Our veterans deserve benefits

Sunday, August 25, 2002

By Bob Holden

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Aug. 15 editorial regarding the Benefits Awareness Task Force misses the point. In fiscal year 2000, Missouri ranked 43rd of the 50 states in per-veteran compensation and pension benefits paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This figure represents millions of dollars in earned federal benefits that are not being received and thousands of individual veterans and dependents whose lives could be improved. Weíve already made improvements. Missouri now ranks 36th.

The Benefits Awareness Task Force was created to inform veterans of those benefits and to assist them in accessing them. Our commitment is to ensure that Missouri's veterans are receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled. We believe that in so doing Missouri's veterans and dependents will receive millions of dollars in additional federal dollars, improving both their lives and Missouri's economic health.

While the primary focus of the task force has been on compensation and pension benefits, we do seek to inform veterans of all their benefits. Eligibility for VA healthcare is one of the most important of these. I believe that our veterans deserve information about these health-care benefits as well as information about delays and waiting times.

It should be noted that Anthony Principi, secretary of veterans affairs, did not halt enrollment of additional veterans in the VA system. He simply halted use of resources for recruitment activities and utilization of those resources for speeding up treatment of veterans. The utilization of these benefits is cost effective, as urgent-care needs decrease as a result of preventive care.

A well-informed citizenry is a cornerstone of our democratic government, and Missouri must do all it can to ensure that its veterans are informed about the full range of benefits for which they are eligible because of their service and their sacrifices for their country.

Let me also add that the state's Childrenís Health Insurance Program, MC+ for Kids, currently provides health care to over 78,000 rural and urban children, 17 percent of whom live in the 8th Congressional District. Thousands of the program's children suffer from chronic illnesses and are unable to obtain health insurance through their parents. I can't imagine that any Missourian believes this to be an example of poor state government spending.

Bob Holden is the governor of Missouri.

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