WASHINGTON — Female veterans, recent war veterans and veterans in need of long-term care would see sizable increases in their support programs under the Veterans Affairs budget plan unveiled Wednesday.
The department would receive $152.7 billion under the proposal, a jump of about 10 percent from last year’s funding and an increase of 56 percent since President Barack Obama took office.
Last week, senior administration officials touted the budget boost as proof of the president’s commitment to veterans.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki called it a step forward in providing veterans “the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”
Much of the increase comes in the department’s mandatory spending, mostly disability compensation and pension payouts. But VA medical care and programs will see a 4 percent funding increase under the proposal, despite tightening budgets in other federal agencies.
Funding for programs specific to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans -- including counseling, employment services and other transition programs -- will see an increase, up 13.8 percent to $4.1 billion.
Services for female vets will increase by almost the same percentage, to $422 million. The department has worked in recent years to provide things like women-only examination rooms, obstetric services and sexual assault counseling in response to the growing number of female veterans seeking VA care.
Prosthetics research and care will grow to almost $2.5 billion under the plan, more than double what the department spent in the field four years ago. Long-term health care services for veterans will see a 10.6 percent increase, totaling more than $7.6 billion.
Construction and maintenance programs are the fiscal losers, with cuts of almost $760 million. Veterans groups have warned repeatedly that the department needs to better fund those areas to preserve the department’s infrastructure.
The plan includes a 7.2 percent increase in funding for mental health services and a 13.6 percent boost in Veterans Benefits Administration spending to help with backlogged compensation claims, highlighted as the department’s top focus for the year.
VA officials said the $2.5 billion for VBA “supports the completion of 1.3 million disability compensation and pension claims” in fiscal 2014. But the department saw that many claims come into the system last year, raising questions on whether that’s enough to bring down the backlog.