Craig Meets With Budget Committee
After Three Days of Hearings With Veterans


(Washington, DC) After a three day marathon of joint hearings held by the U.S. Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committees, Senator Larry Craig, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, today reiterated his support for our nation's military heroes and took their case to the Senate Budget Committee.

"It has been wonderful to hear from some of our nation's leading veteran's organizations. While there has been some praise for past successes, it is clear from the testimony we have listened to that there is also dissatisfaction with the budget for VA that was presented to Congress by the White House. I want veterans to know that Congress hears you," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho).

Craig's comments came at the close of the three days of testimony with seven national veterans' organizations: the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Blinded Veterans Association, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Jewish War Veterans.

After meeting today with veterans in the morning, Craig attended a Senate Budget Committee hearing in the afternoon.

"Although I am not a member of that committee, I went there informally to encourage members to protect the additional funding for veterans that I have been seeking," Craig said.

Three weeks ago Chairman Craig officially recommended to the Senate Budget Committee that it should reject both doubling prescription drug co-pays for veterans and decreased spending on state nursing homes for veterans, as proposed in the most recent VA budget.

He also called on Congress to provide additional funding for medical services for veterans, above what the president had proposed, while expressing support for the president's $200 million proposed increases in funding for mental health services and prosthetic care for returning soldiers. Craig also expressed support for the president's proposed increased funding to pay for emergency medical services obtained by enrolled veterans at non-VA hospitals.

"President Bush has been good for veterans. While there were proposed budget cuts for veterans under the former president, funding for the VA under President Bush has increased over 40 percent, waiting times at VA hospitals have been reduced and VA hospitals are now ranked among the best in the nation," Craig said. Communications Director

Comment by President Louis Dechert, KWVA: Patriot National Commander Robert Lichtenberger, Military Order of the Purple Heart, included the views of our organization. See the associated article regarding the hearings as reported in the European edition of The Stars and Stripes.

By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Thursday, March 10, 2005

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of disabled veterans booed and jeered Republican House members on Tuesday for their budget proposal for veterans’ health care, which critics call inadequate to deal with the future needs of current troops.

Following testimony before a pair of congressional committees by officials from the Disabled American Veterans, or DAV, the crowd of more than 400 wounded and disabled veterans cheered House members who criticized the president’s budget plans and heckled representatives who defended the spending.

The loudest heckling was reserved for House Veterans’ Affairs chairman Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., who was criticized by Democrats on the committee and rebuked the crowd at one point by saying “where the river is the shallowest, it makes the most noise.”

The proposed 2006 budget includes a 1.1 percent increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which officials from the DAV called too little to deal with the large number of servicemembers expected to return from Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs, mental illnesses and other service injuries.

In addition, the budget would require veterans without combat injuries and who make more than $25,000 a year to pay a $250 enrollment fee to use department health services.

James Sursely, national commander of the DAV, which calls itself the voice of service-connected disabled veterans, said he wants to see an additional $3.4 billion added to the budget for veterans’ medical care, and see the new fees removed.

But Republicans on the committee have already forwarded their budget proposals to House officials, and they include an enrollment fee and only slight funding increases.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., called Buyer and his supporters hypocrites for scheduling Tuesday’s hearing without any intention of considering the veterans’ budget concerns.

“This budget is an insult to our troops and to you,” he told the crowd, who responded with a standing ovation. “This is unconscionable.”

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., called promises made by Republicans “frankly a lot of [expletive],” and was quickly censured by Buyer as the crowd roared in approval.

Buyer said the committee is focused on making sure the poorest and most severely injured veterans continue to receive free medical care, and said many affluent, uninjured veterans can currently exploit the low-cost health care system. If changes are not made, the quality of care could suffer, he said.

Army Sgt. Tyler Hall, a 24-year-old Alaskan who lost part of his left leg in an improvised explosive device blast in August, said he attended Tuesday’s hearing to learn more about the legislative process and see how he can help other soldiers like himself.

“The number of disabled vets is growing, so this affects us quite a bit,” he said. “You almost automatically go into the VA hospitals, so we need to make sure the care is there.”

Disabled Veterans Protest Budget Proposal for Health Care  (<--- Click to read the Stars and Stripes article quoted above)