Benefits To Thousands Of Priority 8 Veterans May Reopen
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary-nominee Eric Shinseki on Monday said that, if confirmed, he would expand VA health coverage to about 265,000 middle-income veterans who had been denied the benefits since 2003, the AP/Boston Globe reports (Xen, AP/Boston Globe, 1/6).
At a House panel briefing on Monday, lawmakers said that the fiscal 2009 VA spending bill includes $375 million to increase VA health coverage of "Priority 8" veterans with incomes of more than $30,000 annually. Priority 8 indicates those veterans with the least urgent need for care. The funding provision aims to increase enrollment of these veterans by 10%. In January 2003, new Priority 8 veterans were blocked from joining the program if their incomes exceeded $30,000 annually.
VA told members of the House Appropriations Military, Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee that funding will be formally disbursed to VA hospitals and clinics later this month in order to have the new enrollment plan in place by June. In the meantime, VA will work with the White House Office of Management and Budget to develop a regulatory authority and propose it as a rule in the Federal Register.
As the regulatory authority is developed, enrollment will be modified to include veterans whose income exceeds the current maximum amount by 10% or less, according to CQ Today (Johnson, CQ Today, 1/6).
Shinseki in a written disclosure obtained by the Associated Press also said he plans to reduce to six months the wait experienced by veterans applying for disability benefits, in part by switching to "an integrated, all-electronic claims processing system." He said his first goal will be to achieve VA's strategic goal of reducing the average wait to 145 days. He also wrote that he would order an "independent, thorough" review to ensure that VA will not delay outlays of millions of dollars in new benefits in August. At least 520,000 veterans are expected to receive these payments, up from about 250,000 annually. Shinseki said, "If confirmed, I would focus on these issues and the development of a credible and adequate 2010 budget request during my first 90 days in office," adding that VA funding issues in the past created "significant management difficulties" that led to delays in medical care (AP/Boston Globe, 1/6).
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