President’s proposed budget cuts worry veterans

Mike Hale, Robert Anderson
U.S. Army veterans Mike Hale (left) and Robert Anderson.


ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Many veterans are concerned that their health care and the care of their spouses could be in jeopardy under the newest round of budget proposals from the White House.

The proposal from President Donald Trump’s administration seeks to streamline health care for veterans and claims to offer more choice and more options at a lower cost. But a segment of the veteran community is convinced the changes would create more suffering for those who already carry the wounds of war, both physical and mental.

Kent County residents Mike Hale and Robert Anderson were combat soldiers in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. Hale was a sergeant and Anderson a lieutenant. While the war ended more than 40 years ago, it remains with them.

Robert Anderson, Mike Hale
File courtesy photos of U.S. Army Lt. Robert Anderson (left) and Sgt. Mike Hale (right).

“Dean Owen, we switched assignments and he got killed instead of me, so there was a lot of survivor’s guilt for several decades,” Hale said.

“My (post-traumatic stress disorder) cost me every management position I ever had,” Anderson said. “Everything was more or less a life-or-death situation — that was my mindset.”

On Memorial Day, the Trump administration released details of its budget dealing with veterans. It includes changes the president says will improve veteran health care — a promise he has repeated often.

The plan calls for removing $3.5 billion from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in favor of private-sector health care. The budget for next year includes more than $13 billion for medical care outside VA.

If passed by Congress as-is, the budget would also change how an estimated 300,000 permanently disabled veterans who are not employable — most from the Vietnam era — are categorized. Veteran advocate groups say that would result in cuts for many.

The budget signals an end to “individual unemployability” benefit payments for retirement-age veterans, a move expected to save $3.2 billion next year alone and $41 billion over the next decade. It would halt those payments to veterans who are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. The argument is the payments are a “duplication of benefits.”

“It would devastate thousands and thousands and thousands of veterans,” Anderson said.

Anderson was diagnosed with PTSD 12 years ago and is declared fully disabled. He said that under the proposed changes, he would lose vision and dental coverage and his wife would lose her benefits as a caregiver. He argued it would cause him to have to pay nearly $20,000 out of pocket every year.

“It seems contrary to touting ‘veterans, veterans, veterans’ to take $3.2 billion actual dollars away from veterans,” Anderson said.

“I’d lose my house, I’d lose my car, I’d lose self-esteem. I’d probably be out in the street. I may have to file bankruptcy,” Hale said.

They say the changes go against everything they have been promised.

“You gave your service to your country and promised us that we’d be taken care of and now you’re going to renege on that? There’s something wrong there,” Hale said.

Anderson has been on a letter-writing campaign since the cuts were announced, contacting dozens in Washington and urging them to reject the changes.

24 Hour News 8 reached out to U.S. representatives and senators, all of whom promised that veteran care is among their highest priorities. Veterans say they want those words to become action when it comes time to vote.