WASHINGTON – An Ohio congressman said Wednesday that he and a Vietnam veterans group will sue Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi (search) for failing to publicize information about health care benefits and services for veterans and their families.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (search) has halted all efforts aimed at enrolling new veterans into the health care system because of a budget crunch.
Citing a tight budget and overwhelming demand, the department said in a July 2002 memo that marketing health care services at health fairs, open houses or veterans meetings was inappropriate.
Veterans have been enduring waits of up to two years for appointments since demand increased after the VA opened its medical facilities to all veterans in 1998.
Rep. Ted Strickland (search), D-Ohio, said a congressional mandate requires the agency to perform outreach activities. He said he has written to and met with Principi about the issue and decided to file the lawsuit only as a last resort.
"Rationing care or rationing services is just not acceptable," said Strickland, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Phil Budahn, a VA spokesman, didn't immediately comment on the lawsuit.
A bill to fund the VA for the current fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, is pending in Congress. The House-passed version would allocate $28.6 billion for veterans' health care, $2.8 billion more than last year. The Senate is considering the bill this week.
Strickland said these funding levels aren't high enough and he hopes his lawsuit will call attention to the need for additional veterans health care spending.
Strickland and Thomas Corey, president of Vietnam Veterans of America (search), plan to file the lawsuit before a news conference Thursday morning.