On Feb. 25, American Legion Legislative Division director Lou Celli spoke at a veterans service organization rally on Capitol Hill to encourage passage of a bill mandating advance budget appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Photo by Craig Roberts)

Legion: VA must have advance appropriations

At a Feb. 25 press conference on Capitol Hill, The American Legion expressed its strong support for pending House and Senate bills that would guarantee advance appropriations for all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs, including those operated by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

American Legion Legislative Director Lou Celli reminded attendees in his prepared remarks that during the recent federal government shutdown, "veterans were shut out" from visiting Legion service officers at VA regional offices to discuss their benefits claims. Legion service officers were "sitting at their desks in government buildings all across the country, but veterans were being prevented from meeting with them, due to VBA’s exclusion from advance appropriations."

During the shutdown last October, many service-disabled veterans were less than a month away from losing their monthly VA benefits payments "simply because Congress refused to authorize distribution of their federally mandated checks," Celli said.

Both the House and Senate bills pending in Congress include provisions to extend advance VA funding to the department’s discretionary accounts. H.R. 813, the Putting Veterans Funding First Act, was introduced exactly one year ago by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The Senate version, S.932, was introduced last May by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

At its national convention last August, The American Legion passed Resolution 77, supporting advance appropriations for all of VA’s discretionary accounts, including those for VBA, the National Cemetery Administration, and VA construction, research and information technology.

Celli said that because The American Legion "is very concerned that VA will once again fall victim to Capitol Hill politics," the nation’s largest organization of wartime veterans "steadfastly supports all efforts to include the remaining 14 percent (of VA’s budget)" in its annual advance appropriations request.