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Lawmakers push to fund VA one year in advance

Feb. 26, 2013 - 02:28PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 26, 2013 - 02:28PM  |  
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Each year, Congress funds the Veterans Affairs Department's health care budget at the start of the fiscal year to ensure the government has money to cover eligible veterans' medical care costs for the entire year.

On Monday, two House lawmakers moved to fund all of VA's discretionary budget a year ahead, saying the change would protect VA during periods of fiscal uncertainty.

"If there is one thing people in Washington and across America agree on, it's that we should never let funding for veterans become a casualty of Washington gridlock," said House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

The "Putting Veterans Funding First" bill, H.R. 813, would require Congress to pay VA's discretionary budget, about $59 billion, up front.

About 86 percent of the VA budget goes to health care; the remaining 14 percent, about $8 billion, pays for information technology, claims processing, construction and more.

The budget usually is funded by appropriations passed during the regular legislative year.

If approved, the bill would shield the VA budget from any cost-cutting deliberations that can result during passage of continuing resolutions or of omnibus bills that lump funding of different federal departments together.

"This bill … would simply enact into law the widely accepted view that America's veterans should not be held responsible for Washington's inability to reach an agreement on how to cut spending." Miller said.

He said the change also would allow VA to plan better on key investments and give Congress improved oversight on programs that require multi-year funding.

Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, veterans' benefits, including health care, are exempt from the impending budget cuts under the sequester.

Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, a cosponsor of the bill, said HR 813 would continue to protect VA's discretionary budget from yearly appropriations squabbles.

"The Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013 is a common-sense approach to ensuring that arbitrary budget cuts won't jeopardize the care and benefits America has promised our veterans," he said.

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