President Barack Obama signs the Veterans Health Care, Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009. Photo by Craig Roberts

Obama signs VA advance funding bill

President Barack Obama signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act in an Oct. 22 ceremony at the White House. The new law, strongly supported by The American Legion, requires advance funding for the VA health-care system.

“We have made the biggest commitment to veterans, the largest percent increase in the VA budget, in more than 30 years,” Obama said. “So we’re keeping our promise to make real progress for our vets.”

In short, the president said, VA advance funding “promotes accountability at the VA, it ensures oversight by Congress ... And it ensures that veterans health care will no longer be held hostage to the annual budget battles in Washington.”

The president made his remarks in the East Room of the White House, joined by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the bill’s sponsor.

Representatives from The American Legion and other veterans service organizations and members of Congress who played key roles in passing the legislation were part of the crowd that witnessed the signing.

“No longer will VA and the veterans in its care have to suffer from the ‘check’s in the mail’ syndrome,” American Legion National Commander Clarence Hill said. “Now the VA will know a year in advance what resources will be available to it, so plans can be made accordingly. Advance appropriations will go a long way toward minimizing compromises in the delivery of the high-quality VA health care our veterans expect and deserve.”

Obama thanked several members of Congress for their efforts in getting the advance funding bill passed, noting that it was an example of what Democrats and Republicans can do when they join forces “to do right by our veterans.”

“Let me say that I take special pride in this legislation,” Obama said. “Because as a senator, I was a proud co-sponsor of this legislation, I served on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. In the campaign last year, you all remember I had promised to pass it and today, as president, I’m fulfilling that promise.”

Obama told the audience that, with the new legislation, veterans medical care will be funded one year in advance. “For VA, this means timely, sufficient and predictable funding from year to year. Most of all, for our veterans, it will mean better access to doctors and nurses, and the medical care that they need.”

Akaka introduced the VA advance funding bill in Congress on Feb. 12, guided it through committee hearings and gathered 56 co-sponsors. On Oct. 13, the Senate approved the legislation unanimously.