Bill Would Guarantee Veterans Adequate Funds for Health Care.(NATION)(SGT. SHAFT)

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Byline: John Fales, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Legislation recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, is a bold step toward providing dependable, stable, and sustained funding for veterans health care. The Veterans Health Care Funding Guarantee Act of 2002 (H.R. 5250) calls for a fundamental change in the way government funding is provided for the Department of Veterans Affairs medical-care system.

Shifting VA health care from a discretionary to a mandatory funding program would guarantee adequate annual budgets to meet the health care needs of the United States' sick and disabled veterans, a move supported by all the major veterans organizations.

Many of the United States' sick and disabled veterans can't get the medical care they need because for decades policy-makers and politicians in Washington have short-changed the veterans health care system budget.

According to recent VA estimates, more than 300,000 sick and disabled veterans are either waiting for their first VA appointments or have been waiting for longer than six months for care.

In introducing H.R. 5250 Mr. Smith and co-sponsor, ranking Democrat Lane Evans of Illinois, have taken a bold step toward eliminating the year-to-year uncertainty about funding levels that has prevented the VA from being able to adequately plan for and meet the constantly growing needs of veterans seeking treatment.

Members of Congress are being asked to sign a pledge to support and work for the prompt passage of guaranteed mandatory health care funding for our nation's sick and disabled veterans. As Mr. Smith said, the United States' sick and disabled veterans deserve no less from a grateful nation.

George H. Steese Jr.

National Commander

Disabled American Veterans

Dear Commander:

Two years ago, Congress passed Tricare for Life, a new program to guarantee lifelong health care for military retirees and their families. This legislation assured hundreds of thousands of military families free health care services sponsored entirely by the government. H.R. 5250 would extend the same kind of guarantee to the remainder of the United States' veterans, to assure their continued access to the VA health care system.

It would establish a formula to fund the VA health care account directly from the U.S. Treasury with a method similar to that used by Congress to provide funding for Tricare for Life. Veterans disability compensation payments are already funded through mandatory formulas, and this legislation would apply the same priority to meeting the health care needs of our veterans.

This bill would establish a base funding year, calculate the average cost for a veteran using VA health care, then index the cost for inflation. Multiplying this average cost by the number of veterans who are enrolled each year on July 1 would determine the funding allotment for the Veterans Health Administration for the next fiscal year.

It should be noted that H. …