A few weeks ago, the White House unveiled its budget with the fanfare and media blitz fit for a coronation. While the big proposals on climate change and health care took center stage in the dog-and-pony show, the budget also included an outline of funding for every veterans' hospital and clinic nationwide.
So what did team IAVA think of Obama's plan for veterans?
Overall, the President seems to have put his money where his mouth is. The top line number for veterans' discretionary funding is about $1.2 billion higher than the amount recommended by leading veterans' organizations, including IAVA. The budget plans increase VA funding by $25 billion over five years. That's a real victory.
Of course, the entire annual veterans' budget is still less than we've given AIG since September - but I'll put that aside for a moment, and get to the real policy. Despite his skills on the basketball court, Obama's budget is still not a slam dunk for veterans.
First, Obama hasn't opened up VA health care coverage to every veteran. This is a major misstep. In this economy, as veterans across the country lose their jobs and with it their health insurance, they should be able to turn to the VA for care. But the Administration only plans to bring about 500,000 moderate-income veterans into VA health care by 2013. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the roughly 1.8 million veterans who lack health insurance, and it doesn't even include all of the 565,000 veterans who have been denied VA care since 2003. Every single veteran signed the dotted line to serve their country, and each and every one of them should be eligible for VA health care.
Just as important, new veterans are disappointed that the President has not opted to include advance appropriations for the VA in his budget proposal. Advance appropriations doesn't cost any additional money, it just gives VA hospitals and clinics advance notice of the funding they will receive the following year. Right now, VA hospitals have no way of knowing what their budget will be next year. When the budget is passed late (and it usually is), hospitals have to make hard choices about their funding - and that means rationed care for veterans. Advance appropriations is a common-sense solution that Obama supported as a candidate, and he should have been out in front on this issue. This campaign promise got pushed to the side, and nobody in America seemed to notice.
Luckily for veterans, we've got some great allies in Congress - led by Senator Akaka and Representative Filner -- who are moving advance appropriations forward. And while we may not see Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh sitting down to tea anytime soon, we have seen great support from both sides of the aisle for advance appropriations. IAVA joined these lawmakers and others at a press conference a few weeks ago to mark the introduction of advance appropriations legislation, and we'll be fighting every step of the way to get that bill passed this year.
To help get advance appropriations moving forward, I'm going to be testifying today before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. And I'm going to tell them just what I told you - Obama's budget is a good start, but it's up to Congress to close the deal for veterans. Interested in hearing how Congress responds? You can watch video of the testimony here.
When it comes to how the politicians spend our money, the devil is always in the details. It'll be months before we see the finished product on this budget. There have been rumors of new fees and premiums veterans will have to pay to get health care. That's not only bad policy, it's bad politics, because every veterans group in the country will oppose it vigorously. I can't believe the Obama Administration would make that kind of rookie mistake when it comes to supporting our veterans. But I can tell you one thing now - if Congress or the Administration think they can write billion dollar checks for Wall Street but nickel-and-dime our veterans, they've got another thing coming.
Crossposted at IAVA.org.
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