By Craig Roberts
A Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee hearing on July 27 addressed growing concerns about the long-term economic effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dean Stoline, deputy director of The American Legion’s Legislative Division, attended the “Lifetime Costs of Supporting New Veterans” hearing and reported that the committee chair, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said in her opening remarks that she wanted to begin the process of determining present and future needs of this generation of veterans and their impact on VA and funding.
Murray went on to say that the “costs of caring for our veterans and families must be [accounted for] long after the fighting is over.” She believes the sheer number of new veterans poses a financial challenge to the Department of Veterans Affairs, especially in expenditures related to long-term health care and disability benefits.
“Specific areas of concern she mentioned were mental-health costs, caregiver issues, more complex benefit claims and adjudications, the economic impact of multiple deployments on veterans and families, and the lack of job, education and health-benefit integration,” Stoline said. “She also acknowledged that some long-term costs are not known at this time.”
Murray concluded her remarks, Stoline said, by saying that government must make proper investments in veterans care and benefits, but Congress must be mindful of the necessity to reduce the national debt and deficits. “But she also stated that, regardless of any fiscal crisis, we cannot balance our budget at the expense of the health care and benefits our veterans have earned,” he said.
Stoline reported that a series of witnesses amplified and expanded upon Murray’s points, including one Government Accountability Office expert who pointed to the legal and fiscal challenges facing VA as it seeks to renovate and expand its medical facilities to meet future needs.
Especially poignant, Stoline said, was a presentation by the wife of a severely wounded Marine who had lost all his limbs in an IED blast. She related her difficulties with the new Integrated Disability Evaluation System that supposedly streamlines a wounded warrior’s transition from the Department of Defense health-care system to VA.
In appealing for assistance from Murray, according to Stoline, the Marine wife said one document sat on a transition worker’s desk for 70 days. “Her husband is now on the list for retirement,” Stoline said, “but she feels that the problems they are having getting military benefits will continue as they enter the VA health-care system.”
Stoline noted that, while an invitation to testify was extended by the committee, VA did not send a witness to this hearing. Stoline indicated that more congressional hearings are likely to be scheduled on this topic.