Veterans' advocacy groups are criticizing the Department of Veterans Affairs' proposal to charge a $1,500-a-year deductible to veterans who don't qualify for free care because of income or service-related disabilities.
"A $1,500 deductible is a means of balancing the budget on the backs of veterans," said Steve Thomas, spokesman for the American Legion.
VA officials said the proposal, contained in President Bush's budget for fiscal 2003, aims to fund healthcare for those veterans, whose enrollment in VA health plans has increased fivefold since 1996. The deductible would bring in about $260 million extra to the VA's healthcare budget, which would total $25 billion in fiscal 2003, under the Bush proposal, to fund a healthcare system of some 163 hospitals in 22 networks.
"We're trying to manage the growth," said Anthony Principi, the VA secretary, at a press conference last week. "That's the best possible solution."
The deductible would apply to veterans who aren't disabled as a result of service-related injuries and have incomes of at least $24,000 if they don't have dependents. Overall, the increase related to the deductible would constitute about 9.9% of the total increase of $2.6 billion Bush is seeking to the VA budget.