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november/december 2008

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For years, VVA and eight other VSOs that comprise the Partnership for Veterans Healthcare Budget Reform have been knocking our collective heads against a bipartisan wall of opposition in Congress in an attempt to achieve assured, or mandatory, funding of veterans health care. We’ve been told, flat out, that Congress is not going to opt for any form of mandatory funding, having learned its lesson from making funding for Medicaid and Medicare mandatory.

If the object is to get to the other side of the wall and you can’t get through it, then you’ve got to find a way around it, or over it, or under it. The Partnership thinks it has found that way, through advance appropriation for health care funding.

What does this mean? Initially, it means that Congress would fund the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for two years. That way, VA hospital and VISN directors will know what their budgets will be at least by the beginning of each fiscal year, even if Congress can’t get its budget act together and pass appropriations legislation on time—a rare and wondrous thing when it actually occurs, as it has this year. Congress has failed to approve a new VA appropriation bill on time for 19 of the past 21 years
Over the past several months, the Partnership, led by folks from Disabled American Veterans (DAV), has met with members of Congress and with key staff at both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees, promoting the advance appropriation concept. Congress has greeted this concept favorably.

In September, SVAC Chair Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and HVAC Chair Bob Filner (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would adopt advance appropriation for funding veterans health care. The Partnership worked closely with the bill sponsors in drafting the legislation.

The bills, called the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act, would require the Government Accountability Office to audit VA’s budget forecasting model and report to Congress and the public on the integrity and accuracy of the model. With these estimates in hand, Congress would be greatly enhanced in its ability to develop and enact sufficient funding levels for VA health care.

In the Senate, cosponsors were Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and both of Alaska’s senators, Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens. In the House, cosponsoring the legislation were Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Michael Michaud (D-Maine), and Phil Hare (D-Ill.).

Rep. Hare, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the author of legislation to make veterans’ health care a mandatory spending item in the federal budget, praised the introduction of what is being called the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act.

“I believe assured funding should be the law of the land,” Hare said. “But I also want a bill that can move quickly through the process. The goal is to help our veterans.”

Hare is the author of the Assured Funding for Veterans Health Care Act—a bill to make VA health care a mandatory spending item within the federal budget as is the case with Social Security or Medicare. It has 126 co-sponsors but has not seen action in the House.

Go to www.fundingforvets.org for more information about advance appropriation.

 

 

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