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White House Budget: Over-strapped VA gets a proposed 7.8 percent budget boost

The proposed 2016 budget includes $70.2 billion in discretionary resources for 2016 for the overtaxed Department of Veterans Affairs, a 7.8 percent increase over 2015 for everything from offering “timely health care,” to ending veterans homelessness, getting veterans jobs and helping veterans quickly earn benefits.

The boost is an attempt to serve the nearly 1 million troops who have come or are coming home from often multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an aging population of Vietnam veterans.

For 2016, medical care appropriations are increased by $1.3 billion over the 2016 advance appropriations request of $58.7 billion.

For 2017, the budget requests $63.3 billion in advance appropriation for three medical care appropriations: medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities. That is a 5.5 percent boost over 2016.

That’s in addition to Obama’s “Veterans Choice Act,” which provided $5 billion in mandatory funding to support the hiring of doctors, nurses and other health staff, an issue that was at the center of last year’s widespread scandal over health centers lying about patient wait-times and delaying the care of veterans.

The scandal caused a widespread shake-up in the VA and ushered in promises of widespread reform of the nation’s biggest health-care system.

The VA estimates it will treat 6.9 million patients in 2016 and 7.0 million patients in 2017.

Obama’s proposed budget is similar to “The Independent Budget (IB),” which was recommended for medical care by AMVETS, DAV (Disabled American Veterans), Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, who put together their own proposal.

“It’s certainly very encouraging to see that it has their requests in line with what we have been recommending,” said Joe Violante, DAV’s national legislative director. “The crisis did bring to light many of the problems that VA was facing, as a result of inadequate budgets for more than a decade or so.”

It also includes funds for hiring more employees to address the massive backlog in claims and appeals for benefits, another critical issue for the country’s veterans.

“We welcome that,” said Violante. “Hopefully they will do the adequate training for the employees, and there will be improvement.”

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who heads the House Veterans Affairs Committee and is an outspoken voice of reform for the VA, warned in a statement on Monday that, “the VA has left hundreds of millions in health care funding unspent since 2010 as thousands of veterans languished on waiting lists and squandered more than $1 billion on a host of botched construction projects, acquisition failures and extravagant employee conferences. ”

And added: “That’s why we will ensure President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 VA budget request receives the scrutiny it is due over the coming weeks.”

Additionally, he said, that a line in the budget which says that the president will reallocate a portion of Veterans Choice Program funding to other areas of VA “is a complete non-starter, which I will not support,” the statement said.

“When a near-unanimous Congress worked with President Obama last year to create the choice program, we made a promise to veterans to give them more freedom in their health care decisions,” Miller said. “I will not stand idly by while the president attempts to renege on that promise.”