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Schumer Reveals Upstate NY Vets Shortchanged $80 Million In Health Care In Proposed Budget: Monthly Co-Pay Slated To Almost Double, Plus A New $250 VA User Fee

As Senate Debates Emergency Spending Bill, Schumer and Others Launch Effort To Add $430 Million To Current Budget for Vets Healthcare

Under New Budget Proposal Vets Monthly Co-Pay Increases From $8 to $15, New $250 User Fee Charged For Use of VA Health Services Senator Announces Opposition

Schumer to Detail How Much Vets Would Be Shortchanged In Each County; Capital Region Vets Hit By $8.2 million

Under the most recent federal budget proposal, more than 280,000 upstate New York veterans would be shortchanged almost $80 million in health care funding, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed today. Schumer announced an amendment to the pending Emergency Supplemental spending bill, which would add $430 million to current funding for veterans health care, and send New York more than $15 million in additional funding for Vet Centers, mental health services, and general health care.

This is the time to bolster vets health care not gut it, Schumer said. We must ensure the VA health care system receives the funding it needs so veterans get the quality health care they deserve. The bottom line is that these veterans have already made one sacrifice for their nation, they shouldn't be forced to make another.

The budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2007 provides insufficient funding for veterans healthcare in light of rising costs and increasing demand for VA services as a result of ongoing U.S. military efforts. The Budget provides approximately $31 billion for veterans healthcare, a roughly $3.2 billion increase over last year. This increase still only accounts for slightly more than half of the $5.7 billion increase it is estimated would be required to allow the VA to meet its core mission and obligations. As a result, veterans health care will be short by almost $2.5 billion, shortchange New York veterans about $150 million needed to provide adequate service. In addition to these cuts, the Administrations budget would place increased burdens on certain veterans by doubling the monthly copayment for prescription drugs from $8 to 15 and charging a $250 user fee to for the use of VA health services.

The additional user fees and prescription drug copays would be assessed on all Priority 7 and Priority 8 veterans. There are currently about 122,000 Priority 7 and Priority 8 veterans enrolled in the VA Health Service in upstate New York. Veterans are generally classified as Priority 7 or Priority 8 if they do not have active service related disabilities. Under the proposed budget, each of these veterans would have a fee added to their monthly health care bill, totaling an additional $250 more per year.

The increase in the prescription drug copay would also be assessed only on Priority 7 and Priority 8 veterans. The increase would be per prescription, meaning the more prescriptions an injured veteran gets, the more they pay.

These fees could mean an increase of almost $1,000 or more per year on the typical veterans health care bill. For example, if a Priority 7 veteran had eight regular prescriptions, the monthly copay for each prescription would go from $8 to $15 per month. This would raise the cost for their prescriptions by $672 for the entire year. If you add the $250 user fee, thats an increase of $922 for health care per year.

VA projected it would treat 110,000 returning veterans this FY, but VA has already treated 74,000 just in this quarter. VA data also shows that the number of new veterans enrolled in the department's health care system and waiting for their first clinic appointment to be scheduled has doubled in the year. As of April 2005, 15,211 veterans were waiting. This month, the number has ballooned to 30,475. Over the course of two years, the number of new enrollees waiting has increased by over 400 percent.

Schumer today released a countybycounty report detailing how much each region would be shortchanged under the current budget proposal, and how much veterans would pay under the increased fees:

" 34,302 Capital Region veterans could lose out on approximately $8.2 million;
" 30,558 Central New York veterans could lose out on approximately $9.2 million;
" 37,731 Rochester/Finger Lakes veterans could lose out on approximately $9.8 million;
" 63,076 Hudson Valley veterans could lose out on approximately $20 million;
" 21,116 North Country veterans could lose out on approximately $3.2 million;
" 24,019 Southern Tier veterans could lose out on approximately $6.5 million;
" 52,834 Western New York veterans could lose out on approximately $22.9 million.

In response, Schumer announced several efforts to bolster funding for veterans healthcare. Specifically, Schumer discussed two measures:

" Schumer introduced with Senator Akaka of Hawaii an amendment to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill that would directly address ongoing shortfalls in veterans health care funding. The amendment adds a total of $430 million to VA health Care systems. This amount will go directly to health care, mental health care, and prosthetics services at VA. The amendment includes $80 million for the VA Adjustment Counseling Service, $164 million for the VAs Comprehensive Mental Health Plan, and $182 million to deal with existing shortfalls at VA hospitals and the overall network.

" Schumer is also pushing the Fulfilling Our Duty to America's Veterans Act to reverse existing and future shortfalls in the VA Health Care Budget and eliminate the need for any increases in user fees or prescription drug copays. The bill would seek to ensure adequate funding for all veterans health care needs.

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