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VA and sequestration: A bad combination

Note: this article was written by Jeff Miller.

As it stands right now, sequestration of government programs is imminent. This is the consequence of years of bad decisions, coupled with the Joint Select Committee’s (a.k.a. the Super Committee) failure to find $1.2 trillion dollars in deficit reductions over the next 10 years to avoid the scenario we now face.

While I agree that federal spending must be curbed and Congress must fulfill its obligation to the American people to get this country’s fiscal house in order, I do not support the sequestration of veterans programs.

Due to a legal ambiguity in how the Budget Control Act of 2011 interacts with existing law, VA healthcare may be subject to sequestration — potentially a 2 percent cut. This would affect VA’s ability to hire and pay doctors and nurses and purchase medical supplies needed to treat veterans, among other things. It has been six months since the Budget Control Act of 2011 was signed into law, and despite repeated attempts to get a ruling from the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who has the authority to enforce sequester rules, I have yet to receive an answer.

That is why, in January, I asked the President to make the decision to exempt VA from sequestration, which was the original intent of Congress back in 2010 when the laws regarding sequestration were updated. Unfortunately, the Committee has not received a formal response from the Administration and according to a recent news account this appears to be a difficult decision for them to make. One OMB spokeswoman was quoted as saying, “the administration will provide sequester implementation guidance later in the year.”

The nature of the Administration’s response has left me absolutely stunned; they appear to have no plans to make a decision one way or another anytime in the near future. Our veterans should be assured immediately that VA will not be affected by sequestration, especially as we anticipate a surge of servicemembers returning home, who will be relying on the care and services provided by VA.

The question before the Administration — and what is most disturbing about this situation — is that a plausible legal interpretation to side with a wholesale exemption of all VA programs is staring the Administration in the face, but the issue is being allowed to fester.

Because the Administration is apparently unwilling to make a judgment call, I introduced a bill titled the Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012 (H.R. 3895) last week. This bill would unambiguously exempt VA. If the President isn’t going to give us any clarity on this issue, my bill will.

It is my deepest hope that the Administration’s inability to make this easy decision is not motivated by politics. This is not the group of Americans with whom we need to allow political factors to cloud our judgment between what is right, and what is wrong. America’s veterans, the men and women who have risked life and limb to defend our liberty, deserve to know the potential ramifications of the VA budget.

During these tight fiscal times, the Administration needs to remember that there is a very select group of people who have given everything they have in defense of this nation. In return for risking their lives to protect us, we promised our veterans basic benefits to ensure that they are able to live the lives they deserve.  Sequestration has the potential to break that promise, and that is not right. They gave us their best, now it is up to us to give them ours.

Special note

American Legion Mullins-Nickerson Post 108 will celebrate its 92nd year of service in Archuleta County on Feb. 18, 2012. Happy birthday.

Durango VA Clinic

The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 1970 E. Third Ave. in the old Mercy Medical Center.

Meetings

The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

American Legion Post 108, second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

Veterans for Veterans, every Tuesday at 10 am, 164 N. Pagosa Blvd. (Buffalo Inn).

Further information

For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard. The office number is 264-4013, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590 and e-mail is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for application for VA programs

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