A report issued Sept. 14 by the White House has made it clear that the entire Department of Veterans Affairs budget is protected from automatic cuts that will take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress finds another way to reduce federal spending.
Yet the same report provided little relief for the Department of Defense, which faces a $54.7 billion spending cut. While military personnel accounts have also been exempted from sequestration, the rest of DoD's programs would be cut 9.4 percent across the board.
The American Legion has urged Congress and the White House to avoid cutting VA's budget at a time when it is providing health care to an increasing number of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Verna Jones, director of the Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, said the Legion had been concerned that VA's administrative costs might have been cut by two percent. "It's one thing to fund health-care programs, but it also takes the requisite staffing and administration dollars to run them properly. We are glad to see the White House report clarified the issue by indicating that all of VA's budget is safe from sequestration."
The American Legion wants Congress to extend a VA-like exemption to DoD as well. Earlier this year, its membership passed a resolution that opposes any further cuts to the country's defense budget.
"We are in a situation that demands a responsible course of action from our federal leadership," said John Stovall, director of the Legion's National Security & Foreign Relations Division. "Take a look around the world. Our ambassador to Libya has been murdered and protests against America have broken out across the Middle East. North Korea and Iran continue to develop nuclear-weapons capability. China and Japan are both claiming ownership of the same islands.
"Is this really the best time for us to cut defense spending so drastically, simply because Congress can't seem to find a better solution?" Stovall said the Legion believes sequestration will have "a disastrous impact on our military readiness. When (DoD Comptroller Robert) Hale and other DoD officials talk to the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, we hope they drive home the message that holding our national security hostage to sequestration is completely irresponsible."
If Congress allows sequestration to proceed, veterans will be affected by cuts to several programs that are not funded by VA, including the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service, the American Battle Monuments Commission and funding for Arlington National Cemetery.