How much can the budget for Veterans Affairs grow?
Veterans Affairs officials are calling for $ 270 billion in funding for the next fiscal year, but it’s billions more in potential spending that on Tuesday raised some lawmakers’ questions about how big the department’s budget will be in the coming years could.
“The time has come to ask when VA will be adequately funded,” said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., Senior Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Congress must always give priority to veterans. But there is a natural limit to how big any budget can be. “
In their recently released fiscal year 2022 budget, White House officials called for a 10 percent increase in VA spending over the next year. The proposed VA fiscal plus comes with funding increases for numerous US departments, but most of them saw flat growth or cuts during the previous presidential administration.
If approved, it would be the largest amount for the department in history, up nearly 53 percent in the past five years alone. In 2001, the total VA budget was about $ 45 billion, about six times less than the 2022 proposal.
The total of $ 270 billion is just the base budget, which covers topics such as mandatory benefit payments and VA health benefits.
In addition, administrative officials are pushing for an additional $ 18 billion for hospital upgrades as part of a comprehensive $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan. Another $ 17 billion was approved earlier this year for VA programs and costs related to the coronavirus pandemic.
And while giving evidence to the committee, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said a set of toxin exposure laws pending before Congress could result in tens of billions in additional spending in the coming years.
Overall, the plans could bring the departments’ total spending well in excess of $ 300 billion, although the number of veterans in America has steadily declined over the past decade.
“The budget is up 10 percent, but the problem is that the number of veterans using VA services has not increased 10 percent,” said Bost. “The VA predicts that the number of veterans enrolled in the VA will actually decrease [in coming years]. I am not suggesting cutting the VA, but budget growth needs to better match demand. “
Defending the spending, McDonough said the money “will allow us to provide quality health care and services to our veterans when they need it most”.
Spending on care services (which was expanded by Congress two years ago) will be $ 350 million more this year. Funding for homeless veterans will be increased by $ 185 million. Funding for expanded veteran services, increased medical staff, and facility improvements add billions more.
McDonough noted that the toxic exposure issues – particularly plans to add hypertension to the list of diseases believed to be related to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam – would represent “a significant budget” for the department if they would be approved. But he also insisted that officials look at the problem from the clinical side, not the cost side.
Democratic lawmakers also noted the high cost of both the toxic exposures proposals and the overall VA budget, but argued that the money is needed to meet the needs of veterans.
“There is no question that if our veteran population changes, the VA mission will need to adjust the budget to reflect that,” said committee chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif. “However, we need to be able to evaluate these plans so we can better ensure that veterans and the American public, as well as taxpayers’ dollars, are being used in the most effective and efficient way.”
Legislators are expected to debate the budget for most of the summer. The new fiscal year begins on October 1, but Congress has missed this deadline several times in recent years.
Despite the high price tag, the VA budget is expected not to be a controversial issue among lawmakers. But disagreements over broader budget goals and priorities could delay the handover of VA funds in the coming months.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs, and the White House for Military Times. He has been reporting on Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veteran politics. His work has received numerous awards, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.