09 March 2009

Disabled Veterans Leader Presses Issues with Key Lawmakers

/PRNewswire/ -- The National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans begins a series of meetings with key lawmakers seeking their support for budget reform legislation to ensure sufficient, timely and predictable funding for veterans' health care. He also is urging them to reject a contentious proposal that would shift the cost of treating veterans for service-connected conditions from the government's side of the ledger to insurance companies.

"For too long the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system has had to struggle with budgets that were too little, too late," said DAV National Commander Raymond E. Dempsey. "It's time to reform the funding system to enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to work better and smarter in caring for the nation's sick and disabled veterans."

Dempsey has scheduled meetings with Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka and Ranking Republican Richard Burr, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner and Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. Chet Edwards, who chair their respective Appropriations subcommittees that fund veterans programs.

A top priority for the DAV and other groups is passage of the recently introduced Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. The measure would authorize Congress to approve VA medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year. The legislation also would add needed transparency to the process by having the Government Accountability Office review and report on the VA budget request.

"This legislation is all about making government more efficient, transparent and accountable. These are three key elements that President Obama, Congress and veterans all agree are needed in these challenging times. And if enacted in conjunction with the fiscal year 2010 budget, advance appropriations for 2011 would not add one dime to the 2010 deficit," Commander Dempsey said.

While urging support for the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, Dempsey is raising concerns shared by the entire veterans community that a proposal to shift the cost of treating veterans for service-connected conditions to their insurance companies will worsen the health care affordability crisis.

Dempsey said this "cost shifting scheme amounts to a betrayal of a sacred trust as it abandons our government's moral and legal responsibility to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms."

"As a native of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, I can't help but note the irony of such a proposal. Lincoln's famous quote, 'To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,' has been adopted as the VA's official motto. But if the current president -- who also calls Illinois home -- expands third-party collections to service-connected conditions, that motto will be rendered meaningless and should be removed from the VA building," Dempsey said.

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