By Debbie Gregory.
The 2017 VA budget will continue to support the largest transformation in VA history, expanding access to healthcare and benefits, while attempting to end homelessness among those who have served.
The budget includes $78.7 billion in discretionary funding, which is earmarked largely for healthcare, which is almost 5 percent more than the 2016 enacted level.
Healthcare is being provided to over 922,000 veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn/Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS).
The budget provides for continued implementation of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) robust Transformation Plan, which will continue to improve the quality and efficiency of claims processing. Additionally, the budget supports increasing the VBA’s workforce to address staffing needs so it can continue to improve the delivery of benefits to veterans.
As VBA continues to receive and complete more disability compensation rating claims, the volume of non-rating claims correspondingly increases. The request for $54 million for 300 additional full-time equivalent employees (FTE) and claims processing support will allow VBA to provide more timely actions on non-rating claims.
The budget also proposes a simplified appeals initiative to provide veterans with a simple, fair, and streamlined appeals process in which they would receive a final appeals decision within one year from filing an appeal, by 2021. The current appeals process is complicated and ineffective, and veterans are waiting, on average, about 5 years for a final decision on an appeal that reaches the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, with thousands waiting much longer.
The Obama Administration has made the ending of veteran homelessness a national priority. The new budget requests $1.6 billion for programs to prevent or reduce veteran homelessness, including: Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) to promote housing stability; the HUD-VASH program, wherein VA provides case management services for at-risk veterans and their families, and HUD provides permanent housing through its Housing Choice Voucher program; and grants/per diem payments that support temporary housing provided by community-based organizations.
The budget also provides for the MyVA initiative, the Veterans Choice Act and other key services for veterans.