SEN. CRAIG RECOMMENDS INCREASE IN VETERANS BUDGET
The White House recently recommended a record $86.4 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2008 - up almost 8 percent over this year's budget. That budget has now been endorsed by Sen. Larry Craig, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Craig sent that message in his "views and estimates" letter which was provided to the Senate Budget Committee. Craig's letter will help guide Budget Committee members as they establish an overall spending plan for all federal agencies.
"Assuming enactment of the President's request, overall spending on VA will have increased by 77 percent since 2001 - the year President Bush was sworn in. This budget sends a clear message to the troops that we will support them long after the gunfire has ceased. The clear priority of this budget is the war injured and veterans with service related disabilities," Craig said.
In his recommendation concerning VA's budget, Craig noted that overall federal spending for other agencies - excluding defense and homeland security - is slated for just a 1.3 percent increase next year.
"Veterans in Idaho and across the nation expect their government to be fiscally responsible and reign in overall federal spending. But they also expect us to keep our commitment to them and all who serve. I think the President has struck the right balance here," Craig said.
The top Republican on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee also noted that although the budget for veterans has steadily increased since President Bush took office, the total number of veterans living in the United States decreased by nearly 2 million, from 26.4 million in 2001 to an estimated 24.5 million last year. That decline is primarily due to large numbers of World War II veterans who are passing away.
But while the overall number of veterans has dropped, there has been a steady increase in the number of patients seeking medical care from VA, up from 4.25 million in 2001 to over 5.3 million last year, and it will rise to an estimated 5.8 million in 2008.
"No longer is VA health care the health care of last resort. Today VA health care is consistently ranked as the best in the nation. We are determined to make it even better," Craig said. "Couple the demand for VA care with an aging population, and newer veterans with complex care needs, and it is not surprising that we've increased the budget."
But while Craig supports the President's overall budget number, the Idaho Republican has proposed different approaches in several areas. Among Craig's plan, he recommends spending:
* $20 million above the President's request for medical and prosthetic research, raising the total amount of research money to $432 million in FY 2008
* $3.7 million above the President's request for additional staff to adjudicate veterans' disability claims
* $300,000 above the President's request to increase funding for the National Veterans' Training Institute and the Veterans' Workforce Investment Program
* $51 million above the President's request for minor VA construction