By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON — To avoid disruption of veteran services in situations such as October’s government shutdown, advocacy groups and leaders of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees are pushing for legislation that would fund all VA programs a year in advance.
Currently, about 86% of VA’s budget is approved a year in advance, including VA’s healthcare programs. As a result of the advanced funding, those were the only VA programs to not have their funds threatened during the government shutdown last fall.
House and Senate legislation introduced last would allow advanced funding for the remaining VA programs, according to advocates.
“As we saw [in October], in the event of a prolonged shutdown, VA would not have been able to issue disability compensation, pension payments, or education benefits. That outcome would have been reprehensible,” Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said in a written statement.
“This is an idea that has proven itself. When you look at the VA on the healthcare side, it has worked very well. The shutdown that just recently occurred is a clear demonstration we need this for the rest of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said at a news conference.
Legislation was enacted in 2009 to allow for advanced appropriations for VA’s healthcare budget, shielding those funds from any delayed enactment of appropriations.
While VA supports this approach for its healthcare budget, it has not voiced support for extending the process to other programs. Earlier this year when lawmakers were considering legislation that would fully fund VA a year in advance, officials said expanding this approach to other programs would have to be reviewed.
“A proposal to expand VA advance appropriations needs to be considered by the administration as part of an across-the-government review of the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach, not only for VA but potentially other programs and agencies,” VA Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Policy and Planning Robert D. Snyder told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in written testimony in July.
More recently, as advocacy groups and lawmakers have pushed for this approach in the wake of the government shutdown, VA said Congress should instead focus on providing full and timely appropriations to the entire government.
“Rather than focusing on expanding advance appropriations, the best way to care for veterans is for Congress to provide full funding for VA and the entire government each year,” a VA spokesperson said in a written statement last year.
“Without budgets for other agencies” VA is “significantly less effective” in serving veterans, troops, their families, and survivors, VA explained in its statement, adding, “VA is closely linked to many other agencies — IRS, Social Security, DoD, HUD, Labor and others — to support veterans as they apply for the services and benefits they have earned and deserve.”
Meanwhile, advocacy groups said they are hoping lawmakers will vote and pass a bill on this matter soon.
“We are calling on the leaders in the House and in the Senate to work together to put this new advanced appropriations legislation up for a vote this year so it can be passed by Congress and signed by the President,” Disabled American Veterans Executive Director Garry Augustine said at a news conference last month.
“The shutdown slowed or stopped non-medical benefits and services…We must give the VA the resources they need, when they need it now,” Veterans of Foreign Wars Director Of Public Affairs Joe Davis stated at the event.