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GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS

Remember: Follow The Money

BY PATRICK W. WELCH, CHAIR, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, WITH GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS STAFF

Vietnam Veterans of America is delighted that we now have advance appropriations and an appropriation over the last years, including FY 2010/2011, that includes significant increases for health care for veterans, including funding for mental health (especially PTSD) treatment. However, VVA National President John Rowan wrote to the VA last April, asking for the allocation of FY2009 funds by Medical Center and by Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN), as well as a similar breakdown of the FY2008 allocation for comparison purposes. We received the FY2008 figures about five weeks later. VA told us they did not know where the money was and could not tell us until December, or about 60 to 80 days after the end of FY2009. We have yet to receive the figures for FY2009.

The reason this issue came up is that we have yet to hear from any VA Medical Center in the country that they received more than a 3 percent increase from FY2008 to FY2009. Many said they only received a 1 percent increase, which is effectively a cut.

Overall, the VHA received an increase of 11.9 percent from FY 2008 to FY 2009. So, where is the money? Where did it go?

This is not just a theoretical argument that engages people inside the Beltway. It means that veterans are told there is no money for an additional PTSD counselor to do outreach to Fort Drum in upstate New York, the home of the 10th Mountain Division, which has seen some of the bloodiest combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. It means that vacancies have not been filled in desperately needed specialty positions to treat diabetes at a Medical Center in the southern United States, and that many other needs of veterans are going unfulfilled because the money is not getting to where it is needed.

So, where is the money? VVA looks forward to finding out. We will work with our friends in the Congress, such as Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), to demand much more accountability from the VA in how and where the additional resources we fight for are being spent.

As the old adage says, if you want to get to the bottom of things and find out what is really going on: Follow the money.

VA TO GET $135 BILLION IN BUDGET LEGISLATION

A House-Senate conference committee agreed to allocate $134.6 billion, including $53 billion in discretionary budget authority, for the Department of Veterans Affairs and $56.6 billion in mandatory authority for the VA.

And, for the first time, budget legislation provides advanced appropriations for veterans’ medical accounts, allocating a minimum of $48.2 billion in discretionary spending for veterans’ health care for FY 2011 to ensure a stable and uninterrupted source of funding.  This represents a hard-fought and long-sought victory for veterans, for VVA, and for our colleagues in other VSOs.

The emphasis now shifts to encouraging Congress to hold the VA accountable for how it spends every dime. We have long held that accountability goes hand in hand with the increased funding that the VA healthcare accounts have needed.

VVA also expects to push the VA to do a far better job of outreach than it currently does—and historically has done. Far too many veterans—and we don’t mean only the freshly minted ones—do not know anything about the benefits to which they are entitled, benefits which they’ve earned by virtue of their service in uniform, and the health conditions and health care risks that may derive from their time in service.

In this realm, we applaud the VA for having launched a long-overdue national survey of veterans, active-duty service members, activated National Guard and Reservists, and family members and survivors in an attempt to assess their awareness of the benefits that are available to them. The National Survey of Veterans also will collect health care, benefits, employment, and demographic information that the VA will use “to inform policy decisions and improve benefits,” as noted in a VA press release.

The VA is now mailing out survey screeners to more than 130,000 households to identify potential survey participants. The screener asks if anyone in the household is a member of one of the identified survey groups. Eligible survey participants then may be requested to participate in a full-length survey. Participants will be able to select a preferred survey method: through U.S. mail, telephone, or a password-protected Internet address. This is the sixth VA National Survey of Veterans to be conducted since 1978. The data collection is expected to be finished by the end of February and the final report released by December 2010.

[Read the complete article in The VVA Veteran]


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