VA Budget Poised to Grow for 3rd Straight Year

The Department of Veterans Affairs' motto, shown on a plaque outside the Veterans Health Administration building in Washington, D.C. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
The Department of Veterans Affairs' motto, shown on a plaque outside the Veterans Health Administration building in Washington, D.C. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)

The White House's proposed fiscal 2020 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs would increase funding for the third straight year -- $220 billion in total spending to support consolidation of the VA's private health programs, modernize its technology infrastructure and expand the national cemetery system. It’s an increase of nearly 11 percent from last year’s $198.6 billion total VA budget proposal.

The VA's proposed $97 billion discretionary budget would be $8 billion more than President Donald Trump sought in the fiscal 2019 budget. According to the White House, the increases would largely go toward implementing key legislative initiatives, including the VA Mission Act -- the law that supports consolidating the department's private medical care programs -- and expansion of a VA program that provides compensation and health care to the caregivers of injured veterans.

The proposed budget would provide $8.9 billion to implement the VA Mission Act and $1.6 billion for modernizing the VA's medical records system, with a goal of deploying a new electronic health system compatible with the Defense Department's system at three initial sites, with more to follow.

The budget also would support expansion of the VA's caregiver program to include those who care for veterans injured on duty before Sept. 11, 2001. And it would fund the technology infrastructure needed to implement the program, although the initial budget releases did not state the amount of funding allocated to expand the caregiver program.

The budget also would fund a new program to allow most veterans enrolled in VA health care up to two urgent care visits per year without a co-payment.

Other programs within VA that would see increases under the president's budget include women's health ($547 million for gender-specific health care); funding for a new hospital in Louisville, Kentucky ($410 million), and improvements to the VA medical center in Manhattan, New York ($150 million).

The budget includes a 4.2 percent increase to the VA's National Cemetery Administration to support opening five new cemeteries across the country and sustain 144 current cemeteries and sites. The funding also would help support the transfer of 11 cemeteries from the Department of the Army to the VA.

Those cemeteries include active and former posts at Fort Devens, Massachusetts; Fort McClellan Post Cemetery and Prisoner of War Cemeteries, Alabama; Benicia Post Cemetery, California; Fort Sheridan Cemetery, Illinois; Fort Missoula Cemetery, Montana; Fort Stevens Cemetery, Oregon; Fort Douglas Cemetery, Utah; and Fort Lawton, Fort Worden and Vancouver Cemeteries, Washington.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the budget request will "ensure that the nation's veterans receive high-quality health care and timely access to benefits and services."

"This is a significant increase in VA funding and demonstrates the administration's commitment to supporting our veterans," he said.

According to the administration, the budget also focuses on customer service and transparency. It proposes spending $8.1 million to improve customer service, $22 million to support the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, a 25 percent increase from the previous year, and an increase in the Office of Inspector General's budget of nearly 8 percent to $207 million, to "strengthen accountability, promote transparency and reduce waste, fraud and abuse."

The budget also includes $123.2 billion for mandatory funding, an increase of $12.3 billion, or 11 percent, to fund required budget items such as compensation and pensions, housing, insurance and other benefits.

This story will be updated.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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