Congress Clears Bill to Put VA on a Two-year Budget Cycle


Yesterday, the U.S. Senate cleared a bill that would put veterans’ health care programs on a two-year budget cycle. The measure (HR 1016), which cleared by voice vote, would authorize appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care programs one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year. The authority would start in fiscal year 2011 for three VA medical care accounts: medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities. The bill now heads to the White House for President Obama’s signature. The President has already indicated that he supports the legislation.

The VA has received its appropriation from Congress by the start of the fiscal year just twice in the last fourteen years. Because of this chronic delay in funding, VA medical centers have had to delay the hiring of nurses and other health care providers, postpone the purchase and repair of medical equipment, and put off the construction and repair of medical facilities. All of these setbacks adversely impact the delivery of care to our nation’s veterans. Many of these problems could be mitigated or even eliminated by the switch to an advanced appropriation.

“The current system for funding the VA has not been working,” said Randy Erwin, legislative director of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “Something as simple as hiring nurses has been difficult because the VA doesn’t know how much money they will have to hire nurses until well into the fiscal year, and at that point the VA has trouble spending the money efficiently. The agency has been in a permanent state of feast or famine. This legislation will allow the VA far more time to plan for how to allocate its precious few resources.”