That is a GREAT question. There are a couple of
things The American Legion is doing, as we speak,
that will help to protect veterans from future problems
regarding budget delays on Capitol Hill.
As outraged as we are over this issue, there is no guarantee that
Congress won’t “kick the can down the road” and stall – rather
than pass -- a comprehensive balanced budget, as required by our Constitution.
A few years back, The American Legion, together with some
of our veterans service organization partners, pushed
Congress to include VA in the advance appropriations
process, which allows VA to receive its
funding authorization a full year in advance.
So, as we are now still squabbling over 2014
appropriations, most of VA's budget is already
approved and we are working on the 2015 budget.
When this bill was passed, certain parts of
VA's budget didn't make it into the Advanced
Appropriations process, namely information technology
and construction. All in all, about 14 percent of VA's budget
still needs to get into advance appropriations, which we are
working on now through Senate Bill S.813.
Unfortunately, S. 813 will not protect veterans’ compensation and pension payments, as
it is currently written. Why? Because S.813 only
addresses what is called discretionary spending, which
is the allotment of money that Congress authorizes for projects or programs. They,
at any time, can also choose not to fund these projects;
thus, the term “discretionary.”
Compensation and pension payments are mandatory.
They are entitled, by law, and cannot be unfunded.
Title 38 of the U.S. Code of Regulations establishes
the qualifications for a veteran to receive compensation or pension payments, and if they meet those requirements, then they, by law, are entitled to receive payment.
Compensation and pension dollars need to be budgeted for
and authorized, before they can be deposited into the
account that VA needs to draw from, in order to pay
veterans the money they are legally entitled to.
This account requires around $6 billion a
month, or $72 billion per year. This represents 3.8 million veterans, more than 364,000
survivors and over 1,200 children receiving special
benefits, such as those with spina bifida born to
Vietnam War veterans and certain Korean War veterans, as
well as children of women veterans with birth
Because lawmakers don't think they can
accurately forecast how much money they will need for
the VA budget’s mandatory spending requirement,
they are unwilling to include these in Advanced
The American Legion is trying to come
up with a legislative solution, in the form of a
mid-year reporting requirement, that would require VA
to tell Congress just how much it needs to finish the current fiscal year, and to give Congress a budget forecast of projected mandatory
This initiative is still in the very early planning process and
may not be the final solution, but it's what we are
working on at the moment.
We, as I am sure Congress recognizes now, know that
compensation and pension payments to veterans are a
critical obligation. The federal government
needs to ensure that these payments are protected from
petty political bickering and grandstanding in the future, and
The American Legion will not rest until
there is a solution in place that ensures these
payments are permanently protected.
Louis J. Celli, Jr.
Director, National Legislative Division