During the latest round of budget talks, the Veterans Affairs Department has asked for an increase of $20 billion, making its total request almost $182 billion. The increase is to be used to help tackle the mounting, outstanding health care claims that are coming from veterans.
The proposed budget plan will include about $103.5 billion to be used for mandatory programs. These include pensions, disability compensation, and more than $78 billion in discretionary funding, most of which will be used for health care.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who has been under fire for the VA’s past poor performance in handling health care issues, said recently that the VA has “one of the greatest opportunities in its history to transform the way it cares for our veterans.” He went on to say that he hopes the funding will help to expand health care options for US veterans nationwide as well as be used to work on chronic veteran homelessness. He also wants to reduce the backlog on first-time VA claims and appeals.
The budget, if approved, will be about twice the amount it was back in 2009.
In order to help improve the processing of claims, the VA will invest in more advanced technology, and will set aside $180 million to the Veterans Benefits Administration in order to further enhance its electronic claims system. Also, an estimated $143 million will be used by the Veterans Claims Intake Program to help them in converting paper records, including many older health records, into digital data and images.
According to budget documents, more than $12 billion will be used to deliver health care to veterans within their communities. About $8.5 billion will be used for long-term care; about $7.8 billion to be used for mental health programs; nearly $1.6 billion to be used to help reduce veteran homelessness; another $1.5 billion to be used to treat veterans who are ill with hepatitis C; over $600 million has been set aside for treating various spinal cord injuries, and more than $280 million will be used for treating traumatic brain injuries. In addition, the VA will spend $725 million for caregivers.
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