TOPEKA - In the House Appropriations Committee, while considering the FY 2013 budget for Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs (KCVA), House Republicans repeatedly voted against funding services for Kansas Veterans.
Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, offered an amendment that would have made 40 new beds available to Kansas veterans by renovating Triplett Hall at the Kansas Veterans’ Home. The Henry Amendment would have doubled the number of Alzheimer’s/dementia beds from 25 to 50 and increased long-term care beds from 75 to 90. In south central Kansas alone, there are an estimated 1,200 veterans with a disability rating of greater than 70 percent who qualify for these services.
“By not allowing KCVA to move forward with this expansion, we are restricting their ability to provide care to Kansas veterans who are in grave need,” said Henry. “This project can be done this year with federal money. It makes no sense to delay providing health services to our veterans that they need and deserve.”
KCVA originally requested this funding when Gov. Brownback developed his budget recommendation in December. The Governor denied the request, even though no State General Funds are needed for the expansion. House Republicans followed suit, voting against the Henry Amendment on a party line vote. House Republicans justified their anti-veteran votes by claiming that they will address the issue next year.
“One year might not make much difference to Republicans on the Appropriations Committee,” said Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, “but it is a desperately long time to Kansas veterans who are waiting for treatment of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.” Feuerborn is the Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
A second amendment was offered that added $108,886 to increase funding for Veterans’ Claims Assistance Program (VCAP) Service Organization Grants. VCAP implements and administers annual service grants to eligible veterans’ service organizations. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars rely upon this funding to conduct their statewide Veterans Affairs program, and to operate their offices at Kansas’ three VA Medical Centers.
The American Legion’s offices in the VA Medical Centers have more than doubled in clients since 2006 (from 19,461 to 45,568), making their need greater than ever. Between Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, Kansas has the fewest number of veteran service representatives. Each service representative in Kansas is responsible for 5,923 Kansas veterans, more than double any of the other surrounding states. Nationally, Kansas ranks 49 out of 50 in this regard.
The second amendment also failed on a party line vote, with all House Republicans voting “no.”
“We hear a lot of talk about standing up for veterans on July 4th and at Veterans Day events,” said Rep. Barbara Ballard (D-Lawrence). “But the House Appropriations Committee is where our support really counts. Every representative who voted against these amendments failed Kansas veterans. The priorities outlined in this budget are totally wrong. Our veterans deserve better.”
Funding for both of these modest amendments is available. Not only is there a $359 million surplus in the State General Fund, but in 2011, seven employees at KCVA took advantage of Gov. Brownback’s early retirement program. This saved the agency $342,000 in salaries and wages. Gov. Brownback swept those funds and has refused to give any of these savings back to the agency to address these critical needs. Furthermore, like other state agencies, KCVA funding has endured dramatic budget cuts over the last few years, absorbing a 10 percent cut last year alone.
“We have a responsibility to fix this,” said Henry. “KCVA cannot provide support to Kansas veterans without the support of the Legislature. I hope this wrong will be righted when the budget comes to the House floor.”
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