Late Breaking News
Federal Debt Deal Threatens Funding for VA, Military Healthcare
- Categorized in: Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), News, September 2011
WASHINGTON — Before Congress reached a debt ceiling deal last month, veterans and active-duty servicemembers were worried if they would receive their military paychecks, veterans’ benefits, or G.I. Bill benefits, should the United States be unable to borrow more to pay its bills.
Now that President Obama has signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011, those concerns have been replaced with others, such as the potential for drastic cuts that would affect healthcare for the military and veterans.
Military Funding Fears
The deal, reached at the last minute, requires a cut of $900 billion from the federal budget over the next 10 years. This is in exchange for a $900 billion increase in the debt ceiling. The bill also calls for the creation of a new Congressional committee — staffed equally with Republicans and Democrats — tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in additional cuts to be made over the next 10 years. If the committee, referred to as the “super committee,” is successful, the debt ceiling will be allowed to increase an amount equal to these cuts.
With pundits projecting the need to raise the debt ceiling again in the near future, and with the current partisan gridlock in Congress, veteran and active duty advocacy associations are still braced for bad news.
The $900 billion in cuts over the next 10 years include $350 billion in the base defense budget agreed upon earlier this year. Exactly what that $350 billion includes will be decided in the next few months.
Also, the bipartisan committee is authorized to look at discretionary and mandatory spending, including spending on military retirement and veterans’ benefits. According to Military Officers Association of American (MOAA) officials, everything is on the table for cutting.
If the super committee fails to make those cuts, the bill will force arbitrary across-the-board cuts totaling $1.2 trillion, divided equally between defense and civilian spending programs such as Medicare.
Any cuts in Medicare-provider reimbursement also could impact servicemembers, MOAA officials have said. Because TRICARE fees are linked to what fees are allowed under Medicare, reimbursement cuts in the latter could leave providers vulnerable and more likely to stop accepting both TRICARE and Medicare patients.
At a briefing held soon after the debt ceiling deal was reached, White House officials voiced their hope that savings gained by withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan would offset the mandatory cuts. President Obama announced earlier this summer that the 33,000 troops he ordered to Afghanistan in 2009 would be home within the next 12 months. The deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq had been December 2011, though meeting that deadline seems unlikely.