The president’s proposed $152.7 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs represents a 10.2 percent increase from the previous year, and reflects the inexorable growth in disability compensation and pensions owed by the government to veterans.
The budget includes $66.5 billion in discretionary spending, mostly for health care, which represents about a 4.3 percent increase over last year’s budget.
The mandatory portion of the VA budget, which includes disability compensation and pensions for veterans, soared 15.3 percent to $86.1 billion in the 2014 budget. That increase is on top of a 16.2 percent increase the previous year, a jump fueled by claims allowed because of new rules governing Vietnam-era exposure to Agent Orange, as well as newer claims related to service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House said last week that the relatively large increase proposed in discretionary spending on veterans is in part a reflection on the “national priority” given to reducing the VA’s massive backlog of disability claims.
The budget plan includes $136 million for implementing a paperless claims system. Alison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits, said during a briefing Wednesday afternoon that the VA expects to see a “to see a turn on the backlog” by the end of this year.
In addition to the $54.6 billion requested from Congress for VA medical care in 2014, the administration is seeking $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for medical care in 2015, a measure the White House said will “prevent our veterans from being adversely affected by appropriations delays.”
The budget includes a 7.2 percent increase for mental health-care services.
The budget also provides $1.4 billion to support the administration’s campaign to end veterans homelessness by 2015, and $104 million for a revamped program called “Transition GPS,” meant to help members of the military leaving service make the transition to civilian life.
The administration is also reviving a proposal that did not advance last year to create a $1 billion Veterans Job Corps, with a target of putting 20,000 veterans to work in the next five years in fields including conservation and law enforcement.
This post has been updated.