As recently as March 21, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) put out a statement urging federal lawmakers to vote against health care reform, saying the organization was “furious” with the legislation:
“The president and the Democratic leadership are betraying America’s veterans,” said Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis., who leads the 2.1 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries.
Tradewell’s assessment was off the mark. The new health care law has an individual responsibility requirement, meaning that every person must have health coverage (or receive an affordability waiver), otherwise he/she will be subjected to a fee. While the Affordable Care Act doesn’t explicitly state that TRICARE — the military’s health program — will meet the individual responsibility requirement, everyone from the chairs of relevant House committees to Veterans Affairs officials to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has asserted that TRICARE would meet the requirement. On March 20, the House — out of an abundance of caution — unanimously passed separate legislation affirming that TRICARE will not be affected, and Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Tradewell was also out-of-step with the heads of other veterans’ organizations. The American Legion, usually one of the most conservative veterans groups, said military members “can rest assured that her TRICARE benefits are secure under the law signed by President Obama.” Even Eric Hilleman, director of VFW’s National Legislative Service, refused to defend his commander’s remarks, testifying to the House Appropriations Committee that there “is clear demonstration that this Congress and the administration has put forward an incredible effort on behalf of America’s veterans.”
This week, Tradewell issued a qualified apology for using “too harsh of a word.” However, he still went on to bash the Affordable Care Act:
“But I did not apologize for our strong advocacy on the issue,” he said.
“The new national healthcare bill signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday is flawed, not because of what it provides, but because of what it does not protect — all the healthcare programs provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.”
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) expressed disappointment with Tradewell’s apology, saying that in some ways, “it is worse than the original statement.” “We believe there is nothing in health care reform that harms veterans health care,” he said. “If there is something in there, we will fix it.”
The TRICARE fix still isn’t law because Republicans have held it up in the Senate. On Wednesday, Webb asked unanimous consent to approve his bill. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), however, objected. “Let the American people understand the Republicans objected to a matter that could have been fixed by law tomorrow,” said Webb.