In February, the Independent Budget—a coalition comprised of DAV, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)—released The Independent Budget Agenda for the 115th Congress. Coalition partners have developed and presented funding recommendations for veterans programs to Congress and the president for more than 30 years to inform both lawmakers and the administration about the needs of veterans, and to offer substantive solutions to address the many health care, transition and benefits challenges veterans face.
Once the Trump administration released its budget proposal in May for fiscal years 18 and 19, the partners issued a secondary report, The Independent Budget Agenda for the 115th Congress Budget Recommendations for FY 18 and FY 19. The budget recommendations have been updated to reflect the discrepancies in proposals between the administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the coalition.
- The administration’s budget proposal includes additional funding to be allotted to the “Choice Program” but would utilize funds currently used for veterans benefits, most notably, by rounding down veterans’ cost of living adjustments or COLA and Individual Unemployability (IU) payments. DAV Assistant National Legislative Director LeRoy Acosta testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs in June. “We adamantly object to the proposal that would cut off eligibility for VA’s Individual Unemployability rating simply because disabled veterans reach an age at which they might qualify for Social Security retirement benefits,” Acosta said. “Total compensation for IU is not a retirement benefit. It is provided as compensation for veterans who suffer lifelong service-connected disabilities and are determined unable to work because of those disabilities [by VA.]”
- The coalition’s recommendations include funding for all VA discretionary programs for fiscal year 2018 as well as advance appropriations recommendations for medical care accounts for fiscal year 2019. For veterans’ health care, partners recommend an increase of $5.9 billion over the current fiscal year 2017 funding level. The total medical care funding of $76.9 billion includes funding for the newly created Medical Community Care account. For fiscal year 2019 advance appropriations, the Independent Budget recommends about $82.8 billion for medical care.
- To maintain VA’s health care system, partners recommended $2.2 billion for major and minor construction for fiscal year 2018, an increase of over $1.3 billion from the previous year. This will fund the completion of VA’s top five major construction projects, update aging research infrastructure and put VA on track to close all identified minor construction gaps within 10 years.
DAV Deputy National Legislative Director Adrian Atizado testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during a hearing to discuss pending health care legislation.
“It is imperative that any veterans health care reform measure must improve the overall delivery of high-quality care to enrolled veterans, both directly by VA and by community partners,” said Atizado. “It is essential to modernize the VA health care system in numerous ways, including addressing budget, appropriations and internal accounting processes that impede fully funding and efficiently utilizing resources provided to VA health care.”