Veterans may see expanded programs and services if President Obama’s 2010 budget plan passes, which includes $112.8 billion for the Veterans Affairs department, an increase of 15 percent. Calling it “veteran-centric,” the VA says Obama’s proposed budget represents the largest percentage increase sought by a president in more than 30 years.
“Our 2010 budget represents the President’s vision for how VA will transform into a 21st-century organization that is veteran-centric, results-driven and forward-looking,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said.
The centerpiece of the VA budget proposal is a dramatic increase in veteran healthcare funding, with an 11 percent increase over the current year’s funding (excluding one-time Recovery Act funds). At the forefront: Helping the VA to remove the backlog in processing compensation and pension claims. Funding will go to building an online system, making processes more efficient, adding staff, and increasing training.
The proposal also places a high priority on initiatives aimed at making servicemembers’ transition to civilian life and VA benefits seamless. This includes the president’s initiative for VA and the Department of Defense to collaboratively develop and implement a joint “Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record” to provide a uniform registration of all servicemembers with VA that will improve delivery of benefits, including disability benefits. Obama has been vocal about his goal for a new paperless, benefits processing system by 2012.
Nearly two-thirds of the increase ($9.6 billion) would go to mandatory programs; the remaining third ($5.6 billion) would be discretionary funding. The total budget would be almost evenly split between mandatory funding ($56.9 billion) and discretionary funding ($55.9 billion).
VA’s new budget request provides for an estimated 122,000 more patients to be treated over the current year. Many of these patients will have multiple visits in the course of the year. VA expects to end fiscal year 2010 with nearly 6.1 million individual patients having received care, including 419,000 Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones who separated from service. The budget also supports the administration’s goal to gradually expand healthcare eligibility to more than 500,000 new enrollees by 2013.
Other initiatives include adding three new national cemeteries, as well as seven new medical facilities in Brockton, Mass.; Canandaigua, N.Y.; Livermore, Calif.; Long Beach, Calif.; Perry Point, Md.; San Diego; and St. Louis.