WASHINGTON – While veterans are worried about proposed cuts to their health care, Vice President Dick Cheney tried to reassure the American Legion on Tuesday that the Bush administration is committed to improving the system.
"The President and I came to office determined to enhance the quality of veterans' health care, to significantly increase the resources going to (Veterans Affairs), to modernize VA facilities, to improve service to veterans' families and to trim the backlog in processing disability claims," Cheney said. "We're meeting these objectives, but we'll never be complacent about the progress being made."
Leaders of the 3 million-member American Legion have been increasingly vocal about proposed increases for some veterans in enrollment fees, prescription copayments, premiums and deductibles.
The nation's largest veterans organization is a key source of support for the administration's policies in the war on terror, even as approval ratings of the president and vice president have sagged.
The Associated Press reported Monday that under a White House budget proposal, tens of thousands of veterans with non-critical medical issues could see delays or even denial of care.
Cheney told the Legion's annual Washington meeting that "we get a steady stream of good advice" from the Legion.
Peter Gaytan, director of the Legion's veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, pressed the issue.
"We thank Vice President Cheney for speaking to the American Legion and we remind him that the Legion fully supports an adequate Veterans Administration budget to allow all eligible veterans to receive the care they have earned and deserve," Gaytan said in an interview after Cheney's remarks.
The AP reported that even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing by leaps and bounds, White House budget documents assume a cutback in 2008 and further cuts thereafter.
The White House's VA budget request for 2007 adds nearly $3 billion for veterans' health care, compared with 2006. But American Legion National Commander Thomas L. Bock said the request is built on charging new annual enrollment fees for VA care, nearly doubling drug copayments and driving 1.2 million veterans out of the system.
Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said the administration is playing sleight-of-hand budget games with veterans' benefits.
The White House says the long-term budget numbers don't represent actual administration policies. Similar cuts assumed in earlier budgets have been reversed.
"Instead, the president's subsequent budgets have increased funding for all of these programs," said White House budget office spokesman Scott Milburn. "The country can meet the goal of cutting the deficit in half and still invest in key programs for vulnerable Americans, and claims to the contrary aren't supported by the facts of recent budget history."