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Before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs United States Senate Regarding VVA Legislative Priorities for the 111th Congress

January 28, 2009

Good morning, Senator Akaka, Senator Burr, and other members of this distinguished committee. On behalf of the members of Vietnam Veterans of America and our families, I am pleased to present to you VVA’s main legislative priorities for the 111th Congress.

Too often, it seems to many that the government puts off dealing with the healthcare problems of entire generations of veterans. For instance, the Gulf War has been over almost twenty years and the government is finally confronted with evidence that is difficult to refute that there are real maladies associated with military service, illnesses that do not constitute as “syndrome” but are real and debilitating nevertheless. The government’s actions are unacceptable. Hence the need for legislative remedies. What follows are priorities that, if enacted and enforced, will, it is our belief and our hope, make the VA more efficient in caring for our nation’s veterans.

Enact legislation to provide Advance Appropriations to fund veterans’ health care. On this issue, VVA is in lockstep with the other veterans service organizations that have come together in The Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform. This is our main priority. If legislation is enacted to make Advance Appropriations for the Veterans Health Administration the law of the land, it will enable VA managers, at VA medical centers and VISNs, to actually plan for the next fiscal year while Congress debates the budget. And, while Congress has been quite generous to veterans in the 110th Congress, as you are well aware, Congress has been late 19 out of the past 22 years in passing the budget. We believe that Advance Appropriations will solve many of the problems encountered by the VHA, and will enable veterans health care to realize a predictable, reliable, sufficient and, perhaps most important, timely funding stream.

Legislation also should ensure the restoration of eligibility by 2012 for all Priority 8 veterans who choose to use the VA health care system. To ensure that the system can accommodate them, we believe Congress should mandate that the VA increase the income ceiling by $5,000 every six months. We do not advocate the wholesale entry of Priority 8s into the system, as the system will be overrun. But you will be wise to note that Priority 8 veterans, along with Priority 7s, account for 40 percent of third-party reimbursements into the VA’s coffers. To a very great extent, they do pay for themselves.

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