White House To Ask for $300M More for Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs
Bush administration officials are expected to ask Congress on Wednesday for $300 million for Department of Veterans Affairs health care programs -- in addition to the $975 million already requested -- to cover the "larger than anticipated" budget deficit for fiscal year 2005, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said Tuesday, CQ Today reports. In addition, the administration's supplemental request for FY 2006 could be $1.7 billion, Craig said. Hutchison said she expected the request to be "$1.6 billion or so" (Starks, CQ Today, 7/12).
VA Secretary James Nicholson and other department officials in June testified before Congress that the budget deficit could reach at least $1 billion in FY 2005 and at least $2.6 billion in FY 2006.
The House in June voted 419-0 to pass a fiscal year 2005 supplemental appropriations bill (HR 3130) that would provide the VA with $975 million -- the amount initially requested by the Bush administration for FY 2005. The Senate on the previous day voted 96-0 to add $1.5 billion in emergency funds for VA health care programs to the FY 2006 Interior Department appropriations bill (HR 2361) (California Healthline, 7/1).
The Senate on Tuesday "sent another strong signal to the House" by unanimously adopting the $1.5 billion amendment as part of the FY 2006 Homeland Security appropriations bill (HR 2360).
Hutchison said that as a result of the administration's request, she expects the Senate to call up the House-approved measure this week and amend it to provide a total of $1.27 billion in additional health care funds for FY 2005. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, which Hutchison chairs, is scheduled to consider the FY 2006 appropriations measure July 19, followed by full committee consideration July 21 (CQ Today, 7/12).
Some nursing home operators have become increasingly concerned that a proposal to impose restrictions on veterans' eligibility for long-term care might "find new support" in light of the VA budget shortfall, the AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.
President Bush has proposed limiting VA long-term care services to veterans who were injured or disabled as a result of active duty, who have severe disabilities, who require care after hospitalization or who require hospice or respite care. Nicholson in February told a Senate committee that the plan could reduce spending by $496 million.
According to Bob Shaw, legislative director of the National Association of State Veterans Homes, the proposal could deny long-term care services to about 14,000 veterans who now receive care in nursing homes. Shaw said, "We're concerned that the VA budget, as the VA presents it, even if they get $1.5 billion or $975 million, is probably still vastly understating what their need is" (Gamboa, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/13).
"The administration had better wake up and get it right instead of relegating veterans and their needs to the lowest priority levels," Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said in a release, adding, "Now that we've seen the wrong way to do things, I sincerely hope we're embarking on a renewed era of bipartisan collaboration to properly respond to veterans' health care needs" (CQ Today, 7/12).
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, "Now the Senate has an opportunity for us to tell our veterans we will do all we can and all we've promised and we should not be nickel and dimeing them" (Cohn, CongressDaily, 7/12).
Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said, "It is stunning to me how (the VA) can have three different opinions in a matter of ... weeks" (Taylor, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/12).
"Congress has an obligation" to provide soldiers with health care, but Congress also "has an obligation to use taxpayer dollars efficiently," according to a Des Moines Register editorial.
According to the editorial, the government should grant insurance coverage to veterans, "similar to the way it insures" Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Such a system would provide veterans with "state-of-the-art treatment at facilities of their choosing," the editorial says.
After Congress "backfills the latest shortfall in funding for veterans' health care, it should turn to restructuring that system," the editorial concludes (Des Moines Register, 7/13).