Making sure our veterans receive high quality health care is one of my top priorities, and it is an issue of basic fairness ¬ when our country called on men and women to serve, they answered without hesitation. In return, we promised to take care of them when they got sick or old. We must honor our part of this agreement.
I often visit the Northport VA facility on Long Island and I am always impressed by the quality of health care that is available. More importantly, I am impressed by the praise the facility receives from the patients themselves. As a nurse, I know that the best critic of a health care facility is its patients. I am pleased to say that the veterans treated at the Northport facility are extremely satisfied with their quality of care. Unfortunately, I am also aware that this high quality health care is in jeopardy.
Last year, the Veterans Administration was mandated by Congress to develop and implement a more fair way for allocating health care resources across the country. In response, the VA came up with the Veterans Equity Resource Allocation (VERA) model. After we reviewed the model, we realized that VERA is unfairly biased against older veterans who need in-patient, comprehensive health care in major metropolitan areas, such as New York. When they created the model, the VA did not take into account the large number of veterans from New York who move down south but return to New York when they are sick and need health care.
Most of our VA hospitals in the northeast have already cut back on spending and trimmed down. Any further cutbacks in funding will come at the expense of patient care, and with the VERA model, our VA hospitals will be forced to cut back on the bare necessities, like nursing and support staff, which we all know are the backbone of quality care. We must not allow this to happen.
Every New York member of Congress is working to stop the implementation of this unfair model. In the past year, we met with Jesse Brown, the former secretary of veterans affairs, and Herschel Gober, the acting secretary, to discuss this problem and asked them to examine the situation. We've also sent several letters to the Veterans Administration about the matter, and just last week, together with my colleagues, I supported an amendment in the House to stop VERA from getting implemented. We were disappointed when the amendment failed to get enough support for passage, but we are not giving up and the veterans on Long Island can be certain that the people who represent New York in Congress will continue to fight to keep valuable health care dollars in New York.
I had the opportunity recently to join with my fellow women members of the House of Representatives in calling upon Congress and the Clinton Administration to not forget the special concerns of women in the ongoing discussion about how to reform Social Security. We formally requested that the Social Security Administration study the effects on women of the major reform plans already proposed.
When I discuss Social Security with Long Islanders, and especially women, I hear strong support, but also concern that the program won't be there for them when they retire. This is especially true for younger women, for whom retirement seems like an eternity away -- they are genuinely concerned that they will not enjoy the level of benefits their parents and grandparents received.
Women are often vulnerable to any drastic changes in retirement programs because women on average have lower incomes than men, often take time out from the workforce to raise children or care for sick or aging family members, and on average live longer after retirement. According to the Census Bureau, women make up approximately 57 percent of the Social Security age population in Nassau County.
After spending their lives working hard, women should not be punished for taking time off from work to raise children or care for sick family members. Social Security was always meant to be an insurance policy for older Americans -- to guarantee that they are financially secure in their retirement. The last thing we should do is change the system so that older women lose that guarantee.
I am proud to have been one of 40 female members of Congress that wrote to President Clinton and Vice-President Gore this past June, asking them to directly address women's concerns in their series of public discussions about Social Security's future. This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue, and we should not let politics get in the way of doing what is right. Millions of women -- those who are on Social Security right now and those who will be in the future -- are depending upon us to keep this program strong and accessible. We must listen to their voices.