While most of the DC military press is focused down on the Pentagon today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is also unveiling its fiscal 2011 spending plans and ambitious goals for the near future. Secretary Eric Shinseki will hold a press conference at 315, and we'll have a full story later this afternoon.
But even though the $125 billion VA budget proposal is only a fraction of the proposed Defense Department budget, the plans could have wide-reaching ramifications for current servicemembers as well as veterans. For example:
** $460 million and more than 4,000 additional claims processors: That's a 27 percent funding increase from last year, but even with the extra money VA officials expect disability claims to average about 190 days to process -- well over the 165 average this year and the goal of 125 days. That's in part due to the large increase in claims expected connected to new Agent Orange related illnesses.
** $44 million to complete an automated system for processing applications for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill: Due date for the new system is December 2010. Officials expect the time to process those to drop from 24 days to 19 in 2011.
** $4.2 billion to reduce and help prevent homelessness: That breaks down into $3.4 billion for core medical services and $799 million for specific homeless programs and expanded medical care, That's part of the administration's broader goal of ending homelessness among veterans in the next five years.
** $5.2 billion for mental health: That's an 8.5 percent increase in spending in that area. Officials said the budget request will enable the department to continue expanding its programs for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and continue the department's suicide prevention program.
** $217.6 million to meet the gender-specific health care needs of women vets: The VA has made women's health care needs a priority after federals studies showed major gaps in how veterans hospitals and health care facilities cater to women.
Overall, the VA's budget will jump nearly 8 percent from 2010, and up more than 27 percent from fiscal 2009.