Strickland: Bush budget hurts vets

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 26, 2003

Though a recent study released by U.S. Congressman Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) reported that President George Bush's proposals for the Veterans' Administration budget may hurt thousands of Ohio's veterans who receive health care services, locals say it may be too early to truly determine the effects.

In April, Strickland asked the Government Reform Committee to study the possible effects the President's budget proposals would have on Ohio's veterans.

The results show that the plan may increase fees and ration health care services rather than fully fund veterans' programs.

Email newsletter signup

However, local officials are not yet convinced that this will happen.

"I have not seen the budget bill yet, but from what I have heard it will make things better for the VA," said Bob Griffith, veterans service officer in Ironton. "It is supposed to cut out the bureaucracy and duplication of procedures."

Despite criticisms of the President by many people, Griffith said he supports the Bush's initiatives to provide for all of America's veterans.

"The President has promised us better services up there, and I think we will get it," he said. "He has kept his other promises."

Overall, Griffith said he has not heard any complaints from veterans recently and hopes this will continue.

"Over the last six months to a year, things have gotten a lot better," he said. "Veterans come in and tell me this. It is a lot better than it used to be."

Eighty-four year old John Smith of Ironton, was a paratrooper in World War II. He saw the beaches at Normandy with his own eyes but was fortunate to only suffer minor injuries.

Now, Smith goes to the Huntington Veterans Administration Medical Center once a month for non-service related health problems such as high-blood pressure.

"I am well satisfied with the treatment I get at the VA Hospital," Smith said. "But, they were giving me my medicine for $2 a prescription and it raised to $7 a prescription. That don't sound like much, but I am sitting here looking at 14 pills."

According to Strickland's report, the budget would double the cost of prescriptions for veterans who fill their medications at VA facilities from $7 a prescription to $15.

"If they do that I will have to cut out half of my medicine or more because I just can't afford it," Smith said. "I would just as soon die without my medication than die of starvation."

Betty Bolin Brown, director of Huntington's Veterans Administration Medical Center, said she has always been impressed with Congressman Strickland's passion and concern for all veterans.

"I think he is trying to promote support and peak people's conscience for all these people who fought for their country," she said.

However, it is too early to say exactly what the budget will look like an what fees will be increased, she said.

Strickland's report criticized the continued suspension of enrollment of Priority 8 veterans. According to the VA, this would deny the enrollment of approximately 173,000 veterans across the nation, and an estimated 4,000 Ohio veterans.

On January 17, the VA suspended the enrollment of any new priority 8 veterans in the health care system until a decision is made in the next fiscal year that officially begins Oct. 1, Brown said.

Priority 7 and 8 veterans are those who are more financially sound and were not wounded during service, she said.

"The number of veterans using the VA is growing tremendously," she said. "We have our budget set for each year but more and more veterans continue to walk through."

The report also said the budget will impose a $250 a year enrollment fee on Priority 7 and 8 veterans.

The VA estimates that the fee will force a 55-percent drop in currently enrolled Priority 7 and 8 veterans that would mean more than 41,000 Ohio veterans will no longer have access to VA care.

Also, the report indicated that a proposed 10-year cut to appropriated veterans programs is likely to be deeper than it appears, and the $2.6 billion increase for veterans' programs for 2004 is likely to be smaller than it at first appears.

As with education and other parts of the budget, those funding levels are artificially high because the budget conference report included a 10-year unspecified cut of $128 billion in discretionary spending, with $7.6 billion in additional unspecified cuts for 2004 alone.

Overall, it is hard to determine what the future will bring and many of these changes are still under consideration and will depend on the funding, Brown said.

Strickland passionately urges the legislators to honor commitments made in the past.

"Congress must step up and keep its promises to veterans.

The VA is doing the best it can with the insufficient resources it is given by the administration and Congress," Strickland said in a written release. " Years ago, the federal government made promises in good faith to servicemen and women who joined the armed forces. It's time to keep them."