House moves to give VA funding some predictability
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 7, 2013
WASHINGTON — Despite the fiscal pressures facing the country, Rep. Jeff Miller believes his fellow lawmakers will continue to protect funding for veterans programs.
Perpetual budget fights on Capitol Hill have sometimes made funding uncertain.
“The fact is that Congress has not been able to get its job done on the budget, and that has left veterans twisting in the wind,” the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman said in an interview with Stars and Stripes this week. “Veterans funding should never be that way.”
This week, the House moved ahead on plans to fund government agencies through the rest of this fiscal year, giving the military and Department of Veterans Affairs additional flexibility to deal with the spending cuts facing all federal programs.
But Miller, R-Fla., and other members of the veterans committee also are pushing for new legislation to completely fund the VA’s annual budget a year in advance, arguing that returning war heroes deserve “predictable funding in an era where continuing resolutions and threats of government shutdowns are all too frequent.”
Four years ago, Congress approved funding the medical care portion — about 86 percent of VA’s discretionary budget — at the beginning of each fiscal year.
Miller is arguing that providing the balance of those discretionary funds, about $8 billion next year, would protect information technology projects, claims processing efforts and construction work.
It would also add some relief to veterans who’ve endured years of fiscal fights.
“With sequestration, it took months to get a straight answer from anyone on whether the VA would be affected,” Miller said. “We shouldn’t have that kind of uncertainty. This would help.”
Still, it could be a tough sell. Congressional proposals to guarantee military pay and benefits in the event of a government shutdown have failed in recent sessions, as have similar proposals to provide protection for other budget priorities.
But Miller said House leadership has already discussed the issue with him, and he is optimistic the idea can be passed this year. Committee ranking member Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, also has endorsed the idea.
The veterans committee chairman said he thinks his colleagues are still supportive of continued increases to the VA budget, even as many other programs are facing deep cuts.
“I think this is the one area where there is broad support and an understanding of the need to fully fund veterans,” he said. “But I’ve warned the veterans groups that we may need to be in more of a defensive posture when it comes to (VA funds).”