The House of Representatives passed legislation May 31 to fund military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs for fiscal 2013.
The bill, H.R. 5854, would provide VA with a fiscal 2013 budget of about $146 billion, 10 percent more than its current budget. "We're delighted by that increase, because it's also going to cover additional pension and disability payments that our veterans have earned," said Verna Jones, director of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division. "About half of all our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking claims for service-connected injuries. So The American Legion is pleased to see that the House has approved a budget that anticipates the greater cost."
The Associated Press reported that about 1.2 million veterans are expected to file for VA disability claims next year. "More disability claims are being submitted now by our veterans than in any other previous war," Jones said. "For the first Gulf War, only about 20 percent of the veterans filed claims."
The bill would also increase VA's funding in FY 2014 for medical services by 5 percent ($2.2 billion), bringing the total to about $41 billion.
Jones said the major sticking point in the measure is serious underfunding of new construction. "The American Legion recommended $5.3 billion for VA's major construction but the current bill provides for only $532 million. That's about 10 percent of what we'd like to see in that budget item. And our recommendation is based on VA's own 10-year plan of how much funding it's going to need to build the facilities it needs to support veterans health care."
Funding for minor construction in the measure, Jones said, is only $608 million - about half of what the Legion recommended.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved its own version of the FY 2013 military construction/VA funding bill May 22, which is now awaiting full Senate consideration. Once the Senate passes its version, a House-Senate conference committee will resolve differences between the versions.