By Debbie Gregory.
Last week, President Obama proposed his fiscal year 2015 budget for the VA. The president’s proposal included a 6.5% increase over the FY 2014 budget, allotting $163.9 billion for the VA. Included in the budget are $68.4 billion for discretionary spending and $95.6 billion for mandatory programs.
The discretionary spending will mostly be used to help cover the costs of health care for Veterans. Included in Veteran healthcare costs is: $7.2 billion for mental health; $7 billion for long term care; $2.6 billion for prosthetics; $561 million for spinal cord injuries; $238 million for readjustment counseling; and $229 million for Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
The budget proposal also allows room for the much needed expansion of critical benefits for Veterans. The programs that will see an increase in funding are: Telehealth, receiving $567 million; $534 million for new and enhanced healthcare facilities; $403 million for women’s healthcare; $86.6 million for improved VA customer service, including providing self-service web portals and improving VA call centers; and $3.6 million to open two new national cemeteries in Florida, as well as preparations to open two other national cemeteries in rural areas.
“This budget will allow us to continue the progress we have made in helping veterans secure their place in the middle class,” said Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of the VA. “It is a tangible demonstration of the president’s commitment to ensuring veterans and their families have the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”
Also included in the president’s proposed VA budget are the means to fully implement the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), which will be the VA’s next generation electronic claims processing system, designed to systematically reduce the VA’s claims backlog. The budget allots $312 million towards reducing the backlog. The president’s goal for VBMS is to eliminate all backlog and have all claims processed within 125 days, with 98% accuracy.
Along with ending the VA’s backlog, the new budget makes funds available for the VA to meet their goal of ending homelessness among Veterans by the end of 2015. The budget earmarks approximately $1.6 billion to the VA’s effort.