Obama proposes increase in VA funding in 2014 budget

Jeff Severns Guntzel
Senior reporter
Public Insight Network

President Barack Obama is proposing a a 10 percent funding bump for the Department of Veterans Affairs in the 2014 fiscal year. That’s a budget of $152.7 billion dollars.

We’ve reported extensively on the long wait times for veterans filing disability claims with the VA, and the president’s proposed budget includes close to $300 million to address the backlog.

According to a VA press release, $155 million of that budget has been set aside specifically for “the next generation of the electronic claims processing system Veterans Benefits Management System.” The rollout for that new technology is already underway, but has been slow.

That VBMS money is part of the $2.5 billion dollar budget for the Veterans Benefits Administration, the division of the VA responsible for processing claims.

Reporter Leo Shane of Stars and Stripes has a rundown of other VA spending priorities in the president’s budget:

“Funding for programs specific to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — including counseling, employment services and other transition programs — will see an increase, up 13.8 percent to $4.1 billion.

“Services for female vets will increase by almost the same percentage, to $422 million. The department has worked in recent years to provide things like women-only examination rooms, obstetric services and sexual assault counseling in response to the growing number of female veterans seeking VA care.

“Prosthetics research and care will grow to almost $2.5 billion under the plan, more than double what the department spent in the field four years ago. Long-term health care services for veterans will see a 10.6 percent increase, totaling more than $7.6 billion.

“Construction and maintenance programs are the fiscal losers, with cuts of almost $760 million. Veterans groups have warned repeatedly that the department needs to better fund those areas to preserve the department’s infrastructure.”

As budget discussions move forward, we’ll keep our eyes on the VA’s goal of reducing the claims backlog. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki has said he wants to see the average wait time below four months by 2015. That’s going to be a hell of a battle, even with increased funding. Of the 800,000 pending claims in the backlog right now, 70 percent have been pending longer than four months.