Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson requested $17.6 billion in new funding for the department at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, almost directly on par with the figures DAV and other authors of the Independent Budget (IB) have estimated as shortfalls in the VA budget.
The request breaks down to roughly $6 billion annually over the next three years. Gibson noted the funding would be used to hire 10,000 clinical health staff and pay for medical equipment, renovate hospitals and repair clinics to expand usable space, increase support to the caregivers program, enhance IT support and development, and add staff to speed the appeals process. Citing operational comparisons to the private sector, Gibson said this request would bring long-term fixes to the existing problems in the VA health care system and meet the immediate needs of veterans rather than simply creating an avenue for veterans to seek outside care.
DAV and other IB authors have identified a very similar figure to Gibson’s request as the shortfall amount in VA’s budget over the past 10 years for medical care and infrastructure. The IB report has pointed to these shortfalls as the primary cause of access issues for veterans seeking care.
“If you look through the past several years’ Independent Budget, the message has been clear and consistent,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “Chronic underfunding of the VA inhibits veterans’ access to care, and that is a big part of what has brought us to this point today.”
The $17.6 billion funding request comes in less than the proposed House and Senate bills which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated could range between $30-$44 billion in the first couple of years, and could grow to between $50 to $54 billion after that.
“It’s important to remember that Acting Secretary Gibson is looking at this situation with fresh eyes, “ said Augustine. “He’s a businessman, brought in from outside the VA to address problems in the most efficient ways possible. He has put a plan on the table that gets at the heart of the issue, presents short and long-term solutions, and does so with a much smaller price tag for taxpayers.”
Current bills in the House and Congress have yet to identify spending cuts elsewhere to offset their high cost, driven up by allowing veterans to seek private health care on their own. The question of how to fund the proposed VA overhaul has stalled progress in the House-Senate conference as they look to reach a deal on the legislation.
Rather than create a costly new system outside the VA, DAV believes veterans would be better served investing in and improving the established system under new leadership.
“Lawmakers say they want to strike a deal before they leave Washington on recess,” said Augustine. “But if they pass any bill without factoring in the VA’s specific requests to expand capacity, they will not be solving the critical issues facing many veterans seeking care at the department.”