Hoyer Urges Immediate Action to Address Shortage in Veterans' Health Care Funding

For Immediate Release:

June 29, 2005

Contact:Stacey Farnen Bernards
(202) 225 - 3130

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) today joined all 206 House Democrats in sending a letter to the President urging him to address the $1 billion shortfall in veterans’ health care funding acknowledged by the Administration last week.

“Democrats have joined Representatives from Veteran Service Organizations, the personnel working in VA hospitals and veterans from my district in Maryland and across the country who have long been calling for funding increases.  Regrettably, our appeals have repeatedly fallen on those who refuse to hear them,” said Congressman Hoyer.  “The President and the Republican leadership have resisted providing adequate funding for veterans’ health care and their budgets don’t even keep up with inflation.  Democratic efforts to add funds for veterans’ medical care to Appropriations bill have been tenaciously denied.

“Democrats have offered numerous proposals to address the shortfalls in veterans’ health care funding.  For the past two years, we’ve told the Administration we were going to be short and have offered more money to prevent a shortfall. 

“Last year, I supported a Democratic budget alternative for FY 05 that would have provided an increase of $1.3 billion for veterans’ health care above the level that was included in the Republican budget resolution – and which would have been sufficient to prevent the shortfalls we are now facing.  Furthermore, I supported the Democratic budget for fiscal year 2006 that would have provided $16.4 billion more than the Republican budget for veterans’ health care over five years – but once again, our proposal was not accepted.

“President Bush can immediately correct this mistake by asking Congress to approve an additional $1.3 billion for our veterans.  There is no reason not to immediately fix this shortfall – we ought to do it for our veterans, and we ought to do it to show our troops that the VA system will be available to them when they return,” Hoyer concluded.

Last Thursday, Bush Administration officials acknowledged a shortage of at least $1 billion to cover current health care needs at the Department of Veterans Affairs this year.  The shortfall emerged during an administration midyear budget review and was acknowledged only during lengthy questioning of Jonathan B. Perlin, VA undersecretary for health, by the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Following is the text of the letter.

June 29, 2005

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to request that you submit a FY 2005 supplemental funding request adding at least $1.3 billion to address the shortfall in veterans’ health care funding that your Administration has identified.  This additional funding is urgently needed today to care for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the heroes from former conflicts who rely upon the VA for their health care.  In addition, we request that you submit an amended FY 2006 budget to account for the veterans’ health care shortfall that is now evident in your Administration’s 2006 budget request.

In our estimation, your FY 2005 VA budget request was short $2.5 billion.  While Congress added $1.2 billion, your budget remained $1.3 billion short.  It appears the VA now agrees with our original estimate. 

The 2006 budget request was similarly short.  What is even more troubling is that funding for veterans’ health care beyond 2007 is cut significantly below the amount needed merely to account for inflation.  In the future, we urge you to submit veterans’ budgets that more accurately reflect the resource requirements of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the health care needs of current veterans and the many thousands returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  At a time of war, funding for veterans must be made a clear and unmistakable priority.

We await the submission of your FY 2005 supplemental funding request and amended FY 2006 budget.

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