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Columbia Missourian

Two congressional candidates offer plans for veterans' health care

By Catherine McComb
July 24, 2008 | 10:42 p.m. CDT

Two of the 10 candidates for the 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives have offered specific but very different plans for improving health care for veterans.

State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, announced a plan in May that would give veterans seeking care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs access to other private providers. Her plan also would give members of the National Guard and access to the VA system.

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Baker also called for an increase in the number of brain specialists trained by the VA to treat traumatic brain injuries, as well as an increase in claims workers and a shift from paper to electronic claims to speed up the process of giving veterans disability benefits.

Ken Jacob of Columbia, a former state representative and state senator, has criticized Baker's plan, calling it a "wolf in sheep's clothing." He said privatizing veterans' health care would divert money to for-profit companies, whose motives he questioned.

"They're more interested in bringing in profits than caring for veterans," he said.

Instead, Jacob has proposed a plan that would allow all veterans to enroll for health benefits through the VA and establish an oversight position to monitor its health care facilities. Additionally, it would create mobile health clinics to serve veterans in rural communities, foster the transition from paper forms to an electronic veterans' disability application process and create a grant program to reduce veteran homelessness and fully fund the VA, he said.

Jacob said his plan could be funded by cutting other government spending for such things as the war in Iraq, oil subsidies and earmarks.

"Once the Democratic Party is in control and starts to demonstrate fiscal discipline and makes cuts like this, then our economy is going to soar and ... as our economy grows so does our tax base grow, so do our revenues and that will help also with the deficit," he said.

But Baker said that her plan wouldn't privatize veterans' health care and that Jacob doesn't understand her ideas.

"It is a plan that augments the VA," she said.

She noted that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization proposes a plan similar to hers on its Web site. While Baker said she did not discuss her plan specifically with that group, she said she has talked to veterans.

"The people that I talked to were real vets, vets that live out in rural areas that need this kind of concept," she said.

Jacob outlined his proposals for veterans health care at a news conference earlier this week with Carl Niewoehner, a longtime volunteer with the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital and member of the Missouri Veterans Commission, who criticized Baker's plan.

Several veterans' organizations, such as the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars have said they don't agree with the idea of veterans attending private hospitals without visiting the VA hospital first.

"If they don't support it and the DAV doesn't support it, how are you going to get any plan through Congress?" Niewoehner said.

None of the other candidates for the 9th District seat had released comprehensive plans for veterans' health care at the time of this report. To read their positions on other issues, go to the Missourian's Public Life blog at thewatchword.wordpress.com.