Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama supports advance funding for VA

Obama supports advance funding for VA

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Nov 12, 2008 16:48:01 EST

President-elect Barack Obama promised days before the Nov. 4 election that his administration would support the idea of approving veterans’ funding one year in advance in an effort to avoid disruptions in critical programs.

His pledge, made in an Oct. 28 letter to the American Federation of Government Employees, puts him on record as supporting what a coalition of veterans organizations sees as the answer to a perennial problem: funding for veterans programs that comes in fits and starts — and, in the process, diminishing the quality of health care.

“First and foremost, the way our nation provides funding for VA health care must be reformed,” Obama says in the letter. “My administration will recommend passage of advance appropriation legislation for the [fiscal] 2010 appropriations cycle, instead of yearly continuing resolutions that lead to delays in hiring and facility construction. I will also work to fully fund veterans care.”

Nine veterans’ groups, united in what they call the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, have been calling for reform because only twice in the last 14 years — and only three times in the last 20 — has the Veterans Affairs Department budget been approved by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. This has been one of the years when the budget passed on time.

The nine groups proposed that Congress pass a budget for veterans programs a full year ahead of time, which would mean that in 2009 lawmakers would need to pass both a fiscal 2010 budget and a fiscal 2011 budget. Obama’s letter indicates support for that idea.

Delayed budgets hurt veterans because they make it harder for VA to plan capital improvements and buy major medical equipment, and also delays hiring, said Joseph Violante, national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans.

Another benefit to advanced funding is that veterans programs would get a first slice of the federal budget, without having to directly compete with other federal programs, Violante said.

The day after his election, Obama pledged as president to fully fund VA and establish a “world-class VA planning division” so that future budgets were more accurate, according to a transition agenda that was briefly placed on the president-elect’s transition Web site. The transition agenda has since been removed.

Staff writer Rebecca K. Neal contributed to this report.

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