VA Budget Plan Falls Short in Meeting Needs

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For the fifth consecutive year, the President has proposed an increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. DAV and other
veterans service organizations, however, find the proposal falls short in meeting veterans’ health care needs.

“The President’s budget proposal contains some positive aspects, particularly the continuing commitment to fixing the VA’s broken claims process by converting to a  modern, paperless system,” said National Commander Larry A. Polzin. “While we also applaud efforts to bolster programs for women veterans, homeless veterans and mental health care, the overall direction of funding for medical services and health care infrastructure raises serious questions about whether the VA will be able to meet the needs of America’s wounded heroes in the future.”

Included in the nearly $153 billion VA budget is $66.4 billion in discretionary funding. While that is 8.5 percent above the current enacted level, it is below the $68.4 billion DAV recommended to sufficiently meet veterans’ health care and benefits needs.

“While DAV was pleased to see increased funding for areas such as the operations of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and for information technology, a reduction in funding for major construction is cause for concern. The Administration proposed just $342 million, well below the $1.1 billion recommended in The Independent Budget,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. “Also of concern is the advance appropriation request of $55.6 billion for fiscal year 2015, which is approximately $2.8 billion less than our recommended level of $61.6 billion.

“The VA’s critical medical infrastructure must not be allowed to deteriorate even further,” said Jesinoski. “It is vital that medical facilities be well-maintained and modernized to provide a safe environment for our veterans’ care and well-being.”

In support of the VA’s goal of breaking the claims backlog and improving the overall accuracy and timeliness of decisions, the President’s budget asks for $2.5 billion for the VBA. That is a 13.6-percent increase from the current level.

“Despite having to overcome major hurdles, the VBA has made real headway in modernizing the veterans’ claims system,” said National Service Director Garry Augustine. “After three years of planning and testing, the VBA will complete the national rollout of a new claimsprocessing system in 2013. The new Veterans Benefits
Management System will undergo refinements before it is operating effectively, and Congress must provide the VA with the resources, support and oversight required to
ensure its success.

“The VBA and Congress must carefully monitor both workload and productivity in the VBA’s Compensation Service, particularly as the transformation is completed in 2013, so that staffing levels can be adjusted annually to reflect such changes,” Augustine said.

The VA budget request provides $54.6 billion for health care, plus $3.1 billion in expected collections from veterans health insurance. The Independent Budget recommends $58.8 billion total for health care for fiscal year 2014.

“Time and again, those third-party collections have fallen short of expectations,” said National Legislative Director Joseph Violante, “and that has put added strain on veterans’ access to VA health care.”

Another concern is that the President’s budget proposes $586 million for medical and prosthetic research, and just $799 million for all construction programs. DAV and other groups have recommended $611 million for medical and prosthetic research and $2.25 billion for all construction programs.

“America’s injured and ill veterans must remain a national priority and have all the resources necessary to meet their medical and benefits needs,” said Violante.  “As Congress continues its work on the budget and appropriations processes, DAV will closely monitor those activities and will intervene as needed to see to it that our nation honors its promises to the men and women who served.”