American Legion: The good and bad of VA’s budget plan

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After seeing the Obama administration’s VA budget recommendations for 2012, American Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster was pleased with areas of the fiscal plan. But other areas still need work, the commander said.

“There is much to like in this budget,” Foster said. “The administration actually exceeded our expectations in total medical care by $4.3 billion. The $54 billion that the administration wants to spend in VA medical care alone would help preserve, and, indeed improve, the best health-care system available anywhere.”

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki discusses his department's $132 billion budget for fiscal 2012 at a Feb. 14, 2011 press conference in Washington.

Overall, the $132 billion budget marks a 4 percent increase over the administration’s 2011 budget, which still has not been approved by Congress. Federal spending is currently being funded by continuing resolution, meaning that the Obama administration’s request for VA actually is a 10 percent increase over 2010 levels.

“Now for the bad,” Foster said. “There are some very important construction projects that VA needs in order to serve the 6 million veterans who are expected to use their facilities next year. We find the cuts in major and minor construction for these facilities to be unacceptable. During my congressional testimony last fall, I submitted recommendations of $1.2 billion for major construction and $800 million for minor construction. The administration budget includes only $590 million and $550 million in those respective areas – well short of what is needed.”

Foster called on Congress to immediately approve the $208 million allotted to fund the veterans’ caregivers program, which has experienced delays in its implementation.

“This program was signed into law last May and the program was supposed to be implemented last month,” Foster said. “We understand that it takes time to publish regulations and complete training, but these caregivers are depending on the stipends and benefits that this program is supposed to provide. We need it up and running now.”

The discretionary portion of the VA budget is divided among nine major categories, areas which will require thorough review by The American Legion.

“Whether it’s providing the best treatment for traumatic brain injury or helping VA Secretary (Eric) Shinseki fulfill his promise to end veterans homelessness, there are many complex areas of this budget that I have directed my staff to study in the coming days,” said Peter Gaytan, executive director of the Legion’s Washington office. “We will report our findings to our members and on our website. We look forward to working with the administration and Congress to make sure that we serve our veterans in a manner worthy of a grateful nation. We are all partners in this endeavor.”

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