Washington, D.C. -- Today U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) began his work to increase the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care budget. At a Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing, Senator Akaka told VA Secretary Nicholson, "This budget is much more robust than last year's. But let there be no mistake: The budget is merely a starting point. It requires our work to add funding to ensure that VA has the financial tools to make it work."
"I have a number of concerns that I will work on in the weeks ahead as we seek to shape the Department's budget for next year," added Senator Akaka. "Rather than providing sufficient funding, this budget calls upon veterans to shoulder the costs. We are presented with recycled proposals to double the drug copayment and to charge a yearly enrollment fee for veterans who simply want to use VA care."
Toward the end of the hearing, Senator Akaka also heard from a middle-income veteran who would have to shoulder these new additional costs proposed by the Administration. Louis Green, of New Jersey, told Senator Akaka that the new fees -- while considered by some to be modest -- would devastate his family's already tight budget. Green's out-of-pocket costs would go up by $670 a year if the President's proposals became law.
Green said, "This increase would create a very serious hardship for me to choose what monthly expenses I have to reduce. I ask Congress and our citizens to recognize that all our veterans deserve and are entitled to veterans health care; therefore, we should not be driven out of VA."
Senator Akaka also told the VA Secretary, "Let me set the record straight about the types of veterans who would be shouldering these costs. These veterans are not "affluent," as they have been described. They are veterans living in states like Hawaii -- where the cost of living is one of America's highest. We are talking about veterans making as little as $26,902 a year."
The next step for Senator Akaka is to ensure the FY07 Budget Resolution contains enough funding to completely reject the increased copayments and new enrollment fee.