Tester: Bush’s budget ‘downright unacceptable’ for veterans

Senator criticizes new fees for vets during Committee hearing

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Drawing attention to President Bush's plan to raise fees for veterans, Senator Jon Tester today called President Bush's proposed budget "downright unacceptable" for Americans who served in the military.

Tester criticized the President's budget proposal during a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today in Washington.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Tester said.  "I don't understand why raising fees on folks who already have to fight to get the health care they deserve is an option, and I want to be the first in line to pull it off the table."

President Bush announced his budget proposal last week.  The President's plan would:

  • Impose new annual fees for veterans in order to enroll in the VA, beginning in 2010.
  • Nearly double the pharmacy copayment for Priority 8 veterans from $8 to $15.  Priority 8 veterans are those who have no service-connected injuries and make around $27,000 per year in Montana.

About 12,000 veterans in Montana would be subject to the new fees.  President Bush has proposed fee increases for veterans in previous budgets.  He estimates the new fees will generate $2.1 billion for the government.  The money would not go back to the VA, but rather to the General Fund.

During today's hearing, Tester also said he's disappointed that Priority 8 veterans continue to bear the brunt of budget cuts and increased fees.  Approximately 15,000 of Montana's 108,000 veterans are Priority 8 veterans.

In 2003, President Bush decided to no longer allow Priority 8 veterans into the VA.  Tester cosponsored legislation, which unanimously passed the Veterans Affairs Committee, that would allow them back into the system.

"Congress is finally making some good progress in living up to the promise our country made to all veterans," Tester said. "The President's budget is a giant step backwards, and we'll see to it that veterans get the funding they deserve.  Nothing less."