WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, expressed serious concern about President George W. Bush's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2009. Chairman Akaka said, "This budget does not go far enough to meet the demands of a nation at war, or the needs of the veterans who braved today's and yesterday's battles. While the challenges facing veterans continue to grow more serious, the President - in his last chance to do right by our Nation's veterans -- is proposing a budget that provides limited new funding overall and proposes cutbacks in some programs. It just is not enough. We must do better."
Overall, President Bush requested $91.2 billion for VA for Fiscal Year 2009. For the medical care account, the President asked for a total of $38.7 billion, $2 billion more than what Congress allocated to VA for Fiscal Year 2008. When basic factors, such as medical care inflation and other increases in VA's operational costs are taken into account, little additional funding, if any, remains for needed increases in priority areas of health care, such as to meet the needs of veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury or PTSD.
The $2 billion increase requested includes only $319 million in additional funding for mental health care, and $216 million more than FY08 for the care of OIF/OEF veterans, at a time when demand in both of those areas of care is steadily rising. Furthermore, certain key accounts are slated for significant cuts.
The most troubling of the proposed cuts are to construction, research, and the Office of the Inspector General. The President requested $911 million for Major and Minor Construction, a cut of $788 million from FY08, at a time when VA should be undertaking a massive effort to upgrade the department's infrastructure, much of which is well over 50 years old. Medical research, an essential component of VA's health program, would be cut to $442 million from $480 million in FY08. The contributions made by VA researchers benefit not only veterans, but the U.S. health care system as a whole, and this cut would unnecessarily restrict their important efforts. The VA Inspector General's budget is slated for a $4 million decrease, at a time when oversight of the Department is more necessary than ever. The IG conducts quality assessments at each and every VA health care facility on a regular basis, takes on larger projects such as those on traumatic brain injury care and waiting times, and uncovers fraud, waste, and abuse within the VA system.
"This budget proposal represents a meek approach to funding VA, in light of the sacrifices made by those who have served in past conflicts and the devastating injuries many of them must face after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. Those who are wounded in combat must have timely access to VA's services.
I am also very disappointed by the President's recommendation to cut construction funding by nearly 50 percent, and that medical research and the Inspector General's office would also face cuts. All of these accounts are critical to the future of VA. Cutting them now is simply shortsighted. I will be working to advance a more realistic and robust budget that will better serve America's veterans" said Chairman Akaka.
February 4, 2008