Late Breaking News
Federal Debt Deal Threatens Funding for VA, Military Healthcare Cont.
- Categorized in: Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), News, September 2011
Vulnerable VA Programs
Programs benefiting veterans are more diverse, spread across a number of federal programs and may be more vulnerable to budget cuts. Veterans’ pension and disability programs are safe from cuts, but not VA healthcare. Most VA medical-care funding is discretionary, rather than mandatory, making it a potential target.
White House officials met with VSO representatives in the few days between when the deal was reached in Congress and before President Obama signed it into law. Jon Carson, director of public engagement, told them that veterans’ benefits would be exempt from cuts but said nothing about VA healthcare, or Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
Numerous other programs supporting veterans, providing assistance with employment, housing and other services also could be vulnerable. Testifying before the Senate VA Committee the week prior to reaching the debt deal, Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), testified that “the current condition of new veterans’ readjustment into civilian society isn’t pretty.” Officially 13.3 percent of new veterans are unemployed — 4% higher than the national average. In states like Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan, that number tops 20%.
“Nationwide, that means approximately 260,000 people, in real numbers, are out of work. That’s about the same size as the entire Marine Corps,” Rieckhoff said. Younger veterans also are at a greater risk for homelessness than the general population, with 11,000 officially listed as homeless in 2009, and numerous studies have linked veteran homelessness with poor health status.
“American society has finally learned to separate politics from the warrior. There’s a ‘sea of goodwill’ for the returning vet, which is a great thing. But now comes a harder task — tapping into that sea, channeling it, directing it into supporting the troops in a meaningful, lasting way, into more than just yellow ribbons and care packages,” Rieckhoff told legislators. “Long term, it’s estimated that it’ll cost between $600 billion and $1 trillion to care for them alone. Those are imposing numbers, to be sure, especially in this time of an economic recession and spiraling debt. But those numbers will only increase with time if we slash veteran program funding in a shortsighted rush.”