Asked to name one question she would like to pose to senior officials about the Walter Reed Scandal, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest said, “The root of so much that we cover is money. And the question is, why isn’t this funded to the extent that it needs to be funded?”
Indeed, as Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times, the crisis in the veterans’ health system “starts with money“:
The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans’ medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.
To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.
More important, the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system. As the agency’s Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack “special eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service,” will be turned away.
The administration’s approach to funding wounded veterans should already be clear. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal noted the growing cost of veterans benefits due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s response was to complain that it would “rather use [the funds] to help troops fighting today.”
“The amounts have gotten to the point where they are hurtful. They are taking away from the nation’s ability to defend itself,” says David Chu, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness.
During today’s hearing, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) called Chu’s remark “offensive.” Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, whose “eye and skull were shattered by an AK-47 round” in Iraq and who is waiting for prosthetic eye surgery, said Chu was “absolutely” inaccurate.