WASHINGTON — Like other advocacy groups, Concerned Veterans for America have problems with the president's proposed Veterans Affairs budget.

But unlike most of the veterans community, they think it doesn't cut enough.

The conservative group, which has ties to prominent Republican donors and several members of President Donald Trump's administration, is releasing a policy memo this week calling for more belt tightening and increased scrutiny of the president's $186.5 billion budget proposal, which has already drawn criticism from groups like the American Legion for too many trims.

"We recommend that Congress aggressively seek out more savings within the VA's budget, especially in its construction, medical facility operations, personnel, and medical compliance accounts," the document states.

"Cutting waste and passing systemic reforms, not throwing money at the current system, are what will make the VA more efficient and effective in delivering our veterans the care they have earned."

The stance is in line with the group's message of fiscal restraint and bureaucratic reductions, but it puts them at odds with much of the rest of the veterans community.

Most have attacked Trump's proposal for cutting several benefits programs, including rounding down beneficiaries of cost-of-living increases to the nearest dollar and ending Individual Unemployability assistance for retirement-age veterans.

Dan Caldwell, policy director for CVA, said his group supports the IU move as reforming a benefit that was intended only for working-age veterans, but would support phasing in the change over several years to ease the impact on individual veterans.

More concerning to him are increases in VA construction and staffing funding. He said VA should be working towards a smaller footprint using more partnerships with private-sector resources than building up VA facilities.

"This budget seems to be conflicting with the vision that (VA Secretary David) Shulkin is laying out," he said. "He is promising to reduce administrative staff, but then we see more added in the budget."

CVA has been a strong proponent of expanding outside care offerings for veterans, a move that critics have derided as a step towards privatization of VA but one that Shulkin has said has to be considered for more routine medical care.

Legion officials last week attacked Trump plans to expand those programs — paid for in part with benefits cuts — as breaking faith with veterans. Caldwell rejected that, saying "simply increasing funding to VA hasn’t helped veterans in the past."

They’re pushing lawmakers to further tighten the budget, trimming back some of the $800 million in new construction funding and $6.5 billion for medical facility leases in the budget proposal in favor of more private care flexibility.

The VA budget has grown dramatically in recent years, nearly doubling since fiscal 2009 ($93.7 billion) and almost four times the total when the war in Afghanistan began in fiscal 2001 ($48.7 billion).

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com


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.

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