Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Will Obama Go AWOL on VA Health Benefits?

Will Obama Go AWOL on VA Health Benefits? Article

If you were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan and you have not paid your
co-pay, please press 1. If you were injured during military training and
you have not yet reached your deductible, please press 2. If your family has
reached its maximum insurance benefit, please call back after you have
purchased additional coverage. Thank you for your service."

Before the leaders of other veterans groups and I met with President
Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, I believed a phone call like the one
described above unimaginable. Now it seems all too possible.

President Obama made clear during our discussion that he intends to force
private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans
with service-connected disabilities. He is trying to unfairly generate
$540 million on the backs of veterans.

The proposed requirement for private companies to reimburse the Department
of Veterans Affairs (VA) would not only be unfair, but would have an adverse
impact on service-connected disabled veterans and their families.
Depending on the severity of the medical conditions involved, maximum insurance
coverage limits could be reached through treatment of the veteran's
condition alone. That would leave the rest of the family without health-care

Currently, when veterans go to a VA hospital or related health-care
facility for treatment of a service-connected disability, they receive the care
without any billing to the veterans or the veterans' insurance. (On the
other hand, those veterans who choose the VA for the treatment of
nonservice-connected disabilities pay a co-pay, and the VA bills private
insurance companies reasonable charges.)

Perhaps nobody would be hit harder by the Obama administration's proposal
than the thousands of veterans who own small businesses. Not only will
their private insurance premiums be drastically elevated to cover
service-connected disabilities, but many will be forced to cut staff as a
result. The unemployment rate for veterans may climb even higher, as
businesses avoid hiring these heroes for fear of the impact they would
have on insurance rates.

This plan is as unfair as it is unnecessary. According to the U.S.
Constitution, it is the president and Congress who send troops in harm's
way, not the CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

As head of the nation's largest veterans organization, I was startled by
this radical shift of position the president has taken. Last October,
candidate Obama listed several proposals he had for the VA and none of
them included billing veterans' insurance providers.

In fact, when asked how he would improve the funding formula for the VA's
health-care system, then-Sen. Obama told the American Legion Magazine, "It
starts with the president saying that if I'm budgeting for war, then I am
also budgeting for VA. If I've got a half-a-trillion-dollar Pentagon
budget, then I'd better make sure that I make some of those billions of dollars
available to care for the soldiers once they come home. It should be a
non-negotiable proposition that people are receiving the services that
they need. This is the reason I joined the Veterans Affairs Committee --
because I believe deeply in that principle."

So I ask President Obama now, for all America's veterans, where is that
principled stance today? By abandoning its responsibilities to the heroic
men and women who answered our nation's call, the federal government is
breaking a sacred promise. Moreover, it is unnecessary.

The 2.6 million member American Legion has long advocated for Medicare to
reimburse the VA for its treatment of Medicare-eligible veterans. Veterans
pay into the Medicare-system, yet they are unable to use Medicare benefits
in the VA health system, which was created specifically for them. The
Indian Health Service is successfully billing and collecting needed revenue for
both Medicare and Medicaid. We also believe that direct billing between
two federal agencies will reduce the opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse
that tend to occur when for-profit corporations enter the mix.

Our military veterans have already served this country. They have given us
their blood, sweat and devotion. Under President Obama's proposal, the
most severely wounded veterans could easily exceed their maximum insurance
benefit, leaving their family without any additional coverage. This is
hardly the thanks of a grateful nation.

Mr. Rehbein, a former U.S. Army sergeant of the Vietnam War era, is
national commander of the 2.6 million-member American Legion, the nation's largest
wartime veterans organization."

Sphere: Related Content