Congress Wants to Shield Veterans From Another Government Shutdown

Lawmakers push for advance funding for VA.

National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
March 13, 2014, 3:08 p.m.

Dur­ing the last gov­ern­ment shut­down, law­makers feared vet­er­ans were days away from not re­ceiv­ing their dis­ab­il­ity checks.

Hop­ing to pre­vent a sim­il­ar pre­dic­a­ment, mem­bers of a House com­mit­tee pressed Thursday for full fund­ing for the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment’s dis­cre­tion­ary budget a year ahead of sched­ule.

Cur­rently, only the de­part­ment’s health care ser­vices are fun­ded a year in ad­vance.

“This com­mit­tee is again try­ing to look down the road and provide ad­vanced ap­pro­pri­ations au­thor­ity for the re­main­ing 14 per­cent of the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs’ dis­cre­tion­ary budget,” said Rep. Mi­chael Michaud, the rank­ing mem­ber of the House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, at a hear­ing about the de­part­ment’s budget re­quest.

The Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment is ask­ing for $164 bil­lion for its total 2015 fisc­al year budget, a 6.5 per­cent in­crease over the cur­rent fisc­al year.

Mem­bers on both sides of the aisle and mul­tiple out­side groups back giv­ing ad­vanced ap­pro­pri­ations to the de­part­ment. Pro­ponents ar­gue that it would give the de­part­ment and vet­er­ans great­er cer­tainty, par­tic­u­larly in re­gard to mak­ing be­ne­fits pay­ments dur­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

But ef­forts to get ad­vance fund­ing for the rest of VA’s budget have stalled. Michaud and com­mit­tee Chair­man Jeff Miller in­tro­duced the Put­ting Vet­er­ans Fund­ing First Act, which passed the House Vet­er­ans Com­mit­tee but has lan­guished be­fore the full body.

A sim­il­ar push was in­cluded in Sen. Bernie Sanders’s wide-ran­ging vet­er­ans le­gis­la­tion, but that bill failed to pass a pro­ced­ur­al vote, and the bill is es­sen­tially on hold as the Ver­mont in­de­pend­ent tries to garner more Re­pub­lic­an sup­port.

Dur­ing Thursday’s hear­ing, Flor­ida Demo­crat Rep. Cor­rine Brown backed giv­ing the de­part­ment full ad­vance fund­ing and asked Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­ret­ary Eric Shin­seki to weigh in.

Al­though Shin­seki didn’t re­ject the idea, he stressed that ad­vance ap­pro­pri­ations wouldn’t let the de­part­ment avoid all of its prob­lems if the gov­ern­ment shuts down again.

“We still have to go to the So­cial Se­cur­ity agency to val­id­ate oth­er dis­ab­il­it­ies pay­ments. We have to go IRS to val­id­ate threshold in­come levels,” Shin­seki said. “…This is a big­ger dis­cus­sion in some as­pects than just the VA budget.”

In­stead, Shin­seki re­it­er­ated a fa­mil­i­ar Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion talk­ing point: “What would be most help­ful to VA, [is] for “¦ the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to get a budget every year.”

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