April 10, President Barack Obama proposed a $152.7 billion Veterans Affairs Department budget for fiscal year 2014, a 10.2 percent increase over fiscal 2013 funding that will support VA’s goals to expand access to health care and other benefits, eliminate the disability claims backlog, and end homelessness among veterans, VA officials said.
The budget request includes $66.5 billion in discretionary spending, largely for health care, and $86.1 billion for mandatory programs, mostly disability compensation and pensions for veterans.
“This budget will have a positive impact on the lives of veterans, their families and survivors for generations to come,” VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said. “The president believes in veterans and their families and believes in providing them the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”
The $66.5 billion total in discretionary spending includes about $3.1 billion in collections from health insurers and veteran copayments in addition to the $63.5 billion in discretionary funding announced last week.
“VA’s commitment to veterans spans generations,” Shinseki added. “From the men and women of ‘the greatest generation’ to the veterans who have returned from Iraq and those returning from Afghanistan, VA will make sure our benefits are useful and accessible.”
VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the country, with nearly 9 million enrollees, and the eighth-largest life insurance program. The department provides monthly disability pay, pensions and survivors payments to more than 4 million people as well as education assistance to 1 million students and mortgage guarantees to 1.5 million homeowners. VA also has the largest cemetery system in the nation.
With a medical care budget request of $54.6 billion, VA is positioned to provide care to 6.5 million veterans in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The patient total includes 675,000 people whose military service began after Sept. 11, 2001. Major spending categories within the health care budget request are:
- $6.9 billion for mental health;
- $4.1 billion for health care for Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn;
- $2.5 billion for prosthetics;
- $601 million for spinal cord injuries;
- $246 million for traumatic brain injuries;
- $230 million for readjustment counseling; and
- $7.6 billion for long-term care.
The proposed budget would ensure that care and other benefits are available to veterans when and where they need them, VA officials said, noting that it includes:
- $460 million in home telehealth funding, which helps patients monitor chronic health care problems through innovative uses of the telephone, a 4.4 percent increase over the current year;
- $422 million for women-specific medical care, an increase of nearly 14 percent over the present level;
- $799 million for the activation of new and enhanced health care facilities;
- $16 million for the construction of three new national cemeteries; and
- $8.8 million for “VetSuccess on Campus” at 84 facilities, a program that helps Veterans transition to college life.
The proposed budget provides for full implementation of VA’s Transformation Plan — a series of people, process and technology initiatives — in fiscal 2014. This plan, officials said, will systematically reduce the claims backlog and reach Shinseki’s 2015 goal of eliminating the backlog and processing all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy.
Major initiatives in the budget proposal invest $291 million to bring leading-edge technology to the claims backlog, including $136 million for the Veterans Claims Intake Program and $155 million for the next generation of the electronic claims processing system, Veterans Benefits Management System.
A major strategic VA goal is to end homelessness among veterans in 2015. The budget request targets $1.4 billion for programs to prevent or reduce homelessness, including:
- $300 million for Supportive Services for Veteran Families to promote housing stability;
- $278 million for the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, known as HUD-VASH, wherein VA provides case management services for at-risk veterans and their families and HUD provides permanent housing through its Housing Choice Voucher program; and
- $250 million in grant and per diem payments that support temporary housing provided by community-based organizations.
In March, about 783,000 veterans were unemployed, a figure that includes 207,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans. The fiscal 2014 budget request proposes a Veterans Job Corps, focused on investing in veterans’ skills and experience, putting tens of thousands of veterans into civilian jobs. Budget features of this initiative include:
- $1 billion in mandatory funds to help unemployed veterans;
- A target of putting 20,000 veterans to work within the next five years in conservation, law enforcement and infrastructure jobs on public lands;
- Developing back-to-work programs for veterans with other federal agencies, including the Interior and Agriculture departments, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers; and
- Supporting job-producing projects with contracts and grants with nonfederal organizations, such as states, nonprofit organizations and private businesses.
Other features of the administration’s fiscal 2014 VA budget request include $250 million to administer the VA-run system of national cemeteries, $3.7 billion for information technology, and $1.2 billion in construction, cemetery grants and extended care grants.