WASHINGTON - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer released the following statement today objecting to Republican claims at a news conference this morning that their budget adequately funds programs for our veterans:
“America made a tremendous request of its military when we sent hundreds of thousands of our servicemen and women overseas. However, at the same time that we all joined in congratulating them on a job well done, the Administration and Republicans in Congress would like to reward their service with fewer services for their fellow veterans.
“House Republicans proposed a budget this year that would have slashed veterans’ benefits and reduced funding for veterans’ medical care by a total of $28 billion over ten years. Republicans claimed the cuts for 2004 were necessary to achieve a balanced budget - but really it was to make room for the massive tax cuts proposed by the Administration that are geared largely to the wealthiest Americans. In addition, when they were marking up the 2004 budget, House Republicans specifically voted against amendments to restore funding for veterans.
“In the 2004 Budget Conference Report, Republicans included provisions that would halt enrollment in VA health care for many veterans, denying them access to any VA care and would charge other veterans who are currently in the VA system a $250 annual enrollment fee and increase co-payments for doctor’s visits and prescription drugs. These proposed changes will cause millions of veterans throughout the nation to be denied VA health care or to drop out of the VA system. And, while the Conference agreement did increase funding for veterans’ health care programs for 2004, it would cut for veterans’ health care by $6.2 billion over ten years.
“Veterans already face gaps in promised care. For instance, in 2002, there were almost 300,000 veterans who were either placed on waiting lists or forced to wait for over six months in order to receive an appointment for necessary care.
“I believe that cuts to benefits and health care for our veterans are cuts a grateful nation does not support. And I am surprised to hear the Republicans today announce their support for veterans whose health care - just weeks ago - seemed disposable when we were on the House Floor debating their 2004 budget. It is ludicrous for House Republicans to claim that they are so concerned with veterans’ needs, when it was Democratic motions, like that introduced by Congressman Spratt, that rejected the most harmful cuts to veterans’ benefits.
“In sharp contrast, the Democratic 2004 budget proposal addressed the rising demand for veterans’ health care by adding $216 million above the Republican plan with no cuts to veterans' benefits over the next ten years.
“As all Americans observe Memorial Day this weekend, we should be reminded of the importance of investing in the programs and services our veterans deserve, not pulling back on our promises.”