Rendell Criticizes National Guard Benefit Cuts

While states are spending more to extend benefits to their National Guardsmen called to duty, the Bush administration is reducing benefits, Pennsylvania's Democratic governor said Saturday.

"While we the governors do all we can for our vets and our returning soldiers, our federal government has the primary responsibility for meeting the needs of our veterans," Gov. Ed Rendell (search) said in his party's weekly radio address. "And that's why I find the president's budget cuts for critical veterans services to be unconscionable."

In his budget, President Bush has proposed charging certain veterans a $250 annual registration fee and raising from $7 to $15 the copayment those veterans pay for a 30-day supply of prescription drugs. The budget also would cut $293.5 million by limiting the veterans whose care in state-operated veterans homes is reimbursed by the federal government.

"During this time of war, it is absolutely the wrong time for our federal government to step back from any of its commitment to our veterans," Rendell said. "To do so would be penny-wise but pound-foolish."

He said governors have developed ways to help returning troops and their families, and mentioned several Democratic state executives by name.

In New Mexico, he said, Gov. Bill Richardson last month signed into law a state-paid $250,000 life insurance benefit for its National Guard (search) members. In Iowa, Gov. Tom Vilsack signed legislation that allows state employees activated to military service to maintain their health insurance benefits and be reimbursed if their active-duty position pays less than their state job.

The proposed cuts in veterans health care are generally oriented toward veterans with higher incomes and veterans whose injuries or illnesses are not sustained from active duty, officials said.

Overall, the administration has proposed increasing its Veterans Affairs Department (search) budget by 2.7 percent to $70.8 billion.