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Democrats slam budget cuts for veterans' services

Pa. governor: Bush budget cuts for critical programs 'unconscionable'
Gov. Ed Rendell
Veterans Administration

(CNN) -- The governor of Pennsylvania on Saturday said the federal government must do a better job helping America's war veterans and criticized proposed budget cuts affecting them.

"During this time of war, it is absolutely the wrong time for our federal government to step back from any of its commitments to our veterans. To do so would be penny wise but pound foolish," said Gov. Ed Rendell in the weekly Democratic radio address.

"In today's parlance, the cost of health care for these vets may be half a billion dollars but their sacrifice for our nation, priceless," he said.

His remarks followed the weekly radio address of President Bush, who defended the Iraqi invasion and operation and marked its second anniversary. Rendell said that Pennsylvania and other states have programs helping veterans and their families.

"While we the governors do all we can for our vets and our returning soldiers, our federal government still has the primary responsibility for meeting the needs of our veterans. And that's why I find the president's budget cuts for critical veteran services to be unconscionable."

He maintained that budget cuts include "a $350 million reduction in veterans home funding, which wipes out at least 5,000 veterans' nursing home beds."

"If the president's proposed budget cuts are enacted, nearly 60 percent of the 1,600 veterans will lose their daily stipend that allows them to stay in our state's nursing homes, literally forcing them out into the cold."

Vet co-payments for prescription drugs were tripled two years ago, Rendell said, and "now the president is proposing to again double those increased co-pays."

"In the midst of a war, when many new men and women will join the legion of veterans, does it really make sense for the president to increase the cost of vets' prescriptions by 100 percent?"

Rendell criticized a proposal calling for a $250 fee "to be paid by every vet wishing to participate in the Veterans Administration health care program. "

"There may well be some veterans who can afford to do so, but can all vets come up with an extra $250 a year to pay for health care? I doubt it."

He urged "every patriotic American" to contact their legislators and protest budget cuts for veteran services.

Also, Rendell praised the thousands of returning troops who "put their lives on the line" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Unlike any war in recent history, citizen-soldiers are fighting this war. Forty percent of all the troops are from National Guard units or reservists,"

Rendell said more than 69 Pennsylvanians have died in the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts and "since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 14,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members have left the comfort of their home to risk their lives for our security."

"The families of the brave service men and women from all 50 states now know for sure that their loved ones did not die in vain. This war has reminded us of the solemn pledge our nation makes to our veterans."

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