|02-10-2006, 09:20 AM||#1 (permalink)|
MSgt USMC Ret
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: San Diego
More Vets Get Health Care, but 'Priority 8' Is Like Priority Zero
Friday, February 10, 2006; Page A17
Three years ago, then-Secretary Anthony J. Principi announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs was suspending health care enrollment for some higher-income veterans who did not have injuries or illnesses related to their military service.
The move to exclude "Priority 8" veterans was unpopular, but Principi said it was necessary to prevent the VA medical system from being swamped by the rising number of veterans who were eligible for care. At the time, about 6.8 million veterans were enrolled in the VA health system. Now more than 7.5 million are -- including 5.4 million who received treatment last year.
Others could not get in the door, however. More than a quarter-million "Priority 8" veterans who tried to sign up for VA health care coverage between January 2003 and October 2005 were turned away because of the new effort to rein in costs. The 263,257 veterans who were not allowed enroll included 5,459 veterans in Virginia, 3,051 in Maryland and 164 in the District of Columbia, according to figures the VA recently released.
There are 24.4 million veterans in the United States, and 16.9 million are not enrolled in the VA health care system. As many of 10 million of those not enrolled are Priority 8 veterans, the VA says. The annual household income cutoff for Priority 8 veterans varies by region. It was $57,500 for a veteran with three dependents who lived in Arlington or Fairfax counties, or in Montgomery or Prince George's counties.
Rep. Lane Evans (Ill.), ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on the administration to increase the VA budget.
"There is no reason for the VA to give the cold shoulder to veterans who have served our country honorably," Evans said in a written statement.
Lisette Mondello, a VA spokeswoman, said the affected veterans could not enroll because they were not eligible. "We want to be clear that absolutely nobody is being cut from VA health care rolls and no veteran will be dis-enrolled from VA health care unless they specifically request it," Mondello wrote news organizations
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