VA Secretary Denis McDonough speaks at the American Legion Convention in Milwaukee, Wis., on Aug. 31, 2022.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough speaks at the American Legion Convention in Milwaukee, Wis., on Aug. 31, 2022. (Screenshot)

WASHINGTON — More than 50 House Republicans are accusing the Department of Veterans Affairs of launching a misinformation campaign after the agency publicized the impact to veterans of a debt ceiling bill that cuts federal spending.

The lawmakers took aim at VA Secretary Denis McDonough for the release of a “dishonest and shameless” budget analysis last month that determined the House Republicans’ plan to raise the nation’s borrowing limit would slash the department’s spending by 22%.

“The facts are that nowhere in the Limit, Save, Grow Act is it indicated that the VA budget would be cut,” the Republicans wrote Thursday in a letter to McDonough. “The intent of the legislation is to set a topline number for the entire federal budget.”

The legislation narrowly passed the House last week amid protests from Democrats and veterans groups, noting the bill calls for a return to 2022 spending levels across the government without singling out the VA for protection.

The VA calculated the proposal, which is unlikely to gain traction in the Democrat-led Senate, would result in thousands of job losses across the VA, 30 million fewer veterans outpatient visits and increase the disability claims backlog by 134,000.

Republicans have insisted health care and benefits for veterans would be spared from any cuts. They slammed President Joe Biden’s administration for sowing panic and fear in the veteran population through “dishonest talking points.”

“The leaders of the congressional bodies that oversee and fund the VA have all firmly stated that veterans’ earned care and benefits are not on the table,” the Republicans wrote. “The VA purposely chose to ignore these facts in favor of baseless political talking points.”

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a call Sunday with reporters that he spoke with McDonough about his disappointment with the VA's actions but the conversation “didn't go much past that.”

“In my nine years as a member of Congress, I have never seen the use of an agency that is so vitally important to so many people be used as a political hammer, to deliver a message that is false, so that it would stir people up to cause our veterans to be used as pawns in a political game,” he said.

McDonough said during a news conference last week that “a fair reading” of the bill required the VA to map out and be ready for a full range of outcomes.

“I read the bill and the bill does not carve VA out of the potential cuts,” he said. “[That] leads me as a leader of this organization and one who considers himself a prudent leader, to need to prepare for very real cuts. That’s why we’ve done the analysis, to be sure that [Congress] members understand that and we begin to prepare for that.”

Backlash to the Republican plan continued this week with the Military Order of the Purple Heart urging Congress on Thursday to reject the legislation. The commander of the congressionally chartered war veterans organization said lawmakers need to work toward increasing funding for the VA, not decreasing it.

“The VA is already underfunded, and cutting its budget will only exacerbate the problem, resulting in longer wait times, reduced services and decreased access to care,” Christopher Vedvick, the group’s national commander, said in a statement.

The political standoff over the debt limit intensified this week after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced Monday that the U.S. could run out of money to pay its bills by June 1 if Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit.

House Republicans have refused to raise the limit without steep spending cuts. Their plan raises the debt limit in exchange for capping 2024 discretionary spending at 2022 levels and sets a 1% cap on growth for the next decade.

The White House said congressional leaders will meet with Biden next week to continue negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday dismissed Republican complaints about the characterization of their debt limit bill and again called attention to a looming threat to veteran services.

“If Republicans get their way, up to 80,000 jobs at the Veterans Health Administration would be cut,” he said on the Senate floor. “Our nation’s veterans have dedicated their lives to keeping our country safe. There is no greater shame than intentionally depriving them of the resources to stay healthy, but that is precisely what the House Republican bill does.”

Twitter: @svetashko

author picture
Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now