- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

As we begin the 109th Congress, Capitol Hill is sprinkled with new faces, including lawmakers and professional staff members. There will be a new secretary for Veterans Affairs (VA) and two new chairmen of the Veterans’ Affairs committees.

Among these changes, one constant will remain — the unified effort of the veterans’ community toward changing VA’s health care funding from “discretionary” to guaranteed “direct” spending. The dynamic mismatch between demand for services and inadequate discretionary appropriations severely handicaps the VA’s ability to meet its federally mandated health care missions.

Surprising to most Americans is the fact that nearly 90 percent of all federal health care dollars in the current federal budget (more than $500 billion) already is guaranteed “direct” or “mandatory” funding for programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Those scarce “discretionary” health care dollars are spent only on American Indians , veterans and active-duty service members and their families.

The task at hand is to convince lawmakers that veterans — past, present and future — earned the right, through honorable military service, to timely access to quality health care. This certainly should be the priority of a grateful nation.

Today, not one eligible Medicare or Medicaid beneficiary is denied timely access to quality health care, but there are hundreds of thousands of eligible VA beneficiaries who are denied not only timely access to, but also enrollment in the VA health care system. Surely, this is an aberration, an oversight for a nation at war.

Thomas P. Cadmus

American Legion national commander

Dear Commander:

Recently, the Republican Party leadership dumped Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, as chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for taking Abraham Lincoln’s words “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and for his orphan” to heart. This, as you know, sends a message that veterans once again will be a part of budget scapegoating.

In a recent interview, new chairman, Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican, spoke of the oath taken by each and every veteran as he or she commenced active duty. He resonated how we, as Americans, should be grateful to those who serve.

“Coming from a military family places me in a position to have a dimension of what it means to serve the country in uniform.”

Let us not then, Mr. Chairman, pit one veteran against another by restricting access to VA health care. We had too much of that during the presidential campaign

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is not reimbursed by either Medicare or Medicaid for taking care of our veterans, even though half of the enrolled veterans are 65 or older and many others fall below the poverty level.

Mandatory funding must be passed by Congress to end the “beg, borrow and steal” approach of providing health care to our nation’s veterans.

We have a sacred obligation to ensure that they receive the honors and benefits that they have earned through their service to our great country.

All veterans deserve high-quality health care. According to a recently released independent study, patients in the health care system operated by the VA receive significantly better care than private-sector patients.

“This study confirms what VA patients already know — that VA is leading the health care industry in this country.”

The study by RAND, an independent think tank, found that VA patients were significantly more likely than non-VA patients to receive needed preventative care. The study also found that VA patients with chronic medical problems received the treatment they needed more often than private-sector patients.

Researchers examined the medical records of nearly 600 VA patients and about 1,000 non-VA patients with similar health problems. Researchers compared the treatment received by both groups to well-established standards for medical care for 26 conditions.

They found that about 51 percent of non-VA patients received care that met the latest standards of the health care profession, compared with 67 percent for VA patients. For preventative care, such as pneumonia vaccination and certain cancer screenings, 64 percent of VA patients received the appropriate care compared with 44 percent in the private sector.

Researchers attributed the difference to technological innovations, such as the VA’s computerized patient records, and to policies holding top managers accountable for standards in preventative care and the treatment of long-term conditions.

Mr. Chairman, George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C., 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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