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To the editor:

I take exception to the editorial of March 2, "Let VA hospital beds stay empty?" I personally cannot speak for all the veterans service organizations, but I can speak for myself, a retired, disabled veteran.There is much more to be considered than was disclosed in the editorial on care for civilians in veterans hospitals. Perhaps the author has not visited our own VA Medical Center in Salt Lake City, where veterans sometimes take a seat to wait up to six hours before seeing a qualified medical doctor or make an appointment in the EENT clinic for a hearing test that will be up to 60 days in the future, or make an appointment in orthopedics, which has been on occasion up to 90 days down the road.

The allegations made by General Accounting Office in 1989, that the author alluded to, of "one in five veterans are receiving . . . not caused or aggravated by military service," is and was completely groundless, as proved by hearings in the House and Senate, and was merely a ploy to reduce the deficit on the backs of the disabled veterans by elimination of payment to between 10 percent and 20 percent of disabled veterans.

Let us examine some of the facts on the issue:

1. The "modest project" described was in fact a "pilot test" project to be expanded at a later date into all VA hospitals nationwide.

2. The annual budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs is annually pounced upon by the Office of Management and Budget as a starting place to cut the budget and reduce the deficit. This while our veteran population is advancing in age and requires more health care than ever before.

3. The revenue generated from this program (your words) would have been returned to the general fund and Treasury, not retained to defray the cost to the VA hospitals for providing these services. This would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to justify the process all over again in the next budget process. This money shuffling would only serve to allow the professional politicians to look good in the coming years.

4. The Senate did not vote to deny financing as you stated. Rather, it voted to pass Senate Bill S-2183, which prohibited the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services to proceed with the program. They did this with an overwhelming vote of 91 to 3, causing the supporters of the issue to withdraw their legislation to enact the program.

5. Had the previous administrations not categorized veterans into separate groups of who could or could not receive certain entitlements and place a means test in the regulations, those beds in Salem, Va., and Tuskegee, Ala., would probably not be empty today.

Veterans have laid their lives, health and well-being on the line for this country and her freedoms and would do so again. Their health care is protected and mandated by law, to say nothing of the moral obligation the country incurred.

Robert N. Roland


Editor's note: The editorial in question made no reference to any revenue generated from the proposed program, a point raised in Mr. Roland's third item.