Editorial

Vets home budget cut is unfair

Veterans at the Long Island State Veterans Home

Veterans at the Long Island State Veterans Home participate in a physical therapy session in Stony Brook on the afternoon of Feb. 3. (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

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Everyone screams when their budgets are getting cut. Sometimes, those cries are simply a stubborn refusal to accept change. Others are legitimate yelps from wrongful pain. Here's an example of the latter.

The Long Island State Veterans Home located at Stony Brook University has 350 beds - all of them full - and provides daily care to veterans, their widows or spouses and parents who have lost a son or daughter in combat. It's the work of more than 500 employees. The home has a wait-list for beds that can stretch for anywhere from a few days to a few months.

But if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has his way, nearly 70 of those employees would be out of work, and 100 residents would be looking for a new nursing home.


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The governor is trying to claim 10 percent from the operational budget for the five state-run veterans homes in New York State, including the Long Island State Veterans Home. That money - $4.7 million for the facility in Stony Brook, $15.5 million for all five homes combined - is to go to the state's general fund.

Here's the unfairness: The state doesn't directly subsidize operations in the 1,220-bed state system. The facilities don't receive a penny of direct subsidy from the state for day-to-day costs. Money for that comes from private insurance, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (which also operates a separate nursing home in Northport), Medicare and Medicaid.

The only state dollars that flow into the coffers of the veterans homes are designated for capital improvements, and even then the state only pays about one-third of the cost, with the VA picking up the rest.

In addition to the $15.5 million the state is demanding, the five veterans homes will face a separate funding cut in the form of slashed Medicaid reimbursements, which will add up to another $10 million combined this year. This cut will cost the Stony Brook facility $8 million over the next two years. The homes will have to accept this cut; that's state money. It's the extra cut that doesn't add up.

This grab by the state is part of a yearly effort to help close the gap in its budget deficit. The state dips into funds that are dedicated to a specific purpose and allocates them elsewhere. This is called sweeping, and has become an unsavory tradition in the budget-balancing process. Usually, the swept money was originally set aside for a specific purpose, as with the Environmental Protection Fund, a popular sweeping target. Always, it is redirected to a purpose it wasn't intended for.

Budget cuts are undeniably necessary, but asking for money back when you didn't hand it out in the first place is a step over the line. There has to be a another way to find $15.5 million than on the backs of veterans and their families.

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