...Carsten Watts, an Army veteran from Farmington, said that he had to wait three hours past his appointment time on a recent visit to the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center.
"The specialty clinics are really understaffed," said Watts, 34, who suffers from chronic lower back pain triggered by a military training exercise. "It's nothing to sit there all day waiting to get seen."
At the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center, 80,700 veterans are projected to seek care this year, an increase of nearly 22,000 since 2001. Funding has increased over the same period by about $90 million, to more than $383 million.
The St. Cloud VA Medical Center, meanwhile, is projecting 30,700 this year, an increase of about 13,000 since 2001 (funding has increased by $25 million to $95.5 million).
Despite the funding increases, the Minneapolis facility will have a budget deficit of $7 million and the St. Cloud facility will have a deficit of $4 million, according to research by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
...The U.S. House last month passed legislation that would increase veterans health funding by around $1.6 billion.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson said President Bush has "kept faith with his promise" to care for veterans, noting Bush has increased funding by nearly 40 percent since taking office in 2001.
...The Senate, which has yet to vote on the House veterans health bill, voted down a Democratic amendment last month to the $82 emergency war spending bill which would have included $2 billion for the veterans system.
"Veterans are men and women who served our country in times of need, and for us to turn our backs on them in their time of need is fundamentally wrong," said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., who voted for the amendment.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who voted against the amendment, said that emergency funding should go to troops that are in "harm's way today."
|Increases in visits and funding|
A special word for Smilin' Norm Coleman: emergency funding for troops should've gone to those in harm's way two years ago. The administration's failure to provide body armor and armored vehicles is a cruel betrayal of faith. Smilin' Norm loves spending money. Why balk at $2 billion to care for the brave men and women returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan?
One final thought: the danger to soldiers doesn't end when they leave the front line. Our veterans will have to adapt to injuries of all kinds. They'll have to deal with depression and stress. They'll likely encounter illness from exposure to chemicals and radiation on the battlefield. They'll have to reintegrate themselves with their families, their jobs, and their communities. Veterans will be more likely to commit suicide, face divorce, or become addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Veterans are in harm's way today -- even after they've returned home. No, it's not the same as facing mortar attacks and IEDs. But it's dangerous, nonetheless. Our vets will deal with personal crises and challenges from the day they rotate home -- no matter how politely Smilin' Norm asks them to wait for the next budget cycle.