VA budget is ‘not good enough’

VA budget is 'not good enough' by Ray G. Smith Editor's note: American Legion National Commander Ray G. Smith issued the following statement concerning the Bush administration's FY-2002 Department of Veterans Affairs budget. Smith will convene an annual meeting of national- and state-level American Legion officers March 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. The Legionnaires will personally lobby their congressional delegations during the Washington Conference. The 2.8-million member American Legion is the nation's largest veterans organization.

The administration's Fiscal Year 2002 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs is not good enough.

It's not good enough to provide quality health care to those who provided honorable military service to our nation. It's not good enough to address emerging veterans' health care concerns such as hepatitis C treatment and long-term care mandates contained in the Veterans' Millennium Health Care and Benefits Act. It's not good enough to hire enough claims adjudicators to expedite the delivery of benefits; it takes months, sometimes years, to get a claim processed. It's not even good enough to simultaneously offset inflation and universally extend homeless, dental, mental health, spinal cord, and other services systemwide.

Frankly, this budget is insufficient to fulfill the campaign promises George W. Bush made Sept. 6 at The American Legion 82nd National Convention in Milwaukee. As a candidate, Mr. Bush said he would improve VA health care, modernize the VA claims process, and reactivate VA facilities that have been unoccupied, due to scant funding, so that they may provide services that many veterans lack.

The American Legion will fight for a minimum $1.4 billion increase in VA health care spending alone. The president called for merely a $1 billion increase in the entire current VA budget. Starting with our Washington Conference in March, the men and women of the American Legion will insist members of Congress find the money to help President Bush keep his promises.

Adequate health care for veterans is important because veterans are important. The sacrifice of America's veterans is the human cost of American foreign policy. Whenever the VA budget suffers, some of America's finest citizens suffer: the ones who stormed the beach at Normandy or who fought through the stinging cold at Chosin or who charged a hill in Vietnam or who liberated Kuwait, and in so doing contracted illnesses that mystify science. They wait ? and wait ? for a claim to be processed and for a medical appointment to arrive. We know so few of their names, but we owe so much to their sacrifice. The American Legion exists to fight for them, and for the values they fought to protect.

On March 13, I will lead my Legion to Capitol Hill. We will fight for a budget that will allow VA Secretary Tony Principi to implement crucial reforms and to provide quality health care to America's veterans. Congress additionally should implement two key provisions of the American Legion's GI Bill of Health, those which would make VA health care accessible to all Medicare-eligible veterans and to all military retirees on Tricare. The third-party funding would help finance improvements in VA and open up the system to more veterans � and their families.

For the immediate future, we will fight for an adequate VA budget for Fiscal Year 2002. The administration's budget is not good enough.

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