Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, this week we commemorate National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week.
In recent years, more than 10 million letters and cards, and thousands of personal visits have warmed the hearts of hospitalized veterans during National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week. This wonderful outpouring of gratitude has reached across the VA health care system's 155 hospitals, their 130-plus nursing homes, and 45 domiciliaries--which comprise the Nation's largest integrated health care system.
I commend each and every person who has or will use this week as an opportunity to show their gratitude and respect to hospitalized veterans. Yet I do not feel that we should stop when this week ends. Hospitalized veterans, and all veterans, should remain in our hearts and minds throughout the year. With them in mind, I want to discuss, at this fitting moment, the President's budget proposal for VA.
I am concerned that President Bush's budget for VA medical care is out of touch with the demands being placed on the VA health care system. After accounting for inflation and increased utilization costs, President Bush's budget for VA health care translates to a mere fourteen-hundredth of a 1-percent increase in VA's health care budget. The President proposes that the VA health system's budget stays virtually the same, while veterans' needs are changing and increasing.
Nearly 3,500 men and women in uniform have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and nearly 25,000 have been wounded in action. Veterans of previous wars are increasingly facing age-related health concerns. This is a critical time of critical need. At this time, is a budget increase translating to less than one-seventh of one percent responsible? Is it really enough?
We should salute our hospitalized veterans by providing the funds for the health care they need and have earned. After all, who can accept the alternative? Should we turn away aging veterans? Deny proper medical care to the physically wounded and mentally scarred? Is it any good to have a week honoring hospitalized veterans if we do not tend to their wounds in the coming year?
I believe serving veterans is a priority, especially those with urgent, pressing medical needs. On this week as much as any other, we must make attending to those needs a budget priority as well.
February 15, 2007