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Official Says DoD Committed to Veteran Health Care

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
June 28, 2005

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department will work with the Veterans Affairs Department to help cover a shortfall in VA funds due to increased dental benefits claimed by returning veterans of the global war on terror, a top DoD health official told Congress today. "The Department of Defense is firmly committed to protecting the health of its service members - before, during, and after deployment - and all our other health beneficiaries," Dr. Stephen L. Jones said in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies. Jones is principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

"DoD attempts to demobilize our reservists as soon as possible so that they can return to their families and civilian life," he said, "after ensuring that all health issues they face have been adequately addressed."

However, because health care benefits entitle veterans either to space-available care in military dental treatment facilities or voluntary enrollment in the Tricare dental program, some Reservists have made increasing use of their VA benefit entitlement, Jones said. The result has been slightly increased costs to the VA for dental care.

"At a recent hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, our colleagues in the VA described a significant funding shortfall in their fiscal year 2005 health care budget. A small portion of this shortfall, stated as approximately $90 million, was attributed to dental care for deactivated or recently separated Reserve and National Guard personnel," Jones said.

"We met with the VA staff to review this requirement and provide an independent estimate of the amount," he continued. "As the result of our joint work, we believe the additional workload has resulted in a $54 million requirement above VA's 2005 baseline."

Jones said DoD is investigating various transfer mechanisms between the two departments to help the VA defray the remaining increase in dental care.

"The Department of Defense is committed to taking care of its own personnel who are put into harm's way to defend our nation," he said. "We provide the best possible care for our wounded service members, and have been well- supported by the Congress in acquiring sufficient resources to perform our missions. Where appropriate, and only with their coordinated cooperation, we have entered into joint ventures with the VA as a part of this process."

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