President Bush Vetoes Defense-Policy Bill That Had Veterans Health Funding

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Veterans Health

reports (Pullizi, President Bush on Dec. 28, 2007, vetoed a $696 billiondefense-policy bill (HR 1585) that included improvements to veterans'health care benefits and pay increases for servicemembers, the WallStreet JournalWall Street Journal,12/29/07).

The bill would have included nearly $950 millionfor military health care in fiscal year 2008. The bill included fouramendments, including one that would have barred mostpersonality-disorder discharges from the military until the Pentagonsubmits a report on such discharges and another that would haveensured wounded veterans receive transitional care from the militaryfor 180 days from the time the servicemember is separated from activeduty. The third amendment would have extended for one year currentprohibitions on raising military health care fees and prescriptiondrug copayments, while the final amendment would have permittedNational Guard and Reserve members who have served two years ofactive-duty service to receive accelerated G.I. Bill educationalbenefits (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 10/2/07).

In astatement released by the White House, Bush said the bill contained aprovision that would have placed the U.S. in a position to faceliability lawsuits linked to actions that occurred under former Iraqileader Saddam Hussein's rule (Wall Street Journal,12/29/07). According to the NewYork Times, the veto "surprised and infuriatedDemocratic lawmakers and even some Republicans, who complained theWhite House had failed to raise its concerns earlier." WhiteHouse officials said the administration will collaborate withlawmakers to restore dozens of new military and veterans programswhen Congress reconvenes this month (Myers/Herszenhorn, NewYork Times, 12/29/07).

TRICARE

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S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for healthaffairs, said he believes enrollment fees, copayments and deductiblesfor military retirees and dependents covered under TRICARE will"begin to gradually go up" within "the next year ortwo," the Newport NewsDaily Press reports. The TaskForce on the Future of Military Health Care has proposed thathigher fees and copays for retirees younger than age 65 and theirfamilies be phased in over four years and that TRICARE Standardbeneficiaries, the fee-for-service plan, pay higher deductibles.Congress for the last two years has worked to block the increases,saying that Departmentof Defense officials had "options to constrain the growth ofhealth care spending in ways that don't disadvantage" retirees.

Casscells on Dec. 13, 2007, told reporters that the taskforce "just made so much sense" because 12 years of frozenfees can have an "adverse" effect on TRICARE benefits.Casscells said that military retirees who continue to work and shiftfrom employer-based health plans to TRICARE are raising system costs,adding, "TRICARE has gotten so popular that if we subsidize itartificially, we will do so at the detriment to our militarytreatment facilities."

According to Casscells, the higherfees proposed by the task force are "being discussed now"in the Pentagon and with the White House Officeof Management and Budget, and they likely will be endorsed insome form in the president's fiscal year 2009 defense appropriationsbill (Newport News Daily Press, 12/30/07).

Editorial

Congress in December 2007 "took a big step in making amends"for "the disgraceful way" the U.S. has "treated itsreturning war wounded" by incorporating the Wounded Warrior Actinto the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act and appointing a newDepartment of VeteransAffairs secretary, a WashingtonPost editorial states. According to the Post,these efforts "aimed at fixing and upgrading the military healthcare system" are "important developments in righting thewrongs against America's soldiers."

The legislation callsfor "improvements in health care and benefits and the beginningof disability reform," the editorial states. It adds, "Mostsignificant, the measure sets in place an overarching policy thatrequires [VA] and the DefenseDepartment to work together -- not at cross-purposes -- oncomprehensive reforms."

The Post continues,"Still on the to-do list is the big issue of how to restructurethe disability system." The editorial concludes, "No onequestions the need for fixes, but how to carry out reform is provingto be a thorny issue, one that requires the continued attention ofCongress if it wants to support the troops" (WashingtonPost, 12/22/07).

Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Health Policy Report, search the archives, andsign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report ispublished for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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