Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) March 15, 2016 – The Department of Veterans Affairs has requested around $78.7 billion in discretionary funding as part of President Barack Obama’s proposed $4.1 trillion federal budget for 2017.
The VA’s discretionary spending would receive a nearly 5 percent boost to tackle outstanding health care claims from veterans, among other objectives. According to the proposal unveiled on February 9, the spending plan also includes more than $102.5 billion for mandatory VA programs such as disability compensation. The budget has doubled since 2009 when Obama was sworn in.
“The proposed budget increase provides an opportunity to transform the way the VA cares for our veterans and their interests,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan veterans attorney. “However, the department must demonstrate they can use the additional resources wisely without wasting them.”
The funding is also designed to address the first-time claims backlog by allowing the hiring of more full-time employees. The VA is planning to invest $46.2 million in technology in order to streamline claims appeals processing. Paper records are being converted into digital images and data as part of an overall modernization effort.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald said the department budgeted $68.6 billion to expand health care options nationwide. Additional funds will go toward treatment for mental health, hepatitis C, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injuries. The 2017 budget projects around 6.3 million veterans will receive health care in the coming year. There will be 9.2 million enrolled in the VA health care system.
The VA has also increased spending on the department’s investigative arm for increased oversight of its programs. The budget for the Office of Inspector General has risen by $23.3 million from last year. Lawmakers have criticized the VA for its mismanagement of recent problems that include lack of accountability for employees’ wrongdoing and ballooning costs on construction projects.
“The additional funds will contribute to overhauling the current system so that the VA can rise above the scandals and mismanagement of the past,” said Fausone.