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Putting the Concerns of Our Veterans and Our Troops to Rest

Tammy Duckworth, Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs, sets the record straight on some of the worst misinformation out there about health reform.

[Update from Matt Flavin, who completed deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq and serves as Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy: As a proud VFW member, I want to underscore that the health reform legislation being voted on today will not adversely impact our nation’s veterans.  In fact, during his time in office, President Obama has provided an historic increase in benefits for our veterans and has upheld every pledge to protect the benefits our veterans have earned in service to our nation.  He will continue to stand firm in his commitment to veterans.

To give our veterans further assurance that this legislation will not affect their health care systems, the Chairmen of five house committees including Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bob Filner and Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, have just issued a joint letter (pdf) reaffirming that the health reform legislation as written would protect those receiving care through all TRICARE and Department of Veterans Affairs programs.  In case any questions remained, yesterday’s unanimous passage of HR 4887 in the U.S. House of Representatives, the TRICARE Affirmation Act, made it crystal clear that our veterans – in particular those who depend on TRICARE - will not be harmed by this bill. The White House supports this legislation as well.

Update II: Also see the new statement from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.]

As Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a constant concern for me is having our Veterans dragged into partisan politics. Unfortunately the debate over health reform has seen that happen far too many times, and at the VA we often have to correct misinformation and assure Veterans that the care they rely on will not be taken away from them.

One of the concerns we are hearing the most now is whether health reform will affect the care Veterans receive under the VA system.

Let me be unambiguous: The healthcare that Veterans receive through the VA system, including dependents of certain veterans enrolled in the CHAMPVA program, will be safe and sound under health reform. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs would continue to maintain sole authority over the system and for enhancing the quality and access for all eligible Veterans.

In addition, TRICARE will continue to be available for all eligible servicemen and women, and their families. Those who are covered by TRICARE would meet the shared responsibility requirement for individuals to have insurance, thereby exempting such members of the uniformed services and dependants from being assessed any sort of penalty. The President has made it clear publicly and to me that he is committed to ensuring that America’s servicemen and women have high quality care, and with health reform that commitment remains very much intact.

I have personally seen what a devastating medical condition can cost. Had I been injured on the freeway and not in combat, it is likely that I would be bankrupt even though I had medical insurance through my civilian employer. I personally receive my world class healthcare from the VA and as a dependent on my husband's Tricare eligibility. This bill is good for our nation and our Veterans and Service Members and their families can be reassured that their benefits are safe. 

Tammy Duckworth is the Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs