(Washington, DC) U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, thanked his colleagues today for passing an amendment that will increase money available for veterans' benefits and services by $410 million, bringing a total increase of $1.2 billion in discretionary spending for VA's budget for 2006.
The measure passed by a vote of 96-4. It was sponsored by Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), John Ensign (R-Nevada), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and David Vitter (R-Louisiana).
?Today the U.S. Senate sent a clear message to our nation's veterans, that we support them and appreciate their efforts, and we will take care of them. When we needed them, they were there for us - now they need us, and we are there for them. In times of war, this is a vitally important message,? Craig said.
Funding for the amendment will come out of money budgeted for foreign aid. ?We are going to provide millions of dollars more for veterans without raising taxes and we stayed within the President's budget outline to reduce the deficit,? Craig said.
With over 220,000 employees and a budget of over $70 billion dollars, the VA is just behind the Department of Defense as the second largest of the 15 Cabinet departments. A quarter of the nation's population, about 70 million Americans, is potentially eligible for VA benefits and services because they are veterans, family members or survivors of veterans.
If the funding approved today by the Senate is agreed to by the U.S. House of Representatives, the VA will be able to:
- Keep prescription drug co-pays at $7 ? rejecting the proposal to increase co-pays to $15.
- Reject the proposal to impose a $250 enrollment fee on lower priority vets.
- Protect those in veterans nursing homes ? rejecting the proposal to scale back state nursing home per diem payments made by VA.
- Adopt the President's request to spend an additional $100 million for mental health services.
- Adopt the President's request to spend an additional $100 million for prosthetics.
- Adopt the President's requests for all other non-medical discretionary accounts which would allow for $116 million in increased funding for construction;
- Adopt an increase in disability claims staffing of 128 full time employees; and the continued expansion of the National Cemetery System, including $41 million for land acquisition to build 6 new cemeteries.