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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Bush Budget and Veterans' Benefits

posted by Jazz at 2/07/2005 09:07:00 AM

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A story from today's nyt details some cuts to veterans benefits which have pundits on both sides screaming. The truth, as usual, seems to be somewhere in between. First, a look at the benefits impact and funding allocation changes as reported in the Times.
  • More than doubling the prescription co-pay from seven to fifteen dollars for some veterans.
  • Charging a $250 fee to enroll in the benefits program to some veterans.
  • An increase to $70.8B in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs
You can start with those baseline numbers and obviously do some mighty spinning. Of course, this has already been done. Atrios leads off with "Bush Hates Veterans." (But you'd have to be fairly dense to not realize that he's being a bit tongue in cheek when writing that.) Kos is a bit more brutal, saying "Bush aiming to screw veterans yet again."

Not to be outdone on the other side of the fence, Michelle Malkin calls it a "Deceptive Democratic talking point" and Captain Ed writes a long attempt at defusing this. As I said in the beginning, though, the truth looks to be somewhere in the middle.

It's certainly a true statement that the change would "more than double" the co-pay. I suppose we have to ask ourselves exactly how much of a benefit veterans should be getting, and how much of an impact this will have on them? Fifteen dollars per prescription is still pretty cheap, but of course seven dollars is even better. Plus, the budget plan isn't clear as to exactly how many people this will affect.
The president would increase the co-payment for a month's supply of a prescription drug to $15, from the current $7. The administration says the co-payment and the $250 "user fee" would apply mainly to veterans in lower-priority categories, who have higher incomes and do not have service-related disabilities.
The increase, if it is to be applied to any veterans, certainly should not hit those in the lowest tax brackets. But again, that is not made clear. The $250 charge falls into the same category. But who is considered "higher income" for purposes of this discussion? And since when do veteran's medical benefits face a test as to whether or not the illness or injury was "service related" ?

The term "higher income" can apply, as parents of college bound children can readily attest, to a shockingly large number of people. If you are making $35K per year, do you consider yourself a "high income" person? You might be, but again, we need more numbers before that call can be made.

The changes to the overall budget are certainly in positive numbers, which is good. But they get spun out of proportion by Captain Ed.
The overall budget for the VA will come in at over $70 billion, as opposed to the $48 billion funded in the final Clinton budget -- an increase of almost 50% over five years of spending.
That's a true statement, but a bit of a red herring if you read the entire article. Obviously spending had to increase from the time of the Clinton Administration to today. We weren't shipping home hundreds of injured soldiers every week during Clinton's term. Plus, this year's increase isn't quite as generous as the Captain would have you believe.

Over all, the president is seeking $70.8 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, say Congressional aides who have seen budget documents from the agency.

The total consists of $33.4 billion in discretionary spending, which is subject to annual appropriation by Congress, and $37.4 billion for entitlements, like disability compensation, survivor benefits and pensions, which are authorized under prior laws.

Health care accounts for almost all of the agency's discretionary spending. Mr. Bush is seeking an increase of 2.7 percent, or $880 million, in such spending.

The increase which affects the health care benefits in question, therefore, is only 2.7 percent. Is that even up with inflation this year? The rest of the additional money is for entitlements. Still, an increase is better than a cut.

Like so many things with this budget, as we have pointed out before, it looks pretty shady but we simply don't have enough hard numbers to go on yet. These should come available as time goes by, so stay tuned.

Edit: Brilliant at Breakfast has, as usual, a bit more hard core look at this.

Second Edit: Go read Mahablog's take on this. Her deconstruction of Michelle Malkin is priceless, and she exposes the smoke and mirrors which the Bush/Cheney team are using to try to make the deficit disaster more palatable.