November 3, 1981
I am today signing H.R. 3499, the ``Veterans' Health Care, Training, and Small Business Loan Act of 1981.''
This bill extends a number of programs for Vietnam-era veterans, including eligibility of educationally disadvantaged veterans for special noncompetitive appointments to the Federal civil service and for vocational training and secondary school education. It also extends the Vietnam-era veterans readjustment counseling program, with provision for shifting this program into regular Veterans Administration medical facilities at the end of fiscal year 1984.
In addition, H.R. 3499 extends certain health care activities in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, other U.S. territories, and the Republic of the Philippines, and permits the Veterans Administration to recover costs of providing certain non-service-connected health care.
The bill contains other major provisions on which I wish to comment.
The bill would grant eligibility for Veterans Administration medical care to veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and certain other toxic substances in Vietnam and also to veterans exposed to ionizing radiation from nuclear weapons testing or the U.S. occupation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima following World War II. Eligibility would be provided without regard to financial need and on a priority basis.
Extension of medical services for exposure to Agent Orange and other substances in Vietnam must not prejudge the results of Federal studies we now have under way on this question.
I note, however, that the Congress has put a time limit of approximately 3 years on the new medical care eligibility, so that it can be reexamined after the initial results of the Agent Orange study are available. Moreover, I expect this provision to be implemented in a manner that will not add to budgetary costs of Veterans Administration medical care and treatment.
Another section of H.R. 3499 would establish the number of hospital and nursing home beds in Veterans Administration medical facilities at not more than 125,000 and not less than 100,000, and require the Veterans Administration to operate and maintain not less than 90,000 such beds. Such a limitation must not restrict the ability of the Veterans Administration to use an appropriate mix of health care services, including ambulatory care, to treat the maximum number of veterans.
This provision would also require that the President include in the budget transmitted to Congress for each fiscal year amounts for medical care and construction to enable the Veterans Administration to operate and maintain the required minimum number of hospital and nursing home beds. I interpret this language to mean what it says. This language does not, and in my view could not, require the President to request of Congress any specific amounts, for it is the President's constitutional duty to make recommendations to Congress of such measures as he judges necessary and expedient.
Finally, H.R. 3499 authorizes a new small business loan program in the Veterans Administration for disabled and Vietnam-era veterans. Because this program might duplicate a similar program in the Small Business Administration and would involve the Veterans Administration in an area in which it has no expertise, I intend to weigh carefully any efforts to fund this program.
Many of the provisions of H.R. 3499 are desirable and have been supported by the administration. A number of them will be particularly helpful to Vietnam-era veterans. In view of my strong commitment to the welfare of America's veterans, particularly Vietnam-era veterans, I am approving this measure despite some of the concerns I have noted.
Note: As enacted, H.R. 3499 is Public Law 97-72, approved November 3.