The White House announced late today that it has dropped a proposal -- strongly objected to by veterans groups -- to bill vets' private insurance for treatment of service-related injuries and disabilities.
The proposal was designed to generate more than $540 million a year for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but opponents said it broke faith with service members and threatened to use up insurance benefits that their families also use.
The groups' leaders had angrily criticized the administration after meeting with Obama and top aides on Monday.
Today, they met again with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
"The President has consistently stated that he is committed to working with veterans on the details of the 2010 VA budget proposal," the White House said later. "In considering the third party billing issue, the administration was seeking to maximize the resources available for veterans; however, the President listened to concerns raised by the VSOs that this might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families’ ability to access health care. Therefore, the President has instructed that its consideration be dropped."
UPDATE: Representative John Boccieri, an Ohio Democrat and veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, wrote a letter to Obama with nearly 70 other members of Congress objecting to the proposal.
“I applaud the President today for his focus on our veterans. We both want them to receive the full care and benefits they have earned,” Boccieri said in a statement. “Our military members put their lives on the line to protect ours here at home. They fought for us. Now we must fight for them.”
The text of the letter is below:
March 17, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
We first want to take this opportunity to thank you for the clear commitment your administration’s budget outline makes to our nation’s veterans. The proposed 10 percent increase in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for next fiscal year is truly historic. We believe the 2010 budget will ensure the VA never again faces the chronic under-funding that prevented countless veterans from receiving the health benefits they have earned.
While we strongly support your plans to increase funding for the VA by $25 billion over the next five years, it is with equal conviction that we oppose the proposal to bill veterans’ private health insurance plans for care and treatment of service-connected injuries or disabilities.
We do not give our veterans health care - they earn it - and it would be unacceptable for the VA to ask our veterans to pay for the treatment of injuries received while serving our nation in uniform. That responsibility belongs to the VA, and it would be wrong to outsource the responsibility of covering the care of those veterans to private insurance companies.
Additionally, this proposal could harm our veterans and their families in unintended, yet very serious ways, jeopardizing their families’ health care and even negatively affecting veterans’ employment opportunities. Billing a veteran’s private health insurance for the treatment of service-connected injuries could lead to increased health care premiums, and could potentially discourage employers from hiring veterans.
We know you are committed to expanding employment opportunities for veterans. Already this year, your administration and Congress have worked to create countless jobs for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this proposal would undermine our efforts.
We urge you to take this proposal off the table, and let us instead focus on ensuring that our veterans receive the full care and benefits they have earned. The moral obligation our nation has to our veterans demands nothing less. We are happy to discuss these issues with you further as we move toward a final budget for the VA.
We would like to thank you again for your commitment to improving care for the men and women who have borne the battle, and who have sacrificed their health and well-being in serving their country. Thank you for your service to our nation.
Mary Jo Kilroy
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
Daniel B. Maffei
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.