WASHINGTON, D.C.-Despite his own admission of a $1 billion budget shortfall for Veterans' health care this year, and an anticipated shortfall of $2.6 billion for 2006, Jim Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), submitted a supplemental budget request to Congress today for a fraction of that amount.
"Given the political problem created for the Administration by its long-held opposition to providing adequate funding for Veterans' health care," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), "the VA secretary today sought to signal support for veterans with a request for supplemental funding from Congress. But when veterans learn the truth about that request, they'll see that, among the Administration's priorities, their needs still rank far below rich people's purported need for a giant tax break. Today's request is too little, too late, and drags out the process of getting veterans the health care they need."
Last night, the Senate passed a bill providing an additional $1.5 billion for this year's veterans' health care service. Today, however, the Administration, in a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, asked for $975 million, which is millions less than this year's projected shortfall.
"In choosing, for the supplemental request it presented to the House committee, a different and lesser number than that approved by the Senate," Gage continued, "the Administration has ensured a time-consuming wrangle between the two houses of Congress over the appropriate level of funding--a miserly delaying tactic that demonstrates a lack of respect for those who have put their lives on the line for their country."
Today's hearing also brought to light the cause of the faulty budget projections: the Department of Veterans Affairs used 2002 data to project its funding needs for fiscal 2005--data taken before the commencement of today's conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"On the very day that President Bush submitted his fiscal 2005 budget," Gage explained, "AFGE contested his VA health-care enrollment projections because of their failure to factor in any uptick in demand due to the current conflicts. In fact, we predicted the problems we see today. For the VA to express surprise at this year's shortfall is unbelievable."