Federal Budget Could Change Health Benefits for Veterans

By McLaughlin, Amy | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 11, 2003 | Go to article overview

Federal Budget Could Change Health Benefits for Veterans


McLaughlin, Amy, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Amy McLaughlin Daily Herald Staff Writer

At a time when thousands of young men and women are serving overseas, area veterans and lawmakers are shocked that cuts to veterans benefits would be considered at home.

But that's what has been going on in Washington, according to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat whose district includes most of Des Plaines.

Schakowsky has been alerting veterans for the past few weeks that changes in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs' budget could spell the end of health care for thousands of Illinois veterans.

Other veterans could find themselves paying a $250 yearly enrollment fee to belong to the VA system, along with higher prices for prescription drugs and doctor visits.

"That's just a lot of money for a lot of veterans. It's just an awful time to be doing that," Schakowsky said.

Veterans affairs officials acknowledge some veterans may experience changes to their health benefits. But Leo Mackay, veterans affairs deputy secretary, says those changes would enable an overtaxed system to still take care of those veterans who need it most.

And U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Highland Park Republican and a veteran himself, said he expects the final budget to reflect restored benefits.

"I think veterans will get some good news," Kirk said.

What's at stake

That cuts were even considered is worrisome to Schakowsky and local veterans.

Schakowsky and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a Chicago Democrat, recently unveiled a study that showed more than 65,000 veterans from Illinois could face cuts in their benefits under President Bush's proposed 2004 budget.

Of those 65,000 veterans, an estimated 36,000 enrolled in Veterans Administration hospitals could be denied benefits or forced to drop out, according to the study.

"It is unimaginable that a plan to reduce veterans' benefits would even be contemplated at a time when hundreds of thousands of active duty soldiers are risking their lives," Schakowsky said.

Steven Schaefer, a Des Plaines Vietnam veteran who is commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars 4th District that includes most of the Northwest suburbs, couldn't agree more.

The so-called Priority 8 veterans already have been frozen out of receiving benefits from Veterans Administration hospitals, Schaefer said.

Priority 8 veterans are those who don't have service-related disabilities, and whose income exceeds the federal government's cutoff to be eligible for public housing.

Schakowsky said that under the proposed federal budget, enrollment in VA hospitals would end for Priority 8 veterans. That could cut off 173,000 veterans nationwide, including 7,160 in Illinois and 4,000 in the Chicago area.

For those Priority 7 and Priority 8 veterans already enrolled, there would be a $250 annual enrollment fee.

The so-called Priority 7 veterans also don't have service- related disabilities, and their incomes are below the federal government's cutoff for public housing. …

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