By Congressman Bill Delahunt
Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs Capital Asset Realignment to Enhance Services (CARES) Commission held a public hearing at the Brockton VA hospital to discuss proposed recommendations to close or realign VA centers in West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Brockton and Bedford. As you may know, the CARES process is supposed to develop an optimal approach to providing current and future veterans with equal or better health care than what is currently available.
The recommendations-posted at www.va.gov/cares - range from consolidating some or all of the services at each of the four hospitals by relocating them to different facilities, and then closing one or more of them.
In my view, closing or realigning existing services would place tremendous burdens on those who use the VA system. Asking aging veterans to travel additional distances-in some cases, after already waiting months for an appointment-is unconscionable. Relocating services will only add to a patient's stress and impede recovery. On the other hand, planning for new centers at a time of severe budget constraints is fiscally irresponsible.
Moreover, I have series doubts regarding the methodology used by the VA contractor, Price Waterhouse Cooper, in developing the recommendations. Their estimates seem to be based on erroneous figures. For instance, service projections were based on the current VA formulas-the same formulas that have resulted in billion dollar budget gaps. According to the VA, the number of veterans seeking service in our area will actually decrease over the next 20 years by nine percent from 88,000 to 80,000.
These projections are simply wrong. The calculations were made using 2002 service baselines, long before we committed tens of thousands of U.S. troops overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to published news reports, more than 14,000 soldiers have been wounded.
While a final recommendation on how best to provide health care services to our region's veterans is still months away, I encourage you and your families to share your thoughts on the nine proposals. Your input is invaluable. Comments can be sent via email through the VA cares website or in writing to Boston Study, VA CARES Study, P.O. Box 1427, Washington Grove, MD 20880-1427.
In my view, the only real solution to this problem is to make federal funding for VA services mandatory, just like Medicare. That's why I'm a proud cosponsor of HR 515, the Assured Funding for Veterans Health Care Act. Currently, this legislation is pending before the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has attracted the public support of 143 of my House colleagues. It's my hope that this momentum will help to move this legislation forward-and I will do all that I can toward this end.
Our Commonwealth's sons and daughters have placed themselves in harm's way-on the beaches, in the jungles and the deserts. Many didn't return. But to those who did, we made a promise, a sacred covenant between nation and soldier, as old as the Republic itself. We recapitulate that vow through national holidays and monuments in their honor, and through lifetime health care and education benefits. We shouldn't compromise that covenant in the name of bureaucratic or budgetary efficiency. It is simply unworthy of us.