WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, was joined by Ranking Member Richard Burr, and a majority of the Committee members yesterday in submitting views and estimates for the Fiscal Year 2010 budget for veterans' programs to the Senate Budget Committee. Akaka and the other co-signers outlined a need for appropriate funding to match rising veteran demand for health care, to reduce the claims backlog, and to implement the 21st Century GI Bill on schedule. The co-signers also rejected a proposal to shift VA's responsibility to pay for the cost of care for service-connected injuries to veterans' private insurers.
"America's veterans and their families pay the true cost of war everyday, and we must pay for the care and benefits they have earned. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to pass a budget worthy of their service," said Akaka.
Views and estimates are a formal part of the federal budget process, in which Congressional committees recommend funding levels for programs and activities under their legislative jurisdiction. (For the Veterans' Affairs Committee's jurisdiction, click here.) The House and Senate Budget Committees review the recommendations when formulating the proposed Budget Resolution for the following fiscal year.
The President's budget blueprint proposed an overall increase of more than $5 billion for VA in the next fiscal year. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki testified that a detailed proposed VA budget is expected in late April. Chairman Akaka noted that the Committee will provide further comments when that proposal becomes available.
The co-signers include Chairman Akaka, Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), and Senators Rockefeller (D-WV), Murray (D-WA), Sanders (I-VT), Webb (D-VA), Brown (D-OH), Tester (D-MT), Begich (D-AK), Burris (D-IL), Specter (R-PA), Isakson (R-GA), and Wicker (R-MS).
Highlights of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee's views and estimates include:
Support for Funding to Prepare for Increased Health Care Demand: VA operates the largest health care system in the nation. The co-signers noted that increased enrollment and demands on the health care system require funding increases. Forces expected to simultaneously stretch VA health care resources include increased enrollment of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, growing age-related health issues among older veterans, and the economy's impact on veterans who earned VA eligibility through their honorable service, but who have not received services from VA until now.
Opposition to Any Proposed 3rd Party Billing for Service-Connected Injuries: The co-signers voiced united opposition to any proposal to shift VA's responsibility to pay the cost of care for service-connected injuries. The Committee understands that the formal budget may propose charging veterans' insurers for care provided for injury and disease incurred or aggravated during military service.
Support for Resources to Combat Old Problems and Prepare for New Benefits: While Congress has appropriated historic funding increases for VA in the past two years, these funds were long overdue and followed budget shortfalls. For the coming fiscal year, VA requires appropriate funding to reduce the backlog of disability claims, prepare for the August 1, 2009, implementation of the 21st Century GI Bill, and adapt VA to meet veterans' needs in other areas.
The Need to Plan for Costs in Future Years: To ensure VA is prepared for inflation and increased needs from rising enrollment, the co-signers urged the Budget Committee to anticipate necessary increases to account for health care inflation and other cost-adjustments.
For the Committee's views and estimates, click here.
March 17, 2009