Our Veterans Deserve Better!

WASHINGTON - Dozens of veterans from southcentral Pennsylvania donned their caps and headed to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby their congressmen for more ample health care and retirement benefits.

Rep. Todd Platts, R-York County, was one of the four representatives and two senators who met with the supportive crowd to discuss the Veterans of Foreign Wars defense and legislative goals for 2006.

For Lonnie Frampton, of VFW Post 477 in Carlisle, and many of his fellow vets, the central issue is convincing the government to pick up more of their health care tab.

Frampton, 69, wants to end federal deductions of veterans' retirement benefits to pay for VA medical treatment.

Purple Heart recipients and veterans deemed unemployable because of their disabilities do not have to pay for their medical treatment, according to retired Col. Lee Lange of the Military Officers Association of America.

But, Lange said, veterans with a disability rating lower than 50 percent have their retirement benefits discounted on a dollar-for-dollar basis for their medical treatment.

Congress last year passed a law that returned some of that money to eligible veterans but did not cover all disabled veterans.

"Our organization's goal is that we ought to restore retirement pay to everyone who is disabled ... even down to 10 percent (disability)," Lange said. "Congress didn't see it that way because of the cost."

Frampton insisted that all disabled veterans should receive medical attention without losing any retirement pay.

"I think what grates most retirees that have a disability," Frampton said in an interview, "is they're taking this (money) from you and then turning around and giving it back to you. But they're not calling it your retirement pay, they're calling it VA compensation - where in essence the VA hasn't compensated you anything."

Veterans also discussed proposed user fee increases in the health care system for military personnel and their families. The increases were included in President Bush's proposed budget, but Platts said it was unlikely Congress would agree.

"The president every year proposes these increases: a $250 enrollment fee, higher co-pays," Platts said. "... And Congress has said, 'No, we're going to keep our word (to fully fund these programs).'

"I'm going to be opposing those increases," he said. "You should not be trying to balance the budget on the backs of those who have served this nation."