Friday, May 28, 1999

Proposed-care cuts
worry veterans

By Gregg K. Kakesako


On the eve of the national annual observance of the sacrifices of the country's veterans, many of them believe more needs to be done than just speech-making.

With their health-care system facing what they say is a medical emergency, veterans will gather throughout the weekend to complain about the cuts in health-care services while demand increases in the nation's 170 VA hospitals.

In Hawaii today, the proposed cuts by the Clinton administration were to be the focal point of a rally at the Federal Building, which houses the Department of Veterans Affairs' administrative offices and health and mental outpatient clinics. More than 10,000 veterans in Hawaii are serviced by the VA.

Similar protests are planned for Sunday at veterans clinics throughout the country and sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 125,000 VA workers.

Gary Nakamura, supervisor of the Disabled American Veterans National Service Office in the Federal Building, said one of the first signs of the cutbacks is the elimination of annual incentive bonuses for doctors and nurses who work for the VA.

"The bonuses are needed to make the pay comparable to the private sector," Nakamura said. "They have been canceled this year."

Nakamura, in prepared remarks, quoted a Feb. 18 memo from Dr. Kenneth Kizer, VA undersecretary for health, in which he says that Clinton's proposed budget "poses very serious financial challenges" for veterans' health care.

Kizer's memo says the VA is "in a serious and precarious situation" that could lead to "mandatory employee furloughs, severe curtailment of services or elimination of programs and ... facility closures."

Nakamura said Clinton proposed freezing federal spending for veterans' health care next year, keeping it at its current level of $17.3 billion. However, Nakamura said Clinton's budget also calls for new health-care initiatives -- such as treatment of those affected with hepatitis C, emergency medical services for long-term care, and increased aid to homeless veterans -- without any new funds.

The DAV, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars believe an additional $3 billion is needed.

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