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Say NO!! to Budget Cuts to our Veterans Soldiers


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I am really upset at President Bush's budget now contains funding cuts for veterans. The utter lack of compassion the Bush White House has for the soldiers it has put in harm's way is revealed by the national disgrace that is America's treatment of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.


Next year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system expects to treat 263,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, a number three times what the VA initially projected. "The number of veterans coming into the VA health care system has been rising by about 5 percent a year, as the number of people returning from Iraq with illnesses or injuries keep rising." President Bush has promised that our nation would "keep its commitments to those who have risked their lives for our freedom." "We owe them all we can give them," Bush said after a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service." Yet as the number of soldiers injured in Iraq continues to grow, the VA health care system is "buckling under a growing volume of disability claims and rising demand for medical attention." As of last month, the VA system was experiencing a backlog of 600,000 cases, "with about 168,000 pending for at least six months." "There are VA facilities that were fine in peacetime but are now finding themselves overwhelmed," said Steve Robinson, director of Veterans for American. Recent reporting has brought more dire news: the Washington Post discovered soldiers housed at Walter Reed face the "bleakest" of homecomings; McClatchy found the VA is "ill-equipped" to handle the increasing number of returning soldiers who need treatment for mental health; and the Associated Press revealed that the recent Bush budget contains funding cuts for veterans. (See where major veterans service organizations believe funding levels for veterans should be in their annual Independent Budget.) "Our veterans' mental and physical health is not something to play games with," the Macon Telegraph wrote recently. "They have served their country, and their country has an absolute obligation to return the favor."



Budget comes up short on needed improvements in mental health care, raises some co-payments,


and fails to account for increases in Veterans care needed due to Iraq, Afghanistan wars


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, led a hearing today on the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget For Veterans’ Programs. He began the hearing by delivering the following opening statement:


“Aloha and welcome to all. I look forward to our dialogue with Secretary Nicholson and other top VA officials, as well as the representatives of veterans’ service organizations here with us today.


“I am pleased that the Administration is requesting a straightforward increase for VA, without some of the offsets proposed in prior years. While some see this proposed budget as good and others see it as inadequate, I believe that what we need is a much better understanding of some of the specifics before our Committee goes forward to the Budget Committee with our Views and Estimates.


“For example, I believe we need to know what the actual increase is for veterans’ health care in the proposed budget. It appears to me that inflation and higher automatic costs account for nearly all of the $1.9 billion increase being requested of Congress. This would leave little funding available for expansions or improvements to key programs, such as mental health and care for returning servicemembers.


“I remain committed in my opposition to the policy proposals to impose higher costs on veterans. Once again, the Administration is suggesting that we ask veterans to pay more out of their own pockets if they are not disabled, but still want access to VA care.


“Let me be clear about the veterans who would be forced to shoulder these cost increases. Many of these veterans cannot, in my view, be characterized as “higher-income.” These are veterans living in places like my home state of Hawaii, where the cost of living is one of the highest in the country, who make as little as $28,000 a year and would be asked to pay new fees for their health care or medications.


“I have a number of questions about this year’s enrollment fee proposal. Basing the fee upon family income is a different version than the Administration has proposed in the past. I am concerned about the lower end of the tier structure, working families with a combined income of $50,000 a year, and the impact of these fees on them.


“A family with two veteran wage earners, each taking an average number of medications and each paying the enrollment fee, would have to pay more than $3,000 in new out of pocket costs if the proposed fees are mandated. I do not believe this is the way to reward the working families who have served our country.


“The near-doubling of the prescription drug copayment is equally alarming. In the case of a veteran with diabetes, a very common condition in VA and one which requires many prescriptions, the new copayment alone would increase out of pocket fees by at least $200 a year. This is not an insignificant number for a senior living on a fixed income.


“There are other areas of concern, such as whether or not Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans have been adequately factored into the budget proposal. The Administration’s low estimate of the impact that these veterans would have on the VA health care system was one of the major contributors to the disastrous 2005 shortfall. Last year, VA’s estimates were off by almost 50,000 OEF/OIF veterans. I continue to be concerned that VA is again miscalculating. It is important that we do not underestimate this population so that we can provide for a seamless transition for returning servicemembers, including demobilized Guard and Reservists.


“It is also shortsighted to cut research, as the proposed budget does. Many physicians choose to work at VA because of the opportunity to do research. I truly believe that we need to be adding to this account and not cutting it. Imperiling the research program hurts VA’s ability to recruit and retain excellent physician researchers and could therefore adversely impact the quality of overall health care.


“On the benefits side of the ledger, VA must be ready to adjudicate claims in a timely and accurate manner. Should VA receive claims in excess of the 800,000 that are estimated for next year, I do not believe the Department will have the resources to handle the workload. In addition, VA does not have a history of absorbing the impact of new court decisions easily, and I am concerned that pending court cases may have an adverse affect on VA’s timeliness and accuracy. We also know that the ongoing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is increasing VA’s workload and will continue to do so for years to come.


“Now is the time for VA to hire and train staff to meet the present and future demand for timely adjudication. I will continue to monitor VA’s inventory and staffing requirements. Our Nation’s veterans deserve nothing less than having their claims rated accurately and in a reasonable amount of time.


“I am committed to working with the Secretary and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the Department gets what it truly needs to deliver the highest quality benefits and services to our Nation’s veterans. I am also deeply committed to working to have all of our colleagues in Congress recognize the reality that meeting the needs of veterans is truly part of the ongoing costs of war.


“I look forward to our work on behalf of the Nation’s veterans in the weeks and months ahead, as the Committee works to get the best possible budget for veterans’ programs in the coming fiscal year.”







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I was reviewing the White House Briefing tonight and I found a disturbing discussion on how our wounded troops are being treated. I hope everyone remembers that soldiers are not political party pawns. They real flesh and blood people.


Q The administration's mantra for a long time has been "support the troops." What is the reaction, then, when you read this series of stories in The Washington Post about troops coming home from Iraq, Afghanistan and being treated so poorly, apparently, based on this long investigation? What's the President's reaction?


MR. SNOW: There are a couple of things. First, it's not a mantra. I would really choose words carefully. It's a commitment to support the troops. And the President, as you know, has visited the wounded many times at Walter Reed and we are concerned about it. And the people who --


Q Were you aware?


MR. SNOW: We are aware now, yes. And I would refer you to the Department of Defense, which I know is taking a very close look at it, too.


Look, the men and women who have gone and fought for our country over there, they deserve the best care.


Q So why has that not been guaranteed, then?


MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that -- you know, when you find a problem, you deal with it.


Q So you're saying the President learned about this from The Washington Post?


MR. SNOW: I don't know exactly where he learned it, but I can tell you that we believe that they deserve better. And, again, Ed, this is something where I'd suggest you give DoD a call, because I know they've taken a good, hard look at it.


Q Tony, can I follow on that? As Bob Dole might ask, where's the outrage?


MR. SNOW: There's plenty of outrage.


Q Is there?


MR. SNOW: Yes.


Q So the President responded how when he learned about this? What, specifically -- did he order something to be done?


MR. SNOW: What I'm suggesting -- there's a reason I'm suggesting -- DoD is the proper place in which we'll be taking care of these issues. And I would refer you to them for comment. But this is something that's going to have to be an action item.


Q But is there any evidence that it was even looked at before the paper printed its two stories?


MR. SNOW: Yes.


Q Then tell us about that evidence.


MR. SNOW: That's why -- again, I would refer you, Bill, to the Department of the Army, which runs the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This is the place where if you want to get --


Q That's just an easy way for you not to have to talk about it.


MR. SNOW: Well, it's also a way of pointing to the proper authorities, which is what you would want.


Q The White House doesn't want to be on record with a more emphatic expression of amazement and upset about this?


MR. SNOW: No. David asked where the outrage -- of course there's outrage that men and women who have been fighting have not received the outpatient care -- if you read the stories, there are many who are happy with it, some who are unhappy, and it's important that we show our commitment to the people who have served. I don't know what more you want me to do.


Q In December NPR ran a series looking at the quality of mental health care for Iraq veterans who have returned, showing that it's shocking how little care is provided to them. And several congresspeople -- Obama, Boxer and Bond -- sent a letter to the Pentagon, which you're referring us to, asking for an investigation, which they have not agreed to conduct. So you're referring us to the DoD, but they're not acting quickly on this. So does the President want them to act quickly?


MR. SNOW: Well, again, you've asked me about two separate stories.


Q It seems there's a problem that's endemic to the system.


MR. SNOW: Well, rather than leaping to a conclusion, as I said, I would suggest you call them, and then we can talk about it later.


Q Off camera this morning you said that you would have something at noon; you said, I'll talk about it then. And now you're not really --


MR. SNOW: Well, that's because -- again, I think that you may see some activity on it. And at this point I would refer you to the Department of Defense.


Q Is the system working?


MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what -- is the system working? Yes. Is it working perfectly? No.


Q It's good enough?


MR. SNOW: No, I said, it's not good enough. I just told you it's not working perfectly. But there are also thousands of people who have been through the system who have been cared for. But it is important that we maintain a commitment to following up or providing the treatment that these men and women deserve.


Q Do you think the President is going to say something about this later?




Q You responded to me a moment ago that the administration was aware of this before the articles appeared in the paper.


MR. SNOW: That is my understanding. But, again, this is something that's an action item over at the Department of Defense and, in particular, the Department of the Army. I am not fully briefed on the activities or who knew what, when. And I suggest --


Q Was the President aware of it? Was the White House aware of it?


MR. SNOW: I am not certain --


Q May I follow on --


Q What is the President's --


MR. SNOW: -- when we first became aware of it.* Now the President certainly has been aware of the conditions in the wards where he has visited, and visited regularly, and we also have people from Walter Reed regularly over to the White House as guests, sometimes in fairly large numbers. So as I said, the President is committed -- committed to these people, committed to men and women who have served. We need to make sure that whatever problems there are get fixed. I couldn't be any stronger or plainer about it.


Q Has he given any new orders?


MR. SNOW: No. At this point, Helen, I think the most important thing -- the way this would work is the Department of Army has its own investigation about what's going on at Walter Reed. They will be taking action. The President certainly wants to make sure that, as I said before, whatever problems there are get fixed.


Q On Walter Reed, a lot of the veterans, the medical community, the doctors, the neighbors who have worked at Walter Reed are very upset about this move, pending move to Bethesda. In light of everything that's happening, does the administration still support uprooting --


MR. SNOW: The Department of Defense has made the decision to consolidate the treatment facilities at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.


Q Is there any chance of a second look? Some of the facilities at Walter Reed are brand new.


MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm just going to refer you to that. This is -- all of a sudden people are trying to open up different avenues of inquiry. The fact is that those changes have, in fact, been decided upon by the Department of Defense. I am not aware of any decisions to change.


Q To clarify, were these -- any actions that the Pentagon has taken, these action items, were they done on its own, or did they do this in response to some order from here?


MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not aware that anybody has -- look, when you have a problem like this, the imperative is to fix it. I'm not sure that you have to issue orders; there are people there who know if they've got a problem they need to fix it. So I don't think that -- I will try to find out for you, but I'm not aware that the President has cut any special orders. But I will try to get for you additional information.


Q I think what we're --


MR. SNOW: I know what you're trying to do, you're trying to get a tick-tock on what did he learn and how did he respond and who did he call.


Q Yes, we're trying to determine if someone here built a fire under someone over there to do something.


MR. SNOW: You know, that's assuming that people there are callous about the fate of the people who are serving.


Q It isn't --


MR. SNOW: No, I think it is. When you say "light a fire," it's as if, you know, you find out that there's a problem and you don't move quickly to try to correct it. My sense is that there's plenty of fire for trying to get it right. But this is why I'm telling you if you want a more direct answer about this, you do need to talk to the people at the Department of the Army --


Q But, Tony, when you read --


MR. SNOW: -- who are at the ground level involvement here.


Q -- an account that says a commanding general, quotes a commanding general as saying, well, gee, we ordered repairs done, but they weren't done -- you'd think they would have known this hadn't been accomplished.


MR. SNOW: Well, again, that's why -- you've just made my point, which is you need to get back to them, and I will also get back for you with a tick-tock about what's going on at this end.


Q It's not just -- you're describing kind of a cold, detached bureaucratic process. We all know how this works. Something like this, this kind of story gets people's attention. You are now --


MR. SNOW: Well --


Q Wait a minute. You're now in the PR business, you know if something like this happens it's at odds with the commitments you make; the Commander-in-Chief might well stand up at a meeting and say, darn it, let's get to the bottom of this now and let's get answers. And this happened over the weekend, and you're saying you think the White House knew, but you're not sure; you're not sure when the President knew or if he said something to somebody. It just seems like you should have those answers.


MR. SNOW: Okay, but you also -- fine, I'll try to get them for you. But when you talk about cold detachment, I don't think saying that if it needs --


Q You're calling it an "action item"?


MR. SNOW: Well, yes, because what I'm telling you is that it is something that falls under the providence of the Department of the Army. Therefore, if you want the detailed answers about who knew what, when and how it's been handled, you do need to ask them, because they're going to have the information, David.


I can tell you that the President feels passionately about them, and you should have no doubt about it -- you've been at enough events where when he looks these people in the eye there is a commitment, a strong, profound emotional commitment to the people who serve this country. And it is one where the President is committed to doing right by the men and women who serve. There should be no doubt about that.


Q But, Tony --


MR. SNOW: Wait, wait. In that case, what I'm telling you is let's sort through the facts. I know that what you want is for me to tell you more than I know right now. So you keep at it --


Q But it would not be unreasonable for you or the President, through you, to express some kind of outrage over what has happened up there.


MR. SNOW: Well, it's also a matter of trying to figure out precisely what has happened. You have news stories, it is important to investigate. As you know, the most important thing is to fix a problem, correct? And there is absolute determination to fix the problem. The President is somebody, again, whose passion for these forces should never, ever be a topic of doubt on the part of the forces or the American people.


Q Right, but Tony, when you say he looks in the eyes of the families -- but what if the bureaucrats on the ground are not actually following through on the commitment you say he has? Doesn't he have a duty to follow through and say, what --


MR. SNOW: That's why I'm asking you to direct your questions to the people who are in direct line of responsibility for this, who are going to have more information on this than I do right now.


Q What is your reaction of Major General Weightman, who is the Commander at Walter Reed, also says in the bottom of the article on Sunday in The Washington Post, said that he's concerned and that they're bracing for, "potentially a lot more casualties," people coming to Walter Reed because of the surge. Does that cause the White House to think at all about that policy, because you have the Commander of Walter Reed --


MR. SNOW: There are a whole series of things, and, again, this is why you need to talk to people who are in the chain, because --


Q But this he said on the record.


MR. SNOW: I understand, Ed. But there are a series of things. First, for Walter Reed, what you end up having is treatment of people who are wounded -- and also this is Bethesda, as you know, different sorts of injuries are treated at the two facilities. And many of those people are there for months. And this story deals with outpatient care after that treatment, right? So it's important, I think, to understand that you've got to be prepared for all things that are going to come your way, including getting the piece right when it comes to outpatient care, and continuing also to do well by inpatients.


But, again, I know you want me to -- I'm simply not going to go beyond what I know. And in this particular case, the people who do know the facts and do know what's going on, and do know how the investigations are proceeding are the guys over at DoD.


Q I think that's part of the question. It doesn't seem like -- beyond what you know, it doesn't seem like you're asking that many questions to find out. I mean, you have a limited knowledge about the situation.


MR. SNOW: It's because they're working the issue, and I'm telling you, those are the people to talk to, the DoD.


Q -- I mean, you keep putting me off on other people --


MR. SNOW: I know.


Q This is a commitment the President has made, you said, to the families, right?


MR. SNOW: Yes.


Q So why isn't the President, why isn't his staff saying, let's get to the bottom of it now?


MR. SNOW: We are trying to get to the bottom of it, and the people who are responsible for getting to the bottom of it work on the other side of the river.


Q But, again, you put it back on the Pentagon, you're not keeping --


MR. SNOW: Yes. The members of the Pentagon, of course, Cabinet agencies and people in the administration, do answer to the President. And I've said, what's wrong needs to be fixed. Now the people that are going to do the fixing are over there. So you might want to talk to them.

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  • 3 years later...

Things have changed since 2007 Luke


Remarks by the President in a Backyard Discussion in Albuquerque, New Mexico


Cavalier Residence

Albuquerque, New Mexico


I get emotional when I think about our young men and women and our veterans who have served this country with such bravery and courage. We have a sacred trust for people who put on the uniform of the United States. They serve us. They’re willing to put their lives on the line. And that means that when they come back, we’ve got to serve them.


Now, here’s the good news. First of all, I’ve got what I think is one of the finest, if not the finest, Secretaries of Veterans Affairs ever, General Ric Shinseki, who himself is a disabled veteran. And this guy just thinks day and night about how are we going to make sure that veterans services are provided in a timely, effective, respectful fashion, all right? So that’s point number one.


Point number two. We are actually -- even in the midst of this very difficult budget situation that we’re in, we have increased over the last two years funding for veterans more than any time in the last 30 years. More than any time in the last 30 years.


And the reason we did it was because a lot of VA facilities had gotten outdated. The backlog in terms of folks trying to get medical services or getting their claims processed had just gotten ridiculous. You had over a million young people who had served in Iraq and now Afghanistan who had come back and they’ve got new problems like -- well, they’re not new problems but now we’re much more effective at diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury -- they weren’t getting services. We’ve got women who are now serving in a much more dangerous situation in a lot of these theaters, and yet a lot of VA facilities still did not have special services for women and their special needs as they return.


So we are in the process of investing more in the VA and reforming how business is done at the VA than at any time in the last 30 years.


Now, we’ve still got a ways to go, but this is again an example of where, come November, we’ve got to start making some choices because if, for example, we give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires that cost us $700 billion that we don’t have, that money has to come from somewhere. And we’ve got to be able to provide for our veterans. I’d rather choose veterans. I’d rather choose these young people who are looking for scholarships.


Homeless veterans. The notion that we’ve got somebody who served our country and they’re now on the streets, they don’t have a house? So we’ve said we’re going to have zero tolerance for homeless veterans. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that every single person who has served our country, that they’ve got proper medical care and they’ve got a roof over their heads. And oftentimes that means counseling. And the irony is if you make the investments early, then it turns out that they’re less expensive over the long term.


So this is something that you’re right to be emotional about, and I think we should all be emotional about it. And we’re grateful to your dad for his service, and we just need to remind ourselves that there are millions of folks across the country who deserve that same kind of respect and we’ve got to meet our obligations to them.


One last point I’ll make about veterans, because it ties in with the overall theme of education -- working with our terrific members of Congress here, we were able to pass the post-9/11 GI Bill, which means that this generation of veterans is going to be able to benefit the same way my grandfather benefited when he came back from World War II; that he was going to be able to get his college education paid for. And by the way, we made it transferable to the spouses of veterans and their family members if they weren’t going to use it, because military families make huge sacrifices as well and oftentimes they don’t get the service and the attention that they need. And this has been a huge priority of the First Lady, and it’s something that I am very, very proud of. But we’ve got to keep on fighting for these changes. They don’t come by themselves.

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