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Retired vets could face an increase in co-pays

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers and the Pentagon appear poised for what promise to be contentious talks about how to reform the health-care system for veterans – now the fastest-growing component of the defense budget.

One suggestion being debated would require that working-age military retirees contribute more in co-payments and premiums through the armed forces’ Tricare system.

It’s not clear how much more, or whether the measure would even make it through Congress.

But it marks yet another attempt by the Pentagon to deal with rising health costs and the significant hurdles it faces on Capitol Hill, where concern for veterans’ well being runs high.

“Rising health care costs are claiming a larger portion of the defense budget,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “But we must be sure that any changes do not impact the quality and access to health care earned by those who have served our country honorably.”

One of those is Will Heinze, who lives near York, Pa., and was invited along with other retired veterans from Pennsylvania to attend a recent Senate hearing on veterans’ benefits.

“Many of us are on fixed incomes,” he said. “Raising any of these costs will price some of us out.”

The military health care debate will unfold as lawmakers and the Obama administration – via the Pentagon – negotiate military spending over the coming months for the fiscal 2010 budget.

The Pentagon is projected to spend roughly $47 billion on health care in fiscal 2010, out of what’s expected to be a $533 billion defense budget request.

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