Veterans

June 30, 2014

Analysis: U.S. struggles to keep vows to veterans

Steven R. Hurst
Associated Press

Nearly 9 million U.S. military veterans were promised free medical care through the Veterans Administration when they signed on for duty. Now the challenge for lawmakers is finding the money to fix a health care system that many say is broken.

Republicans and Democrats are disagreeing over how to pay for the hugely expensive changes. Members of a congressional panel sat down this week to work out differences in legislation overwhelmingly passed in both the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-led Senate.

Investigations have found mounting evidence that VA workers fabricated data on patients’ waiting time for medical appointments in an effort to mask frequent, long delays. A VA audit showed that more than 57,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments. Another 64,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never got them.

The problem has been caused largely by veterans returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and aging Vietnam veterans who need increased care.

As more women join the military, investigators have found the VA is poorly equipped to treat them. Compounding the scandal, which prompted the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last month, are findings that administrators were hiding the overall problem to ensure they did not lose performance bonuses.

Estimates of what it will cost to fix the system vary wildly. The Senate bill authorizes emergency funds amounting to about $35 billion over three years to pay for private care for those who qualify, the hiring of hundreds of doctors and nurses and the leases of 26 new health facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico. The House bill authorizes a much smaller $620 million over the same period and does not include expanding facilities or hiring extra staff.

Small-government conservative Republicans are worried by an estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week that increased veteran health care access and facilities could cost the government an additional $50 billion a year, regardless of what plan ends up on President Barack Obama’s desk for signing into law.

“Both the Senate and House have acted in near-unanimous fashion to address VA’s accountability and delays in care crises, so I’m optimistic both chambers of Congress will soon agree on a final package to send to the president,” Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said on the House floor this month. “There is widespread consensus that the situation at the VA is an emergency. So the question is not if something will be done, but rather when and how.”

Republicans want to handle problems incrementally and have them paid for, in part, by cutting sections of the VA that they see as bloated and inefficient.

The bi-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is lobbying hard against the Senate bill’s far more expensive emergency funding provision. That kind of funding is similar to what paid the bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no appropriation for spending; the bills were paid as they were incurred.

“The Senate-passed legislation provides an unprecedented `blank check’ to the VA … and could add substantially to the national debt,” the committee said.

Nevertheless, the near-unanimous passage of VA reform measures in both houses of Congress should make a deal inevitable. Both Senate and House leaders have vowed to get a bill to Obama’s desk in early July.

Under the new law, if an acceptable version can be worked out by House and Senate negotiators , veterans would be able to visit civilian doctors for the next two years if they live more than 40 miles from a VA treatment center. That would apply also to those who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a left-leaning Independent who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, led the push but worries that allowing visits to physicians outside the system will lead to the privatization of veterans care. That would gratify many Republicans who want to shrink the government across the board. They are still fighting Obama’s overhaul of the U.S. health care system.

Sanders said the real problem is a 16 percent increase in patients cared for by the VA from 2008 to 2013.

“And here’s the point to be made: A lot of these cases are difficult cases, not a middle-aged guy walking in for a physical checkup,” he said. “Among the new folks you’re dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome, loss of legs, loss of arms.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 25, 2014

News: VA reform bills stalled by partisan bickering - Plans for a comprehensive Veterans Affairs Department reform bill that appeared all but finished a month ago devolved into partisan bickering and funding fights July 24, casting doubt on the future of a deal.   Business: Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed announce bids on Danish fighter competition; Saab withdraws -...
 
 

News Briefs July 25, 2014

Marines investigate corporal who vanished in Iraq U.S. Marine Corp officers are launching a formal investigation into whether a Lebanese-American Marine deserted his unit in Iraq or later after returning to the United States. A spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune said July 24 that Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun is being...
 
 
Air Force photograph by A1C Erin OíShea

U.S. Forces display military might at Farnborough

Air Force photograph by A1C Erin O’Shea Capt. Tom Meyers discusses the F-15E Strike Eagle’s capabilities with spectators July 17, 2014, at the Farnborough International Airshow in England. Public access was granted ...
 

 
raptors4

Raptors, Falcons fuel up in desert skies

Three U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors assigned to the 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., fly alongside a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron, Fairchild AFB, Wash., during Red Flag 14-3, Ju...
 
 
lm-kmax

Lockheed Martin’s unmanned cargo helicopter team returns from deployment

After lifting more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo and conducting thousands of delivery missions for the U.S. Marine Corps, the Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace Corporation K-MAX cargo unmanned aircraft system has returned ...
 
 
Air Force photograph by A1C Thomas Spangler

Sun sets on Red Flag 14-3

Air Force photograph by A1C Thomas Spangler The sun sets behind a row of F-16 Fighting Falcons during Red Flag 14-3, July 16, 2014, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Red Flag provides a series of intense air-to-air combat scenario...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>