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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will come to order.  I would like to thank the Members of the Committee for being here this morning.

The issue of the Administration’s continued ban on enrollment of new Priority 8 veterans is an important one.  I hope that we will leave here today with a sense as to the costs and effects of rescinding the ban, as well as the costs, measured in the effect of denied access to health care, of continuing the Administration’s policy of shutting the doors to an entire class of veterans.

P.L. 104-262, the “Veterans’ Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996” ushered the VA into the modern era of medicine.  In the decade that has followed, VA has remade itself into a health care system that is a model to others.

In January, 2003, then-Secretary Anthony Principi made the decision to bar enrollment of new Priority 8 veterans.  These veterans are non-compensable, non-service connected, and have incomes above $27,790.  They also fall above the geographic income threshold established by HUD.  Although comparably better-off than their fellow veterans who fall within Priority Group 7, they are by no means all rich veterans, as some might have you believe.  For four-and-a-half years, the doors to VA health care have been closed to these veterans.

In the Majority Views and Estimates that we submitted to the Budget Committee for FY 2008, we noted that “the authority of the Administration to deny enrollment to an entire class of veterans was never meant to extend ad infinitum, but was provided to the VA as a management tool in order for it to address unexpected shortfalls that might arise during the course of the year.

Unfortunately, that is the situation we face today – the Administration fails year after year to request specific funding for enrolling Priority 8 veterans and treats the January, 2003 decision as permanent. 

The VA has estimated that re-opening enrollment will bring in an additional 1.6 million veterans and require an additional $1.7 billion.  The Independent Budget has estimated that re-opening enrollment would cost an additional $366 million.  I look forward to our witnesses addressing, with specificity, the various cost estimates regarding the effects of rescinding the enrollment ban.  I also look forward to our witnesses today addressing the continued costs of maintaining the ban.

Taking care of veterans is a continuing cost of war.  All veterans should have access to “their” health care system.  The Committee looks forward to hearing the views of our witnesses as we examine the effects of the Administration’s ban on our nation’s veterans.