Each year on Memorial Day we come together as a nation to pay tribute to the men and women who paid the ultimate price to protect our freedoms by laying wreaths at cemeteries, visiting memorials and participating in the national moment of remembrance. In addition to honoring our fallen service members, we must also honor those who have returned home from conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere bearing the physical and mental scars of war. One way to honor our veterans is to ensure they receive the care they were promised and deserve by enacting legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care funding system.
President Obama proposed a strong $5.4 billion increase for veterans' health care in his budget request, which should be enough to meet the expected health care needs of America's 24 million veterans. While great strides have been made to increase the level of funding for veterans' health care, there continues to be significant delays in receiving those funds. Congress must act now and pass legislation that would provide these resources in a timely, predictable manner.
As National Legislative Director of the 1.2 million-member Disabled American Veterans and a disabled veteran myself, I know well the challenges VA medical directors face when they don't know the level of funding they will receive or when they will receive it. Unable to hire new staff and medical personnel without a budget in place, VA health care facilities are often short-staffed, causing veterans to wait longer to schedule appointments, wait longer to see medical personnel and have shorter visits with health care providers. Late budgets also delay facility maintenance, equipment replacement and technological upgrades.
The funding delays have become chronic. In fact, VA's budget has been late 19 out the last 22 years. Personnel shortages could be prevented, new equipment purchased and building maintenance and modernization projects completed efficiently if Congress simply delivered the VA's budget on time every year.
In February, a bipartisan coalition of Senators and Representatives introduced the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, legislation that would authorize an advance appropriation for veterans medical care programs. Simply put, an advance appropriation allows Congress to decide how much money to allocate to veterans health care one year before VA needs and receives those funds. This no-cost solution would allow VA administrators and directors sufficient time to plan ahead, knowing in advance when their budget will arrive and its amount.
On Thursday, this critical legislation cleared a major hurdle when the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs unanimously approved it. The House Veterans Affairs Committee is expected to take up the bill next month. And we are encouraged by President Obama's support for the proposal, which he reaffirmed in public comments last month.
We believe that one of the best ways to pay tribute to those who have fallen this Memorial Day is to properly care for the living. Looking ahead, we encourage Congress to do its part and pass the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act this year.
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