Senate Democrats

Talk Is Cheap, President Bush’s Actions Ring Hollow on Veterans Care

Today, President Bush will tour the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center. We hope he will address some of the glaring needs facing the nation’s wounded warriors. Unfortunately, under the Bush Administration, resources for Veterans’ services have been sorely lacking. Democrats have worked to make Veterans issues front and center by providing needed funding for critical Veterans services. Below are just some of the various ways Democrats have fought for America’s veterans as well as some of the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Bush Administration.

Democrats are addressing deficiencies in veterans care ignored by the current Administration:

Democrats Fight to Fully Fund Veterans Services, Addressing Gaps Left by the Bush Administration. The Military Construction-Veterans Administration appropriations bill calls for spending $43 billion for the Veterans Administration, $3.6 billion more than was sought by President Bush. Democrats, including Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), have called for increased funding for the VA and pointed out inadequacies under the Bush Administration. “The VA has consistently underestimated the resources necessary to meet the growing needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in dangerous budget shortfalls that have imperiled the availability of quality health care for all veterans,” said Byrd. “This Congress will not allow history to repeat itself.” [CQ Senate Appropriations Committee Markup, 6/14/07]

Democrats Fought to Address Key Deficiencies By the Bush Administration in the Veterans Health Care System. After learning about the serious deficiencies in the Veterans’ health care system, including the much publicized troubles at the Walter Reed facility, Democrats authored the so-called “wounded warriors” measure that sought to ease the transition of wounded soldiers from the Pentagon’s health care system to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among other items, the measure provides for the research and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and stress disorders and was later added as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. On July 24, Democrats moved the bill separately from the defense authorization bill and granted a Senate Republicans request to add a 3.5 percent pay raise to the measure. Interestingly, the Bush Administration requested a 3 percent pay hike and said in May that it “strongly opposes” the higher pay raise, calling it “unnecessary.” [CQ Today, 7/25/07; Houston Chronicle, 7/26/07]

Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill Included an Additional $1.8 Billion for Veterans’ Health Care. While the President had requested $103 billion, Congress added additional spending to increase veterans’ health care programs by $1.8 billion, military construction and realignment by almost $5 billion and homeland security by more than $1 billion. [VFW Press Release, 5/25/07]

Here is the Bush Administration’s record of neglecting the needs of veterans:

President Bush Said There Would Be a Quick Response to Any Problems Found by Dole-Shalala Commission…. “Any report of medical neglect will be taken seriously by this administration, I’m confident by the Congress, and we will address problems quickly. I’ve asked two of America’s fine public servants, Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala, to chair a commission that will analyze our health care both at the Defense Department and at the Veterans Department, to ensure that not only our soldiers but their families have got complete confidence in the government’s upholding its responsibility to treat those who have been wounded… And I’m confident that this commission will bring forth the truth. And as I assured the chairmen, I am confident that there will be a quick response to any problems that you may find.” [Remarks by President Bush, 3/7/07]

….Unfortunately, After their Report Came Out, the White House Said President Bush Would Not Act Quickly on Dole-Shalala Recommendations. “White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Bush would not be acting immediately on any of the recommendations.” [Associated Press, 7/25/07]

VA Disclosed Personal Information of Vets and Had a $1 Billion Budget Shortfall. Other trials included the theft last summer of a VA laptop computer and external hard drive containing personal information of 26.5 million veterans, and a $1 billion budget shortfall in 2005 that prompted Nicholson to go to Capitol Hill to ask for more money.” [Washington Post, 7/18/07]

Rooms in D.C. Veterans Home “Spattered with Blood, Urine, and Feces.”  “Reports of a rising death rate and rooms spattered with blood, urine and feces at the Armed Forces Retirement Home prompted the Pentagon yesterday to begin investigating conditions at the veterans facility in Northwest Washington.” [Washington Post, 3/22/07]

Review Finds Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Bad Shape – Beset with Mold, Leaky Roofs and Rodents. “The Veterans Affairs’ vast network of 1,400 health clinics and hospitals is beset by maintenance problems such as mold, leaking roofs and even a colony of bats, an internal review says. The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, is the first major review of the facilities conducted since the disclosure of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”  [AP, 3/21/07]

VA’s Claims Backlog is About 600,000.  “[VA] Had a claims backlog of roughly 600,000.”  [AP, 3/13/07]

Takes VA Between 127 to 177 Days, or Four to Five Months to Process Benefit Claims. “Took between 127 to 177 days to process an initial claim and an average of 657 days to process an appeal, resulting in significant hardship to veterans. In contrast, the private sector industry takes about 89.5 days to process a claim.”  [AP, 3/13/07]

Administration Shelved a Program to Ensure Seriously Wounded Vets Aren’t Lost in the Bureaucracy.  “A proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the former VA employee who was responsible for tracking war casualties.” [ABC, 3/7/07]

Reservists Failed to Receive Adequate Job Protection. Thousands or reservists returning from active duty face job loss, demotion, loss of benefits or loss of seniority at their civilian jobs, a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). According to the GAO, more than 16,000 reservists filed USERRA complaints between 2004 and 2006, though the GAO estimated that fewer than 30 percent of reservists who experience violations file a complaint. The GAO found that resolving complaints took on average nearly two years. Additionally, the burden of proof in such cases is on the employee not the employer, with investigators often failing to investigate further than an employer’s initial answer. [GAO, 2/07; GAO, 10/05; Washington Post, Gershkoff Op-Ed, 8/4/07]