VA Emergency Amendment to Homeland Security Appropriations Bill
I rise today to address the VA health care system's funding crisis. I thank my colleague, the Democratic Leader, Senator Reid, for his determination to ensure that $1.5 billion is provided as soon as possible. At this point, it is widely known that VA is facing a tremendous funding shortfall this year. What we need to do now is ensure that VA gets these funds as expeditiously as possible.
I am glad the Administration has admitted that there is a shortfall. But I point out that VA officials have proven themselves to be an unreliable source of information. And judging by the Supplemental sent forward by the President, they are less than generous, and frankly, less than accurate. The $975 million now proposed by the Administration -- and carried forward by the House -- falls short of addressing all of VA's problems.
You need only look at the Administration's own estimate for new costs associated with returning service members. VA now believes that 103,000 more veterans will be treated this year. The cost of treating this kind of patient is $5,437 a year -- as documented by VA data. Yet, the Administration wants to now convince us that, in fact, the cost of treating a patient is less than half of this amount. Again, using VA data, the cost of caring for an additional 103,000 returning veterans is $560 million and not the $273 million suggested by the Administration.
Other key programs such as readjustment counseling and dental care were also not sufficiently covered by the House in the VA Supplemental. It is imperative that we make sure the funds we provide now are truly sufficient, so we do not face this situation again. It is simply not right to use out-of-date equipment to treat veterans or force them to wait months for care.
The Senate has already spoken in a very bipartisan manner on this issue. We are all very proud of our effort to arrive at the $1.5 billion figure previously agreed to before the July 4th recess. Given the House's work to provide less than the full amount needed, it is clear that we have more work to do for this year.
The battle for next year's funding will be upon on us shortly. During the Budget Resolution debate in March, I offered an amendment to increase VA's funding by $2.8 billion for next year. I stood before this body and outlined the case for a significant increase for VA. But we were rejected because the Administration claimed VA needed far less. Yet, we are back to square one with regard to next year's funding.
Then, again, during the War Supplemental debate in April -- while VA remained silent as they were beginning to see warning signs -- we were defeated in our efforts to secure more funding for this year. Again, this was because the Administration failed to be forthcoming about the struggles that VA providers and patients were facing.
Hopefully, we all learned a clear lesson from this experience, that communicating with health care providers in the field and with the Veterans Service Organizations is invaluable. They told us what was really going on months ago.
I know my colleagues agree that we do not want to see this scenario repeat itself yet again.
We have pressed this issue, and now we have another opportunity to finally fix the problem and fulfill our promise to this nation's veterans. At the very least, this crisis has resulted in longer waiting times for care, hiring freezes, and delayed upgrading of medical equipment and facilities, to name a few.
This amendment is one way to fix the VA funding crisis. Providing $1.5 billion in supplemental funding would ensure that each region of the country can get the funds needed to pull themselves out of the current crisis.
But I continue to be open to any approach that ensures the highest quality health care for our nation's veterans. Along those lines, I appreciate the work that Senators Craig and Hutchison and our other colleagues are doing to tackle this problem. I believe we can find a solution, together. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the Floor.