Veterans advocates are pushing for more than a 10% boost in Veterans Affairs program funding in fiscal 2024 to cover expanded health care services for elderly veterans and needed improvements to aging department buildings.
Officials from Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars released their annual Independent Budget on Monday, which calls for $161 billion in discretionary spending for VA operations next fiscal year.
If Congress goes along with the plan, it would mark the fourth straight year of budget boosts above 10% for the department, one of the few agencies to regularly receive more money each year from lawmakers regardless of which party holds the majority.
In fiscal 2014, the entire annual VA budget totaled roughly $154 billion. Ten years later, for fiscal 2024, the Independent Budget groups are pushing for $161 billion just in discretionary spending, before mandatory programs like disability benefits and health care coverage are factored in.
The fiscal 2023 budget approved by Congress late last year topped $300 billion for the first time ever.
Lawmakers in recent years have discussed slowing or cutting VA spending in an effort to help balance the budget. But in their report, veterans groups backing the Independent Budget said that continued increases are needed “to ensure those who served have timely access to the benefits and health care they earned.”
One particular area of concern for the groups is VA infrastructure. Last year, Congress scuttled plans for an Asset and Infrastructure Review which would have offered recommendations for closing old veterans medical centers and building new ones across the country.
Currently, the department oversees more than 5,600 buildings, many of which were built 50 years ago or earlier.
“For more than two decades, funding for construction, repairs, and maintenance of VA’s health care facilities has lagged behind even the most conservative estimates of the actual needs,” the report stated. “Congress and VA must work together to develop and implement a new comprehensive strategy to build, repair, and realign VA’s health care infrastructure.”
The report also calls for increasing long-term care services for aging veterans, including more home and community-based care options. That would include improvements and expansion of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, which has been at the center of controversy in recent years because of proposed cuts from VA officials.
The groups said another major issue this year will be implementation of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act) passed last summer.
The measure could provide new health care or disability payouts to as many as one in every five living veterans in America today, but outside advocates have said they worry about delays in accessing those benefits because of the flood of new applicants.
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.