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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Action Is Sought to Ensure Timely Financing for V.A.

The New York Times reports that a new effort to approve money for veterans' medical care one year in advance is being spearheaded by the chairmen of the Veterans' Affairs Committees in the House and Senate.  Lizette Alvarez writes,

Veterans_affairs_2As the veterans’ health system strains to handle a growing caseload, a move is under way in Congress to avoid yearly delays in financing that can hamper the medical care of the nation’s veterans.

The legislation would allow Congress to approve the money for veterans’ medical care one year in advance. In so doing, it would separate veterans’ health care financing from the crush of appropriations and political horse-trading that take place at year’s end.

The so-called advanced appropriation is already used to ensure the timely delivery of money to other programs, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Housing and Urban Development vouchers for low-income renters.

The effort is being spearheaded by the chairmen of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in the House and Senate. They say the long delays in getting the money for health care to the Department of Veterans Affairs is untenable in a time of war.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs operates the largest health care system in the nation, but its funding is untimely and unpredictable,” said Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the Hawaii Democrat who is chairman of the Senate veterans committee.

“Unlike Medicare and Medicaid,” Mr. Akaka said, “V.A. never knows what its level of funding will be for the next year. V.A. health care providers are tied down by uncertainty. This situation is bad for taxpayers, bad for V.A. and bad for veterans.”

Representative Bob Filner, the California Democrat who heads the veterans committee in the House, said the measure was a compromise that did not call for mandatory financing for veterans’ programs.

Explaining that Congress has been routinely late in passing the spending bill, Mr. Filner said, “You can’t run an agency if you can’t get timely funding.”

The last time Congress approved Department of Veterans Affairs money by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, was in 1997. Congress failed to pass this year’s spending bill for the agency until February.

Waiting for Congress to pass spending legislation is a parlor game in Washington and few agencies ever get their money on time.

But Mr. Akaka and an umbrella group of major veterans organizations say the delays pose a critical problem when it comes to providing medical care for veterans, especially at a time of exploding growth.

The delays, they say, affect service to veterans, including waits for appointments; hamper the hiring of personnel; and hinder equipment purchases.

At the same time, the department has been under intense pressure to serve veterans better.

“It has a real impact on services,” said Joseph A. Violante, the legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, part of the umbrella group Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform.

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