House Passes Historic Bill to Secure Timely Funding for Veterans’ Health Care



House Passes Historic Bill to Secure Timely Funding for Veterans’ Health Care

Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, October 8, 2009, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to H.R. 1016, a bill to secure timely funding for veterans’ health care delivered through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, announced passage of the bill that would authorize the ‘advance appropriations’ process.  The bill provides Congress greater ability to develop appropriation bills that provide sufficient funding to meet the best estimate of anticipated demand for VA health care services in future years by allowing funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical accounts one year in advance. 


Chairman Filner offered the following statement: “Today, the House of Representatives took action to respond to years of chronic underfunding of VA medical care. Over the last 23 years, 20 VA budgets have been passed late – and our veterans pay the price with fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and more restricted access for the 6 million veterans using VA health care.  Again this year, the VA is forced to rely on funding from a continuing resolution, even though the House acted in a timely fashion and passed the FY 2010 VA spending bill in July.  Members of the Committee have worked closely with veteran service organizations to pass this landmark bill and guarantee that our veterans have access to comprehensive, quality health care.” 

H.R. 1016 would authorize Congress to approve Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year.  An advance appropriation would provide VA with up to one year in which to plan how to deliver the most efficient and effective care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions.  Unlike proposals to convert VA health care to a mandatory funding program, an advance appropriation does not create PAYGO concerns since VA health care funding would remain discretionary.  Congress employs a PAYGO rule which demands that new proposals must either be budget neutral or offset with savings derived from existing funds. 

Additionally, VA will be required to detail estimates in the budget documents it submits annually to Congress.  Each July, the VA will be required to report to Congress if it has the resources it needs for the upcoming fiscal year in order for Congress to address any funding imbalances.  This will help to safeguard against the VA facing budget shortfalls such as it faced just a few years ago.

Reform of the method in which the VA health care system is funded continues to be a top legislative priority for many veteran service organizations.  In a letter sent by eleven veteran service organizations to Members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, a vote for H.R. 1016 “will be among the most important for veterans and their families that the Committee will take this year.”  Representatives of these groups offered testimony in support of advance appropriations at a recent Committee hearing which focused on funding the VA of the future.  (Testimony available here: HVAC Hearing Information) 
Today, the House approved an amendment to H.R. 1016.  The version of this legislation represents a compromise agreement between the House and the Senate.  The bill in its current form must be approved by the Senate before being sent to the President for passage into law.  

The House also passed S. 1717, a bill to authorize 15 major medical facility leases for the VA fiscal year 2010 budget.  VA operates the largest direct health care delivery system in America and this bill provides VA the ability to move forward without delay on the execution of important facility leases. 
In support of S. 1717, Chairman Filner said, “Veterans who have been anticipating new clinics opening up in their communities will not be disappointed.  S. 1717 will allow VA to provide timely access to high quality health care to veterans.”


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