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   Cardin Assails Bush Admin. Effort to Curtail Vet Info


Cardin Assails Bush Admin. Effort to Curtail Vet Info

WASHINGTON—Responding to an internal Bush Administration memo urging the cessation of outreach activities for VA health care programs, on August 22 Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-3) called on President Bush to "repudiate this 'don't ask, don't tell' approach, and immediately direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to begin aggressively informing American veterans and their families about the health benefits to which they are entitled."

The July 18 memo from the VA Deputy Under Secretary for Health Operations and Management cites the "very conservative Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidelines" as justification to end marketing activities that are used to enroll veterans in the VA's health care programs, and directs VA regional managers "to ensure that no marketing activities to enroll new veterans occurs." The memo refers to the growing demand for health care by veterans, specifically a 13.5% increase in usage, a 15% increase in enrollment, and a 7.8% increase in expenditures.

Recently, Bush announced he would refuse to spend $5.1 billion appropriated by Congress for homeland security, an amount that includes an additional $275 million for VA health care.

"The Administration's misguided approach to cost containment would effectively prevent many veterans from receiving the care they deserve," said Rep. Cardin. "It is outrageous for the VA and OMB to justify this policy by citing a lack of funds while the President refuses to spend money that Congress has appropriated specifically for veterans' health."

Cardin has authored two bills that would improve health care for America's veterans. The Tricare Retirees Opportunity Act (HR 2073) would waive the 10% Medicare Part B annual late enrollment penalty for military retirees who want to enroll in Tricare For Life, the Department of Defense's (DOD) health care program."

America's military could not have anticipated the changes that have taken place in the military health system since 1996 when DoD replaced CHAMPUS with TRICARE. They certainly could not have known that participation in TRICARE after age 65 would require Medicare Part B enrollment," said Rep. Cardin. The late enrollment period ended September 1.

The Veterans Safe Medications Act (HR 4836) would permit veterans to refuse to participate in cost-saving tablet-splitting measures imposed by VA's health networks and require the VA to properly educate and train patients before these protocols are implemented.

"Rather than erecting roadblocks to health care, government should be working to improve veterans' access and quality of care," said Rep. Cardin.

Beneficiaries are urged to contact the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which oversees the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Those who need to update their eligibility should contact the nearest ID card facility for assistance. Beneficiaries may call the DOD Benefits Reverification Telephone Center at 1-800-361-2620.

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This story was published on September 4, 2002.
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