The Department of Veterans Affairs would see another big funding increase under the fiscal 2022 budget plan outlined by the White House on Friday, with more money for suicide prevention, homelessness assistance programs and toxic exposure research.
Administration officials said the budget boosts are needed to continue key support programs and fulfill their promise to improve outreach to more veterans.
“The (budget) request ensures that all of America’s veterans — including women veterans, veterans of color, and LGBTQ+ veterans — receive the care they have earned and prioritizes addressing veteran homelessness, suicide prevention, and caregiver support,” officials said in a statement to Congress outlining the budget request.
Besides Secretary McDonough, no nominees have been announced for VA leadership positions.
The plan unveiled Friday calls for an 8.2 percent increase in discretionary funding for the department, the third most of any federal department. Only the Department of Defense ($715 billion) and the Department of Health and Human Services ($134 billion) are set to receive more.
When mandatory spending for veterans benefits is factored in, total VA spending is expected to surpass $250 billion, the largest department budget in history.
Mandatory spending totals were not released in the initial budget outlines released by the White House on Friday. Administration officials said that full spending plan is expected to be released in coming months.
The budget outline — the first of President Joe Biden’s term in office — is designed to allow lawmakers to officially begin their work on the budget for fiscal 2022, which begins on Oct. 1. In recent years, Congress and the White House have routinely failed to pass a budget by that deadline, creating spending complications for federal agencies.
Under the plan, VA would see spending on veterans suicide prevention programs nearly double, from about $310 million this fiscal year to more than $540 million in fiscal 2022. Officials said that spending would include “funding to increase the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line.”
Programs to help veterans experiencing homelessness would also see a significant boost, up 4.4 percent from fiscal 2021 levels. The plan calls for more than $2.1 billion in total spending to “further the administration’s goal of achieving a systematic end to veterans homelessness.”
Medical and prosthetic research would increase by more than 12 percent, to nearly $900 million.
Officials said that money will include work to “advance the Department’s understanding of the impact of traumatic brain injury and toxic exposure on long-term health outcomes while continuing to prioritize research focused on the needs of disabled veterans.”
The budget plan also includes about $3.3 billion more in medical spending on top of the $94 billion in advance appropriations already approved for fiscal 2022.
Researchers argued for more aggressive intervention to help veterans experiencing homelessness.
That money, combined with $15 billion in supplemental funds approved as part of the latest pandemic relief package, will go towards efforts to restore normal operations through the system after closures and program pauses were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Members of Congress are expected to spend the next several months debating the budget priorities and making their own adjustments before settling on a compromise plan later this year.
VA spending is not expected to be among the more controversial parts of the administration’s overall spending plan, although some lawmakers in recent years have raised concerns about the ever-rising nature of the department’s budget.
Total department spending has risen annually — and sometimes dramatically — over the last two decades. In fiscal 2001, the VA budget totaled about $45 billion. By fiscal 2011, it was about $125 billion, almost triple that total. Ten years later, the department’s budget was nearly double that again, at $243 billion.