U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, was joined by a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing legislation today to secure timely funding of veterans' health care, through a process known as "advance funding." Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John Thune (R-SD) joined Akaka as original cosponsors.
Under the bill, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) would be funded one-year in advance. Currently, VHA is funded one-year at a time, and is too often the victim of delays and short-term budgets.
Senator Akaka said: "The Department of Veterans Affairs operates the largest health care system in the nation, but its funding is untimely and unpredictable. Advance funding for veterans' health care is better for veterans, taxpayers, and VA. Funding would be set two-years in advance, enabling VA to make strategic long term decisions. I am proud to join bipartisan Congressional leaders and many of America's veterans service organizations in seeking to provide a more secure and predictable funding system for veterans health care."
Senator Snowe said: "Healthcare funding for veterans is an issue that we cannot afford to delay with partisan politics and Congressional deadlocks. It is unacceptable that over the past six years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has not received its annual funding on average until more than three months after the start of the new fiscal year. This legislation will ensure that the brave veterans of our armed forces will receive the healthcare funding appropriated by Congress for the VA's budget on time and in full."
Senator Johnson said: "I have always been an advocate for timely and adequate funding for our veterans. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation, which is another step towards ensuring our veterans receive the health care they've earned, when they need it, and without having to worry about what is going on in Congress. While I still support mandatory funding, I believe this may be the compromise we need to gain support from those that have opposed mandatory funding in the past. I applaud Senator Akaka's efforts on this legislation."
Senator Landrieu said: "First-class healthcare for our veterans is a basic right for our returning heroes. It is critical that the VHA get advance funding, as other government programs already do, to prevent delays and holdups in care for our veterans."
Senator Feingold said: "I have been a long time supporter of mandatory funding for veterans health care because Congress is routinely unable to provide funding for the VA on time. By going the advanced appropriations route, delays in the annual appropriations process will no longer impact the VA's ability to get this critical funding to those who need it."
Senator Stevens said: "This legislation will make sure the VA gets its money on time each year, so the health care needs of our veterans are always met. While my colleagues and I have sought to make sure the VA is properly funded over the years, that funding has frequently arrived late. If this bill becomes law, the VA will always have their health care funding on day one."
Senator Murkowski said: "We demand much of the veterans' healthcare delivery system in addressing the critical health issues presented by those who have just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan while at the same time continuing to serve the veterans of conflicts past. For 19 of the past 21 years, Congress has failed to provide the VA with certainty about its funding levels at the beginning of the federal fiscal year. There is considerable uncertainty over whether Congress will be able to conclude the VA appropriations bill before we leave this year. We expect the VA to step up and address health challenges like traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorders, the challenges of serving veterans in rural America and the unique issues that affect female veterans but make them wait interminably for the increased funding levels to which they are legitimately entitled. This is a budget process that must be reformed."
Advance funding has been used to fund programs such as Section 8 housing vouchers, and the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Under the proposed legislation, veterans' health care would go through the same process as these entities, thus securing timely funding without making VA health care an entitlement. The advance funding bill would also increase transparency in the VA funding process, by requiring an annual GAO audit and public report on VA's funding forecasts.
The proposed advance funding legislation is also supported by The Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, which includes the following veterans service organizations: AMVETS, Blinded Veterans Association, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans of America.