Why do the departments of Defense and of Veterans Affairs conduct separate, duplicative physical exams of veterans, one before and one after discharge? Why do these government health programs have separate purchasing systems when medical supply needs are nearly identical? Why are their medical record systems incompatible when the populations served overlap? Why is the VA health care system, which is under strain just to care for the most deserving, forced to make room for thousands of veterans who have decent outside incomes and no service-connected ailments?

Answers to all of the above vary, but, according to a new presidential task force report, it’s time for Congress and the president to end the nonsense and demand closer coordination of staff, facilities and other resources between two mammoth health care systems.

The 129-page report of the President’s Task Force to Improve Healthcare Delivery of our Nation’s Veterans, delivered to President Bush on May 28, recommends aggressive collaboration between departments to control the combined $50 billion cost and to ensure a “seamless transition” for veterans from military to VA health care.

The report also calls for:

• Electronic medical records between DOD and VA to be compatible by fiscal 2005.

• A joint DOD-VA formulary for prescription drugs, and tools to track what medicines go to beneficiaries with dual DOD-VA eligibility.

• Joint procurement of medical services and equipment whenever possible.

Military tax breaks

Both houses of Congress support a long-sought package of tax breaks for military personnel including provisions to restore capital gains protection for homeowners and new deductions on travel expenses for drilling reservists.

But every time the House, which by law must initiate tax legislation, approves a “military tax fairness” bill, it seems the Senate improves upon it, usually to the benefit of one more group of servicemembers, and the bill must go back to the House for modification.

In mid-May, with the Senate backing more new ideas, it sought a shortcut to passage by folding the “military tax fairness” bill into what remained of the president’s original $750 billion tax cut and economic stimulus bill. But a host of last-minute amendments were dropped and President Bush signed a $350 billion tax bill without military provisions Wednesday.

White House opposed

The Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget has sent separate letters of complaint to the chairmen of the House and Senate armed services committee over objectionable features in their respective 2004 defense authorization bills. Some of the criticism targets pay and benefit gains for deployed forces.

For instance, the administration opposes in the House a provision to pay reservists who maintain demolition and parachute duty qualifications the same hazardous duty pays as active duty members receive. It opposes a $5-a-day incentive pay for ground duty in Antarctica and special pay of $150 a month for members of weapons-of-mass-destruction civil support teams.

The White House also opposes a proposal to give reservists and National Guard members unlimited commissary shopping. This and the “unsought” special pay hikes, said the OMB complaint letter, “divert resources unnecessarily.” Mandatory increases in special pays “undermine” a service’s determination of whether “additional benefits are warranted.”

OMB also opposes special pay provisions in the Senate bill, including $100-a-month assignment incentive pay for members serving in Korea.

— Comments and suggestions are welcomed. Write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111 or send e-mail to

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