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Plan to divest injured vets of VA benefits derailed

By Staff | Mar 21, 2009

The Obama administration removed a budget proposal on Wednesday that would have increased payments from a veteran’s insurance company for service-related injuries.
Introduced weeks ago, the proposal would have ended the VA’s historical responsibility of covering the medical needs of soldiers wounded in the field, said Richard Jones, co-director of the National Military and Veterans Alliance.
“Most folks felt this is a national responsibility of a noble nation and not a responsibility of a segment of the private sector, but a responsibility of all Americans for those who defend and protect their freedom,” said Jones.
Soldiers who have left the military currently have their insurance companies pay for issues not related to their service — such as a car accident or sports injury at home — but taxpayers have been responsible for covering health problems that arose in the field.
When a soldier is in active duty they’re covered medically by the Department of Defense, but as soon as they leave the military their medical treatments are picked up by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
According to Kim Gaide, coordinator of Lee Memorial Health System’s Military Support group, many local veterans and their families were furious over the proposed change.
Veteran advocates discovered the proposal after they noticed a 36 percent increase in the amount of insurance payments collected by the VA in the 2010 proposed budget, said Davis.
“A lot of them (local veterans) went online to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and sent Obama their opinion,” said Gaide. “We are relieved for right now but the vote is up in April so we are sitting tight.”
Officials pointed out that this proposal may have caused insurance companies to increase premiums and make it difficult for veterans to obtain private insurance.
Jones said President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised the NMVA that the proposal has been eliminated from the 2010 budget package, but the official outline won’t be released until April.
“I think we can take assurance that this is no longer under consideration,” said Jones.
This proposal was likely generated by the Office of Management and Budget, he said, as a way to reduce some expenditures. Now that U.S. forces are reengaging in Afghanistan it is unlikely any proposal increasing a veteran’s medical bills would stand.
Joe Davis, spokesperson for Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, said the president withdrew this specific proposal on Wednesday. He added that the proposal also included many laudable initiatives besides the controversial change.
“Nobody in the veterans community knows what the reason was behind it. What we are concerned about is that the proposal is dead,” said Davis.
Obama’s new budget for the VA reportedly increases disability compensation and retirement pay for medically retired veterans, targets access to care for rural veterans and increases funding for soldiers to join the VA system.