WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed the Department of Veterans Affairs fiscal 2019 budget into law on Friday, giving the department a funding boost of more than 6 percent and pushing the agency’s total spending over $200 billion for the first time.
The president finalized the bill at a ceremony held in the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center, surrounded by federal officials and local veterans. He praised the massive spending measure as another promise kept by his administration.
“With this funding bill we have increased the VA’s budget to the largest ever,” he said. “We are delivering the resources to implement crucial VA reforms.”
The bill includes $1.1 billion for the start of a VA electronic health records overhaul and $400 million for opioid abuse prevention within the department, both efforts touted by Trump in the past.
The final deal also includes a $1.75 billion increase in money tied to the VA Mission Act, passed at the start of the summer. The legislation will rewrite the department’s community care programs, expanding veterans ability to access private health care at taxpayer expense.
That money had stalled negotiations on the budget bill for months, and Democrats said they still are not satisfied with the short-term spending plug to cover what is expected to be an even bigger financial hole next year.
“The bill the president signed today leaves a funding gap in May of 2019, expected to grow to more than $8 billion in fiscal year 2020,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement after the signing.
“We do our veterans no favors when we make promises we do not keep, and I will continue to fight in Congress to make sure they receive the care they deserve.”
The VA funding legislation also includes $10.3 billion in military construction funding for fiscal 2019 as well as the full-year budgets for the legislative branch and federal energy programs.
Trump’s signature came just a day after he blasted a similar sprawling budget package focused on the Department of Defense as a “ridiculous spending bill” because it omitted border wall funding he has demanded from Congress.
The House is expected to finalize that legislation next week. If the president chooses to veto it, most federal departments would face a partial government shutdown. VA would be exempted from those problems, however, since their fiscal 2019 funding is now in place.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.