Veterans Health Measure Would Extend Coverage to Reservists
A bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) plans to introduce an amendment to an $87 billion Iraq war fiscal year 2004 supplemental budget request made by President Bush that would extend health coverage for National Guard members and reservists, CongressDaily reports. Under current law, National Guard members and reservists lose health coverage 30 days after they return from deployment. The amendment would allow enlisted personnel to purchase health insurance on a full-time basis from Tricare, the managed health care plan for U.S. military personnel, at an annual cost of $330 per individual or $560 per family; officers could purchase health insurance from Tricare at a cost of $380 per individual per year or $610 per family per year. According to CongressDaily, the amendment would cost about $5 billion over 10 years. The amendment is similar to a measure passed 85-10 in the Senate as part of the FY 2004 defense authorization bill and has "broad bipartisan support," CongressDaily reports. However, the White House has threatened to veto a bill that includes the amendment. Graham and other lawmakers have met with Bush administration officials in an effort to avoid a veto (Cohn, CongressDaily, 9/10).
Meanwhile, the House yesterday approved a bill (HR 2433) that would allow military personnel who participated in biological and chemical warfare tests to receive care through the Department of Veterans Affairs health system without evidence that their conditions are directly related to the tests, the AP/Raleigh News & Observer reports. About 5,842 military personnel participated in Project 112, a program that tested chemical and biological warfare between 1962 and 1973, according to the Defense Department. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), sponsor of the bill, said that many who participated in the program have developed illnesses including cancer and hypertension. The VA has received 260 claims from former soldiers who believe their health problems are related to the program (Gehrke, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 9/10).
Meanwhile, a coalition of five veterans groups yesterday issued a statement of opposition to an amendment in the FY 2004 defense authorization bill sponsored by House Republicans that would limit health coverage for disabled veterans whose conditions are not service-related, the Washington Times reports. AmVets, Disabled Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America issued a statement that said that they are "adamantly opposed to any change that would redefine service-connected disability or restrict the circumstances under which service-connection may be established." House Republicans proposed the amendment to reduce costs to allow disabled veterans to receive improved retirement benefits (Howard Price, Washington Times, 9/11). The legislation would allow about 550,000 retired veterans who receive disability benefits to receive full retirement benefits. Under current law, for each dollar in disability benefits that disabled veterans receive from the VA, one dollar is deducted from their retirement benefits (California Healthline, 9/8). Steve Thomas, a spokesperson for the American Legion, which also opposes the amendment, said, "We want veterans to receive both disability pay and retirement benefits without offset. But this is an unacceptable trade-off" (Washington Times, 9/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.