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VA budget to get $10.1 billion increase under White House plan

The White House, October, 2013.

President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, which was unveiled Tuesday, includes $163.9 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs — a $10.1 billion increase over current funding levels, officials said.

The budget features $59.1 billion for medical care, approximately $1.6 billion to prevent or reduce veterans’ homelessness and $312 million for burgeoning technologies that officials hope will address the claims backlog and help them meet 2015 elimination goals, according to a VA statement.

The budget also features $1 billion for veterans’ job programs.

“This budget will allow us to continue the progress we have made in helping Veterans secure their place in the middle class,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said in the statement. “It is a tangible demonstration of the President’s commitment to ensuring Veterans and their families have the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

Some of the budget’s big ticket items include:

- $1 billion to create the Veterans Job Corps program that would put thousands of veterans to work over the next five years, the statement said.

- $400 million for high-priority capital projects.

- $138.7 million for the Veterans Claims Intake Program and $173 million for the next generation of the electronic claims processing system Veterans Benefits Management System, both of which are meant to address the VA’s claims backlog.

- $7.2 billion for mental health.

- $2.6 billion for prosthetics.

- $7.0 billion for long-term care.

- Approximately $1 billion for spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and readjustment counseling.

- $534 million for the activation of new and enhanced health care facilities.

- $86.6 million for improved customer service applications for online self-service portals and call center agent-assisted inquiries.

In addition, the proposal contains $58.7 billion in advance appropriations for VA medical care programs for fiscal 2016, White House budget documents said.

The President’s VA proposal — the actual budget must be passed by Congress — was met with applause from some in the veterans’ community and with consternation by others who believe it does not go far enough.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and American Veterans called on Congress to strengthen the budget by almost $3 billion more for underfunded VA construction accounts.

“While we appreciate the increases offered by the Administration’s Budget for FY 2015 and for advance appropriations for FY 2016, particularly with regards to health care and benefits services, we have concerns that the serious lack of commitment to infrastructure funding to support the system will undermine the VA’s ability to deliver those services,” the group’s said in a statement. “We now look to Congress to correct the funding deficiencies.”

The American Legion said that more attention needs to be paid to advanced appropriations.

“We recognize the primary importance of VA’s health care for our veterans, but we want to see all VA programs protected by advance appropriations, including benefits payments, said national commander Daniel Dellinger. “That way, if our federal government decides to shut down again, America’s veterans won’t be left to worry about whether their benefits checks will show up on time.”

burke.matt@stripes.com

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