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Dems Fuming Over White House Plan To Make Vets Pay For Service Injuries

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Democrats in Congress are organizing to squash a White House proposal that would require veterans to use private insurance to pay for treatment of their combat and service-related injuries.

In a letter being sent to the White House, a group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Glenn Nye (D-VA), warned that such a proposal "could harm our veterans and their families in unintended, yet very serious ways, jeopardizing their families' health care and even negatively affecting veterans' employment opportunities."

"While we strongly support your plans to increase funding for the VA by $25 billion over the next five years," the letter reads, "it is with equal conviction that we oppose the proposal to bill veterans' private health insurance plans for care and treatment of service-connected injuries or disabilities."

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) is leading a similar effort in coordination with Nye. Her letter is even more forcefully worded, calling the White House proposal "deeply troubling" and charging that it "ignores the mission of the VA."

"We cannot compromise on the promise we have made to those who serve our Nation," Kirkpatrick states.

Additionally, in a statement to the Huffington Post, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, one of the foremost champions of veterans' concerns in the Senate, called the issue of outsourcing health coverage from the VA a non-starter.

"Treatment for service-connected injuries is clearly within the responsibility of the U.S. government through the Department of Veterans Affairs -- period," Webb said.

The Obama administration has insisted that they are non-committal when it comes to a final decision on the actual policy, and White House officials will meet for the second time with veterans groups on Wednesday.

During his press conference on Tuesday, spokesman Robert Gibbs pointed out the president has pledged an "11 percent increase in the discretionary spending" in the VA budget.

Veterans "can have confidence that the budget the president has proposed represents an historic increase in discretionary spending to take care of our wounded warriors," said Gibbs. "[T]his president takes very seriously the needs of our wounded warriors that have given so much to protect our freedom on battlefields throughout the world."

Veterans groups say they're concerned that the Obama proposal could ultimately lead to the privatization of health care for returning soldiers, and note that third-party billing for war-related injuries could result in ballooning insurance costs.

While giving the administration the benefit of the doubt that they may dismiss the proposal, Jon Soltz, executive director of VoteVets, nevertheless offered preemptive disappointment.

"We don't know if this is going to be the proposal, or if it is a serious consideration or not," he told the Huffington Post. "So, it's premature to go to the White House with pitchforks at this point. That having been said, if it is proposed, we would be opposed, and can't imagine any veterans group that would be for it. There's no appetite for it on the Hill, either. There are ways to eliminate waste at every level of government, though, including the VA. I think we'd all like to sit down with the administration and find areas of the VA budget that are redundant or wasteful, to make sure every dollar spent there is necessary."

Here is the full letter being circulated by Rep. Nye:

March 17, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President,

We first want to take this opportunity to thank you for the clear commitment your administration's budget outline makes to our nation's veterans. The proposed 10 percent increase in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for next fiscal year is truly historic. We believe the 2010 budget will ensure the VA never again faces the chronic under-funding that prevented countless veterans from receiving the health benefits they have earned.

While we strongly support your plans to increase funding for the VA by $25 billion over the next five years, it is with equal conviction that we oppose the proposal to bill veterans' private health insurance plans for care and treatment of service-connected injuries or disabilities.

We do not give our veterans health care - they earn it - and it would be unacceptable for the VA to ask our veterans to pay for the treatment of injuries received while serving our nation in uniform. That responsibility belongs to the VA, and it would be wrong to outsource the responsibility of covering the care of those veterans to private insurance companies.

Additionally, this proposal could harm our veterans and their families in unintended, yet very serious ways, jeopardizing their families' health care and even negatively affecting veterans' employment opportunities. Billing a veteran's private health insurance for the treatment of service-connected injuries could lead to increased health care premiums, and could potentially discourage employers from hiring veterans.

We know you are committed to expanding employment opportunities for veterans. Already this year, your administration and Congress have worked to create countless jobs for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this proposal would undermine our efforts.

We urge you to take this proposal off the table, and let us instead focus on ensuring that our veterans receive the full care and benefits they have earned. The moral obligation our nation has to our veterans demands nothing less. We are happy to discuss these issues with you further as we move toward a final budget for the VA.

We would like to thank you again for your commitment to improving care for the men and women who have borne the battle, and who have sacrificed their health and well-being in serving their country. Thank you for your service to our nation.