VA will see fund increase in Trump proposed budget

By SARALYN NORKUS saralyn.norkus@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 4/22/17

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series that details how the proposed “America First” budget would directly affect our area if it were to pass without revisions.

In President …

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VA will see fund increase in Trump proposed budget

Posted

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series that details how the proposed “America First” budget would directly affect our area if it were to pass without revisions.

In President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, the Department of Veterans Affairs would stand to see a 6 percent budget increase. The VA is one of only a few federal agencies that came out on the plus-side of the president’s proposed 2018 budget.

Trump has called for an additional $4.4 billion for the VA’s funding, which would bump its budget to $78.9 billion, “so that VA can continue to meet the ever-growing demand for health care services while building an integrated system of care that strengthens services within VA and makes effective use of community services,” the plan states.

U.S. Rep Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, who has been a strong advocate for the concerns of veterans, is hopeful that an increase in VA funding can begin to address its current issues.

"I appreciate President Trump's proposed budget, and I applaud his willingness to further invest in the VA. The issues at the VA are complicated and unfortunately go far beyond funding. Additional funds, if invested wisely, however, can be deployed to alleviate many of the systematic problems that must be tackled. I will work with my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to ensure there is a responsible budget for veterans and our nation," said Fleischmann.

"During my time in Congress I have worked hard to improve access to care for veterans by helping pass legislation authorizing funding for four new Veterans Affairs clinics in Tennessee. I will continue to be a strong advocate for our veterans."

While on a local, Bradley County level, the budget increase would not have much impact, Bradley County Veterans Service Officer Joe Davis said that the increases would help the VA across the board.

“The VA’s budget is 300 or 400 pages long and covers things from cemeteries to new construction for hospitals and nursing homes,” Davis stated.

“Trump said he was going to increase the VA’s (funding) and that’s what he is doing.”

It is estimated that 11 millions veterans participate in VA programs. There are 8,200 veterans living in Bradley County. They have access to the VA outpatient clinic in Chattanooga, but the nearest VA hospital in two hours away in Murfreesboro.

Davis mentioned a proposed new VA clinic in Chattanooga that could become a reality in 2020. The proposed Chattanooga VA clinic would more than double the size of the existing clinic. Davis feels that an increase in the VA’s budget could help expedite that process.

“That would be one big benefit for us,” he commented.

The budget would also allow for further funding of the Veterans Choice Program, which allows vets to receive private medical care if they face long waits for VA care or have significant travel obstacles in regards to visiting VA facilities.

Davis stated that the Veterans Choice Program, which was set to expire in August 2017 and was voted to be extended by congress, is especially helpful for local veterans.

The president’s budget calls for “legislative authority and $3.5 billion in mandatory budget authority in 2018 to continue the Veterans Choice Program.

Besides helping to ensure that veterans receive improved access and timeliness of medical care services, the “America First” budget also aims to “optimize productivity and transform” the VA’s claims process as well as update outdated and inefficient systems. It would provide for much needed technological improvements and “provide sufficient funding for sustainment, development, and modernization initiatives that would improve the quality of services provided to veterans.”

Regarding the president’s proposed 2018 budget only the VA, Department of Defense and Homeland Security would stand to see any significant budget increases. In total, the three would see close to $60 billion in new spending over the 2017 fiscal levels. DOD spending would make up $52 billion of that $60 billion.

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