WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials needs a 10 percent boost in funding next year to meet the medical and program needs on the department, according to a coalition of outside advocates.
The fiscal 2018 Independent Budget for VA — budget recommendations for the department compiled annually by researchers from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America — calls for an $8 billion boost in the department’s budget next year,
"We believe that the ever-growing demand for health care and benefits services, particularly with more health care being provided in the community, provided by the VA certainly validates the continued need for sufficient funding," the coalition report states.
"We understand that VA has fared better than most federal agencies in budget proposals and appropriations, but the real measure should be how well the funding matches the demand for veterans’ benefits and services."
VA’s discretionary budget was just under $75 billion for fiscal 2017, not including some medical care collections accounts and VA Choice Card program funds. The overall budget was just under $177 billion, almost four times the department’s entire budget before the war in Afghanistan started in 2001.
That total includes eight years of steady budget increases under President Obama, even as other federal agencies saw their spending curtailed by spending caps approved by Congress and the White House.
But conservatives on Capitol Hill in recent weeks have hinted those substantial raises may be at an end. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., has said on several occasions that the problems facing the department aren’t because of a lack of funding, but instead because of poor management.
Despite that, the Independent Budget recommends substantial hikes in medical spending (8.3 percent), benefits processing funds (9.7 percent) and almost doubling the VA construction budget.
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"This report is not meant to suggest that these are the absolute correct answers for funding these services," the report stated. "However, in submitting our recommendations (we) are attempting to produce an honest assessment of need that is not subject to the politics of federal budget development and negotiations that inevitably have led to continuous funding deficits."
President Trump has not submitted to Congress his plans for the fiscal 2018 VA budget. That’s expected to happen sometime in April.
In his speech to Congress last month, Trump promised that his upcoming budget "will also increase funding for our veterans," noting that "our veterans have delivered for this nation, and now we must deliver for them."
VA is one of only a few federal agencies currently working on a full-year budget at the moment. Most other departments, including the Defense Department, will have their partial-year budgets expire at the end of April unless Congress can reach a budget agreement before then.
The full-year fiscal 2017 budget for VA passed last fall also includes $66.4 billion in advance appropriations for fiscal 2018, to ensure that VA medical services and benefits payouts won’t be disrupted in case of congressional gridlock.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.