented and shameful move on Monday, President Barack Obama enraged leaders of 11 of America's principal veterans service organizations (VSOs), at a meeting celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Department of Veterans Affairs' elevation to Cabinet status held at VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., telling them that a proposal to order the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to bill veterans' private insurance companies for treatment for service-connected injuries and illnesses is still under consideration.
A report from CNN notes:
Some of the veterans groups were caught off guard when the president said the administration is still thinking about the idea as a way of generating $540 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2010. The groups and some members of Congress have been very vocal in opposing the idea.
"Veterans of all generations agree that this proposal is bad for the country and bad for veterans. If the president and the OMB want to cut costs, they can start at AIG, not the VA," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in a written statement.
Jay Agg, a spokesman for AMVETS said, "This flies in the face of the VA's covenant to cover all service-related health-care expenses."
FOX News quotes American Legion Commander David K. Rehbein, invoking the VA's motto, saying:
This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate 'to care for him who shall have borne the battle,' given that the United States government sent members of the Armed Forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies…I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service-connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America's veterans.
From the Revolutionary War onward, America has had a long, proud history of providing for its citizens who have served in its armed forces and who have paid the price of shedding their blood in defense of our country. The nation's earliest efforts left much to be desired in their scope, but the intent has always been to care for and support those who fought our battles.
Today's Department of Veterans Affairs saw its birth in July, 1930 as the Veterans Administration, a sub-Cabinet level agency charged with a variety of responsibilities to veterans, including medical services, disability compensation, and allowances for World War I veterans.
In 1944, as World War II wound down, Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, which quickly became popularly known as the GI Bill of Rights. With its passage, the role of the Veterans Administration was greatly expanded, encompassing job training, educational benefits, home, farm and business loans, life insurance, and unemployment insurance, as well as health care and compensation for wounded and disabled veterans returning from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation to elevate the Veterans Administration to Cabinet level, and twenty years ago, on March 15, 1989, the newly created Cabinet Department was renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs, with Edward J. Derwinski as its first Secretary. Three administrations comprised the new Department: the Veterans Health Administration; the Veterans Benefits Administration; and the National Cemetery System.
During all the years of its existence in various incarnations, the prime mission of the VA has always been the care, at no expense, of wounded and sick combat veterans. All veterans who have served honorably are eligible for treatment for non service-connected problems on a fee-paid basis, subject to means testing, but injured, maimed, and diseased veterans who incurred their debilities as a result of their service have never been required to pay for treatment from the VA.
From Facts About the Department of Veterans Affairs, published online by the VA:
Almost 5.5 million people received care in VA health care facilities in 2008. By the end of fiscal year 2008, 78 percent of all disabled and low-income veterans had enrolled with VA for health care; 65 percent of them were treated by VA. In 2008, VA inpatient facilities treated 773,600 patients. VA’s outpatient clinics registered over 60 million visits…Veterans with service-connected disabilities receive priority access to care for hospitalization and outpatient care….VA's fiscal year 2009 spending is projected to be approximately $93.4 billion, including $40 billion for health care, $46.9 billion for benefits, and $230 million for the national cemetery system. (Emphasis added)
With a national budget of $3.1 trillion, and a VA health care budget of $40 billion, the $540 million projected to be saved by the president's proposal is negligible, but the ill will it will generate among the nation's more than 23 million living veterans is sure to come back to haunt the administration for a long time to come.
It's a shameful treatment of men and women who have sacrificed for all of us, especially as this same administration continues to pour hundreds of billions into the coffers of failing corporations while demanding practically no conditions at all from them.
Shame, Mr. President!
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