Wednesday, April 29, 2009

VA advance funding one step closer to reality

VA advance funding one step closer to reality

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Apr 28, 2009 17:41:35 EDT

There is good news for military and veterans’ organizations in the 2010 budget agreement reached Monday night by House and Senate negotiators.

The budget, which includes $606 billion for the Defense Department and $106.5 billion for the Veterans Affairs Department next year, also creates a window of opportunity for passage of some high-priority issues this year.

For example, the agreement opens the door for the top priority of veterans’ organizations, providing money for veterans’ health care one year in advance. The key language, in this case, is a provision preventing a point of order being raised against legislation to provide a 2011 VA health funding bill this year.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman and a sponsor of advanced appropriations legislation, said the provision “brings us closer to our goal of providing on-time funding for veterans’ health care, allowing VA to plan ahead and make better use of taxpayer money.”

Raymond Dempsey, national commander of Disabled American Veterans, called the budget “good news for our nation’s veterans.”

“Not only does it provide a record increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs, it clears the way for much-needed legislation to ensure sufficient, timely and predictable funding for veterans health care,” Dempsey said.

In addition to advance funding, the resolution leaves open the chance for Congress to approve big and expensive benefits, such as allowing both disabled military retirees and the surviving spouses of deceased disabled retirees to receive any earned military and veterans benefits without requiring offsets in payments.

There is no money to specifically cover full concurrent receipt of benefits, but the agreement allows Congress to provide funding with a gimmick — a “deficit-neutral reserve fund” — that would pay for an increase in benefits. In essence, this would allow Congress to approve a new benefit without having to fully pay for it, not unlike the way that lawmakers have paid for economic recovery bills.

However, the budget resolution is not binding; it serves only as a guide for lawmakers to use when approving detailed budgets. But the resolution does list some priorities for defense spending, beginning with reform of the weapons acquisition process and a review of weapons plans to avoid buying systems that are redundant or not applicable to current threats.

The resolution also asks for a Defense Department review of the role that contractors play in contingency operations and an assessment about whether the missile defense program needs an adjustment because some technologies may not be viable.

Miltary pay and benefits “should be enhanced to improve the quality of life for military personnel and their families,” the resolution says, without including specifics.

The resolution assumes Congress will end up providing a 3.4 percent basic pay raise for the military that will take effect on Jan. 1.

VA advance funding one step closer to reality

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