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February 08, 2005

Post about a submarine...

...get linked by submariners! And get some traffic, too, especially from The Stupid Shall Be Punished. Another linker however, Unconsidered Trifles, (yet another blogging submariner) pointed me to Michelle Malkin and her post on 'cuts' to VA benefits, a new talking point for Democrats.

You can read the links for the details, I'll just offer this.

I am a disabled veteran, in the Priority 1 group (which means the VA takes me space-required, no charge, for life (unless my rating should drop for some reason). I don't have to pay a dime for anything. That was true last year, and will be true next year. As a Regular Army retiree, I'm still funding 80% of my VA disability payment out of my retirement check (that will drop 10% a year per year until I am no longer funding it at all based on legislation passed two years ago). The group in question under consideration for having to start paying a bit more are the more affluent veterans who joined the system during the VA expansion of services some years ago - who have no significant service-related disability rating.

In other words, people who were'nt even eligible a couple of years ago, and who have no significant service-connected disability, are being asked to pony up some bucks.

A $15 drug co-pay, and a $250 enrollment fee.

Compare and contrast: As a Regular retiree I participate in TRICARE Prime, the Department of Defense health care system. I pay $460 a year for my family. I would be paying $230 a year as an individual. Since I live near a military treatment facility I have no per-visit copays, but if I am referred to an off-post specialist, I pay $12 a visit. If I am not able to use the local military pharmacy, I would pay between 3-22$ in co-pays.

I choose to participate in TRICARE because the VA doesn't cover my family, and frankly, because I can afford to. If I were to rely on the VA for care I can afford to get under TRICARE, I would be one more space-required appointment that the really needy, but lesser-rated vets who get their care space available would have to wait on. Because I can, I choose to give up my access so those other guys can maybe get in a teeny bit faster.

But the bottom line is - no one is having a benefit cut that didn't get that benefit as an unexpected windfall anyway. The core group of VA's responsibility - the Priority 1 and 2 vets, are getting the same entitlements they were getting before.

The group being asked to pay a bit? They are the lowest priority participants in the system - who weren't even covered originally. They are being asked to pay comparable prices to what they would be paying for generally the same benefit (albeit space available, not required) that retirees are entitled to. Guess what? My access to the military treatment facility is also space-available. Should the commander of the local MTF decide his Active Duty population completely saturates his capacity - I start paying co-pays and costs similar to what the VA is charging. If anything, this particular benficiary class has been skating (assuming they live where they can get reasonable access) with a better individual benefit than the career retiree has.

Now, we can talk quality of care here and there in the VA system all day - that's a different issue, though I personally have no complaints in that regard when I have received VA care (nice thing about P1 is that I can use any facility anywhere, anytime - so if I'm out-of-region for TRICARE, I can use the VA, which I have done now, twice).