by: JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
3/18/2009 12:37:23 PM
WASHINGTON - Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation on Wednesday joined a growing chorus of critics slamming discussions by the Obama administration possibly to charge veterans' private insurance for treatment of combat-related injuries.
"Any consideration of making veterans use private insurance to pay for treatment of combat and service-related injuries is unconscionable,” Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Wednesday.
"It is a slap in the face of our veterans by going back on a longstanding commitment by this country to pay for health care costs that result from military service.''
A veteran and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Inhofe said he was "deeply disturbed'' by news reports that President Obama is considering such a proposal and cited Obama's past statements and actions in support of veterans.
"I will oppose any proposed shift of responsibilities from the Department of Veterans Affairs to private insurers to pay for care for service-connected injuries of our wounded veterans,'' he said.
"This country has an obligation to our veterans who served our country with honor, and I will always to work to ensure that they receive the care they rightfully deserve.'' Democratic Rep. Dan Boren expressed his concerns Wednesday in a letter to President Obama.
"Such a policy would send a mixed message to our veterans about our commitment to them after they return home from the battlefield,'' Boren said.
"Billing … veterans' private health care insurance in this regard will unduly burden them with the cost for care that they have already earned through their service.''
As more injured veterans come home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, the Department of Veterans Affairs must be prepared to meet their needs in a manner that honors their sacrifices and service.
Republican Rep. Mary Fallin on Tuesday said such a proposal would be damaging and deeply unfair.
"The United States government, not private insurance companies, sends our military men and women into harm’s way,'' Fallin said.
"It is therefore the government’s responsibility to provide quality healthcare to our veterans. That has long been an unbreakable agreement with our armed services, and I am saddened to see President Obama now considering breaking that agreement.”
She warned a veteran with private medical insurance covering a family could reach lifetime maximums very quickly in some cases, leaving the entire family without coverage.
Small businesses concerned about covering high insurance costs would be reluctant to hire disabled veterans, Fallin said.
"There are all kinds of pitfalls in this plan, and it is simply outrageous to place this added worry on men and women who have sacrificed so much defending our nation,'' she said.
During Tuesday's press briefing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said no decision has been made on the matter.
He said Obama and veterans groups had a good conversation, adding veterans can be assured the president understands any concerns that they have.
According to published reports, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a key lawmaker on veterans issues and a top member of Senate leadership, told Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last week the matter would be ""dead on arrival'' if sent to Congress.
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