WASHINGTON—American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage today issued the following statement spotlighting the administration’s proposed cuts to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care budget.
“Recent news reports offer fresh evidence that the president is playing a budget shell game with our veterans’ health care. In a recent story for the Associated Press, Andrew Taylor wrote, ‘…Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing by leaps and bounds, White House budget documents assume a cutback in 2008 and further cuts thereafter.’ Today’s Washington Post reported on a new study about the skyrocketing mental health treatment needs of our veterans. Specifically, the study found that one in three soldiers and Marines who served in Iraq later sought help for mental health problems and as many as 20 percent of combat veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sadly, these stories show what AFGE has said all along: the administration is choosing to play politics when it comes to the care of the nation’s veterans.
“When the administration released its fiscal year 2007 budget, it touted a proposed 11 percent increase in health care dollars. However, upon further inspection, the “increase” was coupled with unacceptable increases in drug co-pays and enrollment fees, cuts in research and construction, and no boost in long-term care funding for aging veterans.
“The administration’s real agenda comes out in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 and beyond. After analyzing the president’s VA budget request, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that the budget cuts funding for veterans’ programs by 13 percent—or $10.3 billion—by 2011. These extreme cuts come at a time when an increasing number of veterans are returning to the United States from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in need of medical care, physical rehabilitation and mental health care. Additionally, the VA also needs proper funding to support growing numbers of older veterans in need of long-term care.
“The administration’s proposals seem even more illogical and mean-spirited given its admission that its poor projections led to billions of dollars in budget shortfalls in fiscal year 2006. With the cuts the president hopes to achieve in the 2007 budget, the administration is proposing what amounts to a 5-year, planned shortfall despite the fact that the VA continues to cut staff and exclude hundreds of thousands of veterans from the VA health care system just to stay afloat.
“Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, expressed great concern over the news that a significant number of service members with mental health problems leave military service a year after deployment—further evidence that mental health services should be expanded, not reduced. Rep. Evans has introduced legislation (H.R. 1588) to address the PTSD and mental health issues of service members and veterans.
“The administration continues to reject the only fix that makes sense for the VA health care budget: assured funding based on actual demand and health care inflation. Our veterans bravely served to protect the freedoms many of us taken for granted. They deserve better than election year politics, shortfalls, waiting lists and user fees. Veterans deserve the truth and a budget that keeps the country’s promise to them. They deserve assured funding so that the staff and resources that can heal their wounds are there when they need them.”