The groups are backing a bipartisan bill introduced by the House committee leadership last week to fully fund the VA one year in advance, giving the department predictable funding amidst the budget uncertainty.
Hamilton said the VFW is worried that sequestration will stunt the VA’s daunting, multibillion-dollar task of fixing its six-decade-old infrastructure around the country.
The White House and congressional Republicans are trading blame for the situation.
“Unfortunately, veterans services outside the VA are not exempt under the law, yet another reason why Republicans in Congress should come to the table and compromise to end the sequester,” said Jessica Santillo, spokeswoman for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, accused the White House of trying to use veterans as a political football and noted that “the vast majority” of programs for veterans are protected from sequestration.
The bipartisan agreement to exempt the VA has been followed by more than a year of political maneuvering and uncertainty.
A 2010 budget bill exempted various programs and benefits across the government, among them Social Security, while certain “self-funding” agencies, such as the U.S. Postal Service, were not subject to cuts from sequestration. The legislation also exempted “all programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” a level of protection unique among federal agencies.
But it was not long before veterans groups noticed contradictory language in the law. The legislation amended the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act, which included still-intact language specifying that funding for veterans’ medical care would be subject to cuts of up to 2 percent.
“We asked for clarification, and we didn’t get any,” recalled Raymond Kelley, the VFW’s legislative director.
At the behest of the veterans groups, Miller took up the issue.
At a hearing in November 2011, W. Todd Grams, the VA’s chief financial officer, told the committee the department was consulting with OMB, and the issue was unresolved. “We are researching those ambiguities,” Grams testified.
When no clarification followed, Miller sent the White House a letter in January 2012 asking the administration to resolve the issue. A response sent by the VA the next month left the question unanswered, noting only that the administration was opposed to sequestration.
“It appeared no one in the administration was willing to make a decision,” Miller said in an interview, accusing the administration of being deliberately vague. “They wanted political pressure to try to get sequestration off the front burner,” he said.