Patty in the News

The Veterans Affairs Department opened the doors of its health care system Monday to about 266,000 nondisabled veterans with moderate incomes, some of whom have been shut out of those benefits.

The veterans eligible are from a category known as "Priority 8." They have no illnesses or injuries attributed to their military service, and they earn more than the average wage in their communities.

Enrollment previously was denied to them because of a cost-savings move in 2003. Under a new regulation, some, but not all who fall in this category, will now be eligible.

The VA is expanding eligibility by loosening income restrictions. The limit has now been raised from about $29,000 to $32,000, although the amount is also adjusted to take into account the cost of living.

President Barack Obama said while campaigning that he wanted to bring all veterans into the VA's system.

In 1996, Congress ordered the agency to open health care to nearly all veterans, but lawmakers also gave the VA secretary the authority to suspend enrollments.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee who has advocated the expansion, praised the move and said she's committed to opening the VA to every veteran.

"This must be just the beginning and not the end of the road to opening the VA to every veteran who serves," Murray said in a statement.