WASHINGTON — AMVETS Executive Director James B. King warned the House Committee on Veterans Affairs that the Bush administration has underestimated veterans’ health care needs by $1 billion in its proposed fiscal 2007 budget.
He also noted that this is the second consecutive year that the administration has proposed a budget that falls $1 billion short of the veterans’ health care needs projected by AMVETS and three other veterans’ service organizations.
“Nobody is saying we are spending too much for our national defense,” King told the committee. “Nobody is asking us to reduce the defense or VA budget. Unfortunately, new veterans returning home will soon discover that their battle is not over. Veterans continue to suffer as a result of a system that has been routinely under funded and is now ill equipped to handle the large influx of veterans waiting and wanting to use VA services.”
The Administration’s fiscal year 2007 budget requests a total of $80.6 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $8.8 billion more than last year, a 12 percent increase. Included in the spending plan is nearly $34.3 billion for veterans’ health care, with collections. However, an estimated $795 million would come directly out of veterans’ pockets, not the federal treasury.
“Veterans should not be asked to foot the bill in order to pay for billions in VA shortfalls,” King said. “Without collections, the VA health care system would be funded at $31.5 billion, $2.7 billion more than last year.”
To address these anticipated shortfalls, AMVETS recommends that Congress provide $32.4 billion for veterans’ health care, an increase of $3.7 billion over the fiscal year 2006 appropriation, and approximately $1 billion over the administration’s fiscal year 2007 budget request, without collections.
Among the administration’s proposed 2007 budget cutbacks, a reduction of 149 workers who process VA claims.
“As of November 2005,” King said, “the Veteran Benefits Administration reports that 117,766 claims for benefits have been pending for more than 180 days. That’s 19,581 more claims pending than at this time last year. The challenge is simple. How can VA adequately process disability claims with the funds and staffing levels they’ve been given? Congress needs to provide the VA with the funds they need to hire additional full-time employees, not cut 149.”
AMVETS, for its part, is seeking corrective measures to the Administration’s cutbacks, including:
- Mandatory funding for veterans health care
- Improved dependency and indemnity compensation
- Congressional support for legislation to provide veterans with compensation for exposure to depleted uranium
- Continued funding of the Department of Labor’s Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) and the Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVER) program
AMVETS is a veterans service organization that represents members of every branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserve. AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements as well as community services that enhance veterans’ quality of life.