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Congress wants 4-year planning from VA, similar to DOD

The U.S. Capitol on March 21, 2013.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2013

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers want to create a quadrennial veterans review, modeled after the Defense Department’s long-term planning document, in an effort to better project the needs and goals of veterans programs for years to come.

The idea, pending before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is one of several pieces of legislation under consideration designed to increase congressional oversight of VA operations, a sign of the increasing attention that veterans programs and benefits have received in recent years.

In the last few months alone, dozens of lawmakers with little VA experience have begun to weigh in on the department’s growing budget and continued struggles with the benefits backlog.

A four-year veterans review help establish “a national strategy for meeting the nation’s commitment to veterans” by broadly outlining spending and programming needs, according to the draft legislation.

Despite criticism over its ties to short-term budget concerns, the Pentagon’s quadrennial defense review is still regarded as a critical planning document for national security, and an important exercise to keep military planners focused on broad security goals.

VA officials said they already have a similar multi-year planning review under way. Robert Snyder, acting assistant secretary for VA policy and planning, said the department’s internal quadrennial strategic planning process should be finalized early next year, in time to help inform the fiscal 2015 budgeting process.

Because of that, Snyder said at a hearing Wednesday that VA officials don’t support duplicating that work with an official QVR.

But lawmakers on the committee said the more formal, congressionally mandated report will better inform Congress and ensure that those long-term concepts aren’t lost from year to year.

“Administrations change,” said committee ranking member Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. “My big concern is that I want this to be consistent.”

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., noted that dozens of other government agencies and thousands of outside groups are also involved in delivering care to veterans, which illustrates the need for larger coordination of efforts.

Veterans groups said they support the idea of better planning for the department, but said they’re unsure if a defense-style quadrennial review is appropriate for VA programs.

The bill would also mandate an annual five-year budgeting plan for VA operations, similar to Defense Department yearly budgets.

shane.leo@stripes.com
Twitter: @LeoShane