7:19 PM EDT

Lane Evans, D-IL 17th

Mr. EVANS. Mr. Chairman, my amendment would prohibit the Department of Veterans' Affairs from expending appropriated funds for the purpose of implementing a proposal contained in President Bush's budget.

The budget proposal would require all military retirees, including the one-quarter million veterans currently enrolled for care in the VA, to choose between either the VA or the DOD as their exclusive health care provider. This proposal has incurred the justifiable anger of our military retirees, the military itself, and the veterans service organizations. I believe that retirees have earned their right to access health care benefits in both systems and should be given that right and choice.

Mr. Chairman, while it is my understanding that the legislation will be needed to enact my proposal, I wish to prohibit any efforts by the Department of Veterans' Affairs to begin implementation of it. Congress should have more time to fully assess the effects this legislation will have and its impact on the lives of former servicemen and women.

Military retirees have devoted their lives to serving our country. We will breach our commitment if we allow the VA and the Department of Defense to simply implement their proposal that eliminates veterans' choice of providers. The truth is that these two systems provide very different packages of services and military retirees have earned the right to both.

I hope every Member of Congress will agree that this proposal is worthy of approval, and I urge its approval. I want to thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH) and my chairman on the authorizing committee, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. SMITH), for getting this done. I appreciate it.

7:21 PM EDT

James T. Walsh, R-NY 25th

Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment. We have no objection to the amendment. We support in theory what the administration is trying to do. Both the VA and DOD cannot adequately plan and budget for services when both of these departments do not know the number of people they are serving. However, there are very few details from either VA or DOD, nor have we heard explanations on the effects or restrictions of the proposed policy. So until DOD and the VA can present us with

a complete, well-thought-out plan, I support the amendment of the ranking member of the Committee on Veterans Affairs.

7:21 PM EDT

Alan B. Mollohan, D-WV 1st

Mr. MOLLOHAN. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word, and I rise in support of the gentleman's amendment and fully support it. I just wanted to express that. I appreciate the gentleman's contribution to veterans.

7:22 PM EDT

Chris Smith, R-NJ 4th

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words, and I rise in support of the amendment offered by the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. EVANS), my good friend and ranking member on the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to prohibit the use of funds in fiscal year 2002, to implement the administration's proposal that military retirees be required to make an irrevocable choice between military or VA health care for a defined period of years.

While we certainly want to encourage more efficient use of scarce Federal health resources, at this juncture, we simply do not have enough information about the potential impact of that specific proposal. I do not think either the VA or the Department of Defense is really prepared to deal with the implications of requiring this choice, and both health care systems are already experiencing considerable strain serving their beneficiaries. We need to understand the implications of this proposal

much, much better.

Mr. Chairman, I commend the gentleman for his amendment, and I urge my colleagues to adopt it.