The nation's veterans' groups are generally pleased with the $25.7 billion in outlays that the Reagan administration has proposed for the Veterans Administration, even though the package includes a six-month delay in cost-of-living increases in benefits and pension payments for the disabled, aged and poor.
The fiscal 1984 request is $1.3 billion more than the current budget, a 5 percent increase that includes a record $868 million for new construction of medical facilities. It also includes funds to hire the equivalent of 2,300 new full-time employes to staff a new hospital in Minneapolis and new and expanded medical centers in 36 cities.
The groups credit VA Administrator Harry N. Walters, who was appointed in December amid budget negotiations, and his deputy, Everett Alvarez Jr. Robert P. Nimmo, Walters' predecessor, was criticized last year when the administration called for more than $500 million worth of cuts in VA disability programs. Congress eventually blocked most of those cuts. At a briefing, Walters said the VA had won 85 percent of its budget appeals to the White House.
The only proposed cut of much concern to the veterans' groups is a move to save $4.9 million by stopping VA payments for correspondence courses for 22,220 veterans. This is the third time the Office of Management and Budget has tried to terminate the program. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), ranking minority member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, is expected to fight the cut because, he said he believes, correspondence classes are needed by disabled veterans and veterans who live in rural areas.
The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars said they wouldn't oppose delaying cost-of-living raises if similar cuts were made in all federal entitlement programs. The delay is expected to save $113 million in pension payments and $238 million in compensation.