For the 28th consecutive year, DAV has joined with other organizations to create the veteran community’s most comprehensive budget and policy document: The Independent Budget (IB).
While the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to face growing demand on its health care and benefits systems, Congress and the Administration must ensure that the VA has all the tools necessary to effectively meet those demands.
The IB provides, in great detail, what those tools need to be in the 2015 budget. The four co-authors, DAV, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of American and Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, lay out a set of funding and policy recommendations to meet veterans’ needs.
“The VA is responsible for providing competent, compassionate and consistently high-quality health care to all eligible veterans and to their eligible families and survivors,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “Sufficient resources are needed to provide timely and accurate delivery of all earned benefits, including disability compensation, pensions, education, housing assistance and other necessary supports. VA must provide dignified memorial services to all eligible veterans, preserving national cemeteries as shrines to those lost in or following military service.”
This year’s IB calls for increases in health care, information technology, benefits administration, research and construction spending, totaling $72.9 billion in funding for the VA in 2015. Just $66.5 billion was allocated to VA in the actual budget for 2014.
“This commitment must be accomplished in the face of continued pressure to control federal spending,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “That said, it cannot be emphasized enough that meeting the needs of veterans of every generation is a solemn obligation that cannot be minimized.”
The IB shows a need for $61.1 billion total for health care for fiscal year 2015, which is $2.3 billion more than the Administration recommended ($58.8 billion) in the fiscal year 2015 advance appropriation last year. There is a need for $62.4 billion total advance appropriation for health care for 2016, according to the IB.
The IB states $611 million is needed for medical and prosthetics research in 2015, which is approximately $25 million more than the 2014 appropriated level.
About $44 million more than appropriated for 2014 is needed in 2015 for the Veterans Benefits Administration. That would total at $2.5 billion for VBA.
“We applaud VA’s progress during the past year in reducing the benefits claims backlog and putting in place a new organizational paperless claims process model, and we hope the Administration and Congress remain committed to providing the resources needed to continue this vital transformation,” said National Commander Joseph W. Johnston. “That means funding the proper staffing levels and providing sufficient training. Additionally, it is crucial that appropriate funding is provided to continue building and maintaining the VA’s information technology infrastructure.”
“Although there is measurable progress in reducing the backlog of veterans’ claims,” the IB reads, “the Veterans Benefits Administration must increase its openness, transparency, cooperation and collaboration with Congress and veterans service organizations to successfully complete this transformation.”
The VA construction account, which upgrades rapidly aging facilities, is severely underfunded. From fiscal year 2002 through 2014, the IB has recommended a total of $23.5 billion for VA construction, but the federal government during that period has appropriated less than $13.5 billion. Through 13 years of war, VA construction accounts have only received 57 percent of what’s required. The IB projects VA will need to invest $31 billion over the next decade to close its major and minor construction gaps.
This year’s IB stresses the importance of changing the way VA is funded, calling for the House and Senate to immediately consider and approve legislation that would extend advance appropriations to all VA discretionary and mandatory appropriations accounts. About 86 percent of VA’s funding, primarily in health care, is already funded a year in advance.
“The entire VA budget needs to be funded in advance so we don’t have to worry about another government shutdown negatively impacting veterans, their families and survivors again,” said National Legislative Director Joseph A. Violante. “Veterans should not be forced to suffer because of political budget showdowns.”
The IB, which began circulating in its entirety Feb. 7, has been received well in Congress this year.
“The counsel of America’s many veterans service organizations is crucial to ensuring America provides our veterans the benefits they have earned. The Independent Budget is a key part of this process,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Learn more online
The entire IB, along with a report of critical issues, is available online at www.independentbudget.org.