Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats’ New Direction: Fulfilling Our Commitment to Veterans

The Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) has released a fact sheet entitled: “Senate Democrats’ New Direction: Fulfilling Our Commitment to Veterans“. This report has been released in conjunction with the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee’s video, entitled “Keeping The Promise: Senate Democrats Honor Our Commitment to America’s Veterans“.

At a time when growing demands are being placed on our servicemen and women, and the needs of veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to grow, Republicans in the White House and the Senate have failed to live up to their promises to America’s veterans. Under the Bush Administration’s stewardship, veterans’ health care has been under-funded, vital Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) programs have suffered under poor leadership and mismanagement, and the necessary steps have not been taken to ensure that the VA is prepared to meet the needs of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. From the DPC fact sheet:

In the past two years, Bush Administration mismanagement has resulted in funding shortfalls in the VA’s medical care budget. In a September 2006 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that flaws in the Administration’s budget formulations were largely to blame for budget shortfalls in veterans’ medical programs in both Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006. According to the report, “unrealistic assumptions, errors in estimation, and insufficient data” contributed to the President’s requests for additional funding, including a $975 million supplemental appropriation request in June 2005 and a $1.977 billion budget amendment in July 2005. In addition to a faulty budgeting process, the GAO found that the Administration failed to report anticipated budget problems to Congress in a timely manner to ensure effective oversight. The VA began to anticipate budget shortfalls as early as October 2004 yet, it did not report these looming problems to Congress until June of 2005. (GAO-06-958, 9/20/06)

The Bush Administration has consistently underestimated the health care needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The GAO also found that the VA significantly underestimated the needs of veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal years 2005 and 2006 in part, because its budget formulations relied on data that preceded these wars. Last year alone, the VA underestimated veterans’ demand for care by 68 percent. In spite of these findings, the Bush Administration has continued its practice of underestimating the demand for VA services from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. According to Senate committee reports, the Bush Administration’s budget projections underestimated the number of veterans who would access the VA health care system by 100,000 patients, or nearly 100 percent, in its Fiscal Year 2007 budget proposal and by 50,000 patients in its Fiscal Year 2008 budget proposal. (GAO-06-958, 9/20/06; Senator Murray, Press Release, 9/29/06; Appropriations Committee Minority Staff, 3/29/07; Veterans’ Affairs Committee Majority Staff, 2/05/07)

Bush Administration policies have created barriers to veterans’ health care. Year after year, Bush Administration budget proposals have included measures that seek to artificially reduce demand for VA services. Measures that limit veterans’ access to VA health care have passed under Republican leadership. In January 2003, the Bush Administration imposed a ban on Priority Group 8 Veterans from enrolling in VA medical care, allegedly due to limited resources. According to VA estimates, this ban has prevented approximately 273,000 of these “middle-income” veterans, whose annual income is as low as $27,790, from accessing VA medical services in Fiscal Year 2006 and 242,000 in Fiscal Year 2007. (CRS RL33993, 5/10/07)

Since Democrats gained control of the Senate, we have taken significant steps to begin to reverse six years of the Bush Administration’s failed policies and broken promises to our nation’s veterans. Under Democratic leadership, the Senate has taken action to enhance VA health care services, improve veterans’ access to critical benefits, and decrease waiting times and bureaucratic obstacles facing veterans at the VA. Again from the factsheet:

Senate Democrats passed a Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution for Fiscal Year 2007 that fills critical gaps in funding for veterans’ health care left behind by Republicans. Under the joint funding resolution, Senate Democrats provided a total of $32 billion for VA medical care, which is an increase of $3.5 billion over Fiscal Year 2006 levels, and the funding level approved by the Republican-passed Continuing Resolution during the last Congress. These funds will help to improve mental health services, enhance inpatient and outpatient care for veterans, and also allow the VA to better address its backlog of pending benefits claims.

Senate Democrats secured critical funds for veterans’ health care in the 2007 supplemental appropriations bill. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would have allocated nearly $1.8 billion in funds to the VA, not requested by the President, to accommodate the increasing number of new veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, improve metal health and readjustment counseling services, and fund new polytrauma centers for the severely injured. These funds are critical to ensuring that the VA has the capacity to care for the increasing number of veterans who suffer from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Senate Democrats led the effort to provide $3.5 billion in increased funding to veterans for Fiscal Year 2008. The Senate’s 2008 Budget Resolution allocated $43.1 billion for veterans, which is an increase of $3.5 billion over the President’s request. This amount represents 98 percent of the funding level requested in the Independent Budget, a plan developed by four leading veterans’ service organizations. The resolution also rejected the President’s proposal to impose new fees and higher co-payments on certain veterans, which, according to veterans’ service organizations, would have driven an estimated 200,000 veterans to leave the system and discouraged more than one million veterans from enrolling in VA health care.

To read the whole document please click here.

Senate Democrats recognize and appreciate the sacrifices of our troops and their families and we are committed to continuing to work to fulfill our country’s obligation to veterans.