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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | Veteran Affairs | July 2007 

Veterans Question: Why No Health Care?
email this pageprint this pageemail usDavid Lord - PVNN

(William Crain)
Since January 2003, nearly 400,000 veterans have been denied enrollment in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health system because they have no service-connected disabilities and have incomes that exceed a VA means test, the same one used to screen for federal housing assistance.

The Bush administration's decision to suspend enrollment in V.A. healthcare for these "Priority Group 8" veterans was explained four years ago as necessary to ensure continued access to VA care for higher priority veterans - those with service disabilities, low incomes or special needs.

For many years, veterans who were not disabled or indigent could gain access to VA facilities only on a case-by-case and space available basis, explained Michael J. Kussman, VA's under secretary for health. It was the Veterans' Health Care Eligibility Act of 1996 that directed VA to build many more clinics and establish an enrollment system based on seven and later eight priority groups.

Suddenly, starting in 1999, VA healthcare was opened to any veteran. Over the next three years, the proportion of higher-income, non-disabled veterans enrolled the VA system climbed to 30 percent. By 2003, then-VA Secretary, Anthony Principi, decided the flood of Group 8 Veterans was endangering the system's ability to care for higher priority veterans. He used his authority under the 1996 law to suspend new Group 8 enrollments. Those already enrolled were unaffected. Group 8 Veterans remain 27 percent of all VA care enrollees.

Rep. Bob Filner (D) Ca. committee chairman, said the current situation represents "unacceptable" rationing of care, noting that veterans without disabilities are denied enrollment if incomes rise above $27,790. He tied the need to reopen VA care to any veteran to sacrifices being made in current conflicts.

"Any planned military surge must be accompanied by a surge for health care for veterans. We must be prepared to serve those that have served us - and we are not prepared at this time," Filner said.

But Republicans argue that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in fact, make opening VA healthcare to all veterans more difficult given the rising strain on staff and resources. Also, Group 8 veterans who have served in these wars do, in fact, gain access to VA healthcare for two years under current law. And if they enroll during that period they can remain enrolled.

VA estimates that 1.7 million new Group 8 veterans would enroll, if given the chance, and 600,000 would seek VA care. The added cost to VA over the next 10 years would be $33 billion.

Filner shot back that Buyer and Republican colleagues are all too willing to "support a surge when it comes to military action but cannot have a 'surge,' in your words, when it comes to treating our veterans."

The first witness Filner called to testify was Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor of medicine at Harvard and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. She cited 2004 surveys showing 1.8 million veterans had no health insurance and were not receiving VA care. An additional 3.8 million persons living with these veterans also lack health coverage.

Republicans pounced. Buyer said it was hard to get past the title of Woolhandler's testimony, "Uninsured Veterans: A Stain on America's Flag." Buyer said he found it particularly galling given that Woolhandler is on the faculty of a university that has such an "anti-military bias" that it won't support an ROTC program or allow recruiters on campus.

"You're changing the subject," Woolhandler said. "This is not about Harvard." She said the topic is access to care for all veterans. It "breaks my heart," she said, when she come across veterans denied VA health care.

"VA should be an important safety net and it's not," she said.

Stearns noted that the $27,790 means test for Group 8 veterans can be much higher. In San Francisco, for example, non-disabled veterans aren't denied VA enrollment unless household income for a veteran with one dependent exceeds $70,000.

Buyer and Miller suggested Democrats want VA health care open to all veterans as a first step toward a national health program. Woolhandler conceded that she envisions a day when veterans will be able to choose between care in the VA or using a national health insurance card anywhere else. But she disagreed with Stearns that this could lead to deterioration of care quality within the VA system.

Filner excused Woolhandler as a witness, ignoring Buyer's protests that he and colleagues had more questions. Next to testify was a panel representing veterans' service organizations who want VA care open to any veteran. But the system, they said, must be fully funded for all enrollees.


Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) - Health Outcomes Not Associated With Exposure to Certain Herbicide Agents, under Public Law 107-103, Section 201(d), has determined that a presumption of service connection is not warranted based on exposure to herbicides used in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam Era for the following health outcomes: (Of all the exclusions below, in my opinion, Parkinson's Disease will be most likely found related to Agent Orange Exposure.)

Hepatobiliary cancers; oral, nasal, and pharyngeal cancer; bone and joint cancer; skin cancers (melanoma, basal, and squamous cell); breast cancer; female reproductive cancer (cervix, uterus, and ovary); testicular cancer; urinary bladder cancer; renal cancer; leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)); abnormal sperm characteristics and infertility; spontaneous abortion; neonatal or infant death and stillbirth in offspring of exposed individuals; low birthweight in offspring of exposed individuals; neurobehavioral disorders (cognitive and neuropsychiatric); movement disorders including Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); chronic peripheral nervous system disorders; respiratory disorders; gastrointestinal, metabolic, and digestive disorders (changes in liver enzymes, lipid abnormalities, ulcers); immune system disorders (immune suppression, autoimmunity); circulatory disorders; amyloid light-chain (AL) amyloidosis; endometriosis; effects on thyroid homeostasis; gastrointestinal tumors (esophagus, stomach, pancreas, colon, rectum; brain tumors; and any other condition for which the Secretary has not specifically determined a presumption of service connection is warranted at this time.

I am taking a trip to Washington D.C., so I won't be writing articles for the next few weeks, but I'll be gathering information while I am there for my weekly column, which will resume upon my return. If you need assistance in the meantime, please contact me by email.
David Lord served in Vietnam as combat Marine for 1st Battalion 26th Marines, during which time he was severely wounded. He received the Purple Heart and the Presidential Unit Citation for his actions during the war in Vietnam. In Mexico, David now represents all veterans south of the U.S. border all the way to Panama, before the V.A. and the Board of Veterans Appeals. David Lord provides service to veterans at no fee. Veterans are welcome to drop in and discuss claims/benefits to which they are entitled by law at his office located at Bayside Properties, 160 Francisca Rodriguez, tel.: 223-4424, call him at home 299-5367, on his cell: 044 (322) 205-1323, or email him at

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