In four editorials in a little more than three weeks, The Post has attacked the proposal to elevate the Veterans Administration to a Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs. While the emotional pitch of the arguments is strong, the supporting evidence is not.
The Post's primary objection to the proposal seems to be that the VA's budget is too large and the power of the veterans' groups is too great, and that both of these will increase as a result of the elevation in status. That is debatable, since high-level visibility works both ways. Many would contend that the VA's budget and influence would be subject to even greater inspection and construction as a result of the "fishbowl" of Cabinet-level department status.
In my testimony before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on Dec. 9, I stated many of the facts concerning the VA that bear repeating here. Almost 80 million persons -- veterans -- are potentially eligible for VA benefits and services. It's difficult to imagine how nearly one-third of our nation's citizens could be labeled a "special interest" group.
The VA operates the nation's largest health care system. Our development of medical expertise, the VA's internationally recognized research program and the training programs we provide have effects far beyond the veterans we serve. For example, more than half the nation's practicing physicians have received some portion of their medical training at the VA. The VA has always been a leader in medical research and maintains that role today as we search for the solution to the AIDS pandemic and develop new methods and practices for caring for our aging. By the year 2000, two of every three males in America over the age of 65 will be veterans. The work the VA has already begun on care of the aging translates into a national benefit for all elderly Americans. The evolution of national health care policy needs and will profit from the VA's presence in the Cabinet.
The VA is an important factor in such diverse areas as housing -- 12 million home loans guaranteed have significantly affected the building industries; education -- 18 million education loans have increased this nation's technological gains; and life insurance programs protecting millions of veterans and their dependents, some of whom would not be insurable in the private sector. We operate a system of benefits that has tangible, synergistic economic impact on the nation as a whole. Yet, The Post denies that veterans' affairs have a rightful place in the most significant council of the federal government.
Veterans by virtue of their service and defense of freedom have earned every benefit they receive. Without their sacrifices our society might be completely different from the one we all enjoy today.
One of the roles of the Cabinet is to ensure that the development of national policy and the delivery of federal programs achieve the highest possible coordination and efficiency. It is vital that the enormous and far-reaching implications of VA activities continue to be factored into the discussion of public policy issues, which should result in greater management effectiveness. Transition of the VA to Cabinet status will ensure that this will always be the case.
The writer is administrator of veterans' affairs.