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Archive for Tuesday, January 8, 2002

VA secretary discusses Kansas cuts

January 8, 2002

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— Job cuts, consolidation and decreasing services at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Topeka brought many veterans to a town hall forum Tuesday to hear from the head of the federal agency.

Veteran Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi told the audience the department is looking at the budget to ensure adequate funding per patient.

"With an aging population, an increase in demand and a finite budget, Principi said, "we want to make sure the budget allocation is fair for rural America."

About 80 jobs are to be phased out at Colmery-O'Neil VA hospital in Topeka, which has about 1,500 full-time workers. A building that provides nursing home care for 40 veterans on the hospital grounds will close, and its occupants be moved to another Topeka unit, to Leavenworth or to public nursing homes.

A small substance-abuse treatment unit in Topeka will be consolidated with the main unit in Leavenworth.

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., wrote Principi late last year about the state of veteran care in Kansas.

"The citizens of Kansas are seeing a dramatic decrease in the standard of care that our veterans are provided," Brownback wrote. "The loss of jobs in Kansas due to cutbacks and transferring positions to other VA medical centers, affects our local economies as well."

In response, Principi is on a five-city, two-day tour of the state's veteran's services with Brownback and U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun.

Brownback's office released VA budget figures showing that the number of patients treated by the VA in eastern Kansas was undercounted by as many 5,000 while the number treated at VA hospitals in St. Louis was inflated by 2,000 to 3,000.

"We have increased the VA hospital budget 20 percent over the last seven years," Brownback said Tuesday. "But the eastern Kansas budget has been flat or slightly reduced."

U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran said it was good to have Principi in Kansas to see the importance of the VA in Topeka.

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