VA S Medical Care System Needs Stable Financial Base; American Legion.(NATION)(SGT. SHAFT)
Byline: John Fales, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Dear Sgt. Shaft:
The Department of Veterans Affairs health care system needs dependable and stable funding. The proverbial handwriting is on the wall.
During my Sept. 25 tour of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cheyenne, Wyo., I witnessed an operation of hard-working people who served veterans as best they could. However, there simply were not enough of them to handle the patient load.
The White River VA complex in Vermont was rumored to have been targeted for closing four years ago. Coming to the rescue, the Vermont congressional delegation obtained additional funding for their VA hospital by including it in the Federal Rural Health Initiative.
However, when Sen. James Jeffords, an independent,went back to his home state to tour the facility Oct. 9, he acknowledged, in front of hospital staff, that funding would remain a long-term problem.
[thorn]There aren t enough doctors or nurses or support staff to treat the people who need treatment, he said. Indeed, surgeons there handled 2,000 cases in the last year, a 100 percent increase over the 1998 caseload.
Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, last month talked about how overburdened VA health-care facilities have been back home in South Dakota. On the floor of the Senate recently, Mr. Johnson said, [thorn]In Sioux Falls, veterans are currently being given appointment dates for November 2003.
How did the system become so stressed? Two major reasons: soaring medical inflation and VA s reputation for quality health care, which, combined with measures to make more veterans eligible to receive VA treatment, increased demand considerably.
VA will have treated nearly 5 million veterans in the current fiscal year, about one-third more than it treated in the previous fiscal year, according to VA estimates. And more than 6 million veterans have enrolled to make VA their primary health care provider.
Bottom line: More than 300,000 veterans are waiting for appointments in the VA medical system.
The time has come to shift the funding of VA health care from discretionary to mandatory so that funding can keep pace with medical inflation and the burgeoning demand for VA health care. Moreover, under mandatory funding, the dedicated staffs at VA medical centers would no longer be forced to treat veterans with rationed resources.
Making VA health care funding mandatory would help to ensure that VA would receive enough federal dollars to treat every veteran eligible to use the system. VA health care would be funded the way Social Security, Medicare, and VA disability compensation and pension programs have been funded. A formula would be included in the legislation to determine the appropriate level of funding.
Under the current discretionary-funding process, VA health care has been dependent on the whim of congressional appropriations, resulting in constant underfunding. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher H. …