“Veteran” used only 288 times in 2,232 page U.S. budget

Here’s what the $1.3 trillion plan gives vets

Jonathan Kaupanger
March 22, 2018 - 2:51 pm

Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

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VA’s 2018 budget of $186 billion makes it in, but the 2018 appropriations bill does not have an expansion of veteran caregiver benefits, a review of the VA’s national footprint or the overhaul of VA community care programs. VA reforms didn’t make it in the budget, but here’s what did make it and how it will affect veterans.

It does have little more than $500 million is going into programs that help veteran employment, training and homelessness. This includes $5 million specifically for a program to enhance farming and ranching opportunities for veterans. 

That’s on top of the $11,832,175,000 that the VA has available to pay readjustment and rehabilitation benefits.

Just under $50 million is going to help small and rural hospitals improve access to telehealth services. VA has recently expanded the types of services offered through its telehealth program. This money will be used by non-VA facilities to make it easier to access VA treatment and training.

Though, the budget isn’t just a way for Congress to pass out money,  it’s also used to tell agencies exactly how they can use the funds. In this budget, VA Prosthetic research gets $722,262,000, but only if the secretary can ensure that a good amount of this line item is appropriated for medical supplies and equipment designed specifically for female veterans. Lawmakers also told VA that it can pay for laundry services out of its $707 million VHA admin budget.

There are a couple of sections where Congress says no budget money can be used. Specifically, section 254 says none of the funds can be used to conduct research using canines unless VA can prove that the study can only be met by using dogs in the research. This section does say that the VA Secretary has 14 days after this bill becomes law to give Congress a “detailed report outlining under what canine research may be needed if there are no alternatives.”

This bill also states that VA can’t charge fees for veteran ID cards or that VA money can’t be used to restrict individuals from speaking to members of Congress or their staff.  The bill also states that these funds can’t be used to close down any VA facilities or conduct environmental assessments.

The VA Secretary will need to come up with a new way of identifying veterans submitting benefits claims if this bill passes. Right now, the VA uses a veteran’s social security number. New ID numbers will need to be in effect within five years of passing this law for veterans already in the VA system. New claims will stop using SSNs within eight years of this law passing.

Congress uses bills like this as a way of taking money too. Veterans Health Administration lost $751,000,000 of medical services unobligated funds and that money will be sent back to the U.S. Treasury to be spent elsewhere.

One interesting provision that was included would expand mental health care access for veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, in an effort to stem more veteran suicides. However, those with bad conduct discharges or court-martial convictions would not be eligible.

The bill must still be passed by the Senate by Friday night or lawmakers will once again trigger a partial government shutdown.

Matt Saintsing also contributed to this report.