Proposed act expands VA benefits

By Tom Philpott: CNJ columnist

Congress is moving to reopen the VA health care system to many more thousands of Priority Group 8 veterans — those who aren’t poor, at least by government standards, and have no service-related ailments.

Disabled American Veterans and some partner organizations support such a move but with two caveats, explained DAV representatives.

First, accepting new “Priority 8” enrollees should be gradual to protect access to care for service-disabled veterans and all other current enrollees.

Second, resumption of Group 8 enrollments, which were suspended in 2003, should not occur without reform of VA health care budgeting to ensure that VA health budgets, year after year, finally become “sufficient, timely and predictable,” said Joseph A. Violante, DAV’s legislative director.

Congress has refused to pass a law that would mandate full funding of VA health care based on number of enrollees. But Violante said DAV has joined with eight other veterans’ service organizations to back an alternative to mandatory funding that lawmakers are more likely to embrace.

The Veterans’ Health Care Budget Reform Act, to be introduced after lawmakers return from recess in September, has two parts.