(U.S. Senate) – In response to continued concerns about the VA’s inability to track its budget and spending of the Choice Program, U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are introducing bipartisan legislation to ensure the VA is budgeting accurately and responsibly.
The Senators’ VA Financial Accountability Act will require that any VA funding requests outside of the normal budget process are made at least 45 days before a veteran could be cut off from their health care or benefits. It also requires the VA to provide a justification and spending plan when the agency requests more funding. The bill also triggers a third party review of the VA’s financial processes, including how the VA tracks its budget and spending.
“The VA’s inability to provide Congress with an accurate budget is hurting veterans and taxpayers across this nation,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We can’t keep allocating money to the VA without more accountability over their budget and spending practices. This bill will give us more confidence in the VA’s ability to budget in a way that ensures veterans are getting the very best care.”
“Over the past several months, we’ve seen the VA lurch from funding crisis to funding crisis because of its inability to effectively manage its budget,” said McCain. “Our veterans deserve to have certainty that their access to quality care in the community through the Veterans Choice program will continue uninterrupted. Our legislation would require the VA to responsibly and accurately manage its budget to eliminate future funding crises and give veterans the confidence in their care they deserve. Unless and until the VA gets a grasp on its finances and demand outlook, our effort in Congress to develop a plan for consolidating veterans health care in the community will continue to face difficulty.”
“The Choice program has helped the Department of Veterans Affairs better serve veterans by allowing them to seek needed medical care outside of the VA system when necessary,” said Kaine. “However, it was troubling to hear recently that the VA will need additional money for the Choice program earlier than expected after Congress just authorized more funding for it. The VA’s uncertainty about exactly when Choice funding will be run out affects Congress’ ability to responsibly budget. Requiring the VA to justify spending requests will ensure it is spending its dollars in the most effective way possible to best serve our veterans.”
“We have a sacred obligation to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and care for the brave men and women who have borne the battle, but we also have a responsibility to the American taxpayer to be good stewards of their hard-earned money,” said Manchin. “Unfortunately, as it stands today, the VA lacks the oversight and accountability needed to accomplish either goal effectively. That’s why I am proud to be an original cosponsor on this bill that would force the VA to budget efficiently.”
The VA has requested a total of $3.2 billion in emergency funding for the Choice Program twice this year alone – in March and July. While Congress provided funding that the VA initially said would last through February 2018, reports have recently questioned if the funding provided in July would last through the end of this year.