VA Secretary: Agency to Maintain Services as Demand Increases
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2005 The United States offers the most extensive services and benefits for veterans of any other nation in the world, and will maintain that standard even with the recent surge in clientele due to the war on terror, according to the Veterans Affairs secretary.
R. James Nicholson spoke with the American Forces Press Service at VA headquarters July 21, his department's 75th anniversary.
The entrance to the headquarters bears the words President Abraham Lincoln spoke during his second inaugural speech and that Nicholson said serve as a daily reminder of the VA's mission: "To care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."
When he was first named to lead the VA, Nicholson was serving as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See in Rome, where he said his nomination drew a lot of interest. "There was great curiosity that this was a full Cabinet-level department," he said, noting that no other country gives its veterans such high visibility within its government.
Similarly, he said, no other country "offers remotely the kinds of services and benefits that we provide veterans."
Over its history, the United States has created the world's most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans, providing educational opportunities, pensions and disability compensation, home loan guarantees, life insurance and more, Nicholson said.
But the crown jewel of the system is its medical system, which Nicholson said delivers "world-class, cutting edge medical care with competence, compassion and dignity."
He insisted that the VA will continue to meet that standard, despite the surge in demand for healthcare services due to an influx of veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom into the system.
"Since we have a surge in demand, we also need to have more capacity, and that costs more money," Nicholson said. "So we have gone to Congress and requested additional funding to get through (fiscal year) '05 and a considerable increase in the budget for '06."
Nicholson announced July 14 that President Bush submitted to Congress an amendment to the proposed 2006 budget requesting $2 billion for higher-than-expected healthcare needs and to ensure that veterans continue to receive timely and high-quality health care, VA officials said. In addition, the administration recently requested $975 million more in healthcare funds for fiscal 2005. Nicholson said he's confident the American people will maintain their history of support for veterans.
"The American people hold veterans on a very high plain," Nicholson said. "There is no other country in the world that has anything remotely like what our Department of Veterans Affairs or that does anything close to what we do for our veterans.
"And they do that," working through the VA, "because they are so appreciative of those people who answer the call, who put on the uniform, and go where they are asked and do what they are asked in spite of the risks and the hardships and the deprivation," he said.
Providing services and benefits to these men and women is an honor for the VA's employees, who Nicholson said "have devoted their careers to serving veterans and their families."
"As General Washington said, it is a sacred honor and a debt to those who fight for our freedom," he said.