Today, Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) announced significant funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including a $4 billion discretionary funding increase, in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill for FY 2018.
That $4 billion increase is part of a $78.3 billion proposed budget for the agency. It includes $186m for suicide prevention outreach, $7.3 billion for homeless veterans, and $69 billion for medical care. That is enough money to treat approximately seven million patients in fiscal year 2018.
More than 35,000 veterans live in Congressman Cuellar’s district. Many of them qualify for some services from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including health care at facilities like Laredo’s Community Based Outpatient Clinic. They and their families are also served by the Laredo Vet Center, the San Antonio Vet Center, and the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery.
Texas veterans are mostly likely to have served in the Vietnam War era, and are mostly aged 55 and older, though other conflicts and ages are also represented. Nearly 30% of veterans in Texas use some VA health care, and about 20% have a service-connected disability rating.
Congressman Cuellar said:
“Federal services for veterans are not charity – they are earned. If you served, you have already worked for the health care, burial options, and other benefits that you receive. Now it’s our job to make those benefits high-quality and accessible to you. This $4 billion discretionary funding increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs will help us meet that sacred obligation.
As always, my staff in Rio Grande City, Mission, Laredo, and San Antonio are ready to help any veteran constituent in need. Veterans or family members should sign up on my website, www.cuellar.house.gov, to get in contact for assistance.”
From the summary of the bill (https://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=394909):
- VA Medical Care – The bill funds VA medical care at $69 billion – providing for approximately seven million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2018. Within this total, funding includes: $8.4 billion in mental health care services; $186 million in suicide prevention activities; $316 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $7.3 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; $751 million for hepatitis C treatment; $50 million for opioid abuse prevention; and $250 million in rural health initiatives. This total also includes full funding of the President’s additional $2.6 billion request to meet higher-than-anticipated medical needs.
- VA Electronic Health Record – The bill contains $65 million for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system, the same as the President’s request. This will ensure the swift implementation of the plan for the VA to use an identical electronic record system as the DOD. This will also ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DOD, and the private sector.
- Disability Claims Processing Backlog – Reducing the disability claims backlog is essential to ensuring adequate compensation and care for the 312,000 veterans still wading through the VA bureaucracy to get a final decision on their claims. The bill will help speed this process and get these veterans the decisions they are awaiting by providing $50 million above the request to be used for digital scanning of health records and overtime pay. In addition, the bill continues rigorous reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing and appeals backlogs.
- Construction – Major and minor construction within the VA is funded at $753 million. The bill provides the full request for the construction of major medical facilities, and expansion of cemeteries that are reaching capacity before 2022.
- VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.5 million veterans and their survivors; education benefits for one million veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 145,000 veterans.
- Advance Appropriations – The bill contains $70.7 billion in advance fiscal year 2019 funding for veterans’ medical programs – the same level as the President’s request. This funding will provide for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities, and ensure that our veterans have continued, full access to their medical care needs. The bill includes $107.7 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefit programs, as requested in the President's budget.