War veterans bemoan health care policies

War veterans bemoan health care policies

By Feoshia Henderson

The government is slacking on its responsibility to take care of the country's veterans, according to a group of Northern Kentucky vets intent on change.

Roger Braden, head of Northern Kentucky Democratic veterans, said vets' access to health care was one of the new group's primary issues.

"The veterans injured in combat zones should have treatment for as long as it takes. There shouldn't be co-pays for prescriptions," he said of a Bush proposal that would increase the co-payment for prescription drugs from $7 to $15 through the Veterans Administration.

That same plan would require some veterans to pay a new $250 VA enrollment fee.

Braden, a Vietnam vet, said those proposals led him and about a half-dozen other veterans to start the local organization. Its steering committee formed shortly after last year's presidential elections and meets once a month to hash out policy positions.

"Our intent is to affect change in the Vets Administration and to block anything detrimental to vets of any age in any war," said Braden, of Taylor Mill.

He said the group had about just over two dozen vets on its mailing list and is working to expand that number. After the group is more firmly established members hope to link up with other veterans advocacy groups across the country to make their voice stronger.

"It takes one small spark to light a huge fire," said John Eidemiller, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.

Martin Mott, who served in the Vietnam War, said veteran's rights are in a fragile state.

"I don't want to see veterans' rights chipped away," the Covington resident said of his reason for joining the group.

Anecdotally, the men said they've seen veterans injured in war underserved upon their return home.

Mott said of a VA hospital patient in California, "He was injured a year ago by a land mine. He still doesn't have a prosthetic and that's crazy to me."

Ron Cropper of Covington, who fought in the Persian Gulf War, said that though defense spending has risen dramatically under the Bush administration, it's not benefiting troops.

"It's going to defense contractors like Halliburton. It's not going to the men and women being sent over there," Cropper said.

Braden said the group wants to be positive and pro-active, not merely reactive. Among the group's goals is to push for an increased death benefit for troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's something on which they agree with the president. The current benefit is $12,420. Bush has pushed for an increase to $100,000.

"When you lose the breadwinner of a family it can take a toll. That's one we're willing to fight for," Braden said.

The group also wants to start a pilot program to care for homeless vets. They hope it will become a national model.

The men, who are all Democrats and volunteered for Democratic campaigns last year, were quick to point out they were fighting for all veterans' rights.

"You see Republicans pushing for these co-pays. The Democrats in Congress are advocating for the soldiers and the sailors," Braden said, adding, "If we can afford to send robots to Mars then you should be able to afford the things that you need to do. It's a matter of priorities."

Anyone interested in the group should call Roger Braden at (859) 431-5144 or John Eidemiller at (859) 441-0740.


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