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State vet groups up in arms over measure in Obama VA budget

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State vet groups up in arms over measure in Obama VA budget
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

State veterans leaders are upset with an Obama administration budget proposal that would charge some veterans for their service-connected injuries at Veterans Administration Hospitals.

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The proposal calls for the VA to charge a veteran's primary insurance carrier for treatment of the veteran's service-related injuries and disabilities.

"I think it is unconscionable that the government would even propose such a thing," said Steve Lawrence, adjutant of the Wisconsin Veterans of Foreign Wars.

"That injury or disability was caused by the veteran's service to his country. It's not the fault of the individual, and then try to say we should recover the cost of that injury from his insurance carrier, that's ridiculous," he added.

"He's (the veteran) carrying those wounds with him every day and they are a constant reminder of his service to our country," Lawrence said.

The proposal was brought to light by several national veterans groups who noticed that in the VA's 2010 budget proposal there was an increase in the amount the VA receives from third-party insurers.

It was confirmed that the VA was considering the proposal for the 2010 budget during a hearing of the U.S. Senate veterans' affairs committee on Tuesday by Erik Shinseki, VA secretary.

When asked by a member of the committee if the provision was going to be included in the budget Shineski replied, "It's a consideration, but a final decision hasn't been made yet."

On Thursday a VA spokesman said that the budget is still being worked out. Final details of the VA budget are due in April.

Currently, if a veteran is treated by the VA for a non-service related injury or illness the VA currently charges that veteran's health insurer for that treatment.

Treatment of service-connected injuries, disabilities or illnesses have until now been paid for completely by the VA for the life of the veteran.

Lawrence says the VFW is trying to get the word out to their members in Wisconsin and that they have contacted members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation about the proposal.

Veterans worry that if the proposal were enacted it would increase the cost of out-of-pocket premiums and make it hard for vets and their families to get private insurance.

"Insurance companies could say the injury or disability is a pre-existing condition," Lawrence said.

Another concern is that it would make it more difficult for the vet to get a job because the perspective employer wouldn't want to take on the added health-care costs.

"It's going to be where employers aren't going to want to hire a vet because of the hidden costs," said Stephen Garrett, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Disabled American Veterans.

He added that employers may want to do the right thing and hire a veteran, but because of the higher medical costs they won't be able to.

Garrett says he has been telling his membership to write their congressional representatives and ask them to kill the proposal.

"If they do this, what's next?" Garrett said.

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