This is an important day for Congress, for veterans, and their families. Today we take another step towards securing timely, predictable funding for the Veterans Health Care system. Our plan will create a transparent funding process that will yield sufficient, on-time funding - enabling VA to care for veterans more effectively.
Historically, VA's health care system has been plagued by underfunding. Only a few years ago, VA reported a shortfall of over 1 billion dollars. VA has had to come back to Congress repeatedly to get additional funding for health care costs. Fortunately, in the past two years, we have begun to change course, by providing record-funding to meet the increased needs of veterans and their families. Even with sufficient funding, the money for VA has been provided late in 19 of the past 22 fiscal years. Sometimes, the appropriations have come as late as February, when VA needs the funds in October.
Funding levels and the release of funds depend on the federal appropriations process - a process vulnerable to delays and uncertainty. This means that the largest health care system in the country - to which millions of wounded and indigent veterans turn to for care - does not know what funds it will receive, when it will be funded, or, in reality, whether vital programs will receive funding at all. This is no way to finance a national health care system with such a sacred obligation.
Today we suggest a better option. I am proud to introduce the Senate-version of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. This bill would require that veterans' health care be funded one-year in advance of the regular appropriations process. Unlike Medicare and Medicaid, veterans' health care would not be funded as an entitlement: Congress would still review and manage funding, maintaining oversight. By knowing what funding they will receive one year in advance, VA would be able to plan more efficiently, and better use taxpayer dollars to care for veterans.
In addition to improving timeliness, this bill will deliver a more transparent funding process. A GAO audit and public report to Congress on VA funding would be provided annually.
I am proud to join a number of our nation's leading veterans' organizations, and a bipartisan team of supporters from the House and Senate in calling for this bill's passage. Now is the time to secure timely, predictable veterans' health care funding.
February 12, 2009