Even when he was campaigning for Congress in 2000, President Obama unveiled a sweeping health-care plan that modeled aspects of the Veterans Administration’s medical system.
As WND reported, eight years later, during his transition into the White House, he proposed in his “Obama-Biden” plan to “make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible.”
In his 2000 congressional campaign, Obama proposed health-care legislation on the federal and state level to lower the costs of prescription drugs for seniors. His plan called for the government to buy the medication in bulk and resell it to seniors at lower prices.
On Jan. 20, 2000, the Chicago Defender reported Obama’s prescription drug plan was modeled after a similar program run by the VA. The Veterans Health Care Act in 1994 calls for drug companies to give a 24 percent discount to the VA.
Obama ultimately lost his congressional bid to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush.
His 2000 and 2008 plans are not the only indications he was familiar with the VA medical system early in his career.
Earlier this week, WND reported documentation and testimony reveals that in 2005, Obama, as a U.S. senator, was briefed on dangerously long wait times for returning veterans to receive health treatment.
Obama was a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. On numerous occasions he publicly chastised President George W. Bush about the wait times, treatment shortages and lack of funding to the Veterans Administration’s medical programs.
On June 28, 2005, for example, Obama complained at a hearing on the VA medical care budget that “somehow it seems that we’re willing to trot in front of flags and take photographs with soldiers, but when it comes to the appropriations process, we’re not there.”
Obama said he heard from veterans of a problem with receiving treatment.
“One final question that I’ve got, specific to some of the issues that I’m hearing back in Illinois,” he told the Senate. “I’ve heard some constituents complaining that veterans’ clinics have been reducing hours. Is there any association – if that’s the case, is that one strategy to handle the shortfall? Are we reducing hours as a way of handling the shortfall?”
He stated: “The bottom line is: Are veterans being impacted in terms of their health care? I would be deeply disturbed if it turns out that as a consequence of this, what you say is managing this budget shortfall, turns out to be simply scrimping on the care that we’re providing our veterans. So I’d like a specific answer to that.”
Prior to the Senate hearing, in January 2005, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Obama held an emotional meeting with 500 veterans packed into a Chicago hall. The veterans complained about the way the VA was treating them, including waiting for treatment.
In June 2005, Obama and other senators, including Democrats Harry Reid and Dianne Feinstein, wrote a letter to Bush demanding his administration provide for the health-care needs of America’s veterans.
The senators wrote that they foresaw a coming crisis.
“As of January 2005, over 1 million U.S. troops have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 3 and one half years. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) annual mid-year budget review confirmed that many of these soldiers have returned home and are beginning to access the VA health care system in record numbers, placing increased demands on an already overburdened agency. Many of us saw a looming crisis and sought to take steps that would avert it.”
The letter of complaint continued: “With the recent announcement that the VA is facing a shortfall of approximately $1 billion in fiscal year 2005 it seems that our concerns are well founded. Unfortunately, the VA’s current shortfall, and larger shortfalls predicted for future years, has confirmed that your Administration has not prudently addressed the budget impacts of these conflicts.”
In August 2005, Obama released a statement again alluding to problems with wait lists.
He asserted the “VA should never be funded as an afterthought” and wrote of disabled veterans waiting “hundreds of days” to have their claims processed.
“We warned the administration that there may be a shortfall, and so we shouldn’t have to be scraping for change now to care for our veterans,” Obama said. “It should be America’s first priority. And yet, we’ve all seen how we keep falling short.”
Obama said disabled veterans “are waiting hundreds of days just to get their claim processed.”
“Wounded veterans in Illinois receive less in disability benefits than those in New Mexico or Maine,” he said.
The latest information comes amid a brewing scandal over when Obama was made aware of the VA shortages, alleged secret waitlists and reports of offering inaccurate waiting times and scheduling failures.
The waitlists kept wounded veterans lingering and may have contributed to as many as 40 veteran deaths in Phoenix alone.
Tuesday, the Washington Times reported the Obama-Biden transition team was briefed in 2008 on a data integrity issue within the VA.
“This is not only a data integrity issue in which [Veterans Health Administration] reports unreliable performance data; it affects quality of care by delaying – and potentially denying – deserving veterans timely care,” wrote VA officials in a briefing obtained by the Times.
Asked about the scandal, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney indicated Obama first learned of it in press reports.
A CNN reporter asked Carney when Obama was made aware of the issue.
The White House spokesman replied: “You mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your news network out of Phoenix, I believe?”
Carney continued: “We learned about them through the reports. I will double check if that is not the case. But that is when we learned about them, and that is when I understand Secretary Shinseki learned about them, and he immediately took the action that he has taken.”
With research by Brenda J. Elliott