Congress pushes for full VA advance funding

Several members of The American Legion’s national staff will represent America’s largest wartime veterans organization at an Oct. 30 press conference in Washington. Leaders from the House and Senate committees on veterans’ affairs are holding the event at the U.S. Capitol to call on Congress to act quickly and decisively in passing a bill that would extend advance appropriations to all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs.

VA’s medical care programs are currently protected by advance funding, which account for about 86 percent of its total budget. As a result, VA was able to provide veterans with medical treatment and services despite the federal government shutdown. Yet advance funding does not include the Veterans Benefits Administration, which would have run out of money by the end of this month if the shutdown had gone on.

That lapse in funding would have meant that more than 5 million veterans would have missed more than $6 billion in monthly payments, starting Nov. 1. Other VA programs funded by other federal agencies, such as the Veterans Employment Training Service, also are not covered by advance funding and suffered from effects of the shutdown.

The Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013 (H.R. 813), introduced in the House on Feb. 25, and its companion Senate bill (S. 932) would ensure advance funding for all VA programs, regardless of their federal funding sources.

At its 95th national convention in Houston last August, The American Legion passed Resolution No. 77 in support of advance appropriations for all VA discretionary accounts. Mentioning its previous support for the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparence Act of 2009 – which covered VA medical programs with advance funding – the Legion resolution noted the continuing breakdown of the federal budget and appropriations process, "evidenced by stalemates over debt ceiling, sequestration and proposed government shutdowns...."

The resolution urges Congress to authorize advance funding for all VA discretionary appropriations accounts, "particularly for Veterans Benefits Administration operations, construction, research, and Information Technology."

With advance appropriations extended across all VA programs, it would be easier for the department to plan for key investments in information technology, disability and pension claims processing, and construction projects.