VA Budget Still Not Enough, Group Warns

VA funding is included in HR 3288, a consolidated appropriations bill covering many federal agencies.

Sullivan’s warning is based, in part, on a joint statement from the House and Senate appropriations committees that says the new budget includes money to provide medical care in fiscal 2010 for 419,000 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Veterans Health Administration reported last year that it had provided medical care to a combined 480,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by the end of July, and the number is certain to have risen since then, Sullivan noted.

The VA report also talked about continued increases in the number of new Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking care, he said. “In the prior three months, VHA treated about 26,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, or 8,667 per month or about 289 per day,” he said.

If the patient load continues to grow at that pace, Sullivan said VA could see as many as 610,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in fiscal 2010.

While Sullivan was pointing out the flaws, Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for VA funding, said the approved budget includes a 10 percent increase in veterans health care spending over the 2009 budget and is even slightly more than veterans groups had requested.

Nonbenefits funding in the bill totals $53.03 billion, while major veterans groups had asked for $52.08 billion, Edwards said.

Disabled American Veterans said in a statement that it “congratulates” Congress on the increased funding. Roberto “Bobby” Barrera, DAV’s national commander, said the budget is important to all veterans.

“As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the VA health care system will be stressed to meet the needs of sick and disabled veterans returning home,” Barrera said. “They will desperately need excellent health care and the benefits they have earned in the defense of our nation.”

He said the bill includes funding to renovate surplus VA buildings for use as housing for homeless veterans, increases VA outpatient clinics in rural areas and includes funding to treat 6.1 million total patients, including Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

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