MR. AKAKA. Mr. President, the Budget Resolution fails veterans. It is just that simple. I am pleased to stand with my colleagues who joined me in offering this veterans' health care amendment, which adds $2.85 billion for VA health care.
While I largely agree with the President on the overall amount needed for VA health care, I take issue with how he chooses to fund the system. The Administration's approach is to ask veterans to pay more for their care via increased copayments for medications and a new user fee for middle-income veterans. Our approach, instead, asks for appropriated dollars. Real money for real veterans' health care needs.
I remain unclear about whether sufficient funding was included to compensate for these proposals.
Our amendment would add $2.85 billion to the Resolution. How was this amount derived? I stress that nearly all of these amounts come directly from the President's own budget. According to the Administration's own numbers, VA needs $1.4 billion just to cover medical care inflation and automatic salary adjustments for health care workers. The level in the Budget Resolution before us does not even come close to covering that amount.
Additionally, VA requires funding to absorb new patient workload, from new veterans returning home from both Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom and from older veterans who are just now turning to VA.
The amendment also provides funds to allow for modest increases in mental health and prosthetics. Again, these numbers follow those sent forward by the President. While it is broadly acknowledged that VA could do much more in these areas and others, we recognize that the budget climate is tight. Mental health and prosthetics must receive at least modest increases if we are to truly fulfill the promises we made to these men and women when they were sent to war.
The only new cost that was not included in the President's budget ? and therefore the Budget Resolution ? is funding to allow middle-income veterans to enroll with VA for care. In January of 2003, the President cut-off enrollment to middle-income veterans. To date, 200,000 veterans have been turned away. This amendment provides the money to make the system accessible to all who have served. It is simply wrong to exclude any men and women who have served our country from VA services, especially at a time of war.
While some of my colleagues will argue that the President's budget is a good one for VA, I would like to share some of the comments of the veterans service organizations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, with its 2.4 million members, says that ?it is clear that the proper funding of veterans health care is not an Administration priority.?
The Disabled American Veterans has characterized this budget ? and therefore the Budget Resolution ? as ?one of the most tight-fisted, miserly budgets for veterans programs in recent memory.?
Similarly, my colleagues will argue that the President has done more for VA health care than any President in recent memory. I would clarify, however, that Congress, through this amendment process, which has increased veterans health care spending year after year.
Mr. President, I implore you and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to recognize the great need that exists for veterans' health care. Thank you.