(Washington) - In a recent speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) designed to address falling support for the war in Iraq, President Bush maintained that his administration “remains firmly committed to serving America’s veterans.” If recent measures taken by the administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are any indication, the president’s actions speaker louder than words.
During the VFW’s national convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, the president said, “Health care is a top priority for our veterans and it’s a top priority for my administration.” The reality of the situation doesn’t back the president’s claims. In June 2005, the VA admitted to a $1 billion budget shortfall for veterans health care this year and an anticipated shortfall of $2.6 billion for fiscal year 2006 because the VA used 2002 data to project its funding needs for fiscal 2005—data taken before the commencement of today's conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In an effort to remedy the situation, the Senate passed a bill providing an additional $1.5 billion for this year's veterans health care service. However, these efforts were undercut when the administration, in a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, inexplicably asked for $975 million, millions less than this year's projected shortfall.
In late July 2005, the Senate attempted to put an end to the embarrassing episode by sending the president a $1.5 billion increase for the veterans health care budget for fiscal year 2005. The president also asked for an additional $2 billion for next year, an amount that still falls short of the anticipated $2.6 billion short fall for fiscal year 2006.
“The fact that this president had to be embarrassed on such a high level before these budget gaps were partially filled is very telling about his commitment to our nation’s veterans,” says AFGE National President John Gage. “Underfunding the VA is a chronic problem that this administration has failed to address, and it will continue as long as the president continues to give lip service to helping our nation’s veterans.”
The administration continues to show its “commitment” to veterans by pushing for legislation that would divert of millions of healthcare budget dollars into the hands of private management consultants in an effort to outsource the jobs of nearly one million federal workers. The vote on this legislation is expected to take place early next month.
“The rhetoric doesn’t match the record when it comes to this president’s commitment to veterans,” says Gage. “Our veterans fought and died to protect the freedoms we now enjoy. They deserve more than half-truths from this administration.”