The Washington Post

Budget would provide more money for VA mental health care

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.

(Paula Bronstein/Getty) (Paula Bronstein/Getty)

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.

 

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