Why did VA shun funding for health care?

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Just a few months ago, despite the fact that U.S. soldiers are engaged in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs predicted future demand for VA medical services in the Pacific Northwest would decline over the next eight years.

And VA officials didn't see a need to boost spending on VA health care elsewhere. They said the current allocation of funds was more than adequate to care for veterans now and in the near future.

Exactly why they made that assessment mystified us. Common sense _ not to mention the growing lines for service at VA hospitals across the Northwest, including the one in Walla Walla _ indicate demand for veterans' health care is growing, and will continue to grow. After all, combat veterans with serious injuries are returning to their homes daily. A great many are from rural America and seek treatment at places like the Jonathan M.

Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center here.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was outraged that the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress were not calling for more cash to be spent on veterans' health care. Earlier this year, Murray made several attempts to get Congress to boost spending.

``The VA is struggling to deal with existing veterans, and I fear what will happen when tens of thousands of new veterans are added to this already strained system,'' Murray said in May. ``... If we make it harder for veterans to seek care, in the end they will not get any care. And that is unacceptable.'' Well, last week the VA reversed itself. It conceded that the rise in demand had caused a $1 billion shortfall in operating funds for the current year and that shortfall would more than double next year. That means the VA is looking at a $2.6 billion hole over the next two years.

Congress acted quickly to fill the budget gap and to repair the political damage caused when Republicans sided with the VA and ignored calls for more funding from veterans' groups and Democrats.

The GOP is now putting pointing out that it is doing what's necessary to correct the problems. The Democrats, of course, are playing I-told-you-so.

In a situation like this, political games are not necessary or appropriate.

Instead, the focus _ from Republicans and Democrats _ must be to find out why VA officials ignored the obvious and resisted efforts to provide more funding for veterans' health care.

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