Budget Battles Delay Funding
By Dave Autry
Nurse clinician Richard Burdo, left, with the Department of Veterans Affairs, speaks to a homeless veteran who declined to be identified, lower right, under an overpass during a winter storm in Philadelphia.
President Obama has signed into law a catch-all federal budget for fiscal year 2012 that provides $58.5 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is a 3.6-percent increase from the 2011 budget, but some $3 billion below the President’s request. The measure includes $63.8 billion in mandatory funding and $52.5 billion in advance appropriations for veterans health care in fiscal year 2013.
“Although the discretionary funding level is some $7 billion less than the DAV and other veterans service organizations recommended in The Independent Budget, Congress has again shown a willingness to support vital programs and services for our nation’s veterans,” National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson said. “Many other agencies saw their budgets cut as lawmakers seek to rein in government spending.”
Almost $3 billion of the VA’s budget is designated for research and treatment programs for mental health, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The VA estimates that it will serve more than 530,000 of those veterans this year, more than double the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans served in 2008.
The measure funds medical and prosthetic research at $581 million. Although that is more than the 2011 level of $508 million, it falls short of the $620 million recommended in The Independent Budget.
“The government must continue to provide adequate support for the VA’s medical and prosthetic research programs, which are vital to so many of our nation’s disabled veterans of all generations,” Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski said.
The 2012 budget measure also allocates $200 million to implement the new caregivers benefits program that provides special training and stipends for the families of injured veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“While the new caregiver support program benefits the families of recent veterans, the DAV continues to advocate for expanding the program to cover all generations of our nation’s defenders,” Adjutant Wilson said.
Programs to help homeless veterans are funded at $4.9 billion, a nearly $600 million increase from the 2011 level.
“With the ambitious goal of ending homelessness among our veterans in five years, the VA’s ultimate success depends on continued support of those efforts,” Jesinoski said. “Many of our Departments and Chapters are taking an active part in resolving this national tragedy, and the DAV Charitable Service Trust continues to provide much-needed financial support for local programs to aid homeless veterans.”
National Legislative Director Joseph A. Violante noted that while Congress again increased the VA’s 2012 funding, lawmakers again failed to pass a budget before the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year. “Once again, the federal government had to be kept running with a series of temporary funding measures, which foster uncertainty and hamper efficiency,” he said. “But thanks to the advance funding law championed by the DAV, funding for veterans medical care was already in place.”
As expected, President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request, has touched off a battle in Congress over federal spending levels. “That, coupled with the upcoming general election, makes the picture for the future of veterans programs uncertain at best,” Violante said. “So the DAV will continue working with members of Congress and their staffs to build the case for continued support for veterans programs and services.”
Of vital importance is the active involvement of DAV’s grassroots organization to help educate members of Congress about veterans issues,” Jesinoski said. “The letters, phone calls, e-mail messages and faxes from our members through the DAV Commander’s Action Network are vital in getting lawmakers to act in the best interest of veterans,” he said. “So, DAV members and their families and friends can have an essential role in improving the lives of our nation’s service-connected disabled veterans and their families.”