Resolution Would Give VA Record Health Funding Boost

Government Health IT

The Department of Veteran Affairs would receive a record increase of $6.6 billion in health care funding in the fiscal 2008 budget resolution that the House passed today over this year’s level under the continuing resolution.

“It is the largest annual increase in VA health care spending in 77 years,” said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, at a briefing earlier this week.

More funds mean the VA can take steps to fix gaps in health care facilities and treatment that were highlighted in revelations of poor and unsanitary conditions for outpatient wounded warfighters at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Filner said.

The budget resolutions reported out of the House and Senate Budget committees call for a total of $43.1 billion in VA discretionary spending. The Senate passed the budget resolution with amendments last week. A House/Senate conference committee will meet to reconcile the different versions.

Among its provisions, the bill calls for increases in medical care costs from the rising numbers of injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA health care funding aims to meet the needs for research and treat mental health problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

The Democratic-led budget resolution out-funds President Bush’s 2008 budget request for VA health care by $3.5 billion and $32 billion over five years. The resolution also sets budget levels for fiscal 2009 to 2012.

“The president’s budget cuts funding after 2008, a reduction of $3.6 billion from the baseline for 2008 through 2012,” Filner said.

The budget resolution also provides additional funding above the administration’s request to improve the speed and accuracy of disability compensation claims and to hire more processing employees to reduce the six-month waiting period for claims processing of combat-wounded veterans. The resolution rejects new enrollment fees and co-pay increases in the president’s budget, said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), a member of the Budget Committee and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

“This is about recognizing that supporting our veterans is a real cost of war, just as real as guns, tanks and bullets,” Edwards said.

In a related development, the House on March 28 passed the Wounded Warriors Assistance Act of 2007, a cooperative effort of the House Armed Services and House Veterans Affairs committees. The bill would require DOD and the VA to use a uniform separation and evaluation physical, which the VA would use for its disability ratings. It would also mandate interoperable electronic medical data exchange between DOD and VA and require the VA to use an electronic version of DOD’s DD 214 form that certifies discharge from active duty.

Military members also would receive a written transition plan for receiving VA services. Among other provisions, VA benefit teams would co-locate at military treatment facilities, and DOD would transmit service member records before separation from the military.

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