VETERANS HOSPITALS: Federal Agency Will Fight Closings
A GAO study uncovering enormous waste in funding of Veterans' Administration hospitals may not actually lead to hospital closings, the New York Times reported this weekend. The study found that the U.S. government spends "more than $1 million a day to operate unneeded hospital buildings, where a dwindling number of veterans receive care in underpopulated wards." If the government were to shut down underused facilities, the study noted, the funds could instead be spent "to provide more health care to more veterans in outpatient clinics and at private hospitals closer to their homes." But while Congress considers a bill to enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to "close obsolete, inefficient hospitals", the agency's secretary says he will fight such a move. "We are closing no medical centers this year. We have no plans to close any medical centers next year," said Togo D. West, in a recent speech to the American Legion. But other legislators believe the time has come for reform. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) believes that Veterans Affairs is "shortchanging the delivery of health care services so it can heat empty, obsolete buildings." Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who sits on the Committee on Veterans Affairs, said, "We should be taking care of veterans, not buildings" (Pear, 8/1).
Funding Insufficient, Veterans Groups Say
Veterans groups expressed dismay last week at the House Appropriations Subcommittee's approval of a $1 billion funding increase for veterans health care, noting that it fell short of the $3 billion for which they had lobbied. "It's clear that the [VA] needs an additional $3 billion to continue the current level of services required for millions of sick and disabled veterans," Andrew Kistler of Disabled American Veterans said. "A $1 billion increase is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is not enough," said Gordon H. Mansfield, of Paralyzed Veterans of America. The $1 billion increase must still be approved by the House Appropriations Committee (releases, 7/27).