Washington – On Monday, February 14, House Republicans introduced a Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) to fund the federal government for the last seven months of the fiscal year while cutting $61 billion in current year spending. The bill proposes to cut $2.6 billion in funding provided to care for America’s veterans. Leaders of VA’s largest union, the American Federation of Government Employees, stated that the reductions threaten the health care and benefits delivery services provided by VA employees.
“This Nation is engaged in military operations and conflicts across the globe,” said AFGE Secretary Treasurer J. David Cox. “ The strength of our fighting force and the safety of our Nation depend on our ability to care for America’s veterans. Proposals to decrease spending for veterans during a time of war are dangerous, short-sighted, and just plain wrong.”
National VA Council President Alma Lee said, “Cuts in VA personnel do little to reduce the federal deficit and make it harder for frontline service providers to do their jobs. Current hiring practices cannot keep up with the present-day health care demands of our veterans, and we cannot afford hiring freezes or staffing reductions. AFGE members are already trying to do more with less, and cuts to construction projects will only further negatively VA employees’ ability to provide adequate care.”
This is not the first time that a Republican-led House of Representatives has irresponsibly cut funding for America’s veterans. From 2003 to 2006, VA health care funding did not increase, co-pay increases were proposed, and investment in much-needed research to provide the best care for veterans suffering from unknown injuries languished. Since 2007, the Democratic Congress increased health care funding to begin to address the uphill battle of providing appropriate care and access to all generations of veterans. These resources allowed VA to better immediately address needs of returning veterans, expand access, increase support for veteran caregivers, address the urgent mental health care needs of veterans, expand veteran homelessness prevention and care, and invest in research for maladies attributed to military service.
Proposed cuts of $43 million for major construction would halt the building of new medical facilities and $235 million in cuts for minor construction are expected to further delay the repair and replacement of crumbling facilities and construction of new facilities in parts of the country where the veteran population has surged in recent year. Further cuts to discretionary spending directly affect the medical care received by veterans, including decreased nurse/patient ratios, fewer opportunities for mental health counseling, longer waits for substance use counseling, increased hardship for rural veterans, and reduced access to training for veteran caregivers.
“Americans rely on the federal government more than ever during severe economic downturns and America’s heroic veterans are no exception,” said VA Council President Lee. “Reductions in VA budgets will result in longer waits for disability benefits and will further hamper efforts to eliminate the backlog of disability claims. Budget cuts could also eliminate access to VA health care for certain veterans. Sending veterans to non-VA hospitals and clinics for care is an unacceptable alternative and a slap in the face to veterans who deserve care from a veteran focused, cost efficient, top notch VA health care system. Not only is non-VA care far more costly, it is not specialized and lacks the critical care coordination that is provided within the VA as it cares for wide array of veterans' medical services over their lifetimes. VA workers are vital to ensuring that veterans receive the health care and benefits they have earned – and cuts of this magnitude will no doubt hurt efforts to provide these essential services.”