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Legion on Proposed VA Benefit Cut: 'Stealth' Privatization Attempt

Dr. David Shulkin. Andy Kropa/AP
Dr. David Shulkin. Andy Kropa/AP

The two-million-member American Legion joined other veterans service organizations Friday in ripping a proposed Veterans Affairs Department benefit cut in the budget proposed by the White House.

"The administration's budget for the VA would effectively lower the earnings of our most vulnerable veterans by reducing or eliminating disability payments for veterans who are the most in need," Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said in a statement.

"This is absolutely unacceptable to us," he added.

The Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Disabled American Veterans, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Vietnam Veterans of America generally welcomed proposed increase in the budgets for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The VA's budget would be increased by 6 percent to $186.5 billion.

However, they were all vehemently opposed to the plan to end the Individual Unemployability (IU) benefit at the VA for disabled vets when they turn 62 and become eligible for Social Security.

Savings from the IU cuts would be used to pay in part for a $2.9 billion expansion of the Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek health care in the private sector, according to VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin.

The IU benefit now applies to veterans who have a 60 to 100 percent disability rating through the VA and are unable to work because of their disability. The IU benefit allows them to receive the highest compensation rate. For 2017, the monthly rate for a veteran living alone is $2,915.

The VSOs have expressed concerns that the expansion of the Choice Program could come at the expense of health care at VA facilities, and they called on the VA to rule out cutting the IU to pay for Choice.

The DAV was opposed to "arbitrarily cutting off eligibility for IU for veterans who turn 62, an age at which millions of Americans continue working and saving money for their retirements, a luxury that many disabled veterans do not have. Congress must reject any proposals that seek to shift the cost of VA health care or benefits onto the backs of disabled veterans."

"We are alarmed by the cannibalization of services needed for the Choice Program," Schmidt said in his statement. "It is a 'stealth' privatization attempt which The American Legion fully opposes."

VFW National Commander Brian Duffy backed efforts to boost access to care but said, "We are absolutely against forcing wounded, ill and injured veterans to pay for improvements elsewhere within the VA."

At a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, Shulkin said the VA is "sensitive to the issue" on Individual Unemployability, but the VA must find savings.

The change would save an estimated $3.2 billion in fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, and $40.8 billion over 10 years, he said.

"This is a way we think of appropriately utilizing the mandatory funds and looking at where we can make the [IU] program more responsible," Shulkin said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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