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Today, Senate Republicans defeated an effort to provide mandatory funding for veterans health care. The amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Patty Murray and led by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, would provide a 30 percent increase in funding for FY2005 and in subsequent years assure adequate funding levels to meet the needs of veterans in the system and inflation. Under the Daschle proposal, all vets would have full quality health care.

Following the vote, Senator Murray said:

"Today, we had an outstanding opportunity to make a landmark commitment to the veterans who've served us so well. Our veterans deserve health care they can count on, and we should provide mandatory funding to the VA so that veterans will know that health care will be there forever.



"A few weeks ago we learned the Bush Administration, if reelected, plans to slash the VA budget. And today, in that same spirit, Republicans said no to veterans. Our veterans deserve more, and from providing health care to family assistance to keeping VA facilities open in Washington state, I will continue to fight for them."

Included below is a summary of the amendment:

Daschle Veterans Health Amendment: Ensures Access to VA Prescription & Health Services for All Veterans

The amendment by Senator Tom Daschle would ensure that VA prescription drugs and health services are available to all veterans. The amendment sets up a new full-funding process, with an opportunity for fast-track Congressional review after two years' operation.

The amendment is supported by the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, comprised of all leading veterans' organizations.

VA FUNDING HAS FALLEN BEHIND DEMAND & HEALTH INFLATION

The VA's enrolled population has grown 134 percent since 1996, while appropriations have grown 44 percent - one-third as fast. When health care inflation is taken into account, it is even more obvious that VA funding has failed to keep pace with changing needs.

The President's Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for Our Nation's Veterans - created by President Bush through Executive Order 13214 - reported "a significant mismatch in VA between demand and available funding."

THE BUSH STRATEGY: LESS CARE, RISING COSTS, MORE RESTRICTIONS

The Bush Administration's response has been a policy it calls "demand management," which means any and all steps to restrict and reduce the number of veterans treated at the VA. This has included lengthy waiting lists for hundreds of thousands of veterans, a six-fold increase in out-of-pocket payments by veterans since President Bush took office, and restrictions on enrollment.

MANY AGREE THAT FULL FUNDING IS NEEDED

The amendment would remove veterans health care from the annual politics of the appropriations cycle. Instead, veterans health care would be funded like other vital programs - including military retirement, Social Security, and Medicare. Such an approach has been endorsed by:

  • President Bush's Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for Our Nation's Veterans in its May 2003 final report.


  • Bi-partisan leadership of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, in a Feb. 25, 2004, letter.


  • The Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, comprised of the American Legion, AMVETS, the Blinded Veterans Association, the Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans of America.


THE FULL-FUNDING MECHANISM

The amendment would provide the Veterans Health Administration with funding from two sources: First, an annual discretionary amount, which would remain unchanged from year to year, locked in at the funding level of Fiscal Year 2004. And second, an annual sum of mandatory funds. This amount would adjust each year to reflect changes in demand from veterans and the rate of health care inflation.

The amendment also mandates a review of the formula and the overall funding process after two years, with fast-track procedures for consideration of changes.

AMOUNT OF HEALTH CARE PROVIDED TO VETERANS BY THIS AMENDMENT

CBO predicts that a reliable funding stream would allow 3 million more veterans to receive pharmaceuticals and health services from the VA, a 40% increase over current policies. CBO says the total cost of this additional health care would be $100 billion over 5 years and $300 billion over 10 years. In the final year, treating the additional 3 million veterans would cost an additional $11 million, a cost of less than $3,700 per enrollee.

VA IS A COST-EFFECTIVE PROGRAM FOR TREATING VETERANS

Despite severe inflationary pressures affecting public and private health programs, VA's per-patient expenditures have declined consistently for more than a decade, to just over $4,000 in FY03. VA is a leader in many cost-containment categories, most notably acquisition of pharmaceuticals. Providing more health care through the VA will reduce expenditures in other programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.