(WASHINGTON) – Today, the White House released the fiscal year 2010 budget, which provides $25 billion in increases for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over the coarse of the next five years. AFGE, which represents approximately 150,000 employees in the VA, has been at the forefront of calls to increase VA funding in order to address a mountainous benefits claims backlog and to meet the complex health care needs of aging and newly returning veterans.
“In recent years the VA has been inundated by service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with complex health care needs, but because of staff shortages and hiring freezes it has become increasingly difficult to meet all of their needs,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer and former VA nurse. “The president’s proposal is timely, prudent, and appreciated.”
The president’s budget also provides much needed resources to expand mental health screening and treatment services with a focus on reaching veterans in rural areas. The plan calls for an increase in Vet Centers and mobile health clinics to expand access to veterans and their families living in rural communities. “This budget recognizes the importance of maintaining the VA's capability to provide the specialized care to veterans that is uniquely available only within the VA,” Cox added.
In order to transform the VA into a 21st Century organization, a chief goal of the administration as described by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the President’s budget calls for significant investments in information technology. The president has dedicated resources to improve the sharing of electronic medical records between the VA and the Department of Defense. Likewise, the FY2010 budget calls for increased investment in the development of rules-based electronic processes to increase accuracy, consistency, and timeliness in the delivery of veterans’ benefits.
“For nearly 80 years the VA has provided medical care and survivor benefits for America’s service members. Honoring veterans by giving them an opportunity to seek help from those that understand them best,” said Cox. “The president’s proposed budget for the VA makes good on his campaign promise to provide world-class care for our nation’s veterans.”
In addition to the increases proposed by the White House, House and Senate VA Committee chairmen, Representative Bob Filner, (D-CA), and Senator Daniel Akaka, (D-HI), introduced legislation earlier this month to give Congress the authority to provide the VA with medical dollars a year in advance. This advanced appropriations model has been championed by AFGE and the nine veterans groups comprising the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform as strong step away from the wasteful discretionary funding process.