By Karen Stokes
The amount of care and services VHA can provide is determined by funding that Congress appropriates each year.
On Wednesday, House Republicans passed their debt ceiling proposal by the narrow margin of 217 to 215. The bill now heads to the Senate where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised it will be dead on arrival.
A main part of the proposal is to return discretionary spending to FY2022 levels and then impose a 1% increase limit on government spending after that.
The legislation could negatively impact the lives of American people, including veterans.
“The House proposal would force the VA to go back to the levels of funding that we had 2 years ago. The result of that would be a reduction of 22 percent relative to our current spending which would mean a shortfall of $29.7 billion,” said Denis McDonough, United States Secretary of Veteran Affairs.
“So we’re very worried about this because it could mean 30 million fewer veterans outpatient health care visits, it could mean 81,000 jobs lost at the veterans health administration leaving veterans not being able to get appointments for care including wellness visits, cancer screenings, mental health services and substance abuse disorder or it could mean the Veterans Benefit Administration would have to eliminate more than 6000 staff increasing the backlog for veterans trying to get their disability claims process by 134,000 claims and forcing them to wait longer for those benefits that they’ve earned,” he said.
In March, President Biden released a budget outlining his vision to build on the work the Administration has done to make a real difference in people’s lives. The budget includes historically high investments in veterans.
“That kind of support from President Biden led to providing more care and more benefits to more veterans than ever before. So the thing that the President is proposing is not dramatic cuts but rather historically large investments in veterans’ healthcare, veterans’ benefits, veterans’ housing, veterans’ education and job training,” McDonough said.
Last year, President Biden signed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act). The most significant bill in American history to address veterans’ exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances.
“The Pact Act was designed to help those veterans who served for example in Iraq and Afghanistan and were exposed to toxins while they were there. The Pact Act is designed to give them increased access to healthcare and to benefits,” McDonough said.
There is a proposal in the PACT Act that includes the ability for veterans who were deployed or stationed at Camp LeJeune and it will allow them to bring suit against the Department of Defense.
McDonough wanted the vets to know is if you were stationed at Camp LeJeune you don’t need to hire a lawyer, just come see them at VA.gov\pact or contact them at 1-800-MYVA411 and they will get you access to your care and your benefits.
“It may be that you’ve been denied in the past, give us a try again,” he said.
“The most important thing I want veterans to do is please file a claim if you were in Viet Nam and you have hypertension or high blood pressure or if you were exposed to agent orange, come file a claim,” said McDonough. “If you were in Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia or Yemen or Syria or Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2021, please file your claim so you can get the care and benefits that you’ve earned.”