American Legion commander calls for better health care

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

KENAI (AP) -- The commander of the nation's largest veterans organization called on Americans to pressure the president and Congress to fund health care for veterans before paying ''blackmail'' for stationing troops abroad for an attack on Iraq.

''We have so-called allies blackmailing us for permission to put our troops in their countries and at the same time we're not providing adequate health care to America's veterans,'' said Ronald F. Conley of Pittsburgh, who attended a Western District American Legion four-day convention.

''The American public believes all veterans are eligible for health care at Veterans Administration facilities and that the medical treatment they receive is free,'' Conley said. ''Neither of those beliefs is true.''

He said veterans last year paid more than $1.5 billion to the Veterans Administration for benefits through ''third-party reimbursements.''

''Now (the VA) is asking for $2.1 billion this year for third-party payments, and many veterans won't be accepted for care at all,'' he said.

Conley expressed concern that Kenai Peninsula veterans will not be accepted for medical care at local clinics because proposed VA budget limitations will no longer provide adequate funds for care.

Alaska has one VA medical center, in Anchorage, and affected veterans will not be accepted there either, he said.

''They'll be placed on a waiting list, and many won't see a doctor for six months,'' Conley said.

Conley has written articles in American Legion magazine urging members to complete a form called ''I am not a number'' if they believe they have waited too long to receive medical care through the VA.

''More than 300,000 qualified veterans are waiting six months or longer between setting appointments and actually seeing VA doctors,'' he said.

''Some have died waiting,'' he said.

He hopes to take the forms to Congress in July. He said the goal of the campaign is to show legislators that lives are at stake.

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