February 9, 2016, 01:40:00 PM
Care and Benefits for Veterans Strengthened by $182 Billion VA Budget
WASHINGTON – In his FY 2017 budget, President Obama is proposing $182.3 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Funding will continue to support the largest transformation in VA history; expand access to timely, high-quality health care and benefits; and advance efforts to end homelessness among Veterans.
“VA has before it one of the greatest opportunities in its history to transform the way it cares for our Veterans who nobly served and sacrificed for our Nation,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “As we work to become a more efficient, effective and responsive, Veteran-centric Department, we can’t do it alone; we need the help of Congress. This year, VA submitted over 100 legislative proposals, including 40 new proposals to better serve Veterans. Our goal is provide the best care to our Veterans while removing obstacles or barriers that prevent them from getting the care they deserve.”
Highlights from the President’s 2017 Budget request for VA
The FY 2017 budget includes $78.7 billion in discretionary funding, largely for health care and $103.6 billion for mandatory benefit programs such as disability compensation and pensions. The $78.7 billion for discretionary spending is $3.6 billion (4.9 percent) above the 2016 enacted level, including over $3.6 billion in medical care collections from health insurers and Veteran copayments. The budget also requests $70.0 billion, including collections, for the 2018 advance appropriations for medical care, an increase of $1.5 billion and 2.1 percent above the 2017 medical care budget request. The request includes $103.9 billion in 2018 mandatory advance appropriations for Compensation and Pensions, Readjustment Benefits and Veterans Insurance and Indemnities benefits programs in the Veterans Benefits Administration.
With a medical care budget of $68.6 billion, including collections, VA is positioned to continue expanding health care services to its millions of Veteran patients. Health care is being provided to over 922,000Veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn/Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS). Major spending categories within the health care budget are:
The President’s Budget ensures that care and other benefits are available to Veterans when and where they need them. Among the programs that will expand access under the proposed budget are:
Improving the Efficiency of Claims Processing
The President’s Budget provides for continued implementation of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) robust Transformation Plan -- a series of people, process, and technology initiatives -- in 2017. This plan will continue to systematically improve the quality and efficiency of claims processing.
Major claims transformation initiatives in the budget invest $323 million to bring leading-edge technology to claims processing, including:
In addition, the President’s Budget supports increasing VBA’s workforce to address staffing needs so it can continue to improve the delivery of benefits to Veterans. As VBA continues to receive and complete more disability compensation rating claims, the volume of non-rating claims correspondingly increases. The request for $54 million for 300 additional full-time equivalent employees (FTE) and claims processing support will allow VBA to provide more timely actions on non-rating claims.
The current appeals process is complicated and ineffective, and Veterans on average are waiting about 5 years for a final decision on an appeal that reaches the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, with thousands waiting much longer. The 2017 Budget proposes a Simplified Appeals initiative – legislation and resources – to provide Veterans with a simple, fair, and streamlined appeals process in which they would receive a final appeals decision within one year from filing an appeal by 2021. The Budget requests $156 million and 922 FTE for the Board, an increase of $46 million and 242 FTE over 2016, as a down payment on a long-term, sustainable plan to improve services to Veterans.
Ending Veterans Homelessness
The Administration has made the ending of Veteran homelessness a national priority. The Budget requests $1.6 billion for programs to prevent or reduce Veteran homelessness, including:
The 2017 budget continues the largest Department-wide transformation in VA’s history through the MyVA initiative, which is changing VA’s culture, processes, and capabilities to put the needs, expectations and interests of Veterans and their families first. MyVA has developed five objectives fundamental to the transformation of VA: 1) improving the Veterans’ experience; 2) improving the employee experience; 3) improving support service excellence; 4) establishing a culture of continuous performance improvement; and 5) enhancing strategic partnerships. To aid in this transformation, the Department established the Veterans Experience Office (VEO). The VEO will represent the voice of Veterans and their families in Departmental governance; design and implement customer-centric programs to make interactions with VA easier; and support VA’s “mission owners” in carrying out MyVA improvements across the system.
Veterans Choice Act
The Veterans Choice Act provides $5 billion to increase Veterans' access to health care by hiring more physicians and staff and improving the VA’s physical infrastructure. It also provides $10 billion through 2017 to establish a temporary program (the Veterans Choice Program) to improve access to health care by allowing eligible Veterans who meet certain wait-time or distance standards to use eligible health care providers outside of the VA system. In 2017, VA will use the Choice Act funds in concert with annual appropriations to meet VA staffing and infrastructure needs and expand non-VA care to Veterans who are eligible for the Veterans Choice Program. VA plans to spend $1.4 billion in 2016 and $853 million in 2017 to support more than 9,700 new medical care staff hired through the Choice Act; $980 million in 2016 and $116 million in 2017 to improve VA facilities.
Other Key Services for Veterans
Enhanced Oversight of VA’s programs
VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the country; the tenth largest life insurance program in the Nation, with $1.3 trillion in coverage; monthly disability compensation, pensions, and survivors benefits to 5.3 million beneficiaries; educational assistance or vocational rehabilitation benefits and services to nearly 1.2 million students; mortgage guaranties to over 2 million homeowners; and the largest cemetery system in the Nation.
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