Veterans Funding Bill Pushed By Republican Majority Would Increase Massive VA Backlog and Dramatically Underfund Veterans’ Healthcare – Amid New Opposition From Nation’s Largest Vets Group, Senate Dems Say Legislation On Floor Shortchanges Our Vets

The Military Construction And Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill Makes Dramatic Cuts To Veterans Medical Care, VA Medical Care Accounts And Maintenance At VA Hospitals, Totaling Over $1 Billion

Leader McConnell Admits The Need To Negotiate A Budget That Relieves Destructive Automatic Cuts, But Still Wastes Time With Political Show Vote On Bill That Falls Far Short Of What Veterans Need

Senate Dems: Republicans Must Put Politics Aside And Negotiate A Budget That Prioritizes The Safety And Care Of Our Veterans

(WASHINGTON, DC) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and U.S Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), criticized the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill on the floor today, for failing to adequately fund veterans’ health and other key programs veterans rely upon. Senate Republicans are once again bringing up Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill despite the knowledge that bill will not pass. The MilCon-VA bill reduces funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs by over $1.2 billion below the President’s request. Senate Democrats demand a level of funding that addresses the healthcare gaps and massive backlog affecting the VA today, as part of an overall budget deal that adequately funds our national and economic security.

“Funding the VA honors the service and sacrifice of the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Unfortunately, even as our veterans too often wait too long for the health care they need and deserve, this Republican bill slashes necessary funding required to solve daunting problems, instead taking from those who already have given so much to our country and committing a serious breach of faith with those who served. This bill includes insufficient funding for medical services even as demand has dramatically increased. At a time when VA is struggling to recruit the doctors, nurses, and other providers necessary to provide timely healthcare services to veterans, this bill slashes $255 million for hiring and retention of those on the front lines of veterans care. A VA bill that raids medical services and seriously underfunds veterans is a budget of misplaced values,” said Blumenthal, Ranking Member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

“The Senate version of the bill still underfunds veterans by approximately $857 million. This comes at a time when the VA is faced with an unprecedented demand for services, in terms of both numbers and complexity,” said the National Commander of the nation’s largest veterans group, the American Legion, in letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

Key Deficiencies with the Senate Republican MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill

Cuts funding for military construction and veterans affairs by $1.2 billion. Keeping in place the automatic “sequester” cuts to the MilCon-VA bill shortchanges critical investments in Veterans healthcare that will shortchange our men and women in uniform from receiving quality care. At a time when we continue to have a backlog in healthcare for veterans, aging hospitals, and emerging treatment needs; we cannot keep in place the Spartan sequester caps that were never meant to become reality.  [OMB, 6/2/15]

Understaffs the nation’s VA hospitals with over $500 million in health care cuts. The Senate MilCon-VA appropriations bill reduces funding for the VA by $857 million below the President’s budget. This would lead to underfunding of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care by over a half a billion dollars, equivalent to the cost of providing care for more than 60,000 veterans. If enacted, the Senate MilCon-VA bill would negatively impact veterans’ medical care services, including reducing the VA’s ability to maintain sufficient staff and equipment at VA hospitals. [OMB, 6/2/15]

Cuts funding for maintenance at VA hospitals in spite of warnings that they are crumbling and unsafe. Roughly 60 percent of VA’s medical facilities are more than 50 years old. The VA estimates a total of $10 billion to $12 billion in unfunded requirements to correct deficiencies at hospitals and clinics. A VA Inspector General audit of the Veterans Health Administration found that failure to deal with the $10 - $12 billion maintenance backlog jeopardizes patient safety. The VA estimates that this bill makes a cut of approximately $105 million for non-recurring maintenance to address deficiencies at hospitals and clinics, which is entirely inadequate given the unfunded requirements. [Senate Committee on Appropriations, 5/21/15, VA Inspector General, 5/7/14]

Pits funding for traditional medical services against funding for new, lifesaving prescription drugs that treat diseases like Hepatitis-C or the VA’s Caregivers program for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. Veterans are disproportionately affected by the deadly disease known as Hepatitis-C.  The VA is facing significant unanticipated costs due primarily to increased demand for new Hepatitis-C treatment drugs that have up to a 96 percent cure rate; a nearly 50 percent increase in the utilization of fee-based medical care provided outside of the VA health care system; and a spike in the usage of the VA’s Caregivers Program for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  The VA allocation in this bill does not provide sufficient funding to address requested medical service requirements and all of these emerging medical care priorities.  [Senate Committee on Appropriations, 5/21/15]

###