Senate Democrats have a long record of working to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned through their service. For the past several years, congressional Democrats have led the effort to fill in critical funding shortfalls at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) left behind by the previous Administration and taken significant action to enhance VA health care services; meet the needs of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans; and improve veterans’ access to critical benefits. As we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday, we honor the service of the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country and also pledge to continue our commitment to fulfilling our obligation to the heroes that have served and continue to serve.
This Fact Sheet outlines the legislative initiatives Senate Democrats have advanced since the start of the 111th Congress.
Senate Democrats led the effort to pass a Fiscal Year 2010 Budget that provides a record increase for veterans’ health care and services. The Budget Resolution includes $53.4 billion in funding for veterans programs, which is an increase of $5.6 billion, or 11.7 percent, above the Fiscal Year 2009 level. According to veterans’ service organizations, the budget authority “surpasses” the recommendations they provided in their policy and budget blueprint this year, known as the Independent Budget. This investment truly reflects our commitment to ensure that veterans get the care and benefits they have earned.
Specifically, the Budget Resolution will:
· Continue to provide historic increases to VA. In 2007, the first year under Democratic leadership, Congress appropriated the biggest increase to veterans’ programs in the history of the Department. Congress went even further in 2008, providing a $4 billion dollar increase, $2.8 billion above President Bush’s budget. This year’s budget resolution would continue Congress’s strong commitment, by including additional funding for VA to expand research and improve treatment for mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The increased funding for health programs critical to meeting the needs of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
· Expand access to VA health care for modest income veterans. The Budget Resolution includes a provision that would end the previous Administration’s ban on enrolling modest income veterans in the VA health care system. According to the VA, this measure would effectively bring more than 500,000 additional veterans into the VA system by 2013.
· Ensure efficient, timely, and predictable funding for veterans health care. The Budget Resolution includes an advanced funding provision, which will allow Congress to provide funding for veteran’s medical care one year ahead of the regular appropriations process. By providing advance appropriations, the Budget Resolution will put an end to funding delays for the VA and ensure timely and predictable funding for the veterans health care system, critical to ensuring that veterans have access to quality health care.
Senate Democrats worked to provide $1.4 billion in reinvestment and recovery funding for VA hospital and medical facility construction and improvements. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $1.4 billion for VA, with funding directed primarily for infrastructure repairs at existing Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals and capital infrastructure needs at State VA long-term care facilities. Specifically, the bill provided: $1 billion for nonrecurring maintenance for VA medical facilities; $150 million in funding for grants and construction of state extended care facilities; $50 million for information technology systems for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA); $150 million for VBA to decrease waiting times for claims surge processors; and $50 million for the National Cemetery Administration for monument and memorial repairs.