Shinseki worries sequestration still could hurt vets

WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs funding is exempt from the looming sequestration cuts set for next month, but VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said veterans could still be hurt by the spending reductions.

At a press conference on Thursday, Shinseki told reporters that he was “concerned” budget cuts could hit military transition programs, or servicemember retraining efforts. Both are key to ensuring a smooth progression back to civilian life, and any cuts in those programs could have wide-ranging effects.

The sequestration cuts – more than $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years – are scheduled to go into effect in January. They would trim more than $54 billion in defense spending in 2013 alone, and have caused considerable concern among Pentagon planners and defense contractors.

Lawmakers have spent months fighting over new legislation averting the cuts, along with a host of looming tax increases.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta echoed Shinseki’s concerns, saying that the two departments are working so closely that it’s impossible to completely shield the VA from sequestration.

“No question if (sequestration) happens it will impact on those who are coming home,” he said.” It will impact on what we can provide them in terms of support … the programs that serve them, the support systems we have for them and for their families.”

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