WASHINGTON (April 24, 2003) - The statement below was issued today by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi:
One of the byproducts of the Internet Age is the blinding speed with which rumor becomes accepted "fact" among those willing to believe. More than a century ago, a wise man wrote, "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on." Today, lies can rocket around the world before the truth can even find its socks. Only prompt intervention can squelch rumors before they are widely accepted as truth.
Here’s a rumor that desperately needs squelching -- On the eve of our battle to liberate the Iraqi people, Congress slashed funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the organization I am privileged to lead. This rumor has the potential to frighten our nation’s America’s Veterans, and to undermine morale among our brave troops in the field.
The rumor has already surfaced on the Internet, in Hollywood, and on the op-ed pages of the venerable New York Times. Even a member of Congress, in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed published April 13, wrote of a "$28 billion cut in Veterans’ benefits and health care."
If any such cut in Veterans’ benefits were made, Veterans and their families would be justifiably concerned. But there is no truth to any suggestion or assertion that VA’s budget will be "cut" or "slashed" next year. In fact, funding for Veterans programs will increase in fiscal year 2004, probably by record levels.
President Bush’s fiscal year 2004 budget requests a record $63.6 billion for our nation’s Veterans, including a nearly 8-percent increase over the fiscal year 2003 budget for discretionary funding - which mostly pays for VA’s health care system -- and a 32-percent increase in overall funding since fiscal year 2001. And the Budget Conference report the House and Senate agreed to on April 11 raises the suggested levels of discretionary funding for Veterans by an additional $1.8 billion.
This rumor may have been fueled by a parliamentary maneuver that escaped even the most die-hard C-Span viewers. At about the time the Iraq war began, the House of Representatives passed a resolution requesting House and Senate Appropriations Committee members to reduce most federal agencies’ funding, including VA’s, by 1 percent in fiscal year 2004, a reduction they believed could be made up by reducing waste, fraud and abuse at each department.
If that measure had passed, it would have lowered the amount of the record increase in funding President Bush proposed for Veterans, but it would not have cut VA’s funding. Lawmakers, however, quickly recognized the impact upon Veterans and exempted VA from the across-the-board reductions.
So, despite rumors they may hear to the contrary, Veterans and their families, including our newest generation of Veterans, should rest secure in the knowledge that a grateful nation honors their service to America. These days, the only cuts at VA are to the waiting lists for medical care and the backlog of compensation claims. While VA can always use more money, the interests of America’s Veterans and their families will continue to be protected by Congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the President.
SOURCE: Military News Feed