House appropriators will give the Department of Veterans Affairs almost all the money VA officials say said they need for next year, but with a few caveats.
A funding plan approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday morning would allot $176.1 billion to the department for fiscal 2017, an 8 percent increase from the current year’s spending levels. It's a noteworthy jump, That would be a jump of more than 8 percent for department funding, but is about $1 billion less than what the White House proposed earlier this year in its budget outline.
Under the House plan, discretionary funding would rise about 3 percent to $73.5 billion, which under the, equals to the administration's request. But Republican appropriators said they’ll include several provisions to increase oversight on the spending, in light of problems they see still lingering in department operations.
"In recent years, VA has missed the mark on providing our veterans with the services, programs and care they have been guaranteed by our government," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
"The patient waitlists at VA hospitals,reports of pain prescription mismanagement, and the backlog of disability claims are just some examples of the unacceptable developments we have recently witnessed at the VA."
Rogers said the new funding plan balances the funds department officials need to succeed with "the tools it needs to reverse this trend and offer veterans the standard of care and responsiveness they deserve."
That includes language that prohibits all senior VA executive service managers from receiving bonuses next year, in light of lawmakers' criticism from lawmakers that, too often, such payouts are connected to average or weak exemplary performance.
The plan includes $260 million to modernization VA electronic health records but restricts access to those funds "until the VA certifies has certified interoperability of the system's "interoperability" with the Defense Department.
Construction projects total more than $900 million, but those funds will be are similarly held back until VA meets specific certain management and oversight conditions on major builds.
Appropriators also inserted in the bill requirements for improved service standards at the department's suicide hotline operations and certification of new mental health therapists to expand care access.
Last year, VA officials fought bitterly for months with House lawmakers over a billion-dollar shortfall in their fiscal 2016 budget request, saying the extra funds were needed to protect veterans care. In the end, Senate appropriators put most of the money back into the budget deal.
The House appropriations plan — which is expected to go to a full House vote next month — also includes $7.9 billion in military construction funds, a decrease of about 4 percent from fiscal 2016.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.