Congress, Administration Use Recent Hurricanes to Justify Cuts in Veterans Health Care Budget
(Washington)—Despite admissions earlier this year from the Department of Veterans Affairs of a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall, members of Congress are attempting to push through significant cuts to the veterans’ health care budget for fiscal year 2006.
Some members of Congress are calling for across-the-board budget cuts of one-, two-, or five percent in all federal agency budgets to pay for the restoration of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The VA estimates that a two percent budget reduction would result in a $600 million budget cut that would deny health care to nearly 100,000 patients.
“Earlier this year, the VA admitted to billions of dollars in budget shortfalls. Now, it’s trying to completely gut an already lean veterans’ health care budget,” says American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage. “There is no question that the Gulf Coast needs to be restored, but using the recent hurricanes as an excuse to shortchange veterans, many of whom were involved in the relief and recovery efforts, is unconscionable.”
Earlier this year, members of Congress learned that the VA faced a financial crisis because it drastically underestimated the number of returning veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To plug the budget holes, Congress and the administration approved billions of dollars in emergency funding.
“To attempt to slash the veterans’ health care budget after approving billions of dollars in emergency funding just this summer is a complete reversal of a commitment from Congress and the administration to fully fund veterans’ health care,” says Gage. “Instead of cutting the health care budget, members of Congress and the administration should stop paying contractors millions of dollars to outsource VA jobs.”
The administration and some members of Congress have actively supported the outsourcing of VA jobs despite independent studies that show that VA workers could perform services more effectively and cheaply in-house. Using health care dollars to pay private management consultants to determine if contractors should perform certain functions is the first step in the outsourcing of federal jobs.
According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in 2004, $110 million was spent government-wide on public-private competitions to determine whether private contractors could do more than 12,000 jobs more efficiently. Additionally, one in three employees targeted for outsourcing at the Veterans Health Administration is a veteran.
“To fund the rebuilding effort in the Gulf Coast, Congress and the administration need to look no further than the money wasted on the effort to outsource VA jobs,” says Gage. “Veterans serve and protect this country and many were on the front lines trying to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. How can we justify accepting their help and applauding their sacrifice while taking away their benefits and their health care?”
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 750,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.