Republicans Joining Dems In Congress To Increase Funds For Vets’ Health Care
Seeking to avoid political embarrassment and forced to deal with a Veteran Administration budget shortfall created partly by higher casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress agreed with President George W. Bush’s request last Thursday and appropriated $975 million in emergency funds for veterans.
Last Wednesday, the Senate, prompted by the same complaints about underfunding veterans and their families, approved a $1.5 billion budget increase for the federal Veterans’ Administration. Senators, both Democrat and Republican, vowed after the House approved the lower amount that they would fight to allot the higher figure when the lawmaker return from their one-week Fourth of July holiday recess.
The turnabout by Senate and House GOP-ers has caused the Bush Presidential Administration, which has been under sharp attack by veterans’ groups throughout the country as well as Democrats, because of it reduced veterans’ health care spending, also to change its position.
According to a New York Times report from Washington last Wednesday, the move to sharply increase the VA budget was being led by Senator Larry E. Craig, an Idaho Republican, who chairs the Veteran Affairs Committee.
Craig said he had discussed the $1.5 billion increase with White House officials who had earlier shot down the idea of emergency spending. They, too, have had a change in position.
Craig was quoted: “The message to veterans is very clear, and it is a strong bipartisan message that they will be served.”
The move toward increasing spending on veterans’ health care was the same among House Republicans. One leader said it was possible that action to increase the appropriation could be taken by today.
Bush Administration Veteran Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, testifying before Veterans Affairs Committees in both houses, said the $1 billion decrease in the VA budget assumed that the agency would be treating only 23,553 veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, but the number was actually 103,000.
Ironically, President George W. Bush’s appointment of Nicholson about a year ago triggered fears among major veterans’ organizations and Democrats that the Administration was going to scale back the VA budget. That eventually proved true and local Democratic congressmembers, among them Joseph Crowley, Carolyn Maloney and Anthony Weiner, all from Queens, took up the fight to keep the Manhattan VA hospital open amid reports that it would be closed and its patients switched to the VA hospital in Brooklyn. The Manhattan closure had not been finalized as of this writing.
Also, some wounded vets under treatment for injuries sustained in previous wars had complained that their care was being reduced or that they were being subjected to a means test before continuing in some treatment programs.
However, perhaps the Administration is now being forced to change its attitude toward all veterans who need care in light of the heavy and continuing casualties resulting from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“BEAT THE HEAT” TIPS FROM NYSERDA: Prompted by the recent high temperatures and often muggy weather, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers the following energy tips to keep home and wallet comfortable when the heat rises.
First off, NYSERDA advises using air conditioners which are rated most efficient by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because they cool better and are less costly to run. If your AC has been around for a while, it may be time for a change. Make sure you choose the right size for the room you want to cool, maintain it properly and use it wisely, putting the thermostat at the proper setting. Also, take a look around. Perhaps some alterations and improvements can be made to make cooling—and heating—more efficient and less costly.
New York Energy Smart programs are funded by the major electric distribution companies and NYSERDA through the public benefit corporation that administers funds collected from them.